Police Step In When Sorry Becomes the Hardest Word to Say

An impromptu press briefing held in open air, turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Controversial American preacher Gregg Schoof found himself under arrest, as he was about to announce his decision to quit Rwanda to journalists.

For those, including the Rwanda National Police, who have come to know Pastor Schoof well, the lead up to his arrest was characteristic of a man who seems to crave drama.

A press release was sent to all media, in which journalists were offered Rwf 4,000, about four dollars, “for transportation” to come to a press briefing about why the Pastor had decided to leave Rwanda, for Rwanda’s neighbour, Uganda.

The venue, a bar, declined to host the meeting, unless Mr Schoof could show them written permission from the local authority to hold a public meeting.

The authorities are generally relaxed about the legal requirement to seek permission for a public gathering, and it is often disregarded. Mr Schoof may have counted on that, and decided to hold his press briefing outside, when the bar wouldn’t budge on their demand for his written permission. The Police however duly arrested him for holding a public meeting without permission.

It was perhaps a predictable denouement to Mr Schoof’s Rwanda story. To date, he has outstanding court cases against the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), a complaint against the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), and he has some less than flattering things to say about the Rwandan Government, for good measure.

The Pastor’s predicament begun with a sermon, last year, by one of his colleagues, Pastor Nicholas Niyibikora. The sermon broadcast on a radio station, Amazing Grace Radio, founded by Schoof, was seen by many, as a misogynistic rant. Niyibikora spoke of women, as a metaphor for churches.

“A church that departs from the right path” he warned “is like a woman who goes from man to man…” Warming to his theme, he went on to recite instances in the bible, where women were “against God’s Plan”.

“What good is there in woman” he demanded “none, where can it be found”. Certainly not in the Bible as read by Niyibikora. And he does know his Bible. He was able to find verse after verse, after which he could conclude that women were indeed the source of all of the world’s woes.

Rwanda has some of the most progressive gender policies in the world, second only to Scandinavian countries.  Much is written about Rwanda’s Parliament, over 60% women, but, a similar picture can be found right across the country, whether in public or private sector. Women are either in a majority, or are in equal numbers to their male counterparts in positions of leadership. This includes the cabinet, where as many women as men sit.

In a short space of time, barely a decade, gender equality policies have meant that views like those of Niyibikora, have become alien to most Rwandans. His broadcast jarred with all who heard it, including a number of women’s associations, who immediately filed official complaints with the RMC.

After listening to the broadcast, the RMC summoned Schoof, as the station’s owner to a hearing, where he was strongly urged to apologise on behalf of his station.

A sincere apology carries great weight in Rwandan culture, at times even placing the onus on the injured party. Much worse crimes are forgiven in the country. The matter therefore might have ended there.

But, while distancing himself from the broadcast, Schoof demurred on the apology, and informed the RMC that he would have to consult on Niyibikora’s broadcast, since it had been broadcast in Kinyarwanda, a language he neither spoke, nor understood. Adding that in any case, he could not apologise for Niyibikora.

The RMC is a media self regulatory body. It relies on voluntary cooperation from its members. It prefers to act as mediator between complainants and the media, rather than enforcer. It is a delicate balance that is understood, and accepted by individual journalists and media networks. Where it finds intransigence, it refers the case to bodies like RURA, whose ruling carries the force of law. When the RMC’s patience wore thin with Schoof, it stepped aside, and referred the case to RURA, which shut down Schoof’s station.

RURA reiterated the RMC’s adjudication, and added a fine of Rwf 2,000,000, about $2000. Again, it might all have ended there, but, the combative Pastor was not going to take it lying down, and as is his right, he appealed against both RURA, and the RMC.

But, RURA’s swift action may have been informed by earlier infractions by Amazing Grace Radio. The station had had to be warned about a programme, “The Bible and Quran”, which was judged to be inciting hatred against Moslems. The programme was stopped, and the station continued.

In addition to appeal cases against RURA, and RMC, the Pastor vented other grievances, this time against the Rwanda government.

“This government” he proclaimed, “has taken a stand against God, with its heathen practices…Is this government trying to send people to hell?”

The “heathen practices” were family planning policies which include an awareness campaign for safe sex, and condom use, less stringent abortion laws, and the teaching of evolution in schools. The Pastor is a creationist.

His address to the media was going to express all these grievances, as an explanation for his departure from Rwanda to Uganda, where he believed his views would be more welcome.

But, the Police decided they had heard enough from Pastor Gregg Schoof, and insisted on his being their guest, pending his appearance before the appropriate legal authorities.

 The stay was to be short lived. Immigration officials decided that since he had clearly had enough of Rwanda, Pastor Gregg Schoof, would be escorted to the airport, and put on a flight not to Uganda, but, to the United States of America, where he is a citizen.




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