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Gabon


International Religious Freedom Report 2007
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.

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

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice.

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 an area of 103,347 square miles and a population of 1,454,900. Major religious beliefs practiced in the country include Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism), Islam, and traditional indigenous religious beliefs. Many persons practice elements of both Christianity and traditional indigenous religious beliefs. Approximately 73 percent of the population, including noncitizens, practice at least some elements of Christianity; 12 percent practice Islam (of whom 80 to 90 percent are foreigners); 10 percent practice traditional indigenous religious beliefs exclusively; and 5 percent practice no religion or are atheists. The President is a member of the Muslim minority.

Foreign missionaries are active in the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. A 1970 decree banning Jehovah's Witnesses remained in effect; however, the Government did not enforce the ban.

The Ministry of the Interior maintains an official registry of some religious groups; however, it does not appear to grant registration to all small, indigenous religious groups. The Government does not require religious groups to register but recommends that they do so to receive full constitutional protection. No financial or tax benefit is conferred by registration, but religious groups are not taxed, can import duty-free items, and are exempted from land use and construction permit fees.

Islamic, Catholic, and Protestant denominations operate primary and secondary schools. These schools must register with the Ministry of Education, which is charged with ensuring that these religious schools meet the same standards required for public schools. The Government does not contribute funds to private schools, whether religious or secular.

Both Catholic and Protestant radio stations broadcast in the country.

The Government promotes interfaith relations by facilitating meetings of leaders of major religious groups. Such meetings are rare, but informal discussions among religious leaders are routine.

The Government celebrates some Christian and Islamic holy days as national holidays; these include Easter Sunday and Monday, Ascension Day, Assumption Day, All Saints' Day, Christmas, Eid al-Kebir, and Eid al-Fitr.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

In the past, the Government refused to register some small, indigenous traditional groups (approximately nine in total). These groups have continued their beliefs and practices unregistered. The refusals may have been part of an ongoing effort to prevent secular, particularly non-Gabonese, groups, posing as religious entities, from registering to receive residency status and other benefits under false pretenses. There were no new reported rejections during this reporting period. A government decision on the registration of Jehovah's Witnesses has been pending for several years without resolution. In practice the Government allows Jehovah's Witnesses to assemble and practice their religion and to proselytize, despite their official prohibition.

While the government television stations accorded free transmission time to the Catholic Church, some Protestant congregations and Islamic mosques alleged in the past that the stations do not accord free airtime to minority religious groups.

In the past missionaries expressed concern about extra visa requirements.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

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 Abuses and Discrimination

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice.

Practitioners of some traditional indigenous religious beliefs inflicted bodily harm on other persons during the period covered by the report. On April 8, 2007, a three-year-old boy was murdered in what was widely viewed as a ritual killing. Neighbors attacked and killed two of the alleged murderers, and two others were arrested. The Council of Ministers expressed its indignation and outrage at the heinous crime. The body of Mathieu Moundounga, bearing signs of a ritual killing, was found on December 15, 2006. No information was made public on the investigation into this crime or concerning investigations of ritual killings that occurred during previous reporting years.

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. U.S. Embassy officials met regularly with leaders of the Catholic Church, the Islamic Superior Council, and Protestant churches. The Embassy maintained contact with the Ministry of Interior and the Minister of Human Rights to discuss the general state of religion in the country. On February 2, 2007, the Embassy funded a one-day conference on ritual crimes that attracted national and international media attention.



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