Published: Monday, May 30, 2011 at 5:09 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 30, 2011 at 5:09 a.m.

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Religion, like politics, is often a dangerous business in this country.

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Zimbabwe’s courts and its police support the push by Nolbert Kunonga, shown in his Harare offices, for Anglican authority.
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Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi for The New York Times

As President Robert Mugabe, 87, pushes for an election this year, the harassment of independent churches seen as hostile to his government has intensified.

Truncheon-wielding riot police officers stormed a Nazarene church here in the capital last month to break up a gathering called to pray for peace. Days later, the authorities in Lupane arrested a Roman Catholic priest leading a memorial service for civilians massacred in the early years of Mr. Mugabe’s decades in power.

Mr. Mugabe, a Roman Catholic, recently denounced black bishops in established churches as pawns of whites and the West, singling out for special opprobrium Catholic bishops who have “a nauseating habit of unnecessarily attacking his person,” the state-controlled Herald newspaper reported.

But it is leaders of the Anglican Church, one of the country’s major denominations, who have lately faced the most sustained pressure. Nolbert Kunonga, an excommunicated Anglican bishop and staunch Mugabe ally, has escalated a drive to control thousands of Anglican churches, schools and properties across Zimbabwe and southern Africa.

“The throne is here,” declared Mr. Kunonga, who has held onto his bishopric here in the sprawling diocese of Harare through courts widely seen as partisan to Mr. Mugabe. He has also been backed by a police force answerable to the president, whom Mr. Kunonga describes as “an angel.”

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