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Religion News Report

Religion News Report - Mar. 20, 2000 (Vol. 4, Issue 181)

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NOTE:
* This edition covers the Uganda cult tragedy only.

* Rather than list countless similar reports and updates, I have included a
selection of news reports that together provide an overview.

* For additional items, see these pre-defined news searches:


=== Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandment of God
1. Bodies of Ugandan Cultists Buried En Masse
2. Police See Murder in Uganda Cult 'Mass Suicide'
3. Death tolls soars as bodies are counted in Ugandan cult murder-suicide
4. Uganda doomsday toll doubles, some murders feared
5. Uganda cult suicide toll rises
6. Ugandan Death Toll Could Be 500
7. Uganda in shock after massive cult suicide
8. Fire Kills Members Of Cult In Uganda
9. Kanungu Suicide Group Identified
10. They Sang Before They Died
11. Doomsday cult held party before inferno
12. Cult Leaders Among The Dead
13. Ugandan Mass Death Led by Failed Politician
14. Police among Uganda cult dead
15. Hooker led suicide cult
16. The Police Account
17. Kanungu: An Eyewitness Tale
18. Silent Apocalypse of a Ugandan Cult
19. Quiet cult's doomsday suicide
20. Analysis: Why East Africa?
21. Suicidal credo that came from the West
22. Controlling Cults
23. Indigenous Christian sects seen as threat to Ugandan state
24. Uganda to crack down on 'dangerous' religious leaders
25. Prophets of doom will always deliver (Graham Baldwin - Editorial)

=== Cult Defenders Rush In
26. ''A Tentative First Report on the Deaths in Uganda'' (J. Gordon Melton)
27. Tragedy in Uganda (Massimo Introvigne)


=== Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandment of God

1. Bodies of Ugandan Cultists Buried En Masse
AOL/Reuters, Mar. 20, 2000
http://my.aol.com/news/story.tmpl?
table=n&cat=01&id=0003200110515905
KANUNGU, Uganda (Reuters) - The charred bodies of perhaps 500 cultists killed
in a Doomsday blaze at a Ugandan church were buried unceremoniously in a mass
grave Monday, dumped in the ground along with the walls of their church.

The likely death toll from Friday's inferno doubled from original estimates
as the grisly discovery of other bodies buried at the site suggested a string
of cult murders.

The exact toll is unlikely ever to be known, but officials said more than 500
people could have been killed in the actual fire, which shocked a country
long hardened to political violence and fanatical religious groups.
(...)

The discovery of more bodies buried in Kanungu, headquarters of the
''Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God,'' cast an even
more ominous light on the episode.

Corpses were found in a pit latrine near the church where the sect members
died in what was initially called a mass suicide prompted by Millennial
beliefs about the end of the world.

Police were already considering whether the death of at least 78 children in
the blaze was murder rather than suicide. The discovery of the new bodies
hastened murder inquiries.
(...)

Rugumayo said the government was closing down the four other centers
immediately, although whether police will find anyone there is not clear.
Local residents said cult members had been arriving from the other centers
several days before the blaze.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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2. Police See Murder in Uganda Cult 'Mass Suicide'
AOL/Reuters, Mar. 20, 2000
http://my.aol.com/news/story.tmpl?table=n&cat=0106&id=0003200357494945
KANUNGU, Uganda (Reuters) - Ugandan police said on Monday at least some of
the Doomsday Cult members who perished in a horrific blaze were victims of
murder, and local villagers blamed cult leaders for the tragedy.

More than 200 Christian cult members burned to death after setting fire to
their church in the southwestern village of Kanungu on Friday morning, but
police said some were far too young to be considered willing participants in
mass suicide.
(...)

The blaze was a chilling reminder of the largest mass suicide of recent times
-- the Jonestown tragedy in 1978.
(...)

Ugandan radio, monitored by the BBC, said Museveni ''condemned in the
strongest terms this horrific, senseless and tragic act, and was deeply
saddened to learn that the adults who carried out the barbarity had taken
children with them and subjected them to such cruelty.''

Residents of this small farming settlement said they believed the deaths were
orchestrated by just a few people.

''It was planned by their leaders. I don't think all those people could have
planned to die,'' said Rutenda Didas, a local administrator. ''All of the
windows were nailed from the outside. The planners did not want those inside
to run away.''

The leaders of the ''Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of
God'' told their followers that Doomsday would come in the Millennium Year
and they should gather together to be saved and delivered to heaven.

''All along they had said that (the prayer house) is the boat of Noah, this
is the ark and at the time of calamity they would come here,'' said Florence,
a shopkeeper in Kanungu. But few knew they would be doused in petrol and set
ablaze, she said.
(...)

[Joseph] Kibwetere formed the movement in 1987 when he said he heard a
conversation between the Virgin Mary and Jesus which he recorded on a
cassette tape.

''There is a lady's voice on the tape which says the world is suffering
because the people are not following the ten commandments,'' said Sister
Stella Maris, a Catholic nun living near Kanungu. ''She says the commandments
must be enforced or the world will end.''

The recording formed the basis of the beliefs of the sect's followers who
were told to live strictly by the commandments and communicate with each
other only in gestures unless they were praying or singing.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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3. Death tolls soars as bodies are counted in Ugandan cult murder-suicide
CNN, Mar. 20, 2000
http://www.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/africa/03/20/uganda.cult.01/index.html
(...) Regional police Commander Stephen Okwalingwa told CNN that the
pathologist on the scene had counted 330 bodies, of which 78 were children.
He said the total, based on a count of visible skulls, did not include bodies
that could be seen in nearby pits, and said the death toll was expected to
rise.
(...)

The sect was called the ''Movement for the Restoration of the Ten
Commandments of God.''
Its leader, Joseph Kibweteere, preached that the world
would end in 2000. To prepare for the end, the followers sold off their
possessions, dressed up in white, green and black robes, and boarded
themselves in their church.

Local residents told one paper the sect members had a party on Wednesday at
which they consumed 70 crates of soda and three bulls. The next day, they
gathered personal belongings including clothing, money, suitcases and church
materials and burned them, the paper reported.

On Thursday, cult members went around nearby villages bidding farewell to
neighbors, witnesses told the Sunday Vision newspaper.

''They were aware they would die on March 17 because the Virgin Mary had
promised to appear at the camp during the morning hours to carry them to
heaven,'' Anastasia Komuhanti told the paper.

The sect members gathered at the church on Friday morning and, after singing
and chanting for several hours, set the building on fire, said police.
(...)

A local villager named Florence said sect members believed the church was the
place they could go in time of calamity.

''They were told that at a certain time this year the world would end and so
the leaders made it happen and perhaps the people there believed it had
happened,'' she said.
(...)

Kibweteere originally had predicted the world would end December 31, 1999,
but later changed the date to December 31, 2000, according to the Monitor.

The paper quoted Kanungu residents as saying Kibweteere started preaching in
1994 and was a former member of the Roman Catholic Church.
(...)

Violent religious sects have caused trouble in Uganda in the past, prompting
authorities last year to require sect members to register with the
government.
(...)

''I think it (the fire) calls on the state to review the issue of cults and
see what measures to take to protect the ordinary people from cult leaders,''
Amama Mbabazi, minister of state for foreign affairs, told the
government-owned Sunday Vision newspaper.

In September, police in central Uganda disbanded another doomsday cult, the
1,000-member ''World Message Last Warning'' sect. The leaders were charged
with rape, kidnapping and illegal confinement.

An extreme and violent Christian cult, the Holy Spirit Movement, sprang up in
poor areas of northern Uganda in the late 1980s. Several hundred followers of
that group died in suicidal attacks against government troops, convinced that
magic oil would protect them.

Its successor, the Lord's Resistance Army, is still pursuing a guerrilla war.
It claims it wants to rule the country on the basis of the Biblical Ten
Commandments, yet it has kidnapped thousands of boys and girls to serve as
soldiers and sex slaves, and frequently commits atrocities against local
people.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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4. Uganda doomsday toll doubles, some murders feared
News24/Reuters (South Africa), Mar. 20, 2000
http://livenews.24.com/English/Africa/Central_Africa/ENG_316313_1085093_SEO.asp
Kanungu, Uganda - The likely death toll from the doomsday blaze at a Ugandan
church doubled to 500 on Monday and the grisly discovery of other bodies
buried at the site suggested a string of cult murders.

Corpses were found in a pit latrine and the vegetable garden of the church
where the Christian sect members died last Friday in what was initially
termed as mass suicide prompted by Millennial beliefs about the end of the
world.


Officials said up to 500 people were killed in the actual fire, which shocked
a country long hardened to political violence and fanatical religious groups.
(...)

But, while it appears clear that the cult members willingly walked into the
church, many local residents believe leaders duped their followers into
attending the prayer meeting by telling them they were about to be saved.

They believe the cult members were murdered and that the windows and doors
were nailed shut to prevent their escape.
(...)

Police said they had begun a murder inquiry because many of those who died in
the blaze were far too young to be considered willing participants in mass
suicide.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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5. Uganda cult suicide toll rises
BBC, Mar. 20, 2000
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/newsid_683000/683273.stm
(...) Initial reports said around 235 men, women and children died in the
small trading centre of Kanungu, about 320km (200 miles), southwest of the
Ugandan capital, Kampala. This figure was based on the number of people who
had registered as members of the movement.

But correspondents say police have discovered a full list of the cult's
members and, although they are not revealing the figure, say it could be much
more than previously thought. Some reports have put the death toll at 470.
(...)

There have also been reports that other leaders of the cult included two
former Roman Catholic priests. Correspondents say evidence of its Roman
Catholic roots lay scattered around the cult's compound. Three statues of
Jesus stood in the leader's abandoned offices, while a large crucifix had
been laid carefully on green cloth draped across a chair.
(...)

It has been reported the movement had been preparing for the end of the world
this year. Last year, one of cult's members, Emmanuel Twinomujuni, told the
state-owned New Vision newspaper that ''there was no time to waste''. ''Some
of our leaders talk directly to God,'' he said. ''Any minute from now, when
the end comes, every believer who will be at an as yet undisclosed spot will
be saved.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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6. Ugandan Death Toll Could Be 500
Yahoo/AP, Mar. 20, 2000
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/20000320/wl/uganda_cult_deaths.html
(...) Police said all five leaders of the sect, four of them former Roman
Catholic priests or lay workers, had died in the Friday morning blaze at the
church compound belonging to the Christian sect Movement for the Restoration
of the Ten Commandments of God.

(...)

''It may be a total of 600'' - 100 more bodies than police have counted,
spokesman Assuman Mugenyi said. He added that a burial in a mass grave would
begin today.

Mugenyi identified the leaders as Cledonia Mwerinde, 40, a former prostitute
who built the group's compound on the farm of her late father; Joseph
Kibweteere, 68, a former Roman Catholic priest in Kabale diocese north of
Kanungu; and Dominic Kataribabo, 32, Joseph Kasapurari, 39, and John
Kamagara, 69 - all reported to be former priests.

Mugenyi said the identification of the alleged leaders was not based on
forensic evidence but on ''comments from local people'' who told police the
five had been inside the building - said to have been sealed from the inside
before the fire began.

Syncretic Christian religious sects are mushrooming across Africa as many
people become disillusioned with the inability of politicians to improve
their lives.

The Kanungu sect has branches in several other parts of Uganda, and its
members used only gestures to communicate, reportedly for fear of breaking
commandments. But they do sing and pray aloud.

In the wake of the disaster, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni today warned
the nation's religious leaders against those who might endanger the lives of
the unsuspecting.

The government ''believes in the freedom of worship. It also has a duty to
protect the lives of the people of Uganda ... and to ensure that Ugandans are
not at the mercy of some dangerous and opportunistic individuals who parade
themselves as religious leaders,'' a statement from Museveni's office said.
(...)

Tumwesigye Kajungu, a former schoolteacher who refused to join the sect, said
his wife and six children perished in the blaze. ''I last saw my wife on
March 8. She told me something was going to happen on the 15th. And if
nothing happened, then she would see me again,'' he said.

Dr. Florence Baingana, a psychiatrist in charge of the mental health division
in the Ministry of Health, said fears about what would happen in the year
2000 and grinding poverty had fueled the religious sect movement in Uganda.
(...)

There were conflicting reports of when the Movement for the Restoration of
the Ten Commandments of God
was established. Some say it was 1989, others
1994.

Mugenyi said police wanted to close down the Kanungu compound last September
but said the fact that police officers were members of the cult made it more
difficult to close it down. He said that four current and two former officers
died in the fire.

Police were looking for any adult members of the sect who may have survived
the fire, Mugenyi said, adding that they would be charged with murder if
caught ''because they brought innocent children into the church.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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7. Uganda in shock after massive cult suicide
Boston Herald, Mar. 20, 2000
http://www.bostonherald.com/bostonherald/intl/cult03202000.htm
(...) In the second most deadly group suicide in recent history, members of
the Restoration of the Ten Commandments partied for days on chicken, millet
bread and 70 cases of soda. They then doused themselves with gas and paraffin
and lit the inferno on Friday.
(...)

Members of the African cult believed their church - a building made of stone
with a corrugated tin roof - was Noah's ark. ''All along they had said that
this is the boat of Noah,'' said Florence, a local villager. ''This is the
ark and they were told that at the time of calamity they would come here.''

The chapel was built on the graves of cult founder Credonia Mwerinde's
parents. Authorities did not know yesterday whether Mwerinde, a former
prostitute who started the sect six years ago, and other leaders were among
the dead.

One leader, Joseph Kibweteere, had predicted that the world would come to an
end Dec. 31, according to the state-run newspaper. But when nothing happened
at the dawn of the new millennium, Kibweteere changed his prediction to Dec.
31, 2000.
(...)

Villagers said members of the cult were mostly former Roman Catholics,
including a former priest, who were polite but insisted on using only hand
signals on certain days.
(...)

Cult expert Steven Hassan, author of ''Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People
to Think for Themselves,''
said that like most cults, the Restoration group
likely used mind control to strip members of their critical thinking. ''Most
of them died willingly,'' he said. ''But when you think about mind control,
it wasn't their own will, it was their cult identity's will.''

Religious sects preaching a smattering of Christian beliefs are mushrooming
across Africa, experts said, because of rising cynicism against political
leaders' ability to improve the low quality of life.

''People are hungry for hope, for meaning and purpose. People are hungry for
community,'' Hassan said. ''These are healthy hungers but you've got to be
really careful where you place your trust.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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8. Fire Kills Members Of Cult In Uganda
Washington Post, Mar .19, 2000
http://search.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/2000-03/19/249l-031900-idx.html
(...) ''Prior to this incident their leader told believers to sell off their
possessions and prepare to go to heaven,'' a police spokesman told reporters
today. It was unclear how long before the conflagration the order was given.
News agencies reported that members of the sect were burning and selling
their property last year in preparation for the new millennium.
(...)

In Uganda, doomsday cults have made headlines twice recently. In September,
police raided the World Message Last Warning Church in the central Uganda
district of Luwero, charging its leader with sexually exploiting children
among more than 1,000 followers.

And in November, 100 riot police raided the camp of Nabassa Gwajwa, 19, a
''prophetess'' whom Ugandan authorities termed a security threat.

A rebel war in the country's north pits government forces against the Lord's
Resistance Army, a group notorious for kidnapping children. It also is
founded on the teachings of a ''prophetess.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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9. Kanungu Suicide Group Identified
New Vision/Africa News Online (Uganda), Mar. 20, 2000
http://www.africanews.org/east/uganda/stories/20000320/20000320_feat3.html
Kampala - The police and local officials have identified some of the 300 to
600 people including a family of eight who perished in the Kanungu cult
suicide in Rukungiri on Friday.

Relatives and local authorities said the leader of the Movement for the
Restoration of the Ten Commandments
cult, self-styled Bishop Joseph
Kibwetere, 68, was among the dead.

He died in the fire with excommunicated priests Rev. Fr. Joseph Mary
Kasipurare, 38 and Rev. Fr. Dominic Kataribabo, 64, all leaders of the same
sect.
(...)

Some of the dead people could be identified from the identity cards recovered
from the camp and signed by Kibwetere. Many victims could not be recognised,
Police said yesterday.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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10. They Sang Before They Died
New Vision/Africa News Online (Uganda), Mar. 20, 2000
http://www.africanews.org/east/uganda/stories/20000320/20000320_feat4.html
(...) Kanungu, 320 km (200 miles) from the capital Kampala, is tucked down in
the southwest corner of Uganda, a country dictator Idi Amin once made a
byword for African horrors.

Just to the west lies the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where armies of
six African states have been sucked into a messy civil war. Just south is
Rwanda, where 800,000 people were slaughtered in the 1994 genocide.

Local papers said the extremist Christian sect, one of several Doomsday cults
to have sprung up in Uganda in recent years, was registered as a non-
governmental organisation in 1997, but had been in operation since the early
1990s.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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11. Doomsday cult held party before inferno
The Times of London (England), Mar. 20, 2000
http://www.the-times.co.uk/news/pages/tim/2000/03/20/timfgnafr02001.html
(...) Members of the cult had bought crates of soft drinks for a party on
Wednesday thrown by Mr Kibwetere. On Thursday, cult members went around
nearby villages saying goodbye to locals.

The villagers in Kanungu said that the cult members believed that the Virgin
Mary
''had promised to appear at the camp and carry them to Heaven''. The
believers, many of them former Roman Catholics, had sold their belongings and
donned white, green and black robes before entering the church, formerly a
school dining room.
(...)

All the adult deaths would be treated as suicide, while the deaths of
everyone under 18 would be regarded as murder, officials said.

The Ugandan Government has in the past cracked down on cults, claiming that
they are a threat to its members and the local communities.

In September, police closed down the World Message Warning Church, whose
leaders were accused of sexually harassing and abducting members. In
November, police disbanded another cult in western Uganda which was led by a
self-styled teenage prophet who was said to survive by eating only honey.

''We have been disbanding cults because they are a security risk,'' Edward
Rugamayo, Uganda's Internal Affairs Minister, said. Mr Rugamayo added: ''If
we had known about this group, we would have disbanded them as well.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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12. Cult Leaders Among The Dead
New Vision/Africa News Online (Uganda), Mar. 20, 2000
http://www.africanews.org/east/uganda/stories/20000320/20000320_feat2.html
Kampala - Self-styled prophet Joseph Kibwetere, the leader of the Movement
for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God
was part of a group of
Christians that perished in an inferno at Kanungu Church, Rukungiri district
on Friday.
(...)

Kibwetere's son Rugambwa, whom The New Vision found at the scene on Saturday
said his father wrote to their mother Theresa on Thursday, March 16 from the
camp.

In the letter, Kibwetere reportedly exhorted his wife to carry on with the
religion, ''because the members of the cult were going to perish the next
day.'' It is not clear why Kibwetere's family members were not members of the
cult.
(...)

Kibwetere also sent a suitcase full of prayer books, hymn books and other
church literature to Theresa.

''We had last heard of him in 1997 when he sent a condolence message at the
funeral of our brother Bennett. Since then he had never communicated. He did
not even send condolence messages when we lost two sisters Stella and Gloria
in the same week in June 1999. We started believing rumours that he had died
long ago,'' Rugambwa said.
(...)

The cult was issuing green identity cards to all its members, but many were
destroyed on the eve of the incident. The only properties that were not burnt
were the seven statues of the Virgin Mary, a large assortment of green and
black robes, plastic cups, plates and some wooden desks.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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13. Ugandan Mass Death Led by Failed Politician
New York Times/Reuters Stream, Mar. 20, 2000
http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/international/international-religio.html
KAMPALA (Reuters) - Joseph Kibwetere, a failed Ugandan politician, led his
disciples to a grisly mass death apparently because he believed the world was
about to be destroyed for not obeying the Ten Commandments.

The 68-year old self-styled bishop of the ''Movement for the Restoration of
the Ten Commandments of God''
had been a prominent member of the Roman
Catholic-based Democratic Party in the 1960s and 70s.

But his political career ended abruptly when the rival Ugandan People's
Congress led by Milton Obote won a controversial general election in 1980.
(...)

Seven years later, at a time when many people reported seeing visions in the
Kabale area, Kibwetere claimed to have overheard a conversation between Jesus
Christ and the Virgin Mary -- and recorded it on tape.

It was to be the basis for Friday's mass death when, according to first
reports, hundreds of Kibwetere's followers boarded themselves in their church
in the remote town of Kanungu in southwestern Uganda, sang and chanted for
several hours, then set the building on fire.
(...)

Kibwetere, joined by two former Catholic priests and a nun who had fallen out
of favor with their church, formed the cult in the late 1980s and moved to an
isolated town in the lush green hills of southwest Uganda.

Marcellino Bwesigye, whose late father was a contemporary of Kibwetere,
hosted the cult leaders at his Kampala home for several nights late last
year. ''Kibwetere was a hard working, enterprising man but a terrible
conservative in his religious beliefs,'' Bwesigye told Reuters. ''He was a
Catholic who wanted to be more Catholic than the Pope.''

His austere beliefs were reflected in his movement. Dressed in green, white
or black robes, his followers were told to live strictly by the commandments
and communicate with each other only in gestures unless they were praying or
singing. They had little contact with local residents in Kanungu except to
sell their homemade crafts.

Cult members were required to sell their possessions and give the proceeds to
the church.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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14. Police among Uganda cult dead
BBC, Mar. 20, 2000
http://news2.thls.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/newsid%5F683000/683604.stm
Four police officers were among the hundreds who burned to death in an
apparent mass suicide in Uganda. ''These are the very people we expect to
warn us about these kind of dangers,'' said Interior Minister Edward
Rugumayo, who visited the scene on Monday.

Professor Rugamayo is expected to report back directly to President Yoweri
Museveni, who has urged religious and community leaders to guide people away
from cults.
(...)

President Museveni said although his government believed in the freedom of
worship, it also had a duty to protect people from ''dangerous'' religious
leaders.

''The president was actually angered to learn that the adults who carried out
what he called 'this barbarity' had taken children with them and subjected
them to this cruelty,'' his spokeswoman said.

Mr Museveni ''criticised the leaders of some religious cults, which are
increasingly luring unsuspecting people, taking advantage of their property
and misleading them into beliefs that endanger their lives,'' Ugandan radio
said.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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15. Hooker led suicide cult
Canoe/AP, Mar. 20, 2000
http://www.canoe.ca/TorontoNews/ts.ts-03-20-0019.html
(...) Circumstances surrounding the deaths -- who the dead were and how the
fire was started -- remain foggy. Little was known about the cult, although
it appeared to incorporate Christian beliefs, and locals said it was led by a
former prostitute, Credonia Mwerinde, since 1994.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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16. The Police Account
New Vision/Africa Online (Uganda), Mar. 20, 2000
http://www.africanews.org/east/uganda/stories/20000320/20000320_feat8.html
Kampala - Police spokesman Asuman Mugenyi visited the camp and talked to
G.Matsiko.
(...)

- Midnight March 16, Karangwa, a member, took a land title, certificates of
registration and the sect constitution to Kanungu Police Post for custody.

- A nun, Kelodoniya Mwerinde, went around Kanungu, saying they were going to
heaven on March 17.
(...)

- Cult had ties with France, Austria, Italy and Germany.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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17. Kanungu: An Eyewitness Tale
New Vision/Africa Online (Uganda), Mar. 20, 2000
http://www.africanews.org/east/uganda/stories/20000320/20000320_feat7.html
Kampala - Hours after the world's second worst mass suicide, Richard Tusiime,
Editor of Orumuri, The New Vision's sister paper, visited the scene and
recounts to Grace Matsiko.

I have practiced journalism for several years but no assignment has ever
touched me to the marrow the way this particular one did.
(...)

But as we approached the camp, ahead of us was a vehicle whose occupants I
knew. One was Joseph Kibwetere's eldest son, Maurice Rugambwa.

I consoled him. Kibwetere was my uncle. He went to school with my mother and
she used to pray with the cult when it had just began. When they demanded
that she should take us out of school and sell the property. She left the
camp. As we moved around the compound, Rugambwa (he does not belong to the
cult) pleaded with me not to mention he is Kibwetere's son.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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18. Silent Apocalypse of a Ugandan Cult
Washington Post, Mar. 20, 2000
http://search.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate
/2000-03/20/071l-032000-idx.html
(...) A new sanctuary had been built. There were stated plans to buy a
generator. That, neighbors were told, was why they were buying so much
gasoline.

The truth exploded Friday morning, in a fireball that brought much of the
nearby farming village of Kanungu scrambling to the scene of what could be
the largest mass suicide since 1978, when 914 people died by drinking a
cyanide-laced fruit drink in Jonestown, Guyana.
(...)

''They would try to persuade me to come,'' said Diana Bitamba, 35, who
employed several cult members on her nearby farm. ''They were saying that the
days are getting over, that the world was perishing so we should come and
join them and go to heaven together. ''They were not worried about this
thing,'' she said. ''They were happy.''
(...)

Across Africa, religious sects are growing as many people become more and
more disillusioned with the inability of politicians to improve their lives.
Uganda has a particularly difficult history of religious groups and violence.
(...)

In the late 1990s, the government began requiring cults to register with the
government. The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God
complied. Richard Mutazindwa, the second-highest government official at the
time, recalled friendly chats with adherents--chats that took place only
after the members prayed for guidance on whether it was all right to talk.
(...)

In fact, authorities said deception set the stage for Friday's inferno. As
adherents answered the call to gather outside Kanungu, sect leaders told
local authorities that they were planning a party for Saturday. ''The local
authorities were even invited,'' Okwalinga said.

The names of those who arrived were duly noted in a register. Authorities
counted 235, about 100 fewer than the bodies counted today. ''Maybe they
forgot to count the children,'' said the pathologist, who refused to give his
name.

Some adherents were followed to Kanungu by relatives, anxious to bring them
home. Okwalinga said the relatives were told to come for them Friday
afternoon.
(...)

Nearby, in what was described as the ''leader's house,'' still more bodies
were found. The corpses were discovered beneath the concrete lid of what was
built as a privy.

These victims, who had not been burned, appeared to have been dead perhaps a
week, witnesses estimated. Neither the number nor the manner of death was
known. Onlookers speculated the bodies were those of people done away with
for threatening to expose plans for the mass suicide.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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19. Quiet cult's doomsday suicide
BBC News, Mar. 20, 2000
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/newsid_683000/683813.stm
The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God had led a
relatively uneventful existence until the spectacular self-inflicted
holocaust that appears to have consumed several hundred of its members.
(...)

The mass immolation was apparently planned as a result of a doomsday scenario
envisioned by cult leader and former opposition politician Joseph Kibwetere.
He established the cult in the late 1980s - one of many such groups in
Uganda. It was registered as a charity whose aim was to practise the Ten
Commandments and preach the word of Jesus Christ.
(...)

The cult is thought to have been a thriving community, with more than 400
listed members, all of whom had sold their property before they joined, using
the proceeds to buy the land where they died.
(...)

They were described by local people as disciplined, polite and never causing
any trouble. But the Ugandan press had reported that the cult had been
closed down in 1998 for its insanitary conditions, using child labour, and
possibly kidnapping children.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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20. Analysis: Why East Africa?
BBC, Mar. 20, 2000
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/newsid_683000/683388.stm
(...) Terrible famines have hit Ethiopia and Somalia, Rwanda has gone through
an ethnic genocide of unimaginable proportions.

The population of Uganda, having already suffered mass killings under Idi
Amin, were suddenly confronted by a strange and devastating epidemic we now
know as Aids.

Confused and traumatised communities turned to charismatic self-styled
prophets who blamed authority - the government and the Catholic Church - for
bringing the wrath of God upon them.

The Ugandan Government has dispersed two cults in Uganda over the past year,
claiming they posed a threat both to themselves and to the local community.
Police raided a compound of the 1,000-member World Message Last Warning
Church in the central town of Luwero last September.

The said they found seven girls who had been sexually assaulted, three boys
being held against their will and 18 unidentified shallow graves.

In November about 100 riot police raided and disbanded an illegal camp at
Ntusi in Sembabule district, home of a self-styled teenage prophetess who was
said to eat nothing but honey.
(...)

Groups such as the Holy Spirit Movement have evolved into fully-fledged rebel
movements, whose followers continue to kidnap children and launch suicide
attacks in the belief that magic oils will make them immune from government
bullets.

Others have sought solace and redemption in the belief that any world capable
of heaping such terror on them must be close to its end.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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21. Suicidal credo that came from the West
The Times of London (England), Mar. 20, 2000
http://www.the-times.co.uk/news/pages/tim/
2000/03/20/timfgnafr01002.html
A girl in her early teens sat in Gulu Hospital wearing a hideous grin. A
victim of the Lord's Resistance Army, her lips had been snipped off in the
name of God. She was a typical victim of the Christian fundamentalist cults
that flourish and fight in Central Africa.

But they have never before turned on themselves, as the Movement for the
Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God
did. Like the LRA's ''parent'',
the Holy Spirit Movement which sprang up in the 1980s, violent cultish
movements, blending paganism with Christianity, have been a feature of the
region for years.

Where tribal conflict, upheaval and small seasonal variations in rainfall can
mean the difference between feast and famine, peasants seek salvation in
armed bands led by a ''prophet of God''.
(...)

After feasting for a week, which meant they had destroyed their cattle and
their livelihoods, the desperate followers of Joseph Kibwetere had little
left to live for. They already lived in a state of perpetual fear of attacks
from religion-fuelled Mai Mai warriors and the Interahamwe, the Hutu
extremists.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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22. Controlling Cults
New Vision/Africa News Online (Uganda), Mar. 20, 2000
http://www.africanews.org/east/uganda/stories/20000320/20000320_feat17.html
Kampala - As The world joins Uganda in mourning the deaths of hundreds at the
hands of a religious sect in Rukungiri on Friday, the focus is inevitably
going to be on how to handle cults.

It is a big challenge, especially in a country that cherishes freedom of
worship
as enshrined in the Constitution. There can, indeed, be a fine line
between genuine religious worship and the eccentricities that characterise
cults.

From a civic point of view, dangerous cultic behaviour will always manifest
itself in a way that will alert the public and give the authorities ample
time to monitor and act for the social good. Indeed, two dangerous and
potentially suicidal cults had their evil designs nipped in the bud when
authorities reacted to local social alarm.
(...)

From a religious point of view, many of the cults are pseudo-Christian, which
poses a big challenge to mainstream churches. The cults, by definition,
either misinterpret the scriptures, or entirely ignore them.

The churches should work together to reach out to the misled and teach the
scriptures as they are. Kenya is now tackling an age-old evil of human
sacrifice following last year's publication of a report on nationwide devil
worship. There could be lessons for Uganda.

At the social-political level, the government needs to give the NGO Board
powers and facilitate it to fully vet before licensing and subsequently
monitor organisations' activities in the field.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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23. Indigenous Christian sects seen as threat to Ugandan state
Yahoo/AFP, Mar. 19, 2000
http://asia.dailynews.yahoo.com/headlines/world/afp/article.html?
s=asia/headlines/000319/world/afp/Indigenous_Christian_
sects_seen_as_threat_to_Ugandan_state.html
The Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God cult, of which 200 members
apparently committed mass suicide in rural Uganda, is the latest
manifestation of indigenous Christian sects with apocalyptic, sometimes
revolutionary overtones.

In Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, as well as in Uganda, the synthesis
of Christianity and traditional African religions partly as a rejection of
the so-called ''western churches'', gave rise to millenarian Doomsday cults
as the arrival of the year 2000 approached.
(...)

Some of these indigenous movements have incorporated much more earthly
political ambitions.

The Lord's Resistance Army -- which is an offshoot of the violent Holy Spirit
Movement formed in the 1980s -- maintains an armed struggle in the north to
overthrow the government and restore the Ugandan people on the road to faith,
according to its leader, Joseph Kony.
(...)

Last September, authorities raided a farm in central Uganda used as a base by
the apocalyptic World Message Last Warning sect, made up of Tutsis and
Bahimas from southern Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of
Congo. Its members were accused of kidnapping children, and sexual abuse of
minors.

Two months later, anti-riot police dispersed an illegal gathering of 500
people in western Uganda, where the 19-year-old prophetess Nbassa Gwajwa
preached to her Hima and Tutsi faithful. Gwajwa claimed to have died in 1996
before being sent back to earth by God on a mission to preach repentance to
her people prior to the turn of the millennium.

In Rwanda, Doomsday sects and cults promising collective redemption also
flourished as 2000 approached.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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24. Uganda to crack down on 'dangerous' religious leaders
News24/AFP (South Africa), Mar. 20, 2000
http://livenews.24.com/English/Africa/Central_Africa/ENG_316019_1084332_SEO.asp
Kampala - Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said on Monday his government
will crack down on ''dangerous and opportunistic'' religious leaders after
more than 235 members of a doomsday cult perished in a mass suicide.

Museveni said his government would ensure that Ugandans were not left at the
mercy of what he called ''some dangerous and opportunistic individuals who
parade themselves as religious leaders'', presidential press secretary Hope
Kivengere told AFP.

''The president said that while the NRM (National Resistance Movement)
government believed in the freedom of worship, it also has a duty to protect
the lives of the people from religious practises which endanger their
lives,'' said Kivengere.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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25. Prophets of doom will always deliver
The Express (England), Mar. 20, 2000
http://www.lineone.net/express/00/03/20/features/f0400cults-d.html
The suicide of up to 470 members of a doomsday cult in Uganda is deeply
disturbing. Even more so is the probability that the West will dismiss this
as a purely local phenomenon which has no relevance here. That is a very
dangerous assumption. In the decades running up to the year 2000, millennium
doomsday cults sprung up everywhere. Now, with events in Uganda, we are
beginning to see the fallout after the prophecies of death and destruction
failed to come to pass.

True, Africa has seen a particular explosion of such activity in recent
(...)

But in Britain, too, there has been an influx in prophets bringing with them
fantastical claims they can lift curses and raise the dead.
(...)

The world did not end on January 1. Many religions, such as the Jehovah's
Witnesses
, had already revised the dates for the cataclysm a few times this
century. Twenty years ago, David Berg, leader of the Children Of God group,
said the Second Coming was going to be in 1984. When that came and went the
group revised the date again. More recently, it compromised; 2000 would be
the start of the end of the world. There would be a big meltdown until 2007
when the second coming would occur. Others are now being much more vague
saying it will be 2012 or 2014.

But it still means that many doomsday prophets have had to face up to the
embarrassment of being wrong about the millennium. The result is that some
may decide to take matters into their own hands.
(...)

The more times a leader gets it wrong, the more he is in danger of looking
foolish and losing his authority.
(...)

Sect leaders often start off with a sensible message but become increasingly
paranoid.
(...)

Since the Second World War, Britain [h]as seen more than 1,500 new religions
springing up and in the US the figure is near 4,000. Superstition surrounding
the millennium is not the only cause.
(...)

There are already groups in Britain who are so paranoid they believe they are
under attack. The Peniel Pentecostal church in Brentwood, Essex, even has an
anti-aircraft gun outside the building. It is a growing phenomenon that is
not being taken seriously.

There were enough Britons caught up in the Waco massacre for us to realise
that we are just as gullible as anyone else when it comes to being involved
in dangerous cults.

The weekend's events in Uganda might have been extreme but be prepared for
more like them much closer to home.

Graham Baldwin is the director of the charity Catalyst, which helps people
who have suffered as a result of new religious groups.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Cult Apologists Rush In

26. ''A Tentative First Report on the Deaths in Uganda''
by J. Gordon Melton (March 19, 2000)
http://www.cesnur.org/testi/uganda_005.htm#Anchor-14210
[Largely a rewrite of publicly available news reports, followed by this
conclusion:]

(...)
At this point we should see the incident as an invitation to further research
and data gathering rather than any hasty comparisons with other recent
violent incidents. As we integrate this all important African data, we will
discover a whole new set of data concerning religion-related violence from
the last decades during which time the colonial governments have been
withdrawn and new, often unstable, independent governments have arisen.


* J. Gordon Melton is a cult apologists
27. Tragedy in Uganda: the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, a
Post-Catholic Movement
by Massimo Introvigne, (Mar. 20, 2000)
http://www.cesnur.org/testi/uganda_002.htm
(...) Uganda is the home of hundred of religious movements, many of them
apocalyptic and millenarian.
(...)

Subsequent governments have repressed prophetic movements with a heavy hand.
In 1999, between September and November, the government disbanded the World
Message Last Warning Church of Wilson Bushara and the communal group of
prophetess Nabassa Gwajwa.

Scholarship about Uganda's apocalyptic movements in general (see Behrend
1997) warns again applying Western models to situations peculiar to that
country. In fact, conflict between ''cults'' and the national army, protest,
violence (and even suicide) are often new forms of pre-existing ethnic,
tribal, and political conflicts. In general, tragedies in Uganda also
confirms that violence connected to new religious movements erupts because of
a combination of internal and external factors (see Wessinger 2000). Both
millenarian beliefs shaped by Uganda's tragic recent past, and harsh army and
police repression, are significant factors.

In Africa as elsewhere, generalizations claiming that all millenarian and
apocalyptic movements are ready for mass suicide are grossly inaccurate.
They may in fact amplify tension and deviance, thus operating as
self-fulfilling prophecies contributing to cause the very evils they claim
they want to prevent.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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* This appears to be the usual blame-everyone-else-but-leave-cults-alone
approach so typical of CESNUR's cult defender dream team.

Compare their analysis with the sensible report listed above as item 22.

* About CESNUR / Massimo Introvigne

About Cult Apologists

Alternative Religions And Their Academic Supporters
by Stephen Kent and Theresa Krebs