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Liberia


International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there were some exceptions.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. Islamic leaders continued to complain of government discrimination against Muslims.

Societal discrimination against Muslims continued to be a problem. Ethnic tensions along religious lines between Muslim and non-Muslim groups also continued to be a problem, particularly between the Lormas and the Mandingos.

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 43,000 square miles, and its population is 3,164,156. As much as 40 percent of the population practice either Christianity or elements of both Christianity and traditional indigenous religions. Approximately 40 percent practice traditional indigenous religions exclusively. Approximately 20 percent of the population practice Islam, although Islam continued to gain adherents. The Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal (AME), and AME Zion denominations, as well as several Pentecostal churches are represented in the Christian community. Some of the Pentecostal movements are independent, while others are affiliated with churches outside the country. There also is a small Baha'i community.

Christianity, traditional indigenous religions, and syncretistic religions combining elements of both Christianity and traditional indigenous religions are found throughout the country. Islam is prevalent only among members of the Mandingo ethnic group, who are concentrated in the northern and eastern counties, and among the Vai ethnic group in the northwest.

Foreign missionary groups in the country include Baptists, Catholics, and members of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there were some exceptions. There is no established state religion. However, government ceremonies invariably open and close with prayer and may include the singing of hymns. The prayers and hymns usually are Christian but occasionally are Muslim.

All organizations, including religious groups, must register their articles of incorporation with the Government, along with a statement of the purpose of the organization; however, traditional indigenous religious groups are not required to register, and generally do not register. Registration is routine, and there have been no reports that the registration process is burdensome or discriminatory in its administration.

After Charles Taylor became President, he effectively divided the National Muslim Council by working behind the scenes to seed the Council with his loyalists. Specifically, to undermine the independence of the Council, President Taylor sponsored the expulsion of Sheik Kafumba Konneh as Chairman and engineered the subsequent appointment of Alhaji Jakiray Taylor as Chairman, one of his loyalists within the country's Islamic Community. Alhaji Jakaity Taylor's position has been vacant since his death in late April. The National Muslim Council of Liberia remains divided between Taylor's supporters and Sheik Kafumba Konneh's supporters. In his capacity as Chairman of the National Muslim Council, Sheik Kafumba Konneh joined the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRC), a well-known organization led by Archbishop Francis that has tried to coordinate peace efforts between the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and rebels and the government, as Vice President. He has retained that position on the Inter-Religious Council (IRC) despite losing the Chair of the National Muslim Council.

In March 2003, President Taylor sponsored another Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, benefiting just under 100 pilgrims.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Although the law prohibits religious discrimination, Islamic leaders complained of government discrimination against Muslims. Although there are some Muslims in senior government positions, many Muslims believe that they are bypassed for desirable jobs. Many Muslim business proprietors believe that the Government's decision to enforce an old statute prohibiting business on Sunday discriminates against them. Most Mandingos, and hence most Muslims, were allied with factions that opposed Taylor during the 1989-1996 civil war and still belong to opposition parties.

In January 2003, the Justice Ministry held the Manager of Radio Veritas, Ledgerhood Rennie, for several hours because his station held a live interview with opposition leader Charles Brumskine from the United States. The Justice Minister warned Veritas station manager never to grant interviews with exiled politicians without consulting his office. He threatened to close the station if it violated this regulation. House Majority Leader Sando Johnson also criticized Veritas on several occasions and accused the station of being a "dissident station" that favored the rebel LURD movement. Information Minister Reginald Goodridge also publicly threatened Veritas because of its critical reports.

From March 31 to April 7, the Ministry of Justice imposed a ban that prohibited all forms of street corner evangelism and preaching. The Government said that it imposed the ban for "national security interest and public safety."

Abuses of Religious Freedom

Government forces were accused of serious human rights abuses against suspected rebels and sympathizers during fighting in Lofa County during the period covered by this report. The Government contends that the insurgents largely are Mandingo Muslims of the ULIMO-K faction that fought against President Taylor's forces during the civil war. The Government has not taken actions openly against Muslims in Lofa County; however, its inaction over reports of abuses in Lofa County contributed to ethnic tension between Muslim and non-Muslim ethnic groups in that area of the country.

The Government also has harassed the IRC. On December 28, 2002, security forces arrested David Kaizolu and Christopher Toe, the IRC Secretary General and Assistant Secretary-General respectively. Laizolu and Toe faced treason charges as LURD collaborators for possessing e-mails written by LURD leaders. After 2 weeks in prison, both were released.
By the end of the period covered by this report, the Government had not released a report following its November 1999 investigation of the reported killing of as many as 30 Mandingos in Lofa County in August 1999. Although the authorities subsequently arrested 19 persons, they did not charge anyone with a crime. Mandingo residents of Lofa County continued to be afraid to return to their homes.

During the period covered by this report, members of the Catholic Church's Peace and Justice Commission in Liberia continued to experience threats and burglaries.

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

Some tensions exist between the major religious communities. The law prohibits religious discrimination; however, Islamic leaders complained of societal discrimination against Muslims. The private sector in urban areas, particularly in the capital, gives preference to Christianity in civic ceremonies and observances, and discrimination against followers of other organized religions reaches into areas of individual opportunity and employment. There was an interfaith council that brought together leaders of the Christian and Islamic faiths.

Ethnic tensions continued in Lofa County between the predominantly Muslim Mandingo ethnic group and the Lorma ethnic group. By the end of the period covered by this report, the Government had not yet released a report on the burning of five mosques in Lofa County in 2000.

Little reliable information is readily available about traditional associated with rital killings. Ritual killings, in which body parts used in traditional indigenous rituals are removed from the victim, continued to occur. The number of such killings was difficult to ascertain, since police often described deaths as accidents even when body parts were removed. Deaths that appear to be natural or accidental sometimes are rumored to be the work of ritual killers. It is believed that practitioners of traditional indigenous religions among the Grebo and Krahn ethnic groups concentrated in the southeastern counties most commonly engage in ritual killings. The victims usually are members of the religious group performing the ritual and body parts are removed from a member whom the group believes to be powerful are believed to be the most effective ritually. Body parts most frequently removed include the heart, liver, and genitals. The rituals have been reported in some cases to entail eating body parts, and the underlying religious beliefs may be related to incidents during the civil war in which faction leaders sometimes ate (and in which one faction leader had himself filmed eating) body parts of former leaders of rival factions. Removal of body parts for use in traditional rituals is believed to be the motive for ritual killings, rather than an abuse incidental to killings committed for other motives. Ritual murders for the purpose of obtaining body parts traditionally were committed by religious group members called "heart men;" however, since the civil war, common criminals also may sell body parts.

In August 2001, the Government sent units of the Anti-Terrorist Unit to Maryland County to stem a wave of ritualistic killings, and the reported incidence of ritualistic killings had decreased by the end of the period covered by this report.

There is an interfaith council that brings together leaders of the Christian and Islamic faiths. The Council also has tried to facilitate dialog between the Government and the LURD rebels.

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, monitors developments affecting religious freedom, and maintains contact with clergy and other leaders of major religious communities. In July, Roman Catholic Archbishop Frances visited Washington D.C. and met with high-level officials from the Department of State. In addition, the U.S. Government gave $100,000 to support the Inter-religious Council of Liberia (IRCL), of which Francis is President. Embassy officers met on various occasions with the Roman Catholic Archbishop, the United Methodist Bishop, the AME Bishop, the AME Zion Bishop, the Interfaith Council, the National Repentant Muslims, and other religious leaders during the period covered by this report.



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