The constitution defines the state as secular, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for freedom of conscience and religion. It prohibits political parties from preaching religious violence or hate. During the year, government officials and Catholic Church representatives made efforts to ameliorate tensions. The followers of a woman who reported experiencing visitations from the Virgin Mary were released from prison in 2016, but some of them continued to be subject to judicial proceedings under consideration by the Supreme Court. A Jehovah’s Witness couple who refused to hold the national flag during their marriage ceremony for religious reasons was arrested and released without charges. In December security services detained members of an unrecognized religious group suspected of engaging in political activities but released them without charge. On December 27, security services also detained and later released 13 Ahmadi Muslims who were visiting the Ahmadiyya mosque in Bujumbura. In May President Pierre Nkurunziza launched a campaign to “moralize society” by requiring unmarried couples to legalize their relationships in marriage by the end of the year. Civil society activists criticized the campaign as a “religious crusade.” The president led the country’s 14th annual National Prayer Breakfast on November 14, with the theme “Be the change you wish to see.” He regularly employed religious rhetoric in political speeches. In January the Ministry of the Interior established a monitoring body to settle intra and interdenominational disputes and track subversive or inflammatory teachings.
Religious denominations engaged in efforts to promote interfaith dialogue. In October religious leaders representing the Catholic Church, Protestant denominations, and the Islamic community met in Arusha, Tanzania, under the auspices of the World Council of Churches and the UN Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect. The leaders issued a joint communique promising to undertake interfaith efforts for peace and reconciliation.
The U.S. ambassador and embassy representatives discussed religious freedom with the government and urged the government to respect the rights of individuals and organizations, including religious groups. The embassy encouraged societal leaders, including representatives of major faith groups, to support religious acceptance and promote interfaith discussion of the collaborative role religious groups could play in disseminating a message of peace and tolerance to the population.