Sierra Leone has indefinitely suspended the license of one of the largest churches in the country.
It follows what many see as an incendiary sermon by the founder and leader of the Sanctuary Praise Church, Victor Ajisafe in which he appears to criticize – some say demean – Islam.
It came after the visit here last week of the Zimbabwean Muslim cleric, Mufti Menk who addressed tens of thousands of Muslims at the national stadium.
The Nigerian Pastor Ajisafe is spending the night in a police cell with sources saying he will be charged with incitement and hate speech, and arraigned on Thursday.
The legendary religious tolerance Sierra Leone is famous for came close to being undermined today after the audio went vital. Faith leaders and state authorities intervened to diffuse the rising tensions in this Muslim majority country.
Read full Press release from the Ministry of Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs below:
Consequent to this morning’s Press Statement from Honourable Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Government wishes to update the public as follows:
1. A video clip has emerged which confirms that indeed Nigerian-born Pastor Victor Ajisafe of SANCTUARY PRAISE CHURCH aka CHRIST REVIVAL EVANGELISTIC MINISTRIES made untrue, hateful, inciting statements as recorded on an audio clip floated on social media today.
2. An Emergency meeting was summoned this morning by Government so as to dialogue with the Executive of Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL). Representatives from the Sierra Leone Police and the Office of National Security were invited to the meeting.
3. At the meeting chaired by Honourable Minister Dr. Sylvia Blyden, Christian Leaders in Sierra Leone through the ‘Body of Christ’ and the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone (CCSL) have all come out to strongly dis-associate themselves from the religious intolerance statements of incitement by Victor Ajisafe. Secretary General of IRCSL, Revd. Dr. Usman Jesse Fornah, said: “we have enjoyed peaceful co-existence with Muslims and we want it to continue”.
4. Muslim Leaders at the meeting, have highlighted that Islam stands for peace and no true Muslim should react violently to provocation. According to the President of Inter-Religious Council, Sheik Abu-Bakarr Conteh: “Sierra Leoneans met Christians & Muslims in religious tolerance when we were born and we will not allow those credentials to be dented.”
5. Pastor Victor Ajisafe is currently being held by the Sierra Leone Police for questioning and also for his own protection.
6. Following credible threats to burn down Churches associated with Mr. Victor Ajisafe, police officers are now deployed to protect all buildings where Mr. Ajisafe operates his Churches.
7. Honourable Minister of Social Welfare, Gender & Children’s Affairs has, with immediate effect, temporarily suspended operations of a Church registered in Sierra Leone by Mr. Ajisafe under a name of: CHRIST REVIVAL EVANGELISTIC MINISTRIES aka SANCTUARY PRAISE CHURCH. This suspension by the Minister, covers all branches of the said church at Lungi, at Kenema, and at four locations within the Western Area. This temporary suspension will stay in place until the Criminal Investigations Department of Sierra Leone Police concludes ongoing investigations.
8. The Independent Media Commission has been engaged on the matter and is now looking into the broadcasts of a Radio station (FM97.7) said to be linked to Victor Ajisafe.
9. Government continues to call for calm and restraint from all whom might be affected by the current situation. Regional & District social services officers, in collaboration with Police and Security agencies, are continuing to engage religious leaders around Sierra Leone.
10. The public will be updated with more information as and when necessary.