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Comoros


International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, authorities continued to infringe on this right.

There was no change in the status of the respect for religious freedom, which is sometimes limited, 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 in all sectors of life.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 838 square miles, and its population is approximately 635,000. An overwhelming majority--almost 99 percent--of the population is Sunni Muslim. There are fewer than 400 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 but, 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 voted into effect in December 2001 and which reincorporates Anjouan, Grand Comore, and Moheli into a new federation that grants the islands greater autonomy, specifically provides for freedom of religion; however, the Constitution says that citizens will draw principles and rules that will govern the country from Muslim religious tenets. While the Constitution does not proclaim Islam as the official religion, 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.

The Grand Mufti is part of the Government and manages a department that handles issues concerning religion and administration. The Grand Mufti's position is attached to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and he counsels the Government on matters of Islamic faith and ensures that Islamic laws are respected. The Grand Mufti is nominated by the President. Since 2001 the Grand Mufti periodically has consulted with a group of elders to assess whether the principles of Islam are respected, and he regularly addresses the nation on the radio regarding social and religious issues such as marriage, divorce, and education.

The tenets of Islam are taught in conjunction with the Arabic language in public schools for students at the middle level. There are no separate provisions made for religious minorities in public schools. There are at least two private schools on the island of Grand Comore that cost approximately $27 (15,000 Comorian francs) per month. Almost all children between the ages of 4 and 7 also attend Koranic schools to learn to recite and understand the Koran, although attendance is not compulsory for religious minorities.

The Government does not require religious groups to be licensed, registered, or officially recognized.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government discouraged the practice of religions other than Islam. In particular Christians 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 a Protestant church in Moroni. Many Christians practiced their faith in private residences. Foreigners were allowed to practice their faith, but they were not allowed to proselytize. If caught proselytizing, foreigners are deported, while citizens found proselytizing are imprisoned.

Local authorities and religious leaders continued to harass Christians on Anjouan where suspicion of Christians appeared to be stronger. Unlike in the previous period covered by this report, there were no reports that community authorities on Anjouan banned Christians from attending any community events or prohibited Christian burials in a local cemetery.

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.

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.

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.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There is widespread societal discrimination against Christians in some sectors of life. In Grand Comore, there exist no legal restrictions that prevent Christians from attending church, and noncitizen Christians are allowed to practice their faith without government intervention as long as they do not attempt to convert citizens; however, Christians sometimes face insults and threats of violence from members of their communities. Societal pressure and intimidation continued to restrict the use of the country's three churches to noncitizens. In previous years, Christians have been harassed by mobs in front of mosques and questioned by religious authorities.

Although there were reports in past years that citizens who converted to Christianity had been ostracized by family and villages, there were no reports of unofficial campaigns against Christians or efforts to isolate them from village life during the period covered by the report. In some instances in previous years, some Christians were forced from their homes, threatened with the loss of financial support, or had their Bibles taken by family members; and local government officials, religious authorities, and family members attempted to force Christians to attend services at mosques against their will. This was particularly the case on Anjouan, although no such incidents were reported during the period covered by this report.

There is concern that Islamic fundamentalism is increasing as more students return to the country after studying in colleges and universities in more fundamentalist Islamic countries. There is some indication from government sources that this increase may be the result of attempts by young citizens returning from such Islamic theological studies abroad to impose a more fundamentalist adherence to Islamic religious law on their family members and associates. The Union Government has established a university, and government representatives state that one important goal of the University is to give young citizens the option of doing their university studies in the country instead of overseas where they might learn more radical ideas. Currently there are 1,900 students enrolled in the university, which provides classes in basic sciences and languages.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.



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