Niger church torched after imam's arrest


NIAMEY — Protesters torched a church overnight in the southern Niger city of Maradi after the arrest of a prominent imam, religious and security sources told AFP.

The assailants also burnt the pastor's car, a church official said in a WhatsApp message to parishioners that was copied to AFP. "The police is already there, we must be careful," he added.

A local security source confirmed the attack in Maradi's working-class district of Zaria.

Witnesses said that late Saturday youths set up roadblocks and burned tIres in the streets of Niger's third largest city.

The protests came after Sheikh Rayadoune, the imam of the Zaria mosque in Maradi, was arrested Saturday, a day after criticizing as "anti-Islam" a proposed new law on religious worship.

A top interior ministry official said the legislation, designed to lay down official guidelines on worship, was "the fruit of many consultations... There's nothing anti-Islam in the text."

He said it was aimed at preventing "anarchy and the distortions promoted by obscurantist terrorist groups to gain ground in our country."

In 2017, the interior ministry brought together all the overwhelmingly Muslim though secular West African country's ulema or religious scholars to discuss the subject.

The government adopted a draft bill in late April, saying there was a "total absence of norms" regarding worship in Niger while fundamentalist and extremist tendencies were on the rise.

"To head off risks of abuse seen in other countries ... it is vital the state gives itself the means to control practices in the religious sphere," the statement added.

Parliament still has to vote through the text before it becomes law.

Niger has experienced several bouts of religious strife in recent years.

Following the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet in French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in 2015 ten people were killed in religious riots in Niamey. — AFP