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Somalia: Somaliland closes church a week after it reopened for the first time in 30 years

09 August 2017

The only Catholic church in Somaliland, East Africa, which was officially re-opened after 30 years, has been closed again within a week.

The church of St Anthony of Padua is one of a number of churches built 70 years ago during British rule. After being closed for three decades it was officially reopened on 29 July with a ceremony attended by ministers of the autonomous region of Somalia, and expatriates.

But within a week it has been closed due, according to the government, to public pressure.

"The issue has created a lot of division ... which is not in our national interest... The government has decided to respect the wishes of the people and their religious leaders, and keep the church closed as it has been for the past 30 years," explained Somaliland's Religious Affairs Minister, Skeikh Khalil Abdullahi.

The church is located in the Shaab area of the region's capital, Hargeisa, where there are many government offices. It appears that the pressure has been exerted because of fears that a new church could be built or that Christians might try to convert Muslims.

The Religious Minister had previously addressed such concerns at a press conference on 30 July. "Somaliland's constitution and Sharia [Islamic law] allows foreigners to work in Somaliland and to practise their religion privately... Our government will not allow any new church to be built in Somaliland," he stated.

A week later the church was closed again.

Somalia: Number 2 on the World Watch List

Somaliland - which covers the northern third of Somalia - is a semi-autonomous region within Somalia. Formerly a British protectorate, in 1991 it seceded from Somalia, but it has never been formally recognised as an independent state.

The situation reflects the deep opposition to all forms of Christianity in Somalia. Somalia is No. 2 on the 2017 Open Doors' World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian. (Somaliland is not independently surveyed in research for the list, as it is not internationally recognised.)

Most Christians in Somaliland are expatriates, and a smaller number are Ethiopian immigrants. For a Somali national to become a Christian is extremely dangerous. At least 12 suspected converts were killed in 2016, although the true number is likely to be higher. In every sphere of life - private, family, community, and national - being exposed as a convert to Christianity means life threatening danger, often leading to on-the-spot execution. 'Church life' simply is not possible.

Please continue to pray for Christians in Somalia.

Source: World Watch Monitor; Open Doors

Please pray:

  • For Christians who dare to follow Jesus in secret. Pray for their protection - even reading about Christianity on the internet can be dangerous
  • For an end to the civil conflict which is ravaging the country.
  • For God to continue to reveal himself miraculously to those who seek him.

More News from Somalia:

Find out more about persecution in Somalia.