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Nigeria

Executive Summary

The constitution bars the federal and state governments from adopting a state religion, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for individuals’ freedom to choose, practice, propagate, or change their religion. Throughout the year, Shia Muslims, under the auspices of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), conducted a series of demonstrations – including several in July against the ongoing detention of IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky – resulting in violent confrontations between protesters and security forces, which left as many as 30 dead, including protesters and police. Security forces fired on Shia religious processions for Ashura in September, killing 12, according to the IMN. Following the July violence, the government banned the IMN and declared the group a terrorist organization. The IMN stated it planned to legally contest the ban. In July the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, criticized the government’s action banning the IMN as a threat to religious freedom for all believers, according to local and Catholic media. The government continued its detention of El-Zakzaky despite a December 2016 court ruling that he be released by January 2017. The government launched new security operations in the North West states and continued ongoing operations in the North Central states that it stated were meant to stem insecurity created by armed criminal gangs and violent conflict over land and water resources, which frequently involved predominantly Muslim Fulani herders and settled farmers, who were both Muslim and Christian. There were several incidents of violence involving these groups in the North Central and North West. In July local communities reacted to news of a government plan to resettle the predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen in southern parts of the country by threatening violence against Fulani communities in South West and South East states; the plan was later annulled. Members of both Christian and Muslim groups continued to report some state and local government laws discriminated against them, including by limiting their rights to freedom of expression and assembly and in obtaining government employment.

Terrorist groups including Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) attacked population centers and religious targets and maintained a growing ability to stage forces in rural areas and launch attacks against civilian and military targets across the North East, according to observers. The groups continued to carry out person-borne improvised explosive device (IED) bombings – many by young women and girls drugged and forced into doing so – targeting the local civilian population, including churches and mosques. In July ISIS-WA abducted six Action Against Hunger (AAH) aid workers from a convoy heading to deliver food in Borno State. In July 65 people returning from a funeral in a predominantly Muslim community in Borno State were killed by Boko Haram. In September ISIS-WA released a video depicting the beheading of two Christian aid workers; in the video one of the killers vowed to kill every Christian the group captured in “revenge” for Muslims killed in past conflicts. In October ISIS-WA filmed and publicly released its killing of one of the six abducted AAH aid workers, who was Muslim. On December 24, Boko Haram killed seven people and abducted a teenage girl in a raid on a Christian village in Borno State. On December 26, ISIS-WA released a video of the execution of 10 Christians and one Muslim to avenge the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Conflicts between predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen and predominantly Christian farmers in the North Central states continued throughout the year, although the violence was lower than during the 2017-2018 spike, reportedly due to government intervention and efforts of civil society to resolve conflicts. Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern that this conflict took on increasingly religious undertones. In addition to religious differences, local authorities, scholars, and regional experts pointed to ethnicity, politics, lack of accountability and access to justice, and increasing competition over dwindling land resources among the key drivers of the violence. Attacks and killings by Fulani herdsman continued during the year, although according to the publicly available Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), the number of civilian victims fell dramatically, from over 1,500 in 2018 to approximately 350 in 2019. According to international media, in February 131 Fulani and 11 Adara were killed in Kaduna State. On April 14, Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed 17 Christians who had gathered after a baby dedication at a Baptist church in the central part of the country, including the mother of the child, sources said. Some domestic and international Christian groups stated that Fulani were targeting Christians on account of their religion. Local and international NGOs and religious organizations criticized the government’s perceived inability to prevent or mitigate violence between Christian and Muslim communities.

U.S. embassy, consulate general, and visiting U.S. government officials regularly promoted principles of religious freedom and religious coexistence in discussions throughout the year with government officials, religious leaders, and civil society organizations. The Ambassador, Consul General, and other senior U.S. officials hosted interfaith dinners, participated in interfaith conferences, and conducted press interviews to promote interfaith dialogue. The embassy sponsored training sessions for journalists who report on ethnoreligious conflicts to help reduce bias in their reporting and prevent tensions from becoming further inflamed. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator visited Abuja, Bwari Local Government Area, and Lagos to highlight U.S. government support for interfaith cooperation and conflict mitigation efforts.

On December 18, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State placed Nigeria on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 208.7 million (midyear 2019 estimate). While there are no official indicators of religious affiliation in the country, most analysts say it is roughly evenly divided between Muslims and Christians, while approximately 2 percent belong to other or no religious groups. Many individuals syncretize indigenous animism with Islam or Christianity.

A 2010 Pew report found 38 percent of the Muslim population self-identifies as Sunni, the vast majority of whom belong to the Maliki school of jurisprudence, though a sizable minority follows Shafi’i fiqh. The same study found 12 percent of Muslims in the country self-identify as Shia, with the remainder declining to answer or identifying as “something else” (5 percent) or “just a Muslim” (42 percent). Included among the Sunnis are several Sufi brotherhoods, including Tijaniyah, Qadiriyyah, and Mouride. There are also Izala (Salafist) minorities and small numbers of Ahmadi and Kalo Kato (Quraniyoon) Muslims. A 2011 Pew report found among Christians, roughly one quarter are Roman Catholic and three quarters Protestant, with small numbers of Orthodox or other Christian denominations. Among Protestant groups, the Anglican, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches maintain the largest populations, while evangelicals, Pentecostals, Anabaptists (EYN Church of the Brethren), Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, New Apostolics, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses report tens of thousands of adherents each. Other communities include Baha’is, Jews (including significant numbers of Judaic-oriented groups), Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, animists, and individuals who do not follow any religion.

The Hausa, Fulani, and Kanuri ethnic groups are most prevalent in the predominantly Muslim North West and North East states. Significant numbers of Christians, including some Hausa, Fulani, and Kanuri, also reside in the North East and North West. Christians and Muslims reside in approximately equal numbers in the North Central and South West states, including Lagos, where the Yoruba ethnic group – whose members include both Muslims and Christians – predominates. In the South East and South states, where the Igbo ethnic group is dominant, Christian groups, including Catholics, Anglicans, and Methodists, constitute the majority. In the Niger Delta region, where ethnic groups include Ijaw, Igbo, Ogoni, Efik, Ibibio, and Uhrobo among others, Christians form a substantial majority; a small but growing minority of the population is Muslim. Evangelical Christian denominations are growing rapidly in the North Central and South East, South, and South West regions. Ahmadi Muslims maintain a small presence in several cities, including Lagos and Abuja. The Shia Muslim presence is heavily concentrated in the North West states of Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara, and Kano.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates neither the federal nor the state governments shall establish a state religion and prohibits discrimination on religious grounds. It provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion and to manifest and propagate religion “in worship, teaching, practice, and observance,” provided these rights are consistent with the interests of defense, public safety, order, morality, or health, and protecting the rights of others. The constitution also states it shall be the duty of the state to encourage interfaith marriages and to promote the formation of associations that cut across religious lines and promote “national integration.” It prohibits political parties that limit membership based on religion or have names that have a religious connotation. The constitution highlights religious tolerance, among other virtues, as a distinct “national ethic.”

The constitution provides for states to establish courts based on sharia or customary (traditional) law, in addition to common law courts. Sharia courts function in 12 northern states and the Federal Capital Territory. Customary courts function in most of the 36 states. The nature of a case and the consent of the parties usually determine what type of court has jurisdiction. The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for “civil proceedings”; such courts do not have the authority to compel participation, whether by non-Muslims or Muslims. At least one state, Zamfara, requires sharia courts to hear civil cases in which all litigants are Muslim and provides the option to appeal any decision to the common law court. Non-Muslims have the option to have their cases tried in the sharia courts if they wish.

The constitution is silent on the use of sharia courts for criminal cases. In addition to civil matters, sharia courts also hear criminal cases if both complainant and defendant are Muslim and agree to the venue. Sharia courts may pass sentences based on the sharia penal code, including for hudud (serious criminal offenses for which the Quran and Islamic law provide punishments such as caning, amputation, and stoning). Defendants have the right to challenge the constitutionality of sharia criminal statutes through common law appellate courts. The highest appellate court for sharia-based decisions is the Supreme Court, staffed by common law judges who, while not required to have any formal training in the sharia penal code, may seek advice from sharia experts.

Kano and Zamfara’s state-sanctioned Hisbah Boards regulate Islamic religious affairs and preaching, license imams, and attempt to resolve religious disputes between Muslims in those states. The states of Bauchi, Borno, Katsina, and Yobe maintain state-level Christian and Muslim religious affairs ministries or bureaus with varying mandates and authorities, while many other state governors appoint interfaith special advisers on religious affairs.

To build places of worship, open bank accounts, receive tax exemptions, or sign contracts, religious groups must register with the Corporate Affairs Commission as an incorporated trustee, which involves submitting an application form, proof of public notice, a copy of the organization’s constitution, a list of trustees, and a fee of 20,000 naira ($55).

Both federal and state governments have the authority to regulate mandatory religious instruction in public schools. The constitution prohibits schools from requiring students to receive religious instruction or to participate in or attend any religious ceremony or observance pertaining to any religion other than their own. State officials and many religious leaders have stated students have the right to request a teacher of their own religious beliefs to provide an alternative to any instruction offered in a religion other than their own. The constitution also says no religious community will be prevented from providing religious instruction to students of that community in any place that community wholly maintains.

Several states have laws requiring licenses for preachers, places of worship, and religious schools for registered religious groups. In Katsina State, the law establishes a board with the authority to regulate Islamic schools, preachers, and mosques, including issuing permits, suspending operations, and imprisoning or fining violators. The Katsina law stipulates a punishment of one to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to 500,000 naira ($1,400) for operating without a license.

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

Government Practices

Throughout the year, Shia Muslims, under the auspices of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), conducted a series of demonstrations, some of which resulted in violent confrontations between protesters and security forces. IMN was the largest Shia organization in the country and was led by Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky who, according to his writings and online communications, draws inspiration from the Iranian revolution and from the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Between March and July, members of the IMN conducted daily protests in Abuja to contest the continued detention of El-Zakzaky, despite a December 2016 Abuja High Court ruling that he be released by January 2017. The protests continued until his temporary release due to illness in August. During an initially peaceful IMN demonstration in Abuja on July 9, an IMN member sparked an exchange of gunfire between police and IMN protestors when he grabbed an officer’s holstered pistol, resulting in the deaths of the officer, 15 IMN members, and a security guard, according to press reports. IMN members also broke through police barricades at the National Assembly and police dispersed the crowd with tear gas. Following the July 9 events, the Senate called for the arrest of IMN members involved in the violence, while the House of Representatives called on the government to urgently engage the IMN to resolve the conflict and expressed fears the Shia group was fast evolving “the way Boko Haram started.”

Human Rights Watch reported that on July 22, police opened fire on peaceful IMN protesters and killed 11 protesters, a journalist, and a police officer, while dozens of others were wounded or arrested, according to witnesses and authorities. On November 27, police arraigned 60 IMN members arrested at the July 22 protest on charges of culpable homicide, destruction of public property, and public disturbance.

On July 26, the Federal High Court ruled IMN’s activities amounted to “acts of terrorism and illegality” and ordered the government to proscribe the “existence and activities” of the group. On July 28, the government complied, officially banning the IMN as an illegal organization and thereby prohibiting its meeting or activities. In its announcement, the government emphasized its proscription of the IMN “has nothing to do with banning the larger numbers of peaceful and law-abiding Shiites in the country from practicing their religion.” Following the ban, then-Archbishop of Abuja Cardinal Oneiyekan defended the country’s Shia Muslims and criticized the government’s action banning the IMN as a threat to religious freedom for all believers, according to Catholic media. On September 10, despite the government prohibition, the IMN sponsored Ashura religious processions in Bauchi, Kaduna, Gombe, Katsina, and Sokoto States. The IMN reported as many as 12 participants in the processions died in clashes with security forces, with media sources reporting between three and nine killed.

In August the government granted El-Zakzaky temporary release to seek medical treatment in India; he traveled but reportedly refused treatment in India after stating armed Indian guards had been posted in his room during his medical treatment. Upon his return home the government returned him to custody, where he remained through the end of the year.

On November 27, police broke up an IMN protest and arrested 12 members and two journalists. The journalists later were released.

Local and international NGOs continued to criticize the lack of accountability for soldiers implicated in a December 2015 clash between the army and IMN members that, according to a Kaduna State government report, left at least 348 IMN members and one soldier dead, with IMN members buried in a mass grave. Approximately 100 IMN members arrested after that clash remained in detention.

In June the Kaduna state legislature approved a bill to regulate religious preaching. While the government said the new law would protect against “hate speech,” religious leaders said it infringed on freedom of speech and the rights of Christians and Muslims. The law required all preachers to be licensed by a state-level body composed of religious leaders, government officials, and security agencies. Later in June Kaduna’s highest court nullified the law, stating that it was inconsistent with the constitution’s guarantees for freedom of expression, association, and religion. The state government announced it would appeal the decision at the federal level.

In May the Kano state Hisbah Board arrested 80 Muslims accused of eating in public rather than fasting during Ramadan. The Kano hisbah spokesman said they were all eventually released since it was their first offense but noted they would be taken to court if detained again. In October the Kano state hisbah arrested four men for organizing a false online wedding to a young woman over Facebook, stating it “mocked Islam” as well as demeaned the “sanctity of the institution of marriage.”

Members of both Christian and Muslim groups continued to report some state and local government laws discriminated against them, including by limiting their rights to freedom of expression and assembly and in obtaining government employment.

Local and international NGOs and religious organizations criticized the government’s perceived inability to prevent or effectively mitigate violence between Christian and Muslim communities in the Middle Belt region.

In June some ethnoreligious organizations in the South West and South East reacted with threats of violence to news of a government plan to resettle predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen in southern parts of the country. In the South West, both Muslim and Christian groups threatened violence against members of the Fulani ethnic group. The government later abandoned the plan.

In June President Muhammadu Buhari announced plans for the eventual ban of Almajiri Quranic schools due to their reported practice of forcing students to beg in the streets and their perceived association with urban crime and violence; he said the government first would consult with states, which have jurisdiction over the schools, and others in the education community. In July the Kaduna State Commissioner for Education announced that Quranic schools would be integrated into the formal education system. In October the Kano state government announced a “free and compulsory education initiative” that would abolish the payment of school fees and integrate all Almajiri pupils into the formal education system in 2020.

In October police raided four Islamic schools in Kaduna and Katsina States and freed over 1,000 men and boys living in “inhumane and degrading” conditions, including being chained and physically abused, according to international media. In November police freed 259 men, women, and children from an Islamic school in Oyo State and rescued 15 people chained in a church in Lagos. In November Human Rights Watch reported its investigators found individuals chained in 27 of 28 institutions they visited, which included psychiatric hospitals, general hospitals, traditional healing centers, Christian churches, and both Islamic and state-owned rehabilitation centers. Following the raids, President Buhari issued a statement saying, “No responsible democratic government would tolerate the existence of the torture chambers and physical abuses of inmates in the name of rehabilitation of the victims.”

In January Sultan of Sokoto Sa’ad Abubakar III and then-Archbishop of Abuja Onaiyekan organized a conference with religious leaders from throughout the country to promote peaceful elections.

In September the Kaduna State Urban Planning Development Agency served the 110-year-old St. George Anglican Church a notice to vacate its premises within seven days on the grounds that the church did not have a certificate of occupancy. A week later the Kaduna state government issued a statement saying the church would remain because of its historical value.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Numerous fatal clashes continued throughout the year in the North Central region between predominantly Christian farmers from various ethnic groups and predominantly Fulani Muslim herders. Scholars and other experts, including international NGOs, cited ethnicity, politics, religion, lack of accountability and access to justice, increasing competition over dwindling land resources, population growth, soil degradation, and internal displacement from crime and other forms of violence all as drivers contributing to the violence. Several international and domestic experts noted that armed conflicts in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin had altered grazing routes and brought herder groups in contact with new communities, sometimes leading to conflict because they are unaware of preexisting agreements between the local herding and farming groups. Similarly, internal transhumance (movement of livestock) to the North Central and Southern parts of the country has increased in recent years due to demographic and ecological pressures, according to the UN.

Multiple Christian NGOs stated that religious identity was a primary driver of the conflict. A Le Monde op-ed in December, however, stated “reducing the violence in the center of the country to sectarian confrontation is an extreme simplification,” and other analysts noted that the same conflict dynamics exist across the region where both herders and farmers are Muslim, including the North West, but had received less media attention.

According to a report released by the U.K.-based Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), “Fulani militia” killed over 1,000 Christians throughout the year. The report noted that the “underlying drivers of the conflict are complex,” and stated that violence targeting predominantly Christian communities, the targeting of church leaders, and the destruction of hundreds of churches suggested religion and ideology were key factors. It also stated that retaliatory violence by Christians occurred, though “we have seen no evidence of comparability of scale or equivalence of atrocities.” According to various secular and Christian media outlets, from February to mid-March, Fulani herders and Boko Haram terrorists killed 280 individuals in predominantly Christian communities. ACLED data, however, documented 350 total civilian deaths by “Fulani militia” in 2019.

A study by the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel noted that within the country, “there are many different Fulani clans, sub-clans, local Fulani cultures and dialects, and variations in herding practices.” Experts stated there was no evidence to suggest the Fulani had an explicit Jihadist agenda or were mobilized behind a common ethnic agenda, and noted there are between 30-40 million Fulani in Africa.

On February 10, on the eve of general elections, as many as 131 members of the predominantly Muslim Fulani ethnic group and 11 members of the predominantly Christian Adara ethnic group were reportedly killed and some 10,000 were internally displaced in clashes in Kajuru. In response, the Kaduna governor arrested the Adara leaders and elder statesmen, a move which local Christian leaders condemned. The governor also announced there were 131 casualties of the attacks and said, “The more the police dig into this matter, the more it is clear that there was a deliberate plan to wipe out certain communities.” Christian leaders disputed the casualty figures announced by the governor, while Fulani leaders later released a list of what they said were the names of the 131 Fulani killed. A Fulani herder told The Los Angeles Times, “There is no effort to protect our villagers,” and added that “bandits” were responsible for a deadly attack on [farmers in] Ungwan Barde, not herders; “We don’t know why [the farmers] blamed us.”

On March 14, the NGO Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported that Fulani militia members had killed 120 persons since February 9 in the Adara chiefdom of South Kaduna. According to the Adara Development Association, on March 11, Fulani militia killed 52 persons in attacks on Inkirimi and Dogonnoma villages in Maro, Kajuru Local Government Area, while the Kaduna Police Command reported 16 deaths.

According to local and international media, in May the discovery of two dead boys at the border between a Christian village and a Hausa Muslim community in Plateau state sparked ethnic-based riots against Hausas, resulting in from five to as many as 30 deaths. In August and September, local media reported armed, ethnicIgbo Christian criminal gang members posing as Fulani Muslim herdsmen killed two priests in the South East in an attempt to incite religious conflict. According to international media, on April 14, Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed 17 Christians who had gathered after a baby dedication at a Baptist church in the central part of the country, including the mother of the child, sources said. Pastor Samson Gamu Yare, community leader of the Mada ethnic group in Nasarawa State, called on the federal government to take measures towards curtailing these attacks on his people.

During the year, media and religious groups reported several cases of priests and other Christian clergy and their families who were attacked, killed, or kidnapped for ransom, often by attackers identified as of allegedly Fulani ethnicity. These cases included, among others, the killing of Father Paul Offu and Father Clement Ugwu and the beating of an evangelical Christian pastor from Kaduna State and kidnapping for ransom of his wife, who died in her captors’ custody. Authorities stated these incidents were criminal acts and not religiously motivated, reportedly due to the ethnicities of those arrested for the crimes, although many Christian civil society groups pointed to such incidents as examples of religiously motivated persecution. In August 200 Catholic priests marched through the streets of Enegu city, protesting insecurity and what they characterized as “Fulani attacks on Christians.” Muslim religious figures were also the victims of kidnapping. In March Islamic scholar Sheikh Ahmad Sulaiman was kidnapped in Katsina State and released after 15 days.

According to international media, in October in Chikun, Kaduna State, Fulani gunmen kidnapped six school girls and two teachers from Engravers College Kakau, a high school with a Christian perspective that has a secular curriculum and enrolls both Christian and non-Christians. Shunom Giwa, vice principal of Engravers’ College, told Morning Star News that security issues led to some parents withdrawing their children from the school. Media reported the abductors stormed the boarding school when most of the students and teachers were asleep. The individuals were released after authorities paid a ransom.

In its report, “Nigeria: The Genocide is Loading,” NGO Jubilee Campaign stated that it had documented at least 52 Fulani militant attacks between January and June 12. HART, in its report, stated the situation between Fulani herdsman and farmers amounted to genocide and governments worldwide should recognize and respond to it as such. Other longtime observers, however, including those with the Africa section of the French National Center for Scientific Research, expressed concern that describing the situation as one of “pre-genocide” was inaccurate, and ran the risks of “misrepresenting the facts, discrediting the media, and making the situation on the ground worse.” In a Le Monde op-ed on conflict in Nigeria, scholars stated that the term “genocide” allows some Nigerian politicians to “vindicate one group and instrumentalize another.” Other international observers warned against framing the issue as an attack on one group, since such a claim ignored the complexity of the issue and could deepen and perpetuate the conflict.

In July local communities reacted to news of a government plan to resettle the predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen in southern parts of the country by threatening violence against Fulani communities in South West and South East states; the plan was later annulled.

In November student protests took place after the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in predominantly Christian Enugu State, announced it would host a conference on witchcraft and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria called for Christians to pray against the event. The event took place as scheduled after the university removed the term “witchcraft” from the title of the conference.

On February 23, interfaith leaders and members of the Strength and Diversity Development Center held a “Weekend of Prayer and March for Peace” in seven states across the country.

On January 10, the NGO 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative organized the first of three international religious freedom roundtables. Participants included representatives of several Muslim and Christian communities. The group formed an interfaith steering committee to guide its efforts to promote religious tolerance.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy, consulate general, and visiting U.S. government officials voiced concern over abuses and discrimination against individuals on the basis of religion and religious tension issues in the country in discussions throughout the year with government officials, including the vice president, cabinet secretaries, and National Assembly members. They also discussed government and government-supported grassroots efforts to reduce violence and promote religious freedom and interreligious tolerance. In August the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development visited Abuja and Lagos, engaging with government and religious leaders as well as NGOs, to highlight U.S. support for interfaith cooperation and to encourage greater efforts to combat ethnoreligious violence. The Administrator met with the vice president, local government officials, and members of the Interfaith Mediation Center, the Islamic Education Trust, the Christian Association of Nigeria, and the Federation of Muslim Women’s Association.

Embassy and consulate general officials continued to promote religious tolerance and interfaith relationship-building with a wide range of religious leaders and civil society organizations. The Ambassador and other senior embassy officials hosted interfaith dinners and conducted press interviews to promote interfaith dialogue. They also participated in multiple interfaith conferences and summits throughout the year encouraging religious, traditional, government, and community leaders to continue to engage in dialogue and work towards sustainable peace. They also emphasized these messages in media interviews during multiple trips to states affected by ethnoreligious conflict, including Kaduna, Plateau, Benue, Taraba, and Adamawa.

In March the embassy held an event celebrating the heroism of Imam Abdullahi Abubakar of Barkin Ladi, Plateau, who in 2018 sheltered his Christian neighbors in his home and in the mosque while his village was attacked, confronted the attackers, and refused them entry. The embassy also featured Abubakar on the cover of the April/May edition of its outreach magazine. In July Abubakar received the Department of State’s 2019 Religious Freedom Award.

In June and July the consulate general engaged southern socio-cultural groups, religious leaders, and politicians to reduce tensions emerging from reports of government-sponsored programs to resettle Fulani communities to southern areas of the country. The embassy and consulate general also worked with a wide range of organizations, including religious groups, to promote peaceful, free, and fair elections in 2019.

In September a senior U.S. government official visited a U.S. jointly funded peacebuilding camp for young people in Nasawara State.

On December 18, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State placed Nigeria on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

South Sudan

Executive Summary

The transitional constitution stipulates separation of religion and state, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides religious groups freedom to worship and assemble, organize themselves, teach, own property, receive financial contributions, communicate and issue publications on religious matters, and establish charitable institutions. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reported incidents of government forces targeting religious communities.

As noted in a recent report by the U.S. Institute for Peace, the country’s network of religious groups remained a crucial source of stability in an otherwise unstable country. Religious leaders stated that a diverse network of Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim domestic and international organizations provided shelter from the fighting. Sources said that at times religious workers’ generally outspoken attitude toward what they stated were the forces driving the conflict made them targets.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy representatives promoted religious freedom through discussions and outreach with religious leaders and civil society organizations.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.3 million (midyear 2019 estimate). The majority of the population is Christian. The 2010 Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project report estimated that Christians make up 60 percent of the population, indigenous religious followers 33 percent, and Muslims 6 percent. Other religious groups with small populations include the Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism. The country’s massive population displacement resulting from nearly a decade of conflict, as well as a large population of pastoralists who regularly migrate within and between countries make it difficult to estimate the overall population and its religious demography accurately.

According to the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) and the government Bureau of Religious Affairs, the principal Christian denominations are Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Sudan Interior, Presbyterian Evangelical, and African Inland Churches. Smaller populations of Eritrean Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are also present. Many of those who adhere to indigenous religious beliefs reside in isolated parts of the country; a substantial part of the population in these areas also combines Christian and indigenous practices.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The transitional constitution stipulates the separation of religion and state. It prohibits religious discrimination, even if the president declares a state of emergency. It states that all religions are to be treated equally and that religion should not be used for divisive purposes.

The transitional constitution provides for the right of religious groups to worship or assemble freely in connection with any religion or belief, solicit and receive voluntary financial contributions, own property for religious purposes, and establish places of worship. The transitional constitution also provides religious groups the freedom to write, issue, and disseminate religious publications; communicate with individuals and communities on matters of religion at both the national and international levels; teach religion in places “suitable” for this purpose; train, appoint, elect, or designate by succession their religious leaders; and observe religious holidays.

The government requires religious groups to register with the state government where they operate and the Ministry for Humanitarian Affairs through the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (because most religious groups also have associated advocacy and humanitarian/development organizations). Faith-based organizations are required to provide their constitution; a statement of faith documenting their doctrines, beliefs, objectives, and holy book; a list of executive members; and a registration fee of $3,500 (which all humanitarian organizations must pay, including faith-based ones). This requirement, however, is not strictly enforced, and many churches operate without registration. International faith-based organizations are required also to provide a copy of a previous registration with another government and a letter from the international organization commissioning its activities in the country.

The transitional constitution specifies the regulation of religious matters within each state is the executive and legislative responsibility of the state government. It establishes the responsibility of government at all levels to protect monuments and places of religious importance from destruction or desecration.

The transitional constitution allows religious groups to establish and maintain “appropriate” faith-based charitable or humanitarian institutions.

The transitional constitution guarantees every citizen access to education without discrimination based on religion.

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

Government Practices

Unlike in the previous year, there were no reported incidents of government forces targeting religious communities during the year.

Both Christian and Muslim prayers are given to open most official events, with the government often providing translation from English to Arabic.

Several religious groups were represented in government positions. President Kiir Mayardit, a Catholic, employed Sheikh Juma Saeed Ali, a leader of the country’s Islamic community, as a high-level advisor on religious affairs. Additional Muslim representation in government included at least one governor and 14 members of the 400-member Transitional National Legislative Assembly.

Although not mandated by the government, religious education was generally included in public secondary school and university curricula. Theoretically, students could attend either a Christian or an Islamic course, and those with no religious affiliation could choose between the two courses. Because of resource constraints, however, some schools offered only one course. Christian and Islamic private religious schools set their own religious curriculum without government interference.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to U.S. Institute of Peace and others, the country’s religious institutions reportedly remained a crucial source of stability in an otherwise unstable country. Christian and Muslim religious leaders regularly communicated and coordinated activities, particularly around peacebuilding and humanitarian aid. Sources said that at times religious workers’ generally outspoken attitudes concerning the country’s political climate and long-running conflict made them targets.

Leaders from all major religious groups attended ceremonial public events, and both Christian and Muslim leaders were represented on key peace agreement implementation bodies, which met throughout the year. Additionally, the lay Catholic organization Sant’Egidio was informally supporting peace agreement implementation and conducting engagement with nonsignatories.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly participated in discussions in Juba with leaders of the South Sudan Islamic Council, SSCC, Episcopal Church of Sudan, Presbyterian Church, United Methodist Church, and Catholic Church on faith-based peace initiatives, implementation of the peace agreement signed in September 2018, and religious tolerance. Embassy officials expressed concern to faith-based leaders and the government regarding conflict-related violence and its impact on religious workers.

Sudan

Executive Summary Title

On August 17, following the April ouster of President Omar al-Bashir after months of popular protests and a military takeover, the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the opposition coalition, known as the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), signed an interim constitutional declaration that includes several provisions protecting the right to freedom of religious belief and worship “in accordance with the requirements of the law and public order.” It makes no reference to sharia as a source of law, as was the case under the former 2005 constitution. The FFC announced that laws promulgated under the former constitution would remain in effect while the civilian-led transitional government (CLTG) worked to amend or abolish those laws and pass new legislation within the framework of the interim constitutional declaration. Some of the laws and practices established by the Bashir administration were based on its government’s interpretation of a sharia system of jurisprudence, which human rights groups stated did not provide protections for some religious minorities, including minority Muslim groups. The law criminalizes apostasy, blasphemy, conversion from Islam to another religion, and questioning or criticizing the Quran, the Sahaba (the Companions of the Prophet), or the wives of the Prophet. The law does not specifically address proselytizing; however, the Bashir government criminally defined and prosecuted proselytizing as a form of apostasy. While the law does not prohibit the practice of Shia Islam, during the Bashir regime authorities took actions against Shia Muslims. Security services used tear gas, rubber bullets, and other means to disperse groups of worshippers at mosques who were participating in antigovernment protests in February the first half of the year, in response to what the government said was the political nature of their activity. In July the government re-opened a criminal case against the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) leadership, accusing it of criminal trespass and illegal possession of SCOC properties. In August a Coptic Christian was appointed to the Sovereign Council, one of two governing bodies established under the interim constitutional declaration. The final governing body, the Legislative Council, had not been established at year’s end. In September newly-appointed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said his administration would address “religious discrimination,” and the minister of religion invited Jews and Christians who had left the country to return. In July the rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N), active in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan Provinces and led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu, extended and signed a cessation of hostilities. Among other measures, al-Hilu called for a secular state with no role for religion in lawmaking. The CLTG declared December 25 to be a national holiday for the first time.

On December 28, unknown assailants burned a Sudan Interior church, Catholic church, and Orthodox church in Blue Nile State, according to international media. The government said a suspect was arrested and released due to lack of evidence. A Roman Catholic bishop said the country’s new leaders should do away with the requirement that churches register with the government as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). A Protestant pastor called for a change in laws governing religion. Press reported numerous instances in which religious leaders made political speeches during worship services at mosques, both in support of the government and against it. Media also reported instances in which Muslims and Christians shared in each other’s religious rites and customs while participating in government protests.

In high level discussions with the government and during a religious freedom workshop attended by foreign government officials in January, U.S. officials encouraged respect for religious freedom and the protection of minority religious groups. The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy officials urged the adoption of laws that not only permit, but actively promote, the ability of congregations and individuals of all faiths to practice their beliefs. In addition, they highlighted the need for greater representation of religious minorities in the government and urged the government to abstain from interfering in the internal affairs of religious groups. The embassy maintained close contact with religious leaders, faith-based groups, and NGOs, and embassy representatives monitored and attended many of the legal proceedings for those prosecuted in connection with their religious beliefs.

On December 18, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State placed Sudan on a Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom. Sudan was designated as a Country of Particular Concern from 1999-2018 and moved to a Special Watch List after the Secretary determined the government had made substantial progress in improving respect for religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 44.4 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the Sudanese government, approximately 91 percent of the population is Muslim. It is unclear whether government estimates include South Sudanese (predominantly Christian or animist) who did not leave after the 2011 separation of South Sudan or returned after conflict erupted in South Sudan in 2013, or other non-South Sudanese, non-Muslim groups. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports 1,056,536 refugees and asylum seekers in the country, including 810,155 South Sudanese refugees. Some religious advocacy groups estimate non-Muslims make up more than 13 percent of the population.

Almost all Muslims are Sunni, although there are significant distinctions among followers of different Sunni traditions, particularly among Sufi orders. Small Shia Muslim communities are based predominantly in Khartoum. At least one Jewish family remains in the Khartoum area.

The government reports the presence of 36 Christian denominations in the country. Christians reside throughout the country, primarily in major cities, such as Khartoum, Port Sudan, Kassala, Gedaref, El Obeid, and El Fasher. Christians also are concentrated in some parts of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State.

Relatively small but long-established groups of Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Christians are in Khartoum, El Obeid in North Kordofan, River Nile and Gezira States, and eastern parts of the country. Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox communities largely made up of refugees and migrants are in Khartoum and the eastern part of the country. Other larger Christian groups include the Catholic Church, Episcopal Anglican Church, Sudan Church of Christ, Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and Presbyterian Church of the Sudan. Smaller Christian groups include the Africa Inland Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Sudan Interior Church, Sudan Pentecostal Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Government statistics indicate less than 1 percent of the population, primarily in Blue Nile and South Kordofan States, adheres to traditional African religious beliefs. Some Christians and Muslims incorporate aspects of these traditional beliefs into their religious practice. A small Baha’i community primarily operates underground.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

On August 17, the TMC and the FFC, a coalition of civil society and political parties, signed a Constitutional Declaration providing for the formation of an elected civilian government by 2022 and including provisions regarding freedom of belief and worship. The August declaration followed a July power sharing agreement between military and civilian opposition leaders. The power sharing agreement was preceded by the April military ouster of President Omar al-Bashir following months of popular protests against his government, which had ruled the country for 30 years. At year’s end, existing laws and institutions governing religion remained in effect while the new government worked to amend and restructure them. While the previous constitution stated all national legislation should be based on sharia, the Constitutional Declaration makes no reference to sharia although the clause restricting the death penalty permits its imposition as punishment of hudud and qasas crimes.

The Constitutional Declaration repeals the transitional constitution of 2005 while keeping existing laws in effect “unless repealed or amended” by the CLTG. Existing state institutions and organs remained intact unless dissolved by the CLTG.

The Constitutional Declaration provides for the freedom of religious belief and worship and for the free exercise of religious expression “in accordance with the requirements of the law and public order.” The document prohibits involuntary conversion to another faith, discrimination based on religion, and media incitement of religious hatred.

The Constitutional Declaration also has provisions providing for access to education regardless of religion, requiring that political parties be open to citizens of all religions, and ensuring all “ethnic and cultural” groups have the right to “exercise their beliefs” and “observe their religions or customs.” The Interim National Constitution that was in effect until August 17 provided for freedom of religious creed and worship and granted individuals the right to declare their religious beliefs and manifest them through worship, education, practice, or performance, subject to requirements of laws and public order. The constitution prohibited the coercion of individuals to adopt a faith they did not believe in or to engage in rites or services without consent. The previous constitution also stated that nationally enacted legislation should be based on sharia.

The law does not permit Shia Muslims to hold worship services; however, they are allowed to enter Sunni mosques to pray.

Constitutional abuses of freedom of religion may be pursued in the Constitutional Court; however, cases of discrimination often originate and are addressed in lower courts.

National laws concerning personal and family affairs of Muslims adopted during the Bashir administration largely remain in effect and are based on a sharia system of jurisprudence. The criminal code states the law, including at state and local levels, shall be based on sharia sources and include hudood, qasas, and diyah principles (specific serious crimes and related restitution and punishment). The criminal code takes into consideration multiple sharia schools of jurisprudence (madhahib). The Islamic Panel of Scholars and Preachers (Fiqh Council) determines under which conditions a school of thought will apply. Other criminal and civil laws, including public order laws, are determined at the state and local level.

Former president Bashir appointed the Fiqh Council, an official body of 50 Muslim religious scholars responsible for explaining and interpreting Islamic jurisprudence, to four-year renewable terms. The council advised the government and issued fatwas on religious matters in the past, including levying customs duties on the importation of religious materials, payment of interest on loans for public infrastructure, and determination of government-allotted annual leave for Islamic holidays. The council’s opinions are not legally binding. Muslim religious scholars may present differing religious and political viewpoints in public. The Fiqh Council mandate remains the same under the CLTG.

The criminal code does not explicitly mention proselytizing, but it criminalizes both conversion from Islam to any other faith (apostasy) and acts that encourage conversion from Islam. Those who convert from Islam to another religion as well as any Muslim who questions or criticizes the teachings of the Quran, the Sahaba (the Companions of the Prophet), or the wives of the Prophet Muhammad may also be considered guilty of apostasy and sentenced to death. Those charged with apostasy are allowed to repent within a period decided by the court, but they may still face up to five years in prison. The law does not prohibit individuals from converting to Islam from another religion.

The criminal code’s section on “religious offenses” criminalizes various acts committed against any religion. These include insulting religion, blasphemy, disturbing places of worship, and trespassing upon places of burial. The criminal code states, “whoever insults any religion, their rights or beliefs or sanctifications or seeks to excite feelings of contempt and disrespect against the believers thereof” shall be punished with up to six months in prison, flogging of up to 40 lashes, and/or a fine. The article includes provisions that prescribe penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and 40 lashes for anyone who curses the Prophet Muhammad, his wives, or members of his respective households.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments (MRA) is responsible for regulating Islamic religious practice, supervising churches, and guaranteeing equal treatment for all religious groups. The MRA also provides recommendations to relevant ministries regarding religious issues government ministries encounter.

The state-mandated education curriculum requires that all students receive religious instruction. The curriculum further mandates that all schools, including international schools and private schools operated by Christian groups, provide Islamic education classes to Muslim students, from preschool through the second year of university. The law does not require non-Muslims to attend Islamic education classes, and it mandates that public schools provide Christian students with other religious instruction if there are at least 15 Christian students in a class. According to the Ministry of Education, following the separation of South Sudan, this number was not reached in most schools. Non-Muslim students therefore normally attend religious study classes of their own religion outside of regular school hours to fulfill the religious instruction requirement.

The Ministry of Education is responsible for determining the religious education curriculum. According to the ministry, the Islamic curriculum must follow the Sunni tradition.

The MRA determines, along with the state-level entities responsible for land grants and planning, whether to provide authorization or permits to build new houses of worship, taking into account zoning concerns, such as the distance between religious institutions and population density (the allocation of land to religious entities is determined at the state level). The HCGE under the previous government was mandated to assist both mosques and churches in obtaining tax exemptions and duty-free permits to import items, such as furniture and religious items for houses of worship; the HCGE also assisted visitors attending meetings sponsored by religious groups and activities to obtain tourist visas through the Ministry of Interior. The HCGE also coordinates travel for the Hajj and Umra.

Public order laws, based largely on the previous government’s interpretation of sharia, resulted in strict enforcement by public order authorities. The criminal law under which individuals are arrested prohibits “indecent” dress and other “offenses of honor, reputation, and public morality.” Authorities primarily enforced such laws in large cities and enforced laws governing indecent dress against both Muslims and non-Muslims. The criminal code states that an act is contrary to public decency if it violates another person’s modesty. In practice, the special Public Order Police and courts, which derived their authority from the Ministry of Interior, had wide latitude in interpreting what dress or behaviors were indecent and in arresting and passing sentence on accused offenders. As of November, the CLTG abolished public order laws and public order police; however, the criminal laws remain in effect.

Some aspects of the criminal code specify punishments for Muslims based on government interpretation of sharia punishment principles. For example, the criminal code stipulates 40 lashes for a Muslim who drinks, possesses, or sells alcohol; no punishment is prescribed for a non-Muslim who drinks or possesses alcohol in private. The criminal code stipulates if a non-Muslim is arrested for public drinking, or possessing or selling alcohol, he or she is subject to trial, but the punishment will not be based on hudood principles. The penalty for adultery with a married person is hanging and for an unmarried person100 lashes. An unmarried man may additionally be punished with expatriation for up to one year. These penalties apply to both Muslims and non-Muslims. Adultery is defined as sexual activity outside of marriage, prior to marriage, or in a marriage that is determined to be void.

Under the law, the justice minister may release any prisoner who memorizes the Quran during his or her prison term. The release requires a recommendation for parole from the prison’s director general, a religious committee composed of the Sudan Scholars Organization, and members of the Fiqh Council, which consults with the MRA to ensure decisions comply with Islamic legal regulations.

Under the law, a Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim woman. In practice, Muslim men follow sharia schools of thought, which advise they marry “non-Muslim women of the book,” i.e., either Christian or Jewish women. A Muslim woman, however, legally may marry only a Muslim man. A Muslim woman marrying a non-Muslim man could be charged with adultery.

There are separate family courts for Muslims and non-Muslims to address personal status issues such as marriage, divorce, and child custody, according to their religion. By law, in custody dispute cases where one parent is Muslim and the other is Christian, courts grant custody to the Muslim parent if there is any concern that the non-Muslim parent would raise the child in a religion other than Islam.

According to Islamic personal status laws, Christians (including children) may not inherit assets from a Muslim.

Government offices and businesses are closed on Friday for prayers and follow an Islamic workweek of Sunday to Thursday. In November Prime Minister Hamdok issued a decree that adjusted work hours to accommodate non-Muslims. The decree ordered academic institutions to stop giving exams on Sunday and authorized Christians to leave work at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday for religious activities. Leave from work was also granted to celebrate Orthodox Christmas, an official state holiday, along with several key Islamic holidays.

An interministerial committee, which includes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Intelligence and Security Services (renamed the General Intelligence Service [GIS] in July), and in some cases Military Intelligence, must approve foreign clergy and other foreigners seeking a residency permit.

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

Government Practices

During antigovernment protests, starting in December 2018 and continuing until the arrest of former President Bashir on April 11, government forces attacked protesters wherever they congregated, including outside mosques, hospitals, and schools. Observers reported that security services used tear gas, rubber bullets, and in some cases live ammunition to disperse groups of worshippers at mosques during widespread antigovernment protests in the first half of the year. On January 4, in Omdurman, media reported security services used tear gas and arrested some participants in an antigovernment march that began at the Wad Nubawi Mosque, which is associated with the opposition National Umma Party. On January 11, security services used tear gas to disperse a group of 500-1000 worshippers from the same mosque after Friday prayers and did so again in late February.

On January 12, security forces entered the home of Badreldin Yousif Elsimat, the founder of a minority Muslim organization, while members practiced their faith. The members and founder were arrested and detained without charges. Security forces questioned them about their beliefs and protests against the government. All were later released; the founder was the last to be released in March.

On February 8, in Khartoum, according to a statement from the Umma Party, security forces fired tear gas into the courtyard of a mosque as worshippers began a protest march and fired at the vehicle of Sadiq al-Mahdi, a former prime minister of the country. Security forces beat worshippers and threatened them with guns, according to the statement.

On February 14, the commissioner of El Nahud, West Kordofan issued a decree barring Sheikh El Tayeb Abboud from preaching at the town’s mosque after the sheikh criticized the beating and arrest of demonstrators by unidentified masked men the week before.

On April 5 following a sermon at a Khartoum mosque calling on then-president al-Bashir to step down, observers said security forces fired rubber bullets at a large group of demonstrators as they left the mosque, injuring several. Also in April, media reported men in civilian clothes thought to be members of a ruling party militia attacked demonstrators in front of a mosque in the Khartoum neighborhood of Al-Jerif West, hitting them with bottles and rocks.

Shia Muslims reported they were arrested during antigovernment protests for civil disobedience, and they were asked about their faith during questioning by security services.

Media reported that during political protests in the first half of the year, security forces strictly enforced the criminal code. They arrested female demonstrators under legal provisions that broadly prohibit “indecent and immoral acts.” In March the Court of Appeal in Khartoum overturned the decision by the El Imtidad Emergency Court to sentence nine women to one month each of imprisonment and 20 lashes for demonstrating against the government in the Burri District of Khartoum.

In July the rebel group SPLM-N, active in Blue Nile and South Kordofan Provinces and led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu, extended and signed a cessation of hostilities. Al-Hilu called for a secular state with no role for religion in lawmaking. He had previously made repeated statements that sharia was incompatible with basic freedom for the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile States, and was his primary rationale for armed struggle against the Bashir government.

In December the minister of religious affairs and endowment announced an investigation of allegations of corrupt practices regarding endowments and the Hajj and Omra pilgrimages to Mecca. He stated there was corruption in the contracts of as many as 117 endowments.

In early November the CLTG abolished the public order law that granted police authority to arrest individuals, in particular women, for a wide range of infractions related to behavior and dress. Prior to the repeal of the law, the Public Order Police frequently charged women with “indecent dress” and “indecent behavior.” Police officers arrested and fined or lashed women for wearing pants and other dress police considered indecent, according to religious leaders. Activists urged the CLTG to repeal other criminal laws under which women may still be arrested.

Minority religious groups, including Muslim minorities and especially Shia Muslims, expressed concern they could be convicted of apostasy if they expressed beliefs or discussed religious practices that differed from those of the Sunni majority. Some Shia reported they remained prohibited from writing articles about their beliefs, and religious issues remained a redline for news media to address.

In October the government confirmed criminal charges against the SCOC leadership, accusing it of criminal trespass and illegal possession of SCOC properties. The government reopened the case in July despite a September 2018 court ruling that the SCOC national leadership committee led by Moderator Ayoub Tilliano had ownership of the SCOC headquarters in Omdurman. The leadership committee was engaged in a legal case over ownership of the property following a 2015 raid by security forces on the SCOC headquarters, after which the security forces confiscated all of the group’s legal documents and brought charges against the leadership council for trespassing.

In previous years, government security services reportedly monitored mosques and imams’ sermons closely, and provided talking points and required imams to use them in their sermons. If an imam’s sermon diverged from the government-provided talking points, the imam could be removed from his position. It was unclear whether this practice continued under the CLTG.

During political protests that led to the dissolution of the Bashir government, Muslim clerics, including Sufi leaders, participated in sit-ins and protest activities. Sheik Mahran Mahir Osman led many Friday prayers at the sit-ins.

Prisons provided prayer spaces for Muslims, but sources said authorities did not allow Shia prayers. Shia prisoners were permitted to join prayer services led by Sunni imams. Some prisons, such as the Women’s Prison in Omdurman, had dedicated areas for Christian observance. Christian clergy held services in prisons, but access was irregular.

The Bashir government continued to state it did not have non-Muslim teachers available to teach courses on Christianity in public schools. Some public schools excused non-Muslims from Islamic education classes. Some private schools, including Christian schools, received government-provided teachers to teach Islamic subjects, but non-Muslim students were not required to attend those classes. Most Christian students attended religious education classes at their churches based on the availability of volunteer teachers from their own church communities. Their families reported that the children’s schools did not usually recognize the classes, and students in those cases did not receive credit.

Local parishioners reported that compared to Islamic institutions, Christian places of worship continued to be disproportionately affected by zoning changes, closures, and demolitions. The government said places of worship that were demolished or closed lacked proper land permits or institutional registration and that mosques, churches, schools, hospitals, and residences were all affected equally by the urban planning projects. Observers estimated that the government “systematically closed,” demolished, or confiscated at least 24 churches, Christian schools, libraries, and culture centers between 2011 and 2017. In 2018 observers reported one church demolition.

In April the government issued a decree allowing Christian schools to close on Sundays. Since 2017 all schools except Coptic Christian schools were required to operate from Sunday to Thursday.

Before his removal from office, President Bashir and other senior figures frequently emphasized the country’s Islamic foundation. His government denied Christian churches or their humanitarian institutions tax-exempt status, although the government granted this status to Islamic relief agencies. Christian churches reported authorities required them to pay or negotiate taxes on items such as vehicles.

On August 21, a Coptic Christian woman, Raja Nicola Eissa Abdel-Masih, was appointed to the Sovereign Council as the 11th member and only non-Muslim. The council’s five military and five FFC representatives agreed to appoint Abdel-Masih, who served as a judge in the Ministry of Justice several years ago, as the sixth civilian member. Before the TMC’s abolition of the National Assembly, a small number of Christian politicians, the majority of whom were members of the Coptic Church, held seats in the Bashir-era government.

Prime Minister Hamdok, who along with the new cabinet took office in September, said in a speech at the United Nations on September 27 that his county would address the “root causes of its civil wars” including “ethnic, cultural, and religious discrimination.”

In September, shortly after taking office, Minister of Religious Affairs Nasreddine Mufreh in a press interview appealed to Jews and Christians who had left the country to return. The minister said the country was “pluralistic in thought, culture, ideology, and religion.” He also stated the government would return confiscated properties to Christian churches and said Christians experienced “persecution” and “very bad practices” during the previous administration. The minister told international press he would fight terrorism, extremism and “takfiri” ideology that calls for those who leave Islam to be punished.

On October 6, the prime minister called for an end to hate speech and religious extremism following accusations of apostasy against Minister of Youth and Sports Walaa al-Boushi by Muslim cleric Imam Abdul Hai Yousuf, who accused al-Boushi of apostasy for introducing a women’s soccer program in the country. On October 9, the minister of information told reporters the cabinet had directed the Ministry of Justice to take legal action against the imam and stated the attack on the sports minister was an attack on the entire government.

On December 18, the Sovereign Council announced the recognition of Christmas (December 25) and Orthodox Christmas (January 7) as public holidays. On Christmas Eve, Minister of Religious Affairs Mufreh issued a statement apologizing to Christians for the “oppression and harm” they suffered under the previous government.

On November 11, Prime Minister Hamdok ordered a ban on holding examinations in academic institutions on December 25 and January 7. The Prime Minister also instructed public institutions to allow Christians to leave work at 10 a.m. on Sundays to attend church.

On November 26-27, the MRA hosted a workshop in Wad Medani on the role of the Council of Churches to promote peace and development and the spirit of coexistence. Minister Mufreh spoke about the values of tolerance, combating what fuels religious conflicts, and promoting the values of tolerance brought by the Abrahamic faiths.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On December 28, unknown assailants burned a Sudan Interior Church, Catholic Church, and Orthodox Church in Blue Nile State, according to international media. The government said a suspect was arrested and released due to lack of evidence.

During the civil unrest leading to the ouster of the president and the subsequent three months of military rule, observers said demonstrators displayed mutual respect for each other’s religions and rites. Media reported Muslims joined in singing Christian hymns during Christian services organized by protestors while Christians held protective tarps over Muslims as they prayed during the day.

The press reported numerous instances in which religious leaders made political speeches during worship services at mosques, both in support of the government and against it. On April 5, opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi gave a sermon in which he called for then-president al-Bashir to step down. During an April 28 sermon at the El Rahma Mosque in Khartoum North, al-Mahdi urged the TMC to arrest officials of the previous administration and called for a rapid handover of power to a civilian government.

In January worshippers at the Anas Ibn Malik Mosque in Khartoum forced a member of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) to leave the mosque after he gave a speech denouncing the protests after Friday prayers, according to press reports. The imam of the Kafouri Mosque in Khartoum North reportedly was forced to leave the mosque after criticizing the protestors during his sermon.

In April the Catholic Bishop of el-Obeid, the capital of North Kurdufan State, said the church played an important role in the popular protests that toppled former President al-Bashir and called on the new government to abolish the system requiring non-Muslim religious groups to register with the government as NGOs.

On April 14, during a prayer service outside army headquarters, the head of the Evangelical Synod in Sudan, Pastor Rafaat Sameer Masaad, said “the state treats us as a bunch of foreign spies working to destroy our homeland” and called for a change in the laws restricting religious freedom, according to press reports. He added that the protests were a chance for individuals to overcome religious divisions to build an “inclusive” national identity. The prayer service was attended by leaders of several Protestant churches, including Presbyterians, Baptists, and followers of the Sudan Church of Christ.

At the Khartoum International Book Fair in Khartoum on October 21, a stand containing books from and about Mahmoud Mohamed Taha was vandalized by a man who also shouted religious slogans against the display. Taha was a religious scholar hanged for apostasy in 1985. The Minister of Culture and Information expressed his concern about the attack and offered protection for the Taha stand and other stands at the fair.

Individual Muslims and Christians reported generally good relationships at the societal level and stated that instances of intolerance or discrimination by individuals or nongovernmental entities were generally isolated.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

On January 29, the Charge d’Affaires delivered a keynote address at the government’s religious freedom workshop and urged the adoption of laws that not only permit, but actively promote, the ability of congregations and individuals of all faiths to practice their beliefs. He emphasized the need for greater representation of religious minorities in the government and urged the government to abstain from interfering in the internal affairs of religious groups. In attendance were senior officials of the Foreign Ministry, representatives of the country’s Christian population, the Anglican Bishop of Leeds, and a representative of the Catholic-affiliated Sant‘Egidio community.

Embassy officials attended a service and met with Christian leaders on Christmas to celebrate the new public holiday.

Throughout the year, embassy officials met regularly with imams and Sufi clerics, and clergy and parishioners of Catholic and Protestant churches to hear their views on the religious freedom situation. Embassy officials attended religious ceremonies of different groups and underscored in regular meetings with leaders of Muslim and Christian groups the importance of religious tolerance. U.S. government representatives closely monitored the legal proceedings concerning religious organizations and religious leaders.

The embassy regularly utilized its social media outlets to share articles and messaging related to religious tolerance and freedom, including messages on tolerance from the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.

On December 18, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State placed Sudan on a Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom. Sudan was designated as a Country of Particular Concern from 1999-2018 and moved to a Special Watch List after the Secretary determined the government had made substantial progress in improving respect for religious freedom.

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