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Fiji

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes a secular state and protects freedom of religion, conscience, and belief. It also mandates the separation of religion and state. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious affiliation, and laws make inciting hatred or “disaffection” against any religious group a criminal offense. Religious groups must register with the government. An appeal by the prosecution following the 2018 acquittal of the senior management of a leading newspaper on charges related to publishing a letter to the editor that the government characterized as antagonistic toward the country’s Muslim community remained pending.

There were two acts of vandalism against religious sites in September, one at a Hindu temple and the other at a Muslim mosque. In the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attack, religious groups, political groups, and civil society representatives spoke out forcefully against religious intolerance.

U.S. embassy officials promoted religious tolerance in meetings with senior government officials. Embassy officials also met with religious leaders to promote religious tolerance, with the aim of encouraging and maintaining an active interfaith dialogue. In May the Charge d’Affaires hosted an iftar to promote religious tolerance for members of the Muslim community and other religious leaders. The embassy used social media to highlight U.S. support of religious diversity in the country.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 931,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2007 census, 64.5 percent of the population is Christian, 27.9 percent Hindu, and 6.3 percent Muslim. Protestants make up 45 percent of the population, of which 34.6 percent is Methodist, 5.7 percent Assembly of God, 3.9 percent Seventh-day Adventist, and 0.8 percent Anglican. Roman Catholics make up 9.1 percent of the population, and other Christian groups 10.4 percent. There are small communities of Baha’is, Sikhs, and Jews.

Religious affiliation runs largely along ethnic lines. According to the 2007 census, most iTaukei (indigenous Fijian) citizens, who constitute 57 percent of the population, are Christian. The majority of the country’s traditional chiefs belong to the Methodist Church, which remains influential among indigenous people, particularly in rural areas where 49 percent of the population lives. Most Indian Fijians, who account for 37 percent of the total population, are Hindu, while an estimated 20 percent are Muslim and 6 percent Christian. Approximately 60 percent of the small Chinese community is Christian. The small community of mixed European and Fijian ancestry is predominantly Christian.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution establishes a secular state and protects freedom of religion, conscience, and belief. The government may limit these rights by law to protect the freedoms of others, or for reasons of public safety, order, morality, health, or nuisance. The constitution also mandates separation of religion and state. Citizens have the right, either individually or collectively, in public and private, to manifest their religion or beliefs in worship, observance, practice, or teaching. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious affiliation, and laws make inciting hatred or “disaffection” against religious groups a criminal offense. The constitution provides that individuals may not assert religious belief as a reason for disobeying the law. The constitution places limits on proselytizing on government premises and at government functions. Sacrilege is outlawed and is defined as committing any crime within a place of worship after breaking and entering or before exiting with force, or intentionally committing any act of disrespect in a place of worship. Penalties may include up to 14 years imprisonment.

By law, religious groups must register with the government through trustees who may then hold land or property for the groups. To register, religious bodies must submit applications to the registrar of titles office. Applications must include names and identification of the trustees, signed by the head of the religious body to be registered, a copy of the constitution of the proposed religious body, land title documents for the land used by the religious body, and a registration fee of 2.30 Fiji dollars ($1). Registered religious bodies may receive an exemption from taxes after approval from the national tax agency, on the condition they operate in a nonprofit and noncompetitive capacity. By law, religious bodies that hold land or property must register their houses of worship, including their land, and show proof of title. There is no mention in the law of religious organizations that do not hold land.

Permits are required for any public meeting on public property organized by religious groups, outside of regular religious services and houses of worship.

There is no required religious instruction under the law. Private or religious groups sometimes own or manage school properties, but the Ministry of Education administers and regulates the curriculum. The law allows religious groups the right to establish, maintain, and manage places of education, whether or not they receive financial assistance from the state, provided the institution maintains educational standards prescribed by law. The law permits noncompulsory religious instruction in all schools, enabling schools owned and operated by various religious denominations but receiving government support to offer religious instruction. Schools may incorporate religious elements, such as class prayer, as long as they do not force teachers to participate, and students may be excused if their parents request it. The government provides funding and education assistance to public schools, including schools owned and operated by religious organizations, on a per pupil basis. Some schools maintain their religious and/or ethnic origin, but they remain open to all students. According to the law, the government ensures free tuition for primary and secondary schools.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In July the appellate court reviewed an appeal brought by the prosecution in the case of the senior management of the Fiji Times newspaper who were found not guilty in 2018 of charges related to publishing a letter to the editor that the government characterized as antagonistic toward the country’s Muslim community. The prosecution appealed the decision, and a decision on the appeal remained pending at year’s end.

Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, other cabinet ministers, and members of parliament continued to emphasize religious tolerance during public addresses at home and overseas. After the March attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, the prime minister called on Fijians to “pledge to condemn those making racist and hateful statements, whether online or in person” adding that “…people must do something, have the courage to call (them) out, and counter (their) hatred with vision” and that Fijians must “be the voice of love and change.” Government officials stated the country is a multifaith nation with religious freedom guaranteed in the constitution and must unite to defend the rights of citizens to practice their religion.

According to media reports, the Fiji Police Force investigated individuals on social media who were alleged to be posting messages of animosity to “incite further hatred against the Muslim community” after the attacks.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In September a man broke into and stole items from a Hindu temple in Suva. Police charged the man with one count of sacrilege for the offense. Also in September a mosque in Nausori, outside Suva, was vandalized; after the incident, the Fiji Muslim League sent out an advisory to its affiliates to take precautionary measures. Authorities made no arrests.

Media reported that Akuila Petero, an iTaukei man who had converted to Islam living in Nasaibitu Village, faced opposition when he began to build a home and place of worship for himself and other local iTaukei Muslims. Petero stated that in March a truck transporting materials for the building was stopped and that he and two other Muslims were assaulted as they were constructing the building. Local police said they were monitoring the situation.

Following the March attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which three Muslims of Fijian descent died, religious groups, political groups, and civil society representatives spoke out to condemn the act and to encourage tolerance and respect. Catholic Archbishop Peter Loy Chong said, “Fiji is home to about 62,000 Muslims. The Roman Catholic Church shares her sympathy, condolence, and prayers to Fiji Muslim families in Fiji and New Zealand who lost loved ones in the Christchurch shooting.” The Pacific Conference of Churches expressed messages of solidarity and love for the Muslim community at an interfaith vigil organized by the Fiji Muslim League. Leader of the Opposition Sitiveni Rabuka also condemned the attack and called on authorities to work together to prevent further violence.

In October some Catholic parishes commemorated Diwali at a special Mass they stated was to show respect to Hindus.

The Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, and Seventh-day Adventist Churches, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as Hindu and Muslim groups operated numerous schools, including secondary schools, which were eligible for government subsidies based on the size of the student population.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials promoted religious tolerance in meetings with government officials.

Embassy officers met with local religious leaders with the aim of encouraging and maintaining an active interfaith dialogue. Embassy officers met with Christian, Muslim, and Hindu religious leaders to discuss the importance of respect for religious freedom as a universal human right.

On May 29, the Charge d’Affaires hosted an iftar to promote religious tolerance for members of the Muslim community and other religious leaders.

The embassy used social media to promote religious pluralism and tolerance, such as posts highlighting diverse religious traditions in the country.

Kiribati

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion. Religious groups with memberships equal to or greater than 2 percent of the population are required to register with the government.

Two islands in the southern part of the country continued to uphold a “one-church-only” policy due to a stated deference to the first Protestant missionaries that visited the islands in the 1800s.

The U.S. Ambassador to Fiji is accredited to the government, and officials from the U.S. Embassy in Fiji discussed religious tolerance and practices with the government when visiting the country. Embassy officials also met with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) to discuss religious tolerance and the treatment of minority groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 111,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2015 census, approximately 57 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and 31 percent belongs to the Kiribati Uniting Church (until 2016 known as the Kiribati Protestant Church). Members who did not accept the name change continue as the Kiribati Protestant Church. Five percent of the population belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ. Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include the Baha’i Faith (2 percent), Seventh-day Adventist Church (2 percent), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Assemblies of God, and Muslims. The Church of Jesus Christ states its membership exceeds 12 percent of the population. Persons with no religious affiliation account for less than 1 percent of the population. Members of the Catholic Church are concentrated in the northern islands, while Protestants constitute the majority in the southern islands.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience (including religion), expression, assembly, and association. These rights may be limited by law “which is reasonably required” in the interests of public defense, safety, order, morality, or health, or to protect the rights of others.

By law, any religious group with adult members representing no less than 2 percent of the total population (according to the most recent census) must register with the government, although there are no legal consequences for not registering. To register, the religious organization submits a request to the Ministry of Women, Youth, and Social Affairs, signed by the head of the group and supported by five other members of the organization. Also required in the request is information regarding proof of the number of adherents and the religious denomination and name under which the group wishes to be registered.

There is no mandated religious education in public schools. Public schools in the country allow a variety of religious groups, including Catholics, Protestants, Seventh-day Adventists, and the Church of Jesus Christ, to provide religious education in schools. Students who opt out of religious education must participate in a supervised study period.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Most governmental meetings and events began and ended with an ordained minister or other church official delivering a Christian prayer.

The government continued to administer a small grants program for development projects administered by nongovernmental organizations and registered religious organizations.

Foreign missionaries including members of the Church of Jesus Christ were active in the country and operated freely. Missionary visits to islands with a “one religion” tradition were allowed as long as they followed the traditional practice of requesting permission from local leaders.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

With approximately 1,000 inhabitants each, the population of two islands – Arorae and Tamana – remained largely members of the Protestant Kiribati Uniting Church, at 98 percent and 96 percent, respectively, according to the 2015 census, although a small number of Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, Church of Jesus Christ, and Baha’i adherents were also present. The residents of these islands continued their “one-church-only” tradition, which they stated was in deference to Protestant missionaries who came to the islands in the 1800s, according to government reports. On these islands, residents of other religious groups worshipped in their own homes. Villagers discouraged religious groups outside the Kiribati Uniting Church from proselytizing or holding meetings but permitted missionaries to visit if they requested permission from local leaders first.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Fiji visited the country and discussed religious tolerance and practices regarding the treatment of minority groups with government representatives and Church of Jesus Christ leaders.

The embassy utilized social media to promote religious pluralism and tolerance, including highlighting comments by the Vice President and posts in support of International Religious Freedom Day.

Nauru

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws provide for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, and for freedom to change one’s religion or beliefs. Smaller churches continued to find the 750-member requirement for registration difficult to meet, although religious groups stated they could conduct most normal functions without registration.

A government official stated that local communities “fear that refugees could overrun the tiny island nation.” He said Nauruans would not tolerate the Muslim refugees constructing mosques or houses of worship, although generally the population had no issue with Muslim refugees practicing their religion in private.

The U.S. Ambassador to Fiji is accredited to the government. Officials from the U.S. embassy in Suva discussed religious pluralism, tolerance, and registration requirements during visits with government officials and civil society in August and October.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 national census, approximately 95 percent of the population is Christian. The Nauru Congregational Church (which includes the Nauru Protestant Church) is the largest Christian group, constituting 36 percent of the population, followed by the Roman Catholic Church at 33 percent, the Nauru Independent Assembly of God at 13 percent, and the Nauru Independent Church at 10 percent. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) each constitute less than 1 percent of the population. Two percent of the population reports no religious affiliation. Ethnic Chinese residents, estimated to constitute 5 percent of the population, are Confucian, Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, or nonreligious.

In addition, according to several nongovernmental organizations and the Australian government, approximately 1,000 persons fleeing their home countries lived in the country at the beginning of the year, although the number declined to approximately 300 at year’s end due to resettlement. Sources stated the number was even fewer because many who were moved from the country to Australia for temporary medical treatment were still legally considered to be in the country, even if they physically were not. Most of those coming to the country were from Muslim majority countries, although many were Christian.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the freedom of conscience, expression, assembly, and association, and for freedom to change one’s religion or beliefs. These rights may be restricted by any law that is “reasonably required” in the interests of defense or public safety, order, morality, or health.

Under the law, religious groups must register with the government to operate in an official capacity, which includes proselytizing, building houses of worship, holding religious services, and officiating at marriages. A 2014 cabinet memorandum sets out requirements for registration of new religious groups, including having at least 750 enrolled members, land, and a building in the country, and leadership by a Nauruan member of the clergy, who must reside in the country. The Catholic Church, Nauru Congregational Church, Assemblies of God, Nauru Independent Church, and Seventh-day Adventist Church are officially registered.

Religious groups may operate private schools, and a number do so. In public schools, the government allows religious groups to have a weekly religious education program with students during school hours, but it does not require schools to offer such education. In schools where religious education is provided, students are required to attend the program led by the representative of their respective religious group. Students whose faith is not represented are required to undertake independent study during the class time devoted to religious education.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Although the law requires registration for religious groups to conduct a full range of activities, local religious leaders stated the government continued to require such recognition only if a denomination’s clergy wished to officiate at marriages. Religious groups stated they could conduct most normal functions without registration. There were no reports the government discriminated in the registration process, although leaders of churches with smaller congregations continued to express concerns that the 750-member requirement implemented in 2014 was difficult to meet. The registration applications for the Baptist Church and the Church of Jesus Christ, which did not have 750 members, remained pending at the end of the year.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

A government official stated that local communities “fear that refugees could overrun the tiny island nation.” He said Nauruans would not tolerate the Muslim refugees constructing mosques or houses of worship, although generally the population has no issue with Muslim refugees practicing their religion in private.

Since religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize intolerance toward refugees as being based solely on religious identity.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Ambassador to Fiji is accredited to the government; the U.S. government does not maintain an embassy in Nauru. In August and October embassy officials discussed religious tolerance and registration requirements during meetings with senior government officials and civil society.

Tonga

Executive Summary

The constitution grants freedom to practice, worship, and assemble for religious services. The constitution requires the Sabbath, which the government defines as Sunday, be “kept holy” and prohibits commercial transactions and many recreational activities on Sunday, except as permitted by law. The law does not require registration of religious groups. A religious group, however, must register to be eligible for specific benefits such as recognition of clergy as marriage officers and tax exemptions.

The Forum of Church Leaders, comprising only Christian leaders, met to discuss social issues in the country. The secretariat compiled and submitted reports on these issues to the cabinet.

During regular visits, officials from the U.S. Embassy in Fiji discussed the need to protect religious freedom and tolerance with representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor; and Tonga National Council of Churches, as well as with other institutions.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 106,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to 2016 local census data, membership in major religious groups includes the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, 35 percent; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 19 percent; Roman Catholic Church, 14 percent; Free Church of Tonga, 12 percent; and Church of Tonga, 7 percent. (The latter two are local affiliates of the Methodist Church.) Other Christian groups account for approximately 9 percent and include the Tokaikolo Church, Mo’ui Fo’ou ‘ia Kalaisi, Constitutional Church of Tonga, Seventh-day Adventists, Gospel Church, Salvation Army, Assemblies of God, other Pentecostal denominations, Anglicans, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Reportedly, 60 individuals identified as Buddhist, while approximately 750 reported that they followed the Baha’i Faith. Approximately 600 individuals reported no religious affiliation or did not answer the census question. Approximately 900 individuals identified as belonging to other faiths, including Islam. According to the government-run secretariat for the Forum of Church Leaders in Tonga, the fastest-growing religious group is the Church of Jesus Christ.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution allows freedom of religious practice, freedom of worship, and freedom of assembly for religious services, provided these freedoms are not used “to commit evil and licentious acts” or “do what is contrary to the law and peace of the land.” The constitution requires that the Sabbath, which the government recognizes as Sunday, be “kept holy” and prohibits commercial transactions on the Sabbath, except essential services after approval by the minister of police. The law also prohibits many recreational activities and sports on the Sabbath.

The law does not require registration of religious groups. Any group of individuals may gather together, worship, and practice their faith without informing the government or seeking its permission. A religious group, however, must register to be eligible for specific benefits such as recognition of clergy as marriage officers, tax exemptions on nonbusiness income, importation of goods for religious purposes, fundraising, protection of a denomination’s name, and access to broadcasting on public channels. Registration as a religious group requires an application to the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor, accompanied by certified copies of the group’s rules and constitution, a declaration detailing any other trust in which the applicant holds assets, a witness’ signature, and a 115 pa’anga ($52) application fee. It is a legal requirement that if a group elects to register with the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor, it must also register with the Ministry of Revenue and Customs as a nonprofit organization. There are no additional requirements to register with the Ministry of Revenue and Customs once a group is registered as a separate legal entity with the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor.

The law allows religious leaders to legalize marriages. According to the law, only marriages solemnized by church ministers are legally recognized, and no other marriage is valid.

Religious groups may operate schools, and a number do so. In public schools, the government allows religious groups to offer an hour-long program of religious education with students once per week but does not require schools to do so. In public schools where religious education is provided, students are required to attend the program led by the representative of their respective denomination. Students whose faith does not send a representative are required to take a study period during the hour devoted to religious education.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government-owned Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC), a 24-hour service, maintained policy guidelines regarding the broadcast of religious programming on TV Tonga and Radio Tonga. The TBC guidelines stated that in view of “the character of the listening public,” those who preach on TV Tonga and Radio Tonga must confine their preaching “within the limits of the mainstream Christian tradition.” There were no reports, however, of the TBC denying any group’s request to broadcast on public channels. The government permitted all Christian groups to participate in broadcasting one free hour of services on the radio each Sunday. All churches were able to broadcast notices of their activities on six FM radio stations and three television stations, namely Television Tonga, Digi TV, and the Christian station Doulos Television Radio.

Foreign Christian missionaries were active in the country and operated freely.

The government continued to enforce a ban that prohibits bakeries from operating on Sunday to comply with the constitution’s prohibition of commercial activity on the Sabbath. By special permit, the government continued to allow hotels and resorts to operate on Sunday for tourists. These special permits are granted by the minister of police in accordance with the set requirements. The Forum of Church Leaders continued to express concern about the exemption for hotels and resorts.

The Education Ministry continued to give permission to the Scripture Union and Sisu koe Fetu’u Ngingila, two private Christian NGOs, to provide Bible study and other activities for students of different faiths throughout the year for one hour per week. Students who did not wish to participate were allowed to study independently in school libraries.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Forum of Church Leaders, under its secretariat at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, met to discuss social issues in the country, such as suicide, crime, drugs, healthy lifestyles, deportees, climate change issues, and teenage pregnancy. The secretariat compiled and submitted reports on these issues to the cabinet.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. The U.S. Ambassador to Fiji is accredited to the government. Representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Fiji met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor to discuss religious freedom. Embassy officials also met with the Tonga National Council of Churches and representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ and discussed the need to protect interfaith tolerance.

The embassy utilized social media to promote religious pluralism and tolerance, including highlighting comments by the U.S. Vice President and posts in support of International Religious Freedom Day.

Tuvalu

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the freedom to change religion or belief and the freedom to show and spread religious belief through worship, teaching, observance, or practice. The law designates the Ekalesia A Kelisiano Tuvalu (Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu or EKT) as the state church and allows it to conduct “special services on major national events.” The powers of the ombudsman include oversight of a national human rights institution to promote and protect human rights, including religious freedom, and labor law prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. Traditional island councils reportedly continued to discourage public meetings of several minority religious groups, and informal religious bans on such groups by traditional leaders remained in place.

On some outer islands, traditional leaders reportedly worked actively against nontraditional religious groups.

The U.S. Embassy in Fiji promoted religious tolerance in meetings with the government and local religious leaders when visiting the country.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). Approximately 86 percent of the population belongs to the Ekalesia A Kelisiano Tuvalu (Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu or EKT), which has historical ties to the Congregational Christian Church and other churches in Samoa, 2.8 percent to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and 3.0 percent to the Brethren Church. There are small numbers of Catholics, Muslims, Baha’is, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Assemblies of God, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).

The nine island groups have traditional chiefs, all of whom are members of the EKT. Most members of other religious groups are found in Funafuti, the capital, and some Baha’is live on Nanumea Island.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The EKT is by law the state church, and the law affords its followers “the privilege of performing special services on major national events.” The constitution otherwise provides for separation of religion and state. The constitution provides for “freedom of thought, religion, and belief,” and the freedom to show and spread religious belief through worship, teaching, observance, or practice. These freedoms may be limited by law for reasons such as avoiding divisiveness; protecting the rights of others; defense; and public order, safety, morality, and health. The preamble of the constitution states the country is “an independent State based on Christian principles, the Rule of Law, and Tuvaluan custom and tradition.”

By law, any new religious group with adult members representing not less than 2 percent of the country’s total population (at the most recent census) must register with the government; failure to register could result in prosecution. The Ministry of Home Affairs requires religious groups seeking registration to submit a request signed by the head and supported by five other members of the organization. Information on and proof of the number of adherents, the name of the religious organization, and approval from the traditional elder councils, known as falekaupule, are also required in the request. Under the law, all religious groups, regardless of size, must register with and obtain approval from the falekaupule of any island on which they conduct services. The law prohibits joint or public worship by religious groups not approved by these councils. The law also allows the falekaupule to withhold permission from certain religious groups to meet publicly, should they be judged locally to “directly threaten the values and culture of the island community.” The law provides for unapproved groups to be fined up to 500 Australian dollars ($350) if they engage in public meetings in violation of the law.

The powers of the ombudsman include oversight of a national human rights institution to promote and protect human rights, including religious freedom. Labor law prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.

The law guarantees the right of individuals to worship freely within their own residences.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Missionaries continued to practice without government restrictions on some islands, such as Funafuti. On other islands, such as Nanumanga and Vaitupu, formal and informal bans issued by the falekaupule remained in effect on proselytizing and public worship by representatives of religious groups that were perceived to challenge traditional cultural norms. As a consequence, missionaries said they did not try to proselytize on those islands.

Government ceremonies at the national level, such as the opening of the parliamentary year, and at the island council level continued to include Christian prayers and clergy.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On smaller islands, including Niu, Nukufetau, Nanumanga, Niutao, and Vaitupu, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religious groups were reportedly perceived by residents as being outside of traditional norms. In some cases, local traditional leaders discouraged groups from proselytizing or holding meetings, stating nontraditional and minority religious groups might disrupt traditional societal structures. Many religious groups continued to operate privately without formal approval, especially in the outer islands.

Leaders from religious minority groups acknowledged the government’s efforts to promote greater religious tolerance, but they said the government had failed to spread the message sufficiently on the outer islands.

Local minority religious leaders said the EKT continued to exert considerable influence in the social, cultural, and political life of the country. For example, the Church continued to limit activities on Sunday and encouraged a modest dress code in local villages.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. The U.S. Ambassador to Fiji is accredited to the government. Representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Fiji visited the country and met with representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, and civil society and community leaders, including leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Baptist Church, and members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, EKT, and Baha’i faiths. They discussed religious tolerance and the treatment of minority groups, including the treatment by traditional leaders of persons leaving the EKT.

The embassy utilized social media to promote religious pluralism and tolerance, including highlighting comments by the U.S. Vice President and posts in support of International Religious Freedom Day.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future