Anti-government protests in Zimbabwe have prompted senior church leaders to call on President Robert Mugabe's administration to "listen to the cries of citizens whose cries and sufferings are loud and clear".
In a statement released on Wednesday, Church leaders from nine denominations and organisations said they were "concerned and alarmed by the unfortunate unfolding events in our beloved country, saddened by the political, social and economic meltdown, which has caused untold suffering of the masses and the resultant civic unrest and violence that has erupted across the land and the failure by our Government and almost all political leaders to be responsive to the cries of our people."
The statement condemned the "apparent disregard of the Constitution of Zimbabwe" displayed by the police force and government through "selective application of the law" and failure to deal with corruption.
"We are concerned about intra-party conflicts that are distracting Government from dealing with real economic and social issues that are affecting the country," the church leaders said.
"We are inspired by our call and mandate given to us by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to prophetically declare the Word of God and work for the common good for our communities;
"'...loose the chains of injustice and the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free' (Isaiah 58:6)
"'Let justice run down like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream' (Amos 5:24).
"We call upon our Government to listen to the cries of citizens whose cries and sufferings are loud and clear. There is need to act justly and mercifully on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged in our nation."
The statement encouraged citizens to protest peacefully, but also urged police and law enforcement agencies to protect citizens "instead of brutalizing them".
"Citizens have lost confidence and trust in our Government," church leaders said.
"Therefore, there is urgent need for National Dialogue between the Government and different national stakeholders, towards finding a lasting solution than to ignore, politicize people's genuine grievances and label them as opposition or demonize and harass the Church and her leaders."
The statement raised concern about the harassment and arrest of religious leaders, particularly church leaders who have spoken publicly "on behalf of powerless people" such as Pastor Evan Mawarire.
"These grievances must be viewed as the early warning signs which indicate underlying and simmering tensions that will soon explode into civil unrest if not addressed," the statement said.
"We call upon the Church, which is the salt and light of this nation, to continue to pray and also to speak out prophetically against any unjust system, until we have a peaceful and prosperous Zimbabwe in which every citizen's God given and constitutional rights are respected.
"The Zimbabwe We Want is a nation that respects the rights of all its citizens regardless of creed, gender, age, race and ethnicity; a nation where all citizens enjoy equal protection of the law; a nation that is God-fearing evidenced by the love for justice, righteousness, peace and loving one's neighbour as oneself.
"May God grant us Zimbabweans, the courage, faith and hope to face our challenges.
"God Bless Zimbabwe and her people."