Bishop Tutu Arrested, Told to Stop Mounting Protests : ‘I Obey God’ in Defiance, Cleric Says
Riot police arrested Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and two dozen other church leaders today as they marched with Bibles in their hands toward Parliament to protest bans on black opposition activity.
The men, who were warned by police to stop the protests, promptly vowed to continue their defiance as they were released.
“We are not defying the law,” Tutu told a news conference, “we are obeying God. We also obey God every day.”
“In the past,” Tutu continued, “it was possible for people to say it was the usual rabble-rousers demonstrating. They can’t say it any more. It’s the church.”
The clergymen, wearing robes and crosses around their necks, stood with arms linked and Bibles clutched in their hands as a police officer announced through a bullhorn that the gathering was illegal. Police had been lining the street outside St. George’s Anglican Cathedral, waiting for the marchers to emerge.
After Tutu, a Nobel laureate, and other clergymen were placed in police vehicles, police fired water cannons at more than 100 demonstrators sitting on the sidewalk singing a hymn, local journalists said.
Released After Warning
The clergymen and demonstrators were taken to a police station and released with a warning that charges would be brought against them if they staged a similar protest, said the Rev. Allan Boesak, president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. He said they were told summonses might be issued against them for demonstrating near Parliament and they might be called to court.
Upon their release, the white, black, mixed-race and Indian clergymen held a news conference in the cathedral, which was still surrounded by police officers with a water cannon nearby.
Boesak described today’s protest as “an act of subversion.”
“We told the South African government that we had decided we would be obedient to God. That is a higher law to us,” he said.
The clergymen carried a petition, addressed to President Pieter W. Botha and Parliament, saying: “We leaders of a number of South African churches have come to Parliament today to witness and pray in a time of crisis outside the buildings in which you make important decisions affecting the lives of millions of South Africans who belong to our churches.”
Plan to Lead Protests
In a service in the cathedral before the march, Tutu and other ministers declared the churches will lead protests against the government’s anti-apartheid policies because 18 major black opposition groups had been banned last week from all political activity.
The march proceeded with clergymen at the end of each row and lay people in the middle. As they reached Government Avenue, near the Parliament buildings, they were met by about 50 police officers who linked arms to block the road.
The police told the crowd they were gathering illegally, then began leading away the church leaders, starting with Boesak.
Last Wednesday, the government banned the United Democratic Front, the nation’s largest anti-apartheid organization, and 17 other major black opposition groups from conducting any political activity.
Banning orders were also issued against 18 prominent black leaders, prohibiting them from taking part in anti-government activities, confining them to their hometowns and ordering them not to speak to the press.
Church groups were not included in the crackdown and theoretically still were free to engage in resistance campaigns, but most forms of peaceful protest are banned under existing regulations.