Muslim-run restaurant sues Kenyan bishops, saying violating constitution

(Photo: REUTERS / Noor Khamis)Catholic bishops lead a procession at the farm of Kenya's internal security minister George Saitoti during his burial ceremony in Kitengela, south of capital Nairobi June 16, 2012. Saitoti, who was closely involved in the fight against Somali militant group al Shabaab, was killed when the police helicopter he was traveling in crashed into a forest.

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops is fighting a lawsuit after cancelling the contract of a restaurant owned by a Somali Muslim, but the bishops say their decision had nothing to do with religion.

One news agency has quoted a lawyer for the bishops as saying the decision hinges upon the overall security of their building.

Al-Yusra Restaurant Ltd. signed a six-year lease to rent space at Waumini House in Westlands, Nairobi. Waumini House, but the owners have told a court they were forcibly evicted.

"This is a brazen violation of the constitution by the Catholic bishops, who should be at the forefront of preaching religious tolerance," said owner Baakai Maalim Kulmia, the Kenyan newspaper, The Standard reported.

The building is the headquarters of the Kenya Catholic Bishops Secretariat and it is owned and managed by the Catholic Church in Kenya.

It is about one kilometer (0.62 miles) from the Westgate Shopping Mall, which is where the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab is believed to have attacked in September 2013 leaving 67 people dead.

Extremist groups have attacked a number of churches and other sites recently in Kenya, which neighbors Somalia and this has sometimes heightened tensions between Christians and Muslims, who are in a minority.

Maalim, director of Al Yusra said that the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, through two of their agents, offered the space for the restaurant for six years starting on December 1, 2013.

He wants the Catholic bishops and Knight Frank, one of the agents, to pay over 88 million Kenyan shillings ($1 million) compensation for renovations made at the site, a rent deposit, and lost profits, the Daily Nation reported.

Rahma Jillo, the restaurant's lawyer, also said the bishops violated the constitution. She said the bishops should be at the forefront of preaching unity and religious tolerance and not be biased against Muslim-owned businesses.

The bishops' lawyer said the lease was signed without written consent and their knowledge, Religion News service reported.

Bishop Martin Kivuva of Machakos stated, "We stopped the lease for security reasons."

He said that the restaurant would be dangerous for the area since it will attract a large numbers of people who would crowd the building.

"The cancellation had nothing to do with the owners being Muslims," he stressed.

The next hearing of the case will be August 5 in Nairobi, Kenya.

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