printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Niger


International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Share

The Constitution provides for "the right of the free development of each individual in their spiritual, cultural, and religious dimensions," and the Government generally respects the freedom to practice one's religious beliefs, as long as persons respect public order, social peace, and national unity.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

There are generally amicable relations between the various religious communities; however, there were instances when members of the Islamic majority were not tolerant of the rights of members of minority religions to practice their faith. For example, in November 2000 riots led by Islamic fundamentalists, rioters targeted two Christian missionary sites.

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 a total land area of 489,076 square miles and its population is approximately 11,200,000. Islam is the dominant religion and is practiced by over 90 percent of the population. There also are small practicing communities of Christians (including Jehovah's Witnesses) and Baha'is. Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, account for less than 5 percent of the population but are active particularly in Niamey and other urban centers with expatriate populations. As Christianity was the religion of French colonial institutions, its followers include many local believers from the educated, the elite, and colonial families, as well as Africans from neighboring coastal countries, particularly Benin, Togo, and Ghana. Numbering only a few thousand, the Baha'is are located primarily in Niamey and in communities on the west side of the Niger River, bordering Burkina Faso. A small percentage of the population practice traditional indigenous religions. There is no information available regarding the number of atheists in the country.

Active Christian missionary organizations include Southern Baptist, Evangelical Baptist, Catholic, Assemblies of God, Seventh-Day Adventist, Serving in Mission (SIM), and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for "the right of the free development of each individual in their spiritual, cultural, and religious dimensions," and the Government generally respects the freedom to practice one's religious beliefs, as long as persons respect public order, social peace, and national unity.

Religious organizations must register with the Interior Ministry. This registration is a formality, and there is no evidence that the Government has ever refused to register a religious organization. The Government must authorize construction of any place of worship; however, there were no reports that the Government refused such construction during the period covered by this report.

Foreign missionaries work freely, but their organizations must be registered officially as associations. In addition to proselytizing, most missionary groups generally offer development or humanitarian assistance. The Christian community in Galmi, Tahoua Department, houses a hospital and health center run by SIM missionaries. The hospital and health center have been in operation for over 40 years.

Christmas, Easter, and Muslim holy days are recognized as national holidays.

No religious group is subsidized, although the Islamic Association has a weekly broadcast on the government television station. Christian programming generally is broadcast only on special occasions, such as Christmas.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

In reaction to rioting by Islamic fundamentalist groups in November 2000 (see Section III), the Government banned six fundamentalist-oriented organizations. The Government justified the ban on the grounds that these organizations were responsible for "disturbing the peace." No mainstream Islamist organizations or human rights organizations have challenged the legality of the bans, which were still in effect at the end of the period covered by this report.

In early 2000, the Government requested that the Nigerian affiliated evangelical Abundant Life Church suspend its radio broadcasts for several months in order to ease tensions with local Islamic fundamentalists. The church complied, but resumed broadcasting several months later.

Starting in 1998, Southern Baptist missionaries in Say (30 miles south of Niamey) faced harassment by members of the majority Islamic community. Upon notifying authorities, the missionaries were told that, while it was within their rights to be there, the local police could not ensure their safety. The problem continued through September 1999, when the missionaries decided to move away. One family has relocated to Gotheye (north of Niamey) and the other family continued its missionary activities in the region but no longer lives in Say. In May 2000, the same Islamic activists in Say threatened to burn down the meeting place of the local Christians who remained and beat or have arrested a local Christian man in the village of Ouro Sidi who continued to work with the Southern Baptists. There were no reports that such threats were ever carried out during the period covered by this report.

Just after the April 1999 coup, the Assemblies of God church in the capital, Niamey, was notified by the mayor's office that it had to close until the "new order" was established; however, the Assemblies of God church remained open, and no further action was ever taken on the case.

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

There are generally amicable relations among the various religious communities, but there have been instances when members of the Islamic majority were not tolerant of the rights of members of minority religions to practice their faith. The cities of Say, Kiota, Agadez, and Madarounfa are considered holy by the local Islamic communities, and the practice of other religions in those cities is not as well tolerated as in other areas.

In November 2000, several Islamist groups demonstrated in Niamey and Maradi, 400 miles east of the capital, to protest a high fashion show being held near Niamey. The demonstrations turned violent, and protesters targeted bars, purported prostitutes, and legal betting kiosks. In addition, on November 9, as Maradi police were preparing to meet with Islamic fundamentalists, traditional leaders, and local officials to defuse the situation, mobs led by Islamic fundamentalists attacked the Abundant Life Church and the nearby compound of SIM, an American missionary group active in the country for over 70 years. The police responded haphazardly and both facilities suffered extensive damage in the attacks. The police arrested 100 persons in connection with the violence in Maradi and banned 6 Islamic groups (see Section II). Although most youths that were arrested were released quickly without charge, approximately 30 men, including the marabout, awaited trial on charges of inciting riots, destruction of property, and looting at the end of the period covered by this report.

In November 2000, the country's most important human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), the Association Nigerien de Defense de Droit de L'Homme (ANDDH), strongly criticized religious intolerance and violence. In addition, the Imam of Zinder, a city which experienced similar problems in 1999 (but which did not target missionaries), condemned the riots. The ANDDH denounced the Islamic organizations, which were subsequently banned by the Government (see Section II) for violating the rights of Christians. Despite the attack, the SIM continued its extensive activities in the country and is viewed favorably by the community and the Government. In April 2001, the Government offered to pay SIM for its damages, but SIM stated that they would give the money to the police to buy equipment. The Abundant Life Church has repaired its facility using private donations from U.S. sources. In April 2001, two churches approached the persons detained for the violence with an offer to ask the Government to drop the charges if they admitted their guilt and expressed remorse; the detainees refused the offer.

There have been some efforts made to promote interfaith understanding. For example, the Baha'is have sponsored religious tolerance campaigns which have garnered local press coverage.

The Assemblies of God church in Niamey, which has been in its location since 1996, has had an ongoing problem with one of its neighbors, another Christian group that had been trying to have the church closed since its establishment. Despite an order by the Mayor in 1999 to close, the church remained open (see Section II).

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 U.S. Embassy regularly emphasizes the importance of tolerance in its public statements and in meetings with government officials and members of civil society.

The U.S. Embassy maintains good relationships with minority religious groups, most of which are long-term resident missionaries and well-known members of the American community. Embassy officials also have contact with the Catholic mission, the Baha'i community, and Islamic organizations. During the period covered by this report, embassy officials met with leaders of a wide range of Islamic organizations, from mainstream academics to fundamentalists, to hear their perspectives on issues facing the country, such as AIDS.

In response to the incidents of November 2000 (see Section III), U.S. Embassy officials immediately went to Maradi and met with the missionary victims and senior government, police, and regional military officials. The U.S. Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission traveled to Maradi during the period covered by this report to demonstrate the U.S. Embassy's ongoing attention to religious freedom and tolerance.



Back to Top
Sign-in

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.