The constitution and other laws and policies generally protect religious freedom. The constitution protects the rights of individuals to choose or change their religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion, which under the penal code is punishable by five to seven years in prison and fines of 100,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($150 to $1,502). Government policy allows individuals to express religious identity through headdress in official photos for passports, driver’s licenses, or other official documents.
The government grants legal recognition only to civil marriages. Government officials presiding over wedding ceremonies generally require couples to take a pledge “in the name of God Almighty” while touching the national flag, a government policy but not a legal requirement.
New public servants are required to take an oath of loyalty “in the name of God almighty.” Touching the flag while reciting the oath is traditional but not mandated by law.
The law establishes fines of 20,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($30 to $1,502) and imprisonment from eight days to five years for anyone who hinders the free practice of religion; publicly humiliates rites, symbols, or objects of religion; or insults, threatens, or physically assaults a religious leader.
Under the law governing religious groups, all groups “whose members share the same beliefs, cult, and practice” must register with the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) to acquire legal status. The law covers religious groups, but not nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) associated with religious groups. Domestic NGOs associated with religious groups are also required to register with the RGB, but under a different law governing NGOs. The law imposes, and government policy exacerbates, burdensome registration requirements, as well as time-consuming requirements for annual financial and activity reports and action plans.
Unregistered religious groups may congregate after informing local authorities and may be granted a temporary registration certificate while the legal application process is ongoing. Unregistered religious groups may not proselytize, are subject to different visa requirements, and receive a significant degree of government scrutiny until they register as religious-based organizations under the law.
The law regulates public meetings and establishes fines of 100,000 to five million Rwandan francs ($150 to $7,511) and imprisonment of eight days to three years for unauthorized public meetings, including assemblies for religious reasons. Competent authorities are required to respond within 15 days to requests by religious-based organizations to hold special meetings in public.
For night meetings, including religious meetings, local authorities often require advance notification, particularly for ceremonies involving amplified music and boisterous celebrations.
Every foreign missionary must have a temporary resident permit and a foreign identity card. Specific requirements to obtain the permit (valid for two years and renewable) include a signed curriculum vitae, an original police clearance from the country of residence, an authorization letter from the parent organization, and a fee of 100,000 Rwandan francs ($150).
All students in public primary school and the first three years of secondary education must take a religion class that covers various religions. The law includes neither opt-out provisions nor penalties for not taking part in the class. The law allows parents to enroll their children in private religious schools.
The constitution prohibits the formation of political organizations based on religion. The religious-based organizations law prohibits religious groups from engaging in activities to achieve political power, defined as supporting political organizations or candidates for public office.