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Comoros


International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
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The Constitution, which was voted into effect in December 2001, specifically provides for freedom of religion; however, authorities continued to infringe on this right.

There was no change in the status of what is at times limited respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. An overwhelming majority of the population is Sunni Muslim; government authorities continued to prohibit Christians from proselytizing, and the local authorities and population restricted the right of Christians to practice their faith in parts of the country. In the past, police regularly threatened and sometimes detained practicing Christians; however, there were no reports of such incidents during the period covered by this report.

There is widespread societal discrimination against Christians.

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 838 square miles, and its population is approximately 685,000. An overwhelming majority--almost 99 percent--of the population is Sunni Muslim. There are fewer than 300 Christian citizens (less than 1 percent of the population). There are fewer than 200 foreigners who are Hindus, members of Jehovah's Witnesses, Protestants, Catholics, and members of other Christian religious groups who live on the islands. There are no known atheists.

A few foreign religious groups maintain humanitarian programs in the country and, through an agreement with the Government, do not engage in religious proselytizing.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution, which was promulgated in 2000 by the head of the military after the 1999 coup, did not provide specifically for freedom of religion, and authorities infringed on this right. The new Constitution, which was voted into effect in December 2001 and reincorporates Anjouan, Grand Comoros, and Moheli into a new federation that grants the islands greater autonomy, specifically provides for freedom of religion; however, the new Constitution also proclaims Islam the official religion of the country, and the Government discouraged the practice of other religions. Government authorities continued to prohibit Christians from proselytizing, and the local authorities and population restricted the right of Christians to practice their faith in parts of the country.

Prior to the incorporation of Anjouan into the federation, the Constitution, written by the separatist leadership of Anjouan, provided for freedom of religion; however, separatist leadership discouraged the practice of religions other than Islam.

The Ulamas council, which had advised the President, Prime Minister, President of the Federal Assembly, the Council of Isles, and the island governors on whether bills, ordinances, decrees, and laws conformed to the principles of Islam, no longer exists. Since December 2001, the Grand Mufti consults with a group of elders periodically to assess whether the principles of Islam are respected, and he regularly addresses the nation on the radio to answer calls and letters.

The tenets of Islam are taught in conjunction with Arabic instruction in public schools for students at the middle level. Almost all children between the ages of 4 and 7 also attend Koranic schools to learn how to recite and understand the Koran.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government discouraged the practice of religions other than Islam. Christians, in particular, faced restrictions on their ability to practice their faith. There are two Roman Catholic churches, one in Moroni, on the island of Grande Comore, and one in Mutsamudu, on the island of Anjouan. There is one Protestant church in Moroni. Many Christians practiced their faith in private residences as the Government continued restrict the use of the country's three churches to non-citizens. Foreigners were allowed to practice their faith, but they were not allowed to proselytize.

Local authorities and religious leaders continued to harass Christians on Anjouan where suspicion of Christians appeared to be stronger. Some community authorities on Anjouan banned Christians from attending any community events and banned Christian burials in a local cemetery; however, in general Christians were allowed to attend community events and be buried in local cemeteries.

Bans on alcohol and immodest dress are enforced sporadically, usually during religious months, such as Ramadan. Alcohol can be imported and sold with a permit from the Government.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

In the past, the Government arrested and convicted individuals with Christian affiliations on charges of "anti-Islamic activity," and police regularly threatened and sometimes detained practicing Christians; however, there were no reports of such incidents during the period covered by this report. Usually the authorities held those detained for a few days and often attempted to convert them forcibly to Islam.

On Anjouan, local authorities continued to attempt to suppress or convert the local Christian minority. In the past, there have been accounts of police and quasi-police authorities, known as embargoes, arresting, beating, and detaining Christians on the island of Anjouan. There were no reports of Christians being detained on Anjouan during the period covered by this report.

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

There is widespread societal discrimination against Christians in all sectors of life. In Grand Comoros, Christians are free to attend church, and non-citizen Christians are allowed to practice their faith so long as they do not attempt to convert citizens; however, Christians face insults and threats of violence from members of their communities. Christians have been harassed by mobs in front of mosques and called in for questioning by religious authorities. Citizens who convert to Christianity have been rejected by family and village. In some instances, families have forced Christian family members out of their homes or threatened them with a loss of financial support. Some Christians have had their Bibles taken by family members. Local government officials, religious authorities, and family members have attempted to force Christians to attend services at mosques against their will. This was particularly the case in Anjouan, although no incident was reported during the period covered by this report. There is some indication that young citizens who return from Islamic theological studies abroad attempt to impose a more fundamentalist adherence to Islamic religious law on their family members and associates.

In April 2001, in Domoni on Anjouan, a local Christian leader was summoned before local Islamic leaders and threatened. The Christian leader's father was forced to pay a fine, and the leader's family had to leave Domoni for 1 month. In the past, religious leaders on Anjouan and Grande Comore made threats against Christians during radio broadcasts; however, there were no reports of such threats during the period covered by this report.

Unlike in previous periods covered by this report, there were no reports of unofficial campaigns against Christians or efforts to isolate Christians from village life during the period covered by the report.

Islamic fundamentalism is increasing as more students return to the country after studying in colleges and universities in more fundamentalist Islamic countries.

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.



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