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Diplomacy in Action

Angola


International Religious Freedom Report 2008
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report.

There were isolated reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

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

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 481,351 square miles and a population of 16 million. The majority of the population is Christian, and of those, Roman Catholics are the largest religious group. The Catholic Church estimates that 55 percent of the population is Catholic, but this figure cannot be verified. Data from the National Institute for Religious Affairs (INAR) indicates African Christian denominations make up 25 percent of the population; 10 percent of the population follows a major Protestant tradition, such as Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist (United Church of Christ), and Assembly of God; and 5 percent belongs to various Brazilian Evangelical churches. A small portion of the rural population practices animism or traditional indigenous religions. There is also a small Muslim community, estimated at 80,000-90,000 adherents, composed largely of migrants from West Africa and families of Lebanese origin.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. Regulations regarding the registration and legalization of churches, however, can pose a barrier to religious freedom in practice.

The Government requires religious groups to petition for legal status with the Ministries of Justice and Culture. Legal status gives religious groups the right to act as juridical persons in the court system, secures their standing as officially registered religious groups, and allows them to construct schools and churches. Groups must provide general background information and have at least 100,000 adult adherents to qualify for registration.

The Government observes Christmas and Good Friday as national holidays.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report.

The Ministries of Justice and Culture recognize 85 denominations. More than 800 other religious organizations, many of which are Congolese- or Brazilian-based Christian evangelical groups, had registration applications pending with INAR. They do not meet the membership requirement of at least 100,000 members and are therefore not eligible to receive legal status, but the Government did not bar their activity during the reporting period.

The Government did not legalize any religious groups during this reporting period, including Islamic groups. For several years, INAR reported that the Muslim community, represented by the Central Mosque of Luanda, was close to meeting the registration requirement of 100,000 members and was soon expected to gain official legal status. At the end of the reporting period, the Central Mosque had not yet obtained legal status. The Muslim community in particular is affected by this numerical limitation, as many of its adherents are believed to be illegal immigrants and therefore do not count towards the legal minimum.

Members of the clergy regularly used their pulpits to criticize government policies, although church leaders report self-censorship regarding particularly sensitive issues, such as human rights, poverty, governance, and political intolerance. The Catholic Church-owned Radio Ecclesia is broadcast in Luanda Province and frequently hosted spirited debates that spanned the political spectrum and were at times critical of government policies. The Media Law, however, requires nonpublic radio networks to have a physical presence in a province to broadcast there. Due to its limited financial capacity, this requirement affects Radio Ecclesia's ability to expand outside of Luanda.

While the law does not recognize witchcraft, the Government does not restrict its peaceful practice. Illegal actions committed while practicing it or any other religion or belief are prosecuted under applicable criminal laws.

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

Abuses of Religious Freedom

In November 2007 the Government hosted a visit by Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion and Belief. Her report criticized the lack of opportunity for detained Muslims to worship in detention centers, noted occasional anti-Muslim rhetoric taken by government officials in media interviews, and expressed concern over the impact that political tensions in Cabinda may have on the free exercise of religious freedom or belief in that province.

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.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

After encountering difficulties in 2006, Muslim leaders reported that the Government permitted mosques to operate freely during the reporting period.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were isolated reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

Public attitudes toward Islam were generally negative. Cultural differences between Angolan and Muslim West African immigrants were cited as a basis for negative views toward Islam, as was the perceived link between Islam and illegal immigration.

Governmental agencies, church groups, and civil society organizations continued campaigns against traditional religions that involve shamans, employ animal sacrifices, or were identified as practicing witchcraft. The goal of these campaigns was to discourage abusive practices that can sometimes stem from the practice of traditional indigenous beliefs, in particular violence associated with exorcism. Church-related organizations focused on the doctrinal issues related to such practices as animal sacrifices or the use of shamans. There were periodic reports of child and elder abuse stemming from accusations of witchcraft, generally in rural areas and smaller cities. In some instances these accusations led to exorcism rituals that included willful neglect and physical abuse. In some cases deaths have been reported, including the December 2007 death of a boy who was kidnapped and beaten by a teacher who suspected him of involvement in witchcraft.

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. Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, maintained an ongoing dialogue with the leadership of the country's religious denominations and associations.



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