The Constitution provides for freedom of religion but establishes fixed legal conditions and prohibits what the Government considers religious fundamentalism or intolerance. The constitutional provision prohibiting religious fundamentalism is understood widely to be aimed at Muslims. In practice the Government permits adherents of all religions to worship without interference.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.
Generally there are amicable relations between the various religious communities; however, there have been occasional reports that villagers believed to be witches were harassed, beaten, or sometimes killed by neighbors.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country has an area of approximately 242,000 square miles and a population of approximately 3.5 million, of which an estimated 690,000 persons live in the capital, Bangui. The population is believed to be about 50 percent Christian, 15 percent Muslim, and 35 percent practitioners of traditional indigenous religions or nonreligious. Most Christians also practice some aspects of traditional indigenous religions. The Government does not keep data on the number of nontraditional religious groups in the country, and there is no data available on active participation in formal religious services or rituals.
In general immigrants and foreign nationals in the country who practice a particular religion characterize themselves as Catholic, Protestant, or Muslim.
There are many missionary groups operating in the country, such as the Lutherans, Grace Brethren, and Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as missionaries from Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other African countries.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion but establishes fixed legal conditions and prohibits what the Government considers religious fundamentalism or intolerance. The constitutional provision prohibiting religious fundamentalism is understood widely to be aimed at Muslims. In practice the Government permits adherents of all religions to worship without interference. There is no indication that the Government favors any particular religion, and there is no state religion.
Religious groups (except for traditional indigenous religious groups) are required by law to register with the Ministry of Interior. This registration is free and confers official recognition and certain limited benefits, such as customs duty exemption for the importation of vehicles or equipment, but does not confer a general tax exemption. The administrative police of the Ministry of Interior keep track of groups that have failed to register; however, the police have not attempted to impose any penalty on such groups.
Religious organizations and missionary groups are free to proselytize, worship, and construct places of worship.
Although the Government does not prohibit explicitly religious instruction in public schools, religious instruction is not a part of the overall public school curriculum. There are approximately 12 Catholic schools in Bangui.
Religious holidays celebrated as national holidays include Christmas, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, the Monday after Pentecost, and All Saints Day.
The Government has taken positive steps to promote interfaith dialog, including organizing interfaith Masses to promote peace (see Section III).
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Any religious or nonreligious group that the Government considers subversive is subject to sanctions. The Ministry of Interior may decline to register, suspend the operations of, or ban any organization that it deems offensive to public morals or likely to disturb the peace. The Ministry of Interior also may intervene to resolve internal conflicts about property, finances, or leadership within religious groups. The Government has banned the Unification Church since the mid-1980's as a subversive organization likely to disturb the peace, specifically in connection with alleged paramilitary training of young church members. However, the Government imposed no new sanctions on any religious group during the period covered by this report.
Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of Mbororo (also known as Peulh or Fulani) Muslim herders being singled out for harassment by the authorities, including extortion by police, due to popular resentment of their presumed affluence. Muslims play a preponderant role in the economy.
The practice of witchcraft is a criminal offense under the Penal Code; however, persons generally are prosecuted for this offense only in conjunction with some other offense, such as murder. Witchcraft traditionally has been a common explanation for diseases of which the causes were unknown. Although many traditional indigenous religions include or accommodate belief in the efficacy of witchcraft, they generally approve of harmful witchcraft only for defensive or retaliatory purposes and purport to offer protection against it. The practice of witchcraft is understood widely to encompass attempts to harm others not only by magic, but also by covert means of established efficacy such as poisons.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
There were reports of Muslim Chadian commercial traders being attacked in a commercial section near the center of Bangui. Although these attacks are commercially motivated, they seem to be aggravated and tolerated because the Chadians are Muslims. On one occasion, a Chadian was attacked in the presence of the Interior Minister. It is unclear if the attack was perpetrated by police or private citizens.
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
Although in general there is religious tolerance among members of different religious groups, there have been occasional reports that some villagers who were believed to be witches were harassed, beaten, or sometimes killed by neighbors. Courts have tried, convicted, and sentenced some persons for crimes of violence against suspected witches. There were no reported mob killings of persons suspected of practicing witchcraft during the period covered by this report.
Unlike in previous years, during the period covered by this report, there were no reports that organized armed highway bandits attacked religious groups, particularly Catholic priests and nuns, northeast of Bangui.
When serious social or political conflicts have arisen, simultaneous prayer ceremonies have been held in churches, temples, and mosques to ask for divine assistance. The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace often conducts developmental and educational programs and seminars throughout the country. The members work closely with other church groups and social organizations on social issues. On February 24, 2001, thousands of worshipers of different religious faiths took part in a Mass at the national stadium that was dedicated to peace in the country. President Ange Felix Patasse, who organized the Mass in the wake of widespread strikes by civil servants demanding payment of salary arrears, urged the congregation of Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims not to allow the strike to affect peace adversely.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. The Embassy maintains contact with religious groups, especially American missionaries in the country, and monitors human rights developments.