Until January 2002, the Fundamental Act provided for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The new Constitution, which was approved in January 2002, also provides for freedom of religion; the Government continued to generally respect this right in practice.
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.
While the generally amicable relations among religions in society contributed to religious freedom, the close link between certain self-proclaimed messianic groups and opposition political movements at times was a source of tension.
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 area of 132,047 square miles, and its population is approximately 3 million. Approximately half of its citizens are Christian; of these about 90 percent are Roman Catholic. There is a small Muslim community estimated at 25,000 to 50,000 persons, most of whom are immigrants from North and West Africa who work in commerce in urban centers. The remainder of the population is made up of practitioners of traditional indigenous religions, those who belong to various messianic groups, and those who practice no religion at all. A small minority of the Christian community practices Kimbanguism, a syncretistic movement that originated in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. While retaining many elements of Christianity, Kimbanguism also recognizes its founder (Simon Kimbangu) as a prophet and incorporates African traditional beliefs, such as ancestor worship.
Mystical or messianic practices (especially among the ethnic Lari population in the Pool region) have been associated with opposition political movements, including some elements of the armed insurrection in the south during 1998-99.
Several Western Christian missionary groups are active in the country, including members of Jehovah's Witnesses, the Salvation Army, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and several Catholic religious orders.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
Until January 2002, the Fundamental Act provided for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The new Constitution, which was approved in January 2002, also provides for freedom of religion and specifically forbids discrimination on the basis of religion; the Government generally continued to respect this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. There is no official state religion.
The Government recognizes the Christian holidays of Christmas, Ascension, and Pentecost as national holidays.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
Pastor Frederik Ntoumi, a self-identified prophet and leader of the "Ninja" rebel militia group that was responsible for numerous human rights abuses in the country, took hostage a French priest during the period covered by this report. Unconfirmed reports indicated that the priest may have died during captivity. The motivation for the kidnaping was believed to be political, rather than religious. There were other reports that Ntoumi desecrated churches by practicing in them his own religion, which is a mixture of Christianity, ancestor worship, and indigenous religion.
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 refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
The generally amicable relations among religions in society contributed to religious freedom; however, the close link between certain messianic groups and armed opposition political movements, including the "Ninjas," at times was a source of tension.
All organized religious groups are represented in a joint ecumenical council, which meets periodically.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.