HARARE, Zimbabwe – Two Congolese nationals who claim to be devil worshippers say they have been unjustly jailed in Zimbabwe for wanting to practice their cult in the southern African nation.
The men said they have been held in a Harare prison for a year awaiting deportation after they asked to be allowed to form a "church to worship Satan" at a refugee camp in southeastern Zimbabwe.
George Rene Longange, 41, and Ngezi Ngendo Bragston, 37, became official refugees after fleeing civil war and persecution in their vast, central African country, they said.
Zimbabwe is predominantly Christian and Satanism is not recognized as a legal faith. Prison officials said Thursday they are in a quandary over the fate of the Satanists who are sowing fear among other prison inmates and prison staff alike. The two cannot be deported unless the United Nations revokes their refugee status.
Under U.N. rules, refugees must stay where they are or find a third country willing to take them if it isn't safe for them to return home.
Harare constitutional lawyer Lovemore Madhuku said despite freedom of worship guaranteed in the constitution drinking blood and praise-singing about death and darkness was not an accepted, legal religion in Zimbabwe.
"What they want to do is to bring chaos and provoke people," Madhuku said.
Their continued presence caused hysteria in some communities and was seen as in breach of public safety laws. Frightened poor people in one Harare suburb this week claimed to have seen visions of blood-sucking vampires linked to Satanism.
Kembo Mohadi, a government minister in charge of policing and the immigration service, accused the Congolese of "polluting" the nation.
"Satanic practices are immoral, intolerable and evil. We have no room for them," he said.
Longange and Bragston told The Associated Press in a rare interview permitted by prison authorities that they only wanted to engage in rituals and the symbolic drinking of blood and prostrate themselves before red-painted coffins to honor Satan.
Longange said that they are not a harm to others. He said the devil worshippers did not kill or murder living contemporaries.
He said they had not been formally charged with any crime and were not allowed to perform any rites in the jail.
"They should take us to court to face judgment or let us preach the word of our master," he said. "We worship Satan, the prince of darkness and believe he is our god. Satan is freedom from God's words," he said.
Elizabeth Banda, a Zimbabwe prison service official, said the Satanists scared those who came into contact with them or had even heard about them in an already highly superstitious nation. She said they should be deported "for everyone's good."
Longange dismissed fears he was seeking converts inside or outside prison in Zimbabwe.
"No one can be forced to join, it is voluntary. Not everyone can be a Satanist. You have to be very smart and be able to read and understand our bible, our law. If you break the code, you die," he said.
Articulate and well-spoken, Longange said the Harare jail could not hold his or Bragston's souls confined to their cells at night. Every night they "astral traveled" in an out-of-body journey to distant places for rituals.
"It is very impossible to catch a Satanist, everything we do is spiritual," he said. They were not permitted to marry and even intimate encounters were spiritual, he said.
He said Halloween and Walpurgisnacht, the European festival of supernatural spirits, generally benign events in the West, remained the two biggest landmarks in the Satanic calendar for blood drinking rituals and devil worship.
Huggins Machingauta, another senior official at the Harare Central Remand prison, said Zimbabweans found the Satanists' "life on the other side" incomprehensible.
"We are Christians and we don't want to go there, we don't find our own people there and we don't want anything to do with it," he said.