There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including reports of detention, and the government imposed restrictions that affected members of minority religious groups, particularly Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Local officials occasionally retaliated against Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to sing the national anthem in school or to participate in community night patrols and government-sponsored “solidarity” civil and military training. In separate incidents in February, March, April, June, and October, local authorities in Kirehe, Rulindo, Ngoma, Huye, and Nyagatare Districts detained a total of ten Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing on religious grounds to participate in community night patrols requiring carrying batons. Police held the detainees for periods ranging from two to seven days before releasing them without charge.
In January, a public school headmaster in Rulindo District expelled four Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing to sing the national anthem. The students enrolled in different schools, but filed a criminal discrimination lawsuit against their former headmaster. The students were awaiting a court date at year’s end. In July, a public secondary school in Gakenke District expelled a Jehovah’s Witness for refusing, based on religious beliefs, to become a member of a student group with political connections.
Some pastors of different denominations privately continued to report that government agents attended religious services to monitor their sermons and expressed fear of potential consequences for contradicting government policies.
In August, the Ruhango District court sentenced 15 members of the unregistered, banned Abagorozi religious group to one year in prison and 50,000 Rwandan francs ($80) in fines for obstructing government programs and violating children’s rights. The Abagorozi church forbids its members and their children from participating in education, health insurance, medical treatment, national identification cards, voting, monthly community work (Umuganda), and other required social policies and programs.
In September, the RGB dismissed the executive committee of the Pentecostal Church of Rwanda (ADEPR) and its legal representative under the new religious groups law after the church failed to resolve a years-long internal dispute. Leaders of several religious groups expressed concern about implementation of the new law and a perceived diminishing separation of church and state. From November 26 to December 2, the RGB required all 296 ADEPR pastors to attend a government-sponsored, organization-specific civic education retreat that included national history lessons, reconciliation sessions, and other topics.
In November, the RGB hosted an inter-faith regional conference of more than 100 religious leaders from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to encourage religious groups to promote sustainable peace in the Great Lakes region. Responses to the conference were sharply divided; some religious leaders praised it as a worthwhile initiative, and others criticized it as a political move to compel religious support for Rwanda’s foreign policy objectives in the neighboring DRC.
Of the 21 Jehovah’s Witnesses who filed lawsuits in 2011 against the six government agencies from which they were fired for refusing to touch the national flag while taking the public servant’s oath, two plaintiffs withdrew and six had their cases dismissed at the trial and appellate levels. The plaintiffs claimed violations of their religious beliefs and illegal dismissal. The 13 remaining plaintiffs were still awaiting court dates at year’s end. None of those fired regained their positions.
The government’s policy that couples take an oath while touching the national flag made it difficult for Jehovah’s Witnesses to marry legally, since few officials were willing to perform the ceremony without the flag requirement and Jehovah’s Witnesses objected to the practice on religious grounds. For some Jehovah’s Witnesses, placing their hands on a Bible on top of the flag was an acceptable alternative.
Because of a moratorium on registration of religious groups during parliamentary deliberations on the new law, between 2008 and February 2012 some religious groups operated as nongovernmental organizations or as provisional local churches without full legal protection. At year’s end, the government had not granted official legal status to any new religious groups under the 2012 religious groups law.