The government continued to restrict the ability of pilgrims to visit a shrine in Businde, Gahombo, Kayanza Province, where a local woman, Eusebie, reported seeing regular visions of the Virgin Mary. The shrine continued to draw pilgrims, who visited the site in small groups or at night to avoid attracting official attention. In the fall the government called for the arrest of Eusebie, accusing her of posing a threat to public security. She reportedly went into hiding but was believed to remain in Burundi. According to Eusebie, in one of her visions she was told to call on the public to refuse food aid delivered by President Pierre Nkurunziza because it came from the devil. Eusebie’s group remained unregistered with the government or (as a group that considered itself Catholic) with the Catholic Church as required by law. The Catholic Church did not recognize the group.
The three police officers arrested and tried for the 2013 deaths at the shrine were released in 2014. Of the 32 pilgrims arrested in the same incident, those who promised to never return to the shrine were released, but the others remained in jail. In December 2013 and January 2014, several hundred people were arrested at the shrine. Some of the pilgrims remained in jail at the end of 2014, but those who renounced their participation in the group were released.
Because of what it characterized as a concern for social harmony, the government introduced a draft bill that, if enacted, would greatly affect the freedom of religious groups to operate in Burundi. The bill included clauses prohibiting religious activities in “undignified” settings and retroactively disallowing the presence of places of worship within 500 meters of each other. It established a government body with undefined powers to oversee religious groups, stipulated minimum membership requirements for religious groups, and prohibited individuals from belonging to more than one religious group or from leaving one religious group to join another without the approval of the first group’s leader.
The bill also proposed a long list of requirements for religious groups, including: annual submission to the government of a list of members and leadership; annual submission of proposed and past activities; conformity with accepted accounting systems; and legal representation by Burundian nationals. The Ministry of Interior would have the authority to suspend for six months the activities of any religious group it found to be in noncompliance with any of these requirements, with no possibility for appeal. Religious groups would also need to obtain approval from the governor of the provinces where they operated, engage in community works, ensure unity among their members, and respect noise ordinances.
According to a group of religious leaders who met to discuss the law, the bill did not favor any particular religious group and did not specify how the government would resolve conflicts between religious groups. The national assembly and senate passed the bill, but before signing it, the president requested that the Constitutional Court review its constitutionality. On October 31, the court found parts of the law unconstitutional because they infringed on the right of children to choose their religion and required Burundian nationality for religious group leaders. The court upheld the constitutionality of sections imposing punishment of up to five years’ imprisonment to practicing members of religious groups denied registration and prohibiting membership in more than one religious group. At year’s end, however, the entire bill remained unimplemented and unsigned, pending a response to the court’s findings.
The government administration comprised both Christian and Muslim officials. The president was a Protestant while several prominent members of his cabinet were Catholic or Muslim.
The finance ministry often granted waivers of taxes on religious articles or goods that religious groups imported for social development purposes.
The Office of the President regularly granted land, a commodity in short supply, to domestic and international religious groups.