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Angola

Executive Summary

The constitution defines the state as secular, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for freedom of religion.  The religious freedom law requires religious groups to seek government recognition by meeting legally established criteria.  There are 81 recognized religious groups and more than 1,000 unrecognized religious groups.  The government has not recognized any new religious groups since passage in 2004 of a law that requires religious groups to have at least 100,000 citizens as members.  On October 16, the government issued a joint executive decree mandating that all unregistered religious groups operating in the country submit registration documents within 30 days or the government would force them to cease operations.  The decree superseded a 2015 government circular permitting unregistered religious groups to incorporate within ecumenical associations, which the decree abolished.  At year’s end, according to the Ministry of Culture, which oversees the registration process, 94 unregistered religious groups had submitted their files for recognition.  On November 6, the government launched the nationwide Operation Rescue law enforcement campaign to combat criminality, including the operation of unlicensed associations.  At year’s end, the government reported the closure of more than 900 houses of worship, including eight mosques.  On December 1, the Order of Evangelical Pastors of Angola protested in Luanda against the decree’s abolishment of the ecumenical associations and violation of freedom of religion.  The government continued to state its concern about the proliferation of religious “sects,” some of which the government said exploited vulnerable populations.  In President Joao Lourenco’s address to parliament on October 15, he reaffirmed the government’s commitment to respect freedom of religion, but stressed the government would not tolerate churches that operated solely as for-profit businesses and preyed on poor and vulnerable segments of the population.  In July the Supreme Court invalidated a 2015 decree issued by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (MJHR) recognizing the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the World as the only legitimate Tocoist church in the country.  The court ruled that it was not the role of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights to unify the different religious denominations in the country, but rather only to ensure religious groups obeyed the law.  On December 4, activists asked President Lourenco to review the cases of four Angolan Muslims convicted in 2017 of preparatory acts to establish a terrorist cell and sentenced to three years in prison.  Human rights activists criticized the convictions as politically orchestrated by the government and lacking evidence.  The defendants said the prosecution discriminated against them because of their Muslim faith.

Some leaders of legally recognized religious organizations continued to criticize the proliferation of smaller, unrecognized religious groups, while they also acknowledged the need for greater religious understanding and interfaith dialogue.

Throughout the year, the embassy raised religious freedom issues, including long-pending registration applications and the drafting of the new religious freedom legislation with government officials.  The Ambassador and embassy officials met with representatives of religious groups and civil society organizations and discussed their views regarding the government’s concern with the proliferation of churches, and also discussed efforts to promote interfaith dialogue.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 30.4 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2014 national census, approximately 41 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and 38 percent Protestant.  Individuals not associated with any religious group constitute 12 percent of the population.  The remaining 10 percent is composed of animists, Muslims, Jews, Baha’is, and other religious groups.  While the 2014 census reported there were an estimated 103,000 Muslims in the country, one leader of a Muslim organization stated there could be as many as 800,000, including an unknown number of Muslim migrants mainly from North and West African countries.  There are approximately 350 Jews, primarily foreign residents.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the state as secular and prohibits religious discrimination.  The constitution requires the state to protect churches and religious groups as long as they comply with the law.  The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, and worship, and recognizes the right of religious groups to organize and carry out their activities as long as they adhere to the law.  The constitution permits conscientious objection for religious reasons, prohibits questioning individuals about their religious beliefs for reasons other than anonymous statistical purposes, and specifies religious rights may not be suspended even if the state declares a state of war, siege, or emergency.  It recognizes the right of prisoners to receive visits from, and correspond with, religious counselors.  The law establishes that conscientious objectors may perform civilian service as an alternative to military service.

The 2004 religious freedom law requires religious groups to register for legal recognition from the state.  Legal recognition gives religious groups the ability to purchase property collectively and use their property to hold religious events, exempts them from paying certain property taxes, and authorizes a group to be treated as an incorporated entity in the court system.  To apply for government recognition, a religious group must collect 100,000 member signatures from legal residents in at least 12 of the 18 provinces and submit them to the MJHR.  The law also requires religious groups to submit documents defining their organizational structure, methods of worship, leadership, the amount of time the group has operated in the country, and that their doctrine be in accordance with principles and rights in the constitution.

On October 16, the government issued a joint executive decree mandating all unregistered religious groups submit the necessary registration documents or cease operations by November 4.  The joint decree superseded a 2015 MJHR circular that established four ecumenical associations and required all unrecognized religious group to incorporate within one of the ecumenical associations in order to operate.

While the MJHR is responsible for registration and recognition of religious groups, oversight of religious organizations is the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture through its National Institute for Religious Affairs.

Religious instruction is not a component of the public educational system.  Private schools are allowed to teach religion.

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

Government Practices

On October 16, a joint executive decree revoked the 2015 MJHR circular, thereby abolishing the ecumenical associations and mandating all unregistered religious groups to submit within 30 days individual requests for recognition or cease operations.  The government began closing churches in November after the 30-day period came to an end.  At year’s end, the government reported it had closed more than 900 houses of worship, including eight mosques.  By year’s end, 94 unregistered religious groups submitted their files for recognition.  The number of officially recognized religious groups remained at 81.  At year’s end, the government had not recognized any new religious groups.

Government officials at the highest levels continued to state concern about the proliferation of religious “sects,” some of which were alleged to have exploited vulnerable populations with limited financial means by requiring them to provide recurring payments or dues to worship or belong to these organizations.  In President Lourenco’s address to parliament on October 15, he reaffirmed the government’s commitment to respect freedom of religion, but stressed the government would not tolerate churches that operate solely as for-profit businesses and prey on poor and vulnerable segments of the population.

The government continued not to recognize any Muslim groups officially or issue any licenses to Muslim groups to practice their religion legally.  The Muslim community requested official recognition of its groups but was unable to meet the requirements of the 2004 law, including having 100,000 legal members and a religious doctrine aligned with the country’s constitution.  In the past, government officials had stated some practices allowed by Islam, such as polygamy, contradicted the constitution.  The Islamic Community of Angola (COIA) as well the Islamic Foundation of Angola (FIA) requested official recognition following the October 16 joint executive decree.  According to COIA, there were 69 unregistered mosques in the country.

The Baha’i Faith and the Global Messianic Church remained the only two non-Christian organizations legally registered prior to the 2004 law.

On November 6, the government launched the nationwide Operation Rescue law enforcement campaign to combat criminality, including the operation of unlicensed religious groups.

Some religious leaders, civil society members, and media outlets continued to accuse the government of trying to coerce religious groups to align themselves with the ruling party in exchange for authorization to operate freely.

On December 1, there was a protest in Luanda against the closing of churches under Operation Rescue organized by the Order of Evangelical Pastors of Angola (OPEA).  OPEA stated the government’s closure of churches violated freedom of religion and involved the use of excessive force and coercive power.  OPEA also said police engaged in violence against pastors, some of whom police arbitrarily detained, and violated the sanctity of their churches.  The leader of COIA said Operation Rescue violated the exercise of freedom of religion because eight mosques were closed despite the fact that COIA submitted registration documentation by November 4, in accordance with the new joint executive decree.  Pastors in Lubango from the Church of the Christian Coalition in Angola and Christian Vision Church criticized the government’s failure to consult religious leaders before abolishing the ecumenical associations.

On July 24, the Huambo Provincial Court tried and convicted 32-year-old Justino Tchipango, deputy leader of the Light of the World religious group, and sentenced him to 18 years in prison for the killing of nine police officers during clashes in 2015 between law enforcement and followers of the religious group in Mount Sumi, Huambo Province.

The leader of the Light of the World religious group, Jose Kalupeteka, sentenced to 28 years in prison in 2016 by the Huambo Provincial Court for the killing of nine police officers, appealed to the Supreme Court, but there was no decision on the appeal at year’s end.  On December 18, authorities transferred Kalupeteka from prison in Benguela to his native province of Huambo at the request of his family, which along with civil society had requested the transfer since his sentencing.  Civil society groups maintained Kalupeteka’s trial and conviction were politically motivated and called on the government to open an independent investigation during the year.

On July 30, the Supreme Court invalidated a 2015 decree issued by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights recognizing the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the World as the only legitimate Tocoist church in the country.  The court ruled it is not the role of the MJHR to unify the different religious denominations in the country, but rather only to ensure religious groups obey the law.

On January 8, President Lourenco announced the government would allow Catholic radio station Ecclesia to extend its signal beyond Luanda Province to other provinces.  Radio Ecclesia submitted a request to operate nationwide in 2009, but the previous government never approved the request.  During the year, Radio Ecclesia began to operate in several additional provinces.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Some leaders of legally recognized religious organizations continued to criticize the proliferation of smaller, unrecognized religious groups, while they also acknowledged the need for greater religious understanding and interfaith dialogue.

Leaders of unrecognized churches criticized the October joint executive decree for terminating the ecumenical associations, shutting down places of worship, and detention of members of those congregations during Operation Rescue.

Journalists and human rights organizations criticized the conviction of four young Muslims in 2017 on terrorism charges and the 2016 murder conviction of Jose Kalupeteka, leader of the Light of the World religious group, arguing that in both cases the trials were politically motivated and marred by religious bias.  Activists urged the government to reopen the cases.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Throughout the year the embassy raised religious freedom issues with government officials, including long-pending registration applications and the drafting of the new religious freedom law.

Embassy officials met with religious leaders and civil society representatives to discuss religious freedom issues and expanded outreach to religious communities.  Embassy officials met with representatives of the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities and civil society, and discussed their reaction to the government’s stated concerns about the proliferation of churches.  They also discussed the status of pending recognitions, the proposed law on religion freedom, efforts to promote increased interfaith dialogue, and the impact of Operation Rescue on religious groups.  In August embassy officials attended a celebration of Eid al-Adha at a Luanda mosque, at the invitation of COIA.  At the invitation of the Tocoist church, the Ambassador attended a ceremony at the Tocoist church.  Embassy officers discussed religious freedom issues with representatives of multiple religious groups and organizations, including the Congregation of Christian Churches in Angola, Tocoists, the Order of Angolan Evangelical Pastors, Jesuit Refugee Services, MOSAIKO (a Catholic-based organization), Norwegian Church Aid, COIA, FIA, Chabad of Angola, and Radio Ecclesia, among others.

Cameroon

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes the state as secular, prohibits religious harassment, and provides for freedom of religion and worship.  Religious leaders stated that security forces battling armed Anglophone separatists in the Northwest and Southwest Regions killed three clerics.  On several occasions, Christians in these two regions complained that security forces interrupted church services and prevented them from accessing places of worship.  On January 18, soldiers reportedly burned down the presbytery of St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Kwa-Kwa, Southwest Region.  During the year, the government implemented a series of measures that it stated were to preserve order within religious groups undergoing internal disputes.  These included disputes over the creation of new ecclesiastical districts and the election of church leaders in which the government suspended elected executives and temporarily closed down certain places of worship.  For the eighth straight year, the government did not authorize any new religious groups, and many requests remained pending.  Some religious leaders said the government deliberately withheld authorizations in order to maintain leverage over religious organizations.

Boko Haram continued to carry out violent attacks, including suicide bombings against civilians, government officials, and military forces, and harassed and intimidated populations in the Far North Region.  Attacks on civilians included invasions of mosques, church burnings, killings and kidnappings of Muslims and Christians, and theft and destruction of property, including arson.  The insurgents attacked places of worship and private homes.  The government initiated communication campaigns aimed at curbing radical extremism and reintegrating former Boko Haram fighters.

On two separate occasions, unidentified gunmen in the Southwest Region killed a local chief in a church and assassinated a priest, reportedly because of their opposition to the separatist movement in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions.  Separatists in these two regions threatened pastors, kidnapped priests, and sometimes limited Christians’ ability to attend services.  There were reports that more than 90 students were kidnapped from Presbyterian schools in two incidents in October and November.  A traditional council banned activities of a Pentecostal church in the Northwest Region.  Protracted leadership struggles in some Christian communities sometimes prevented the holding of religious services.  Muslim and Christian leaders initiated interfaith activities aimed at promoting interreligious dialogue and peaceful coexistence of different faiths.

U.S. embassy officers discussed religious freedom issues, including the importance of interfaith dialogue, with government officials and leading figures from the principal religious groups.  The embassy continued to discuss the dangers of inter-and intrareligious intolerance and organized an interactive workshop on the importance of interfaith dialogue in promoting social cohesion and religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 25.6 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2005 census, the most recent available, 69.2 percent of the population is Christian, 20.9 percent Muslim, 5.6 percent animist, 1.0 percent other religions, and 3.2 percent report no religious affiliation.  Of Christians, approximately 55.5 percent are Roman Catholic, 38 percent Protestant, and 6.5 percent other Christian denominations, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Orthodox churches.  The 2010 Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project found that 70.3 percent of the population was Christian, 18.3 percent Muslim, 3.3 percent animist, 2.7 percent other religions and 5.5 percent with no religious affiliation.  Of the Christians, this report found that 38.3 percent were Catholic and 31.4 percent were Protestant.  There is a growing number of Christian revivalist churches.

Christians are concentrated primarily in the southern and western parts of the country.  The two Anglophone regions are largely Protestant, and the five southern Francophone regions are mostly Catholic.  The Fulani (Peuhl) ethnic group is mostly Muslim and lives primarily in the northern Francophone regions; the Bamoun ethnic group is also predominantly Muslim and lives in the West Region.  Many Muslims, Christians, and members of other faiths also adhere to some aspects of animist beliefs.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution establishes the state as secular, prohibits harassment or discrimination on grounds of religion, and provides for freedom of religion and worship.

The law on freedom of association governs relations between the government and religious groups.  The government must approve religious groups or institutions as a prerequisite for lawful operation.  Although the law prescribes no specific penalties for operating without official recognition, the government may suspend the activities of unauthorized groups.  The government does not require indigenous religious groups to register, characterizing the practice of traditional religion as a private concern observed by members of a particular ethnic or kinship group or the residents of a particular locality.

To become an authorized entity, a religious group must legally qualify as a religious congregation, defined as “any group of natural persons or corporate bodies whose vocation is divine worship” or “any group of persons living in community in accordance with a religious doctrine.”  The entity must submit a request for authorization as a religious group and include with it the group’s charter describing planned activities, names and functions of the group’s officials, and a declaration of commitment to comply with the law on freedom of association, to the relevant divisional (local-level) office.  That office forwards the documents to the Ministry of Territorial Administration (MINAT).  The MINAT reviews the file and sends it to the presidency with a recommendation to approve or deny.  Authorization is granted by presidential decree.  Official authorization confers no general tax benefits but allows religious groups to receive real estate as a tax-free gift for the conduct of activities and to gather publicly and worship.  It also permits missionaries to receive visas with longer validity.  Unauthorized religious groups may gather publicly and worship under a policy of “administrative tolerance” as long as public security and peace are not disturbed.

The MINAT may issue an order to suspend any religious group for “disturbing public order,” although no legislation defines these terms.  The president may dissolve any previously authorized religious organization that “deviates from its initial focus.”

The Ministry of Basic Education and the Ministry of Secondary Education require private religious schools to comply with the same curriculum, infrastructure, and teacher-training standards as state-operated schools.  Unlike public schools, private schools may offer religious education.

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

Government Practices

The Catholic Bishop of Mamfe Diocese, Andrew Nkea, stated that on November 21, soldiers of the National Gendarmerie killed Reverend Cosmas Omboto Ondari, the parochial vicar of the St. Martin’s of Tours Parish, Kembong, Southwest Region, in front of the church building.  The bishop stated that, according to eyewitness reports, gendarmes fired at random from their passing vehicle, killing Ondari as he tried to escape the gunfire.  Nkea said that when he visited the parish the next day, he counted 21 bullet holes in the church door and saw the blood of the dead priest at the entrance.  The Minister of Communication at the time, Issa Tchiroma Barkary, said the killing was not done by the military, and Minister of Defense Joseph Beti Assomo accused Anglophone separatists of killing the priest and trying to discredit the defense forces.

According to the Catholic Archbishop of Bamenda, Cornelius Fontem Esua, on October 4, unidentified soldiers shot and killed 19-year-old Catholic seminarian Akiata Gerard Anjiangwe in front of St. Therese Church in Bamessing, Northwest Region.  In an October 5 press statement, Archbishop Esua accused the country’s military of killing the seminarian while he made preparations for worship services the next day.  According to Archbishop Esua, a military truck drove up to the church and soldiers immediately began shooting.  Worshippers on the premises ran into the rectory and blocked the door while Anjiangwe knelt in front of the church and began praying the rosary.  Esua said the soldiers shot the seminarian three times.

The family of Ghanaian pastor Isaac Attoh of Destiny Impact Ministry, Accra, stated government security forces shot and killed Attoh on June 14 in Batibo, Northwest Region, where the army and Anglophone secessionists repeatedly clashed during the year.  According to his family, Attoh had travelled from Ghana to Cameroon, where he headed one of the branches of Destiny Impact Ministry.  Attoh’s family accused the government of trying to cover up the killing by rapidly burying his body without their consent.

In September the trial of Prisca Abomo, a self-proclaimed prophet, and Marie Madjou began.  The two were accused of murder and detained in 2016 after a child died during a faith healing session they conducted in Douala, Littoral Region.  Sources stated the lengthy pretrial period was due to administrative delays and the frequent absences of the judges and accusers.  In December the courts declared Abomo and Madjou innocent.

Residents of the village of Kwa-Kwa, Southwest Region, said that following intense clashes with Anglophone separatists on January 18, security forces occupying Kwa-Kwa burned down the rectory of St. Paul’s Catholic Church.  The army blamed the act on “Anglophone terrorists.”

Parishioners of Saint Kizito’s Catholic Church, Bamenda, Northwest Region, stated soldiers entered the church on October 7 and compelled 26 Christians preparing for Sunday worship to return to their homes.  They also confronted the priest who came to celebrate Mass and ordered him off the church premises.  On the same day, soldiers turned back worshippers on their way to St. Paul’s Church in Nkwen neighborhood, Bamenda.  The soldiers said they were enforcing a ban ordered by the governor of the Northwest Region on all assemblies of more than four persons during a 48-hour period before and after the October 7 presidential election.

The courts intervened on several occasions in protracted leadership crises within Christian groups, such as the Cameroonian Evangelical Church (CEC) and the Cameroonian Presbyterian Church (CPC).  On June 6, the Littoral Regional Court of Appeal confirmed a 2017 court ruling that suspended the CEC’s national leadership council elected in April 2017.  On June 20, a group of Christians blocked the entrance to a CEC church in Douala and demanded the termination of the activities of the national leadership council.  In April 2017, CEC members had elected Reverend Jean Samuel Hendje Toya as president, but a faction of CEC members protested and filed a lawsuit in May 2017, saying the election had been rigged.  Demonstrations and interruptions of church service ensued, and in July 2017, the Court of First Instance in Wouri, Littoral Region, suspended the installation of those elected in April 2017.  Toya’s supporters criticized interference by the courts in the CEC’s internal disputes and appealed the decision, which the Littoral Region’s appellate court upheld in June 2018.  Toya’s faction appealed the decision at the Supreme Court.

Dissenting groups within the CPC failed to reach consensus in January when the CPC’s General Assembly reaffirmed a controversial decision the previous year to split the Ntem consistory (administrative unit) in Ebolowa, South Region, into three separate consistories, without consulting parishioners.  The two sides went to court, and the CPC’s General Assembly asked the court to seal the churches under the authority of the disputed Ntem consistory until a verdict was reached.  The courts subsequently shut down several CPC churches in March.  Worshipers who could no longer access the shuttered churches organized religious services in makeshift tents or in the open.  In 2017 the government had placed the disputed parishes under the temporary administration of the CPC General Assembly.

The government again took no action to adjudicate applications for authorization by a number of religious groups whose applications had been pending for years.  The government approved only one new religious group in the last 18 years and none since 2010.  The MINAT again stated that incomplete application submissions and lengthy background investigations contributed to delays.  Although by law groups must register, the government continued to allow hundreds of unauthorized small religious groups to operate freely under its policy of “administrative tolerance.”  Unauthorized churches often circumvented administrative delays by associating with registered religious groups, under whose umbrella they operated.  Such churches, however, technically remained unregistered.  Some religious leaders said the government deliberately withheld legal status in order to maintain significant leverage over unregistered groups, which it could threaten to ban at any time.  Forty-seven religious groups continued to be legally authorized at year’s end.

The government continued to grant broad legal authority to traditional leaders to manage their districts.  As part of this authority, traditional leaders continued to exercise control over local mosques with the right to appoint or dismiss imams.

The state-sponsored television station and radio stations regularly broadcast Christian and Islamic religious services and ceremonies on national holidays and during national events.  Government ministers and other officials often attended these ceremonies.

The government provided an annual subsidy to all private primary and secondary education institutions, including those operated by religious denominations.  The size of each subsidy was proportional to the size of the student body.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa (ISIS/WA) continued to commit acts of mass violence within the Far North Region in their quest to impose their religious and political beliefs.  Boko Haram perpetrated numerous attacks, sometimes directly targeting places of worship.  On January 15, Boko Haram terrorists attacked Roum village, killed four persons, and set two churches on fire.  On February 4, Boko Haram killed five Christians and set on fire a church building in Gitawa village.  On February 23, Boko Haram killed one person and set on fire a Catholic church in Virkaza.  On May 2, eight Boko Haram militants invaded a mosque in Mabanda village during prayers and killed at least 14 worshippers.

In June members of the Multinational Joint Task Force launched a communication campaign that involved promoting education and working with local religious leaders to combat Boko Haram’s ideology.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion and politics are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

On August 12, unidentified armed men interrupted a Sunday service at the Baptist church in Ekondo-Titi village, Southwest Region, and forcibly removed the traditional ruler, Chief Isoh Itoh, whom they shot and killed.  Although no group claimed responsibility for the act, many local residents attributed it to Anglophone separatists because of Isoh’s perceived allegiance to the ruling party and his opposition to separatists’ quest for the secession of the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

On July 20, unidentified armed men shot and killed Catholic priest Alexander Sob Nougi in Muyuka, Southwest Region.  His bishop, Emmanuel Bushu of the Diocese of Buea, dismissed suggestions that a stray bullet killed Sob Nougi during an exchange between the army and Anglophone separatists.  Bushu said two unknown individuals had been sitting with Sob Nougi prior to the shooting and that autopsy reports indicated the killer shot Sob Nougi at point blank range, using an assault rifle fitted with a silencer.  Although no one claimed responsibility for Sob Nougi’s killing, the national coordinator of the Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Service, Isaac Justin Mabouth, attributed it to Anglophone separatists.  He said Sob Nougi became a target when he ignored separatists’ calls for a school boycott in the Northwest and Southwest Regions.  As the diocese’s education secretary, Sob Nougi reportedly spoke out against the school boycott and urged students to attend class.  A nongovernmental organization leader based in the Southwest Region stated that soldiers of the Rapid Intervention Brigade apparently killed Sob Nougi, whom they suspected of providing assistance to separatists.

In October an American missionary was killed after being caught in crossfire in Bamenda, Northwest Region.  There were no reports of any connection to the victim’s vocation or nationality but rather reports that this was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Armed Anglophone separatists stormed a Presbyterian school in Bamenda, Northwest Region, on November 5.  The head of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon and the Council of the Protestant Churches of Cameroon reported the total number kidnapped was 79 children and three adults and added that 11 students had also been kidnapped on October 31.  He said the Presbyterian Church had decided to close all its schools in the two Anglophone regions as result of this incident.

Unidentified armed men entered St. Bede’s College in Kom, Northwest Region, on April 30 and abducted the principal of the school, Reverend William Neba, while he was celebrating Mass in the chapel.  On May 2, the Catholic Archdiocese of Bamenda announced his release.  St. Bede’s and other Catholic schools suspended operations thereafter, just weeks before the academic year officially ended.  This led to media speculation that Anglophone separatists kidnapped Neba because St. Bede’s College had not respected calls for a school boycott in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions.  According to media reports, the kidnappers released Neba when Catholic authorities agreed to shut down their schools immediately.

According to media reports, in November Anglophone separatists kidnapped three Franciscan sisters and 13 novices who were traveling in the Northwest Region.  A source from the diocese in Kumbo stated the kidnapping occurred because the kidnappers saw the church as supportive of a peace conference convened by a Catholic cardinal.  The kidnappers released the women the following day to representatives of the diocese.

On April 25 in Bangolan village, Northwest Region, the village council shuttered the local church building of Christian Missionary Fellowship International (CMFI), which it accused of violating local customs, and banned the group from proselytism.  The traditional council clashed with the church over the burial ceremony of a CMFI member who had purportedly joined CMFI shortly before he died.  During the funeral, Kennedy Ndigwa, the younger brother of the dead man, attacked the traditional council’s delegate who came to perform funeral rites.  Ndigwa stated that his brother had joined CMFI and had abandoned traditional rites.  Immediately after this incident, the traditional council announced the ban on the church’s activities.

In August separatists threatened to stop the religious activities of Pentecostal pastor Johnson Souleymane in Northwest and Southwest Regions.  Souleymane, coordinator of Omega Fire Ministry, had previously preached against violence and accused certain separatist fighters of rape, extortion, abduction, and murder.  He said they pretended to fight for Anglophones while taking advantage of the situation for financial gain.  After the separatists threatened him, Souleymane ceased his denunciations and said he had been misunderstood.

In September the national coordinator of the Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Service, Isaac Justin Mabouth, stated that Christians had deserted nearly all the Catholic parishes in Manyu division, Southwest Region.  He said Anglophone separatists had stigmatized the Catholic Church as being opposed to the independence of the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

On June 6, Bishop Dibo Thomas B. Elango of the Anglican Church of Cameroon said that clashes between Anglophone separatists and security forces significantly interfered with Christians’ freedom of worship.  He stated that many Christians had fled conflict areas into the bushes, where they could not access places of worship, and he accused both sides of targeting members of the clergy.

On February 1, the Association for Interreligious Dialogue (ACADIR) organized an interfaith prayer partly aimed at promoting the peaceful coexistence of different religious communities.  During the year, ACADIR set up six divisional branches for the training of 300 “peace ambassadors” to promote interreligious dialogue and tolerance.  On July 3, Muslim leaders organized a public conference in Yaounde, Center Region, at which Congolese Muslim theologian Kasogbia Abdoul Madjid emphasized peaceful coexistence and stated there was no link between Islam and extremist violence.  In a similar conference in Douala, Littoral Region, he characterized diversity in religious beliefs as “the will of God.”  In April the Catholic Diocese of Maroua-Mokolo organized a series of sports competitions in which diverse religious communities participated, with the aim of promoting peace and interreligious dialogue.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. embassy discussed with government officials the effect of a violent, sociopolitical crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions on freedom of worship.  The embassy also discussed the inability of religious bodies to receive official authorizations and the importance of interfaith dialogue with government officials, including regional delegations from the Ministry of Social Affairs and the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms.

Embassy officers met with leaders from the Christian and Muslim communities, including the coordinator of the Association for Interreligious Dialogue; the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon; the Catholic Archbishop of Douala, who was president of the Association of Episcopal Conferences of the Central African Region; and the Anglican Bishop of Cameroon.  The conversations focused on preventing violent extremism related to religion and promoting freedom of worship, interreligious dialogue, religious diversity, and peacebuilding.  The embassy underscored the commitment of the United States to interfaith dialogue and cooperation in the face of threats by Boko Haram and ISIS/WA.

The embassy, as part of its work to counter violent extremism in the Far North, engaged 160 female religious leaders in a workshop to address interreligious conflict.  The workshop sought to reinforce interreligious exchanges, raise awareness on violent extremism related to religion, and develop an action plan to counter violent extremism at the community level.  Women leaders from many denominations committed to work together without the distinction of religion to fight against violent extremism related to religion and its underlying social factors.  The U.S. government also funded in-depth academic training on countering violent extremism related to religion for members of ACADIR.

On October 26, the embassy organized an interactive workshop that involved civil society and diverse faith-based organizations, including organizations sponsored by Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims.  Participants brainstormed on the concepts of tolerance and peaceful coexistence and explored the government’s role in fostering religious freedom and the acceptance of religious diversity.

Côte d’Ivoire

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and worship, consistent with law and order, and prohibits religious discrimination in employment.  It emphasizes that religious tolerance is fundamental to the nation’s unity, national reconciliation, and social cohesion.  It forbids speech that encourages religious hatred.  In July authorities charged a Muslim preacher with xenophobia, discrimination, inciting hatred, and being sympathetic toward terrorism.  As in previous years, the government organized and supervised Hajj pilgrimages for Muslims and funded pilgrimages to Europe and Israel for Christians.  In August authorities in Abidjan arrested evangelical Christian Pastor Israel N’Goran for publishing online videos authorities deemed “tribalistic and xenophobic.”

In March, during a speech on the last day of the United Methodist Church of Cote d’Ivoire’s annual conference, a Methodist bishop called on the president to encourage individuals who left the country following the disputed national election in 2010 to return and also to release political prisoners.  In October Muslim and Catholic leaders participated in the sixth Interreligious Conference for Peace hosted by the Sant’Egidio community.

U.S. embassy representatives discussed the importance of religious tolerance with government officials, the political opposition, and the national media.  In January the embassy hosted a discussion on nonviolent resistance and religious tolerance.  In March the Charge d’Affaires led an embassy delegation in a cycling event entitled “Pedaling for Peace” to commemorate the second anniversary of a 2016 attack in Grand Bassam that left 22 persons dead, including the three attackers.  The embassy organized a social cohesion program for youth using soccer as a means for teaching tolerance and respect for diversity.  The program specifically focused on the need for tolerance in a religiously diverse country.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 26.3 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the most recent census (in 2014), 42 percent are Muslim, 34 percent are Christian, and 4 percent are adherents of indigenous religious beliefs.  Approximately 20 percent of the population did not respond to the census.  Many Christians and Muslims also practice some aspects of indigenous religious beliefs.

Christian groups include Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Harrists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Southern Baptists, Greek Orthodox, Copts, members of the Celestial Church of Christ, and members of the Assemblies of God.  Muslim groups include Sunnis (95 percent of Muslims), Shia, Sufis, and Ahmadis.  Other religious groups include Buddhists, Baha’is, Rastafarians, followers of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and Bossonists, who follow traditions of the Akan ethnic group.

Traditionally, the north of the country is associated with Islam and the south with Christianity, although members of both religious groups live throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates a secular state that respects all beliefs and treats all individuals equally under the law, regardless of religion.  It prohibits religious discrimination in public and private employment and provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, and worship consistent with the law, the rights of others, national security, and public order.  It prohibits “propaganda” that encourages religious hatred.  It recognizes the right of political asylum in the country for individuals persecuted for religious reasons.

The Department of Faith-Based Organizations within the Ministry of Interior is charged with promoting dialogue among religious groups and between the government and religious groups, providing administrative support to groups trying to become established, monitoring religious activities, and managing state-sponsored religious pilgrimages and registration of new religious groups.

The law requires all religious groups to register with the government.  Foreign religious groups with a presence in the country require authorization from the Department of Faith-Based Organizations, and local religious associations need to register their associations with the same department.  Groups must submit an application to the Department of Faith-Based Organizations.  The application must include the group’s bylaws, names of the founding members and board members, date of founding, and general assembly minutes.  The department investigates the organization to ensure the religious group has no members or purpose deemed politically subversive and that no members are deprived of their civil and political rights.  There are no penalties prescribed for groups that do not register, but those that register benefit from government support such as free access to state-run television and radio for religious programming to groups that request it.  Registered religious groups are not charged import duties on devotional items such as religious books and rosaries.

Religious education is not included in the public school curriculum but is often included in private schools affiliated with a particular faith.  Religious groups running the schools normally provide opt-out procedures.  Religiously-affiliated schools are regulated in that teachers and supervisory staff must participate in training offered by the Ministry of National Education before the school receives accreditation from the Ministry.  According to an official June survey from the Directorate for Strategy, Planning, and Statistics of the Ministry of National Education, only 244 out of 1409 of Islamic schools are authorized by the Ministry of National Education and follow the national curriculum, as well as the Islamic curriculum.

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

Government Practices

Local authorities in Abidjan arrested Imam Aguib Toure, a Muslim preacher, on July 4 for two videos he had published on a popular social media site.  In the first one, he discouraged Muslim parents from enrolling their children in Christian schools.  In the second video, he criticized the increase in the cost of the Hajj since President Alassane Ouattara took office in 2010, as well as evictions of destitute persons in Abidjan.  He was charged on July 9 with xenophobia, discrimination, inciting hatred, and issuing an apology for terrorism.  The Higher Council of Imams of Cote d’Ivoire (COSIM), the principal organization of imams in the country, requested a diligent investigation and fair trial on July 18.  On August 6, the court granted the imam provisional release.

Authorities in Abidjan arrested evangelical preacher Israel N’Goran on August 1 while he was live on a social media site delivering what the authorities stated were xenophobic and tribalistic messages targeting the Dioula ethnic group and foreigners including Lebanese and Moroccans.  N’Goran said he considered them to be dangerous to society, and compared the Dioula to gangrene.  He was released from detention after receiving amnesty from the president on August 6.

Minister of Defense Hamed Bakayoko, who is Muslim, attended a Catholic church service in an impoverished neighborhood of Abidjan where he was seeking an electoral seat during the campaign for municipal elections on September 30.  He spoke about interreligious dialogue, his plan for the district, and his actions.  A significant number of Catholics stated they did not believe the church was the proper location for electoral discourse.  Archbishop of Abidjan Cardinal Jean Pierre Kutwa later apologized to the congregants.

The government continued to supervise and organize Hajj pilgrimages for Muslims and fund pilgrimages to Israel, Portugal, Spain, and France for Christians, as well as fund local pilgrimages for members of independent African Christian churches.  The government organized and transported 6,800 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj compared to 4,200 the previous year and funded pilgrimages for 942 Christians to Europe and Israel.  The government also assisted 2,155 Christians and adherents of traditional religions in their pilgrimages in the country and elsewhere in Africa.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

A bishop from the United Methodist Church during the Church’s 13th Ordinary Annual Conference on March 18 called on the president to enable the repatriation of all citizens still in exile following disputed national elections in 2010 and to release all political prisoners.  He said that political leaders should put the nation’s interests and the people’s wellbeing ahead of their own.  On August 6, the president announced an amnesty for 800 persons linked to the post-electoral crisis, leading to the release of 300 individuals from detention.

Christian and Muslim religious leaders, civil society, and political leaders took part in the sixth Interreligious Conference for Peace hosted by the Sant’Egidio Community in Abidjan on October 21.  Local religious leaders stated they agreed to work together to fight the causes of conflicts, one of which they labeled as religious fanaticism.

Individuals regularly celebrated each other’s religious holidays by attending household or neighborhood gatherings, regardless of their own faith.  For example, in August Minister of Urban Areas Albert Francois Amichia, who is Christian, attended the Eid al-Adha celebration at the Treichville mosque with Muslim believers.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy representatives frequently discussed the importance of religious tolerance with government officials and the political opposition.  The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials took multiple trips to Man, in the western part of the country, where they met with government leaders to discuss the 2016 closure of a prominent mosque, whose members had resorted to violence to resolve a question of leadership.

U.S. embassy representatives frequently discussed the importance of religious tolerance with the national media.  In January the embassy hosted a discussion on nonviolent resistance and religious tolerance using Martin Luther King, Jr.’s autobiography as a reference.  In March the Charge d’Affaires led an embassy delegation in a community cycling event entitled “Pedaling for Peace” to commemorate the second anniversary of a 2016 terrorist attack in Grand Bassam and underscoring the need for religious tolerance.  Embassy officials regularly conducted outreach with leaders of faith communities with the aim of preventing radicalization and preserving peaceful relations between religious groups.  During the trips to Man, the Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials also met with civil society and religious leaders to discuss the 2016 mosque closure.

The embassy organized a social cohesion program for youth using soccer as a means to teach youth about themes of tolerance, respect for diversity, and conflict resolution.  The program specifically focused on the need for tolerance in a religiously diverse country.

Under an agreement between Voice of America (VOA) and the Islamic radio network Al-Bayane Radio, VOA’s Dialogue des Religions (Dialogue of Religions) in French continued to reach millions of listeners across the country with its weekly broadcast on Islamic radio stations.  Dialogue des Religions featured a host and guests – often religious scholars or journalists – who discussed religious issues in the news and answered listeners’ questions on various facets of religion.  The embassy also continued its Hello, America! broadcast, a monthly radio program in partnership with Al-Bayane, which has the largest audience in the country.  The program featured Americans from the embassy who represented different ethnic and religious backgrounds and spoke about the value of diversity, including religious tolerance and diversity.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religious belief.  During the year, international NGOs, media, and religious organizations reported the government subjected religious organizations and leaders, most prominently Catholic, to intimidation, arbitrary arrest, and in some cases violence due to the Catholic Church’s support for credible elections, involvement in protest marches in January and February, and the implementation of the December 2016 Sylvester Agreement between the government and opposition parties.  On January 21, security forces used lethal force to disrupt peaceful protests organized by the Catholic Lay Association (CLC) and some Protestant church leaders in support of credible elections and implementation of the December 2016 agreement.  At least six persons were killed, and as many as 50 injured when government security forces, including members of the Republican Guard, fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition at protesters inside church compounds.  As many as 100 persons were subjected to arbitrary arrest, including several dozen choir girls.  On February 25, state security forces killed two individuals, including Rossy Mukendi Tshimanga, who was shot by a rubber bullet inside a church compound during a protest organized by the CLC.  Due to the political nature of many of the CLC’s activities and practices, however, it is difficult to establish the government’s response as being solely based on religious identity.

Antigovernment militia members in the Kasai region and in North Kivu Province attacked and targeted Catholic Church property, schools, and clergy, according to Church sources.  On April 8, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Father Etienne Nsengiunva in Kyahemba in North Kivu.  In Kasai, media reported the Kamuina Nsapu rebel group continued to threaten members of the Catholic Church.  On April 1, unidentified armed men abducted Father Celestin Ngango in Kihondo in North Kivu after Easter Mass and demanded a ransom.  The kidnappers released Ngango approximately one week later.  Several CLC members said they received threats due to their support for credible elections, implementation of the December 2016 agreement, and peaceful protests.

The Charge d’Affaires and embassy officers met with the foreign minister, minister of justice, minister of human rights, national police commissioner, and other senior government officials several times during the year to raise concerns about the use of lethal force against peaceful protesters and harassment of CLC members.  U.S. embassy officials met regularly with the government to discuss religious freedom issues, including government relations with religious organizations.  Embassy officials also met regularly with religious leaders and human rights organizations and discussed relations with the government, the electoral process, their concerns about abuses of civil liberties, and the government’s use of excessive force in response to church-led demonstrations.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 85.3 million (July 2018 estimate).  The Pew Research Center estimates 95.8 percent of the population is Christian, 1.5 percent Muslim, and 1.8 percent report no religious affiliation (2010 estimate).  Of Christians, 48.1 percent are Protestant, including evangelical Christians and the Church of Jesus Christ on Earth through the Prophet Simon Kimbangu (Kimbanguist), and 47.3 percent Catholic.  Other Christian groups include the Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Greek Orthodox Church.  There are small communities of Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Baha’is, and followers of indigenous religious beliefs.  Muslim leaders estimate their community to comprise approximately 5 percent of the population.

A significant portion of the population combines traditional beliefs and practices with Christianity or other religious beliefs.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and the right to worship subject to “compliance with the law, public order, public morality, and the rights of others.”  It stipulates the right to religious freedom may not be abrogated even when the government declares a state of emergency or siege.

The law regulates the establishment and operation of religious groups.  According to law, the government may legally recognize, suspend recognition of, or dissolve religious groups.  The government grants tax-exempt status to recognized religious groups.  Nonprofit organizations, including foreign and domestic religious groups, must register with the government to obtain official recognition by submitting a copy of their bylaws and constitution.  Religious groups must register only once for the group as a whole, but nonprofit organizations affiliated with a religious group must register separately.  Upon receiving a submission, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) issues a provisional approval and, within six months, a permanent approval or rejection.  Unless the MOJ specifically rejects the application, the group is considered approved and registered after six months even if the ministry has not issued a final determination.  Applications from international headquarters of religious organizations must be approved by the presidency after submission through the MOJ.  The law requires officially recognized religious groups to operate as nonprofits and respect the general public order.  It also permits religious groups to establish places of worship and train clergy.  The law prescribes penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment, a fine of 200,000 Congolese francs ($130), or both for groups that are not properly registered but receive gifts and donations on behalf of a church or other religious organization.

The constitution permits public schools to work with religious authorities to provide religious education to students in accordance with students’ religious beliefs if parents request it.  Public schools with religious institution guardianship may provide religious instruction, but government-owned schools may not mandate religious instruction.

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

Government Practices

Catholic Church leaders reported acts of violence and intimidation against Church officials in response to Church support for implementation of the December 2016 agreement and for supporting peaceful protest marches in January and February.  Because religious and political issues overlap, however, it was difficult to categorize some incidents as being solely based on religious identity.  On January 21, security forces forcibly disrupted protests led by the CLC and some Protestant church leaders in support of elections and implementation of the December 2016 agreement.  UN observers and others stated they witnessed members of the Republican Guard and other security force members fire directly at protesters, killing at least six persons and injuring as many as 50.  In some cases, government security forces fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition into church compounds.  Among those killed was Therese Kapangala, a 24-year-old woman preparing to take vows as a nun.  She was shot and killed outside her church in Kinshasa.  The United Nations reported that 121 persons were arbitrarily arrested across the country for participation in the demonstrations.  During another round of CLC-organized protests on February 25, state security forces killed two individuals, including Rossy Mukendi Tshimanga, who was shot by a rubber bullet inside a church compound.  Another person died in the town of Mbandaka from wounds sustained during a confrontation with an off-duty police officer.  The United Nations reported that 194 persons were arbitrarily arrested.

CLC leaders were reportedly subjected to threats and harassment due to their support for implementation of the December 2016 agreement, credible elections, and peaceful protests.  Catholic leaders and institutions were also threatened after Church leaders expressed concern over violence they attributed to government security forces and the Kamuina Nsapu antigovernment militia in Kasai.  Church leaders in Kasai Province said local armed groups associated with Kamuina Nsapu forced them to accept armed group control of their communities.  In 2017, members of Kamuina Nsapu vandalized and burned numerous Catholic churches, schools, and buildings.

The MOJ again did not issue any final registration permits for religious groups and had not done so since 2014, reportedly due to an internal investigation into fraudulent registration practices.  The government, however, continued its practice that groups presumed to have been approved were permitted to organize.  Unregistered domestic religious groups reported they continued to operate unhindered.  The MOJ previously estimated that more than 2,000 registration applications for both religious and nonreligious NGOs remained pending and that more than 3,500 associations with no legal authorization continued to operate.  Foreign-based religious groups reported they operated without restriction after applying for legal status.  Under existing law, which was under review, nonprofit organizations could operate as legal entities by default if a government ministry gave a favorable opinion of their application and the government did not object to their application for status.  According to 2015 registration statistics, the latest year for which the MOJ had statistics, there were 14,568 legally registered nonprofit organizations, 11,119 legal religious nonprofit organizations, and 1,073 foreign nonprofit organizations.  Religious nonprofits that were legally operating and registered included 404 Catholic, 93 Protestant, 54 Muslim, and 1,322 evangelical nonprofits, the latter including those belonging to the Kimbangu Church.

The government continued to rely on religious organizations to provide public services such as education and health care throughout the country.  According to the Ministry of Education, approximately 72 percent of primary school students and 65 percent of secondary school students attended government-funded schools administered by religious organizations.  The government paid teacher salaries at some schools run by religious groups depending on the needs of the schools and whether they were registered as schools eligible to receive government funding.

Muslim community leaders again said the government did not afford them some of the same privileges as larger religious groups.  The government continued to deny Muslims the opportunity to provide chaplains for Muslims in the military, police force, and hospitals, despite a complaint filed in 2015 with the president and his cabinet.

In July the MOJ responded with an acknowledgement of receipt to a letter from the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal representative asking that the state protect its members against the Kimbilikit cult’s insistence that all community members, regardless of religion, participate in their rituals.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Members of the Kamuina Nsapu antigovernment militia in the Kasai region attacked and targeted Catholic Church property, schools, and clergy, according to Church sources.  In Kasai, Kasai Central, and Kasai Oriental Provinces, the Catholic Church reported threats and attacks against the Church by unidentified assailants believed to be members of the Kamuina Nsapu, other armed groups, or government security forces.  In September in Kananga in Kasai Central Province, Kananga Catholic Archbishop Marcel Madila stated there was “deep fear and insecurity” throughout Kasai Central Province after a rash of robberies and assaults targeting nuns, parishes, and civilians.  Archbishop Madila reported four attacks against nuns in Bena Mukangala, Kambote, Malole, and Tshilumba.  In North Kivu on April 8, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Father Etienne Nsengiunva in Kyahemba.

On April 1, in Kihondo in North Kivu, unidentified armed men abducted Father Celestin Ngango after Mass and demanded a ransom.  He was released one week later.

Some religious leaders reported continued tensions between Christian and Muslim communities in the north but also signs of improved relations in the eastern part of the country linked to the government’s ongoing fight against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).  On November 27, for example, both Muslim and Christian leaders peacefully marched in Beni expressing their support for joint offensive operations against the ADF.

In Budjala in Sud Ubangi Province, Voice of America reported that on March 30, Christians burned a mosque and the home of a man who allegedly killed a Christian man he caught in a sexual relationship with his wife.

Leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reported generally positive relations with the rest of the community but noted that 21 cases of assault on or suspected killings of Jehovah’s Witnesses dating from as early as 2015 were languishing in the court system or never sent to court for criminal prosecution after the arrests of suspects.  They also reported three assaults during the year that they stated were due to their religious beliefs in rural areas of Wapinda, Equateur Province, Luono, Kwango Province, and Fube, Katanga Province.

In South Kivu Province, Muslims in the Katana area said they had not received funds to rebuild their mosque after it was burned down in October 2016, despite a promise in November 2016 from the former governor of South Kivu to provide funds to rebuild the mosque.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Charge d’Affaires met with the foreign minister, minister of justice, minister of human rights, national police commissioner, and other senior government officials to discuss concerns about the treatment of CLC members and security forces’ use of excessive force against peaceful protesters.  Embassy officials met regularly with government officials to discuss religious freedom issues, such as government relations with religious organizations.  Embassy officials also regularly urged the government, security force leaders, and community and political leaders to refrain from violence and respect the rights of civil society, including religious groups, to assemble and express themselves freely.

Throughout the year, U.S. officials engaged with members of religious groups and human rights organizations.  In meetings with members of the Muslim Association of Congo, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Apostolic Nunciature, and Jewish community of Chabad-Lubavitch of Central Africa, U.S. officials discussed religious freedom and religious groups’ relationship with the government and other religious organizations.  Issues discussed included the electoral process, the religious groups’ concerns about abuses of civil liberties, and the government’s use of excessive force in response to church-led demonstrations.

Ethiopia

Executive Summary

The constitution codifies the separation of religion and the state, establishes freedom of religious choice, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the government shall not interfere in the practice of any religion, nor shall any religion interfere in the affairs of the state.  On January 20, security forces fired teargas on a group of youth singing politically charged messages in Woldia town during Epiphany celebrations.  The Amhara regional government pledged to investigate the incident.  The local Human Rights Council (HRCO) reported security forces subsequently shot and killed eight Orthodox Church members; this was followed by further protests and killings.  On February 16, the government declared a state of emergency (SOE) that restricted organized opposition and antigovernment protests, which also affected religious activities.  The House of Peoples’ Representatives voted on June 5 to lift the SOE, effective immediately.  There were no reports of religious communities engaging in protests either before or after the lifting of the SOE.  On August 1, representatives of the exiled synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC), headed by Patriarch Abune Merkorios, returned to the country and reunited with the synod in Ethiopia headed by Patriarch Abune Mathias.  The reconciliation effort had the direct support of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali and ended a 26-year schism in the Orthodox Church.  On August 4, three Muslim scholars, Sheik Seid Ahmed Mustafa, Sheik Jabir Abdella, and Sheik Sherif Muhdin, returned to the country after decades of exile in Saudi Arabia.  The scholars told local media they returned in response to Prime Minister Abiy’s calls to return and build the country.

On August 4, in the Somali region, an organized group of Muslim youth reportedly killed six priests and burned down at least eight Ethiopian Orthodox churches during widespread civil unrest in Jijiga.  On August 25, in Bure town, followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church stoned a man to death after accusing him of attempting to set a church on fire.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report some Protestants and Orthodox Christians accused one another of heresy and of actively working to convert adherents from one faith to the other, increasing tension between the two groups.  The Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC) said it continued to hold foreign actors responsible for the exacerbation of tensions between Christians and Muslims and within the Muslim community.  The Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia (IRCE) stated that the major faith communities in most of the country respected each other’s religious observances and practices while permitting intermarriage and conversion.

U.S. embassy and Department of State officers met officials from the Ministry of Peace, which includes the previous Ministry of Federal and Pastoralist Development Affairs, throughout the year for continued discussions on religious tolerance, radicalization, and ongoing reforms led by Prime Minister Abiy.  Embassy representatives also met with the leaders from the EIASC, Catholic Church in Ethiopia, IRCE, the Jewish Community, and EOC to discuss how these groups could contribute to religious tolerance.  Embassy officials met with members of the Muslim community and with NGOs to discuss their concerns about government interference in religious affairs.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 108.4 million (July 2018 estimate).  The most recent census, conducted in 2007, estimated 44 percent of the population adheres to the EOC, 34 percent are Sunni Muslim, and 19 percent belong to Christian evangelical and Pentecostal groups.  The overall population, however, has since changed significantly, and observers in and outside the government state those numbers are not necessarily representative of the present composition.  The EOC predominates in the northern regions of Tigray and Amhara, while Islam is most prevalent in the Afar, Oromia, and Somali Regions.  Established Protestant churches are strongest in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region, Gambella, and parts of Oromia.  Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Eastern Rite and Roman Catholics, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and practitioners of indigenous religions.  The Rastafarian community numbers approximately 1,000 and its members primarily reside in Addis Ababa and the town of Shashemene in the Oromia Region.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution requires the separation of state and religion, establishes freedom of religious choice and practice, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the government shall not interfere in the practice of any religion, nor shall religion interfere in state affairs.  It permits limitations on religious freedom as prescribed by law in order to protect public safety, education, and morals, as well as to guarantee the independence of government from religion.  The law criminalizes religious defamation and incitement of one religious group against another.  The law permits sharia courts to adjudicate personal status cases, provided both parties are Muslim and consent to the court’s jurisdiction.

The SOE put in place on February 16 and lifted on June 5 included provisions affecting religious activities such as the requirement for authorization from the SOE Command Post for public gatherings and a prohibition on chanting political slogans during religious holidays.

Registration and licensing of religious groups fall under the mandate of the Directorate of Faith and Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Peace, which requires unregistered religious groups to submit a founding document, the national identity cards of its founders, and the permanent address of the religious institution and planned regional branches.  The registration process also requires an application letter, information on board members, meeting minutes, information on the founders, financial reports, offices, name, and symbols.  Religious group applicants must have at least 50 individuals for registration as a religious entity, and 15 for registration as a ministry or association.  During the registration process, the government publishes the religious group’s name and logo in a local newspaper and, if there are no objections, registration is granted.

Unlike other religious groups, the EOC is not registered by the Ministry of Peace but obtains registration through a provision in the civil code passed during the imperial era that is still in force.  Registration with the ministry confers legal status on a religious group, which gives the group the right to congregate and to obtain land to build a place of worship and establish a cemetery.  Unregistered groups do not receive these benefits.  Religious groups must renew their registration at least every five years; failure to do so may result in a fine.

Registered religious organizations are required to provide annual activity and financial reports.  Activity reports must describe evangelical activities and list new members, newly ordained clergy, and new houses of worship.

Under the constitution the government owns all land; religious groups must apply to both the regional and local governments for land allocation, including for land to build places of worship.

Government policy prohibits the holding of religious services inside public institutions, per the constitutionally required separation of religion and state.  The government mandates that public institutions take a two-hour break from work on Fridays for workers to attend Islamic prayers.  Private companies are not required to follow this policy.

The constitution prohibits religious instruction in public and private schools, although both public and private schools may organize clubs based on shared religious values.  The law permits the establishment of a separate category of religious schools under the auspices of churches and mosques.  The Charities and Societies Agency, an agency of the government accountable to the federal attorney general, and the Ministry of Education regulate religious schools, which provide both secular and religious instruction.  The Ministry of Education oversees the secular component of education provided by religious schools.

The law prohibits the formation of political parties based on religion.

A government proclamation prohibits certain charities, societies, and associations, including those associated with faith-based organizations that engage in rights-based advocacy, and prevents civil society organizations from receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources.  Rights-based advocacy includes activities promoting human and democratic rights or equality of nations, nationalities, peoples, genders, and religions; protecting the rights of children or persons with disabilities; advancing conflict resolution or reconciliation; and enhancing the efficiency of the justice system or law enforcement services.  Religious groups undertaking development activities are required to register their development arms as charities with the Charities and Societies Agency and follow legal guidelines originating from the Charities and Societies Proclamation.

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

Government Practices

On January 20, during Orthodox Christian Epiphany celebrations, also known as the Timket festival, security forces fired teargas in Woldia town, North Wollo Zone of the Amhara Region, on a group of youth who, while following a replica of the Ark of the Covenant (Tabot), the most sacred item in the church, shifted to political messaging in their cheers and songs, according to media reports.  The Tabot fell to the ground during the incident, after which the youths threw rocks at the security forces.  According to an August 9 report by independent rights group Human Rights Council (HRCO), government security forces shot and killed eight and wounded 16 followers of the EOC during the protest.  Subsequently, residents of Woldia and nearby towns Kobo, Robit, Mersa, Wurgessa and Dessie staged protests, which the report stated turned violent; according to the HRCO, security forces killed eight of those protesters and injured nine others.  Government officials promised to investigate the incident, but as of year’s end there was no public report of findings or of anyone being held accountable.

The government released Ahmedin Jebel and his co-defendants from Kality Prison on February 14.  Ahmedin, a member of the Muslim Arbitration Committee, a group formed in 2011 to protest the government’s interference in religion and to advocate for the resolution of Muslim grievances, was arrested in 2012 along with several other activists.  The government brought terrorist charges against him and several codefendants, and they were found guilty.  In August 2015, the court sentenced Ahmedin to 22 years in prison.  Prior to his release, he was one of the few Muslim activists who remained in jail following the pardoning of several other detainees in recent years.

The SOE made protests illegal for four months.  There were no reports of religious communities engaging in protests either before or after the lifting of the SOE.  No religious group reported repression of religious freedom under the SOE.

Reports of government imposition or dissemination of Al-Ahbash teachings (a Sufi religious movement rooted in Lebanon and different from indigenous Islam) declined during the year.

The Directorate for Registration of Religious Groups within the Ministry of Peace reported 816 religious institutions and 1,640 fellowships and religious associations were registered as of late in the year.

The EIASC remained the lead religious organization for the country’s Muslims, managing religious activities in the approximately 40,000 mosques and annual Hajj pilgrimages to Mecca.  Some Muslims stated there was continued government interference in religious affairs, and some members of the Muslim community stated the EIASC lacked autonomy from the government.

Protestants continued to report that local officials discriminated against them with regard to religious registration and the allocation of land for churches and cemeteries.

On August 1, the exiled synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, headed by Patriarch Abune Merkorios, returned to Ethiopia after 27 years of exile in the United States, to reunite with the synod in Ethiopia headed by Patriarch Abune Mathias.  The reconciliation ended 26 years of schism in the Orthodox Church.  Following the reconciliation, the two patriarchs were designated as equal heads of the reunited church, with Abune Merkorios assuming spiritual leadership and Abune Mathias assuming administrative leadership.  Media reported that Prime Minister Abiy played a central role in the mediation efforts by tasking mediators, and by personally attending and addressing a mediation conference in Washington D.C.

In collaboration with the government-sanctioned rights body Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), an inquiry committee of the EOC on August 8 reinstated 300 priests of the Addis Ababa Diocese, who were suspended in 2016 by the diocesan leadership.  In addition to concluding the priests should be paid their two-year salary in full, the committee dismissed 14 individuals, including the manager of the Addis Ababa Diocese, for illegally suspending the priests and violating their rights.

On July 3, Prime Minister Abiy initiated an effort to resolve disputes within the Muslim community by bringing together leaders of the EIASC and the Muslim Arbitration Committee (MAC), previously rival groups.  The prime minister’s office stated the government maintained its neutrality when arbitrating between the two groups.  In a joint meeting, the two sides apologized to each other and pledged to resolve their disputes.  They agreed and set up a committee of nine members, three from each group as well as three elders and religious scholars.

On August 4, three Muslim scholars, Sheik Seid Ahmed Mustafa, Sheik Jabir Abdella, and Sheik Sherif Muhdin, returned to the country after more than two decades of exile in Saudi Arabia.  The scholars told local media that they returned in response to Prime Minister Abiy’s calls to return and help build the country.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On August 4, according to national and international media reports, an organized group of Muslim youth killed six priests and burned down at least eight EOC churches in the Somali Regional State during widespread civil unrest in Jijiga.

Participants at the annual Irreecha festival in late September celebrated peacefully, free of the violence that marred the event in 2016.  The PM’s office issued the following statement: “As we celebrate Irreecha, let’s all cherish our rich cultural heritages and unite in a shared purpose to build a bright future for our children.”

The IRCE, an organization established by seven religious institutions and operating independently from the government and whose mission is to promote interfaith harmony throughout the country, reported that major faith communities in most of the country respected each other’s religious observances and practices while permitting intermarriage and conversion.

In May Muslim community leaders said that Islam in the country was threatened by internal fracturing due to discord within the community.

The EIASC expressed continued concern about what it said was the influence of foreign Salafist groups within the Muslim community.  The EIASC said it continued to hold these foreign groups responsible for the exacerbation of tensions between Christians and Muslims and within the Muslim community.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officers continued to engage with the Ministry of Peace and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on religious tolerance, countering violent extremism related to religion, and promotion of shared values.

Embassy representatives held meetings with religious leaders, including the Office of the Patriarch of the EOC, the president of the EIASC, and the cardinal heading the Catholic Church in the country, to discuss the role of faith-based organizations in improving religious tolerance within society.  Embassy officials met with recently released leaders of the MAC.

Embassy officials engaged with members of the IRCE to discuss religious tolerance and attacks on places of worship.  The embassy’s dialogue with the IRCE sought to strengthen the IRCE’s capacity to reduce religious violence through increased dialogue among religious communities and to assist the IRCE in achieving its stated goal of creating a platform to unify disparate religious groups around common interests and promoting interreligious harmony.

Ghana

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, stipulates that individuals are free to profess and practice their religion, and does not designate a state religion.  Registration is required for religious groups to have legal status.  In March President Nana Akufo-Addo unveiled plans to build a new national interdenominational cathedral on land provided by the government.  Critics, including some religious leaders, questioned the cost and details of the financing, and an opposition political party member filed a lawsuit to block construction on constitutional grounds.  In June the president spoke at an Eid al-Fitr celebration and declared, “Our country stands unique in West Africa, both in terms of inter- and intra-religious cooperation… We ought to guard this tradition of cooperation and tolerance jealously.”  In August the president met with religious leaders to explore ways to ensure all religious institutions pay statutory taxes required of them on their commercial activities, stating the need for government and faith-based organizations to meet periodically on issues of mutual interest.

Muslim and Christian leaders continued to emphasize the importance of religious freedom and tolerance, and reported sustained communication among themselves on religious matters and ways to address issues of concern.

The embassy urged the government to restart dialogue with religious communities regarding concerns over religious accommodations in publicly funded, religiously affiliated schools.  The embassy discussed religious freedom and tolerance with religious leaders and community organizations and sponsored several events to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance.  The embassy provided funding again to the Islamic Peace and Security Council of Ghana, which held a series of lectures on good governance and encouraged Muslim leaders to take a more active role in governance.  The objective was to increase their visibility in the public sphere and promote tolerance of Muslims generally.  In May the U.S. Ambassador hosted a Ramadan event at a local school with religious leaders from various faiths where embassy officials distributed food kits to schoolchildren to enable them to break the fast with their families.  During the program, the Ambassador emphasized the importance of nurturing interfaith understanding and protecting religious freedom as foundations of peace and security.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 28.1 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2010 government census (the most recent available), approximately 71 percent of the population is Christian, 18 percent Muslim, 5 percent adheres to indigenous or animistic religious beliefs, and 6 percent belongs to other religious groups or has no religious beliefs.  Smaller religious groups include the Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Eckankar, and Rastafarianism.

Christian denominations include Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, Eden Revival Church International, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventist, Pentecostal, Baptist, African independent churches, the Society of Friends (Quaker), and numerous nondenominational Christian groups.

Muslim communities include Sunnis, Ahmadiyya, Shia, and Sufis (Tijaniyah and Qadiriyya orders).

Many individuals who identify as Christian or Muslim also practice some aspects of indigenous beliefs.  There are syncretic groups that combine elements of Christianity or Islam with traditional beliefs.  Zetahil, a belief system unique to the country, combines elements of Christianity and Islam.

There is no significant link between ethnicity and religion, but geography is often associated with religious identity.  Christians reside throughout the country; the majority of Muslims reside in the northern regions and in the urban centers of Accra, Kumasi, and Sekondi-Takoradi; and most followers of traditional religious beliefs reside in rural areas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for individuals’ freedom to profess and practice any religion.  These rights may be limited for stipulated reasons including defense, public safety, public health, or the management of essential services.

Religious groups must register with the Office of the Registrar General in the Ministry of Justice to receive formal government recognition and status as a legal entity, but there is no penalty for not registering.  The registration requirement for religious groups is the same as for nongovernmental organizations.  To register, groups must fill out a form and pay a fee. Most indigenous religious groups do not register.

According to law, registered religious groups are exempt from paying taxes on nonprofit religious, charitable, and educational activities.  Religious groups are required to pay progressive taxes, on a pay-as-earned basis, on for-profit business activities.

The Ministry of Education includes compulsory religious and moral education in the national public education curriculum.  There is no provision to opt out of these courses, which incorporate perspectives from Islam and Christianity.  There is also an Islamic education unit within the ministry responsible for coordinating all public education activities for Muslim communities.  The ministry permits private religious schools; however, they must follow the prescribed curriculum set by the ministry.  International schools, such as those that do not follow the government curriculum, are exempt from these requirements.

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

Government Practices

Muslim leaders continued to report that some publicly funded Christian mission schools required female Muslim students to remove their hijabs and Muslim students to participate in Christian worship services, despite a Ministry of Education policy prohibiting these practices.  For example, Muslim leaders reported three examples of schools that required Muslim students to participate in church services, saying they were compulsory school gatherings.  Similarly, there were continued reports that some publicly funded Muslim mission schools required female Christian students to wear the hijab.

Government officials leading meetings, receptions, and state funerals offered Christian and Muslim prayers and, occasionally, traditional invocations.  President Nana Akufo-Addo, a Christian, and Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, a Muslim, continued to emphasize the importance of peaceful religious coexistence in public remarks.  For example, in June President Akufo-Addo spoke at an Eid al-Fitr celebration and declared, “Our country stands unique in West Africa, both in terms of inter- and intra-religious cooperation… We ought to guard this tradition of cooperation and tolerance jealously.”  He also cautioned his fellow citizens to be wary of “troublemakers and hate preachers” who might sow disunity.

In March the president unveiled design plans for an interdenominational Christian cathedral, to be built in Accra.  Several groups, including Christian ones, spoke against the proposal, citing reasons such as wasting public lands, the relocation of judges residing on the plot, and undue government involvement in the affairs of religious groups.  The Coalition of Muslim Organizations issued a statement saying it did not object to the construction of a cathedral but government should not play a role.  National Chief Imam spokesperson Sheikh Shaibu Aremeyaw said an interfaith edifice would have been more appropriate.  The president defended the plan as “a priority among priorities,” saying the country needed “a symbol that the Ghanaian nation can rally behind.”  The president’s liaison for the cathedral denied the government was playing favorites, citing the government’s donation of land for the construction of the national mosque, financed by international donors.  An opposition political party member filed a lawsuit in August to block construction of the cathedral on constitutional grounds.

During the year, the president emphasized the importance he placed on government representatives meeting with religious leaders on matters of mutual interest.  In August he convened a closed-door session with religious leaders to explore ways (such as establishing a regulatory body) to ensure all religious institutions pay statutory taxes required of them on their commercial activities.  The Ghana Revenue Authority planned to tax income churches receive from business activities, but not from offerings and donations.  The former head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference backed the plan, cautioning, however, against a “blanket” tax on churches.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Muslim and Christian leaders reported continued regular dialogue between their respective governing bodies and the National Peace Council, an independent, statutory institution with religious reconciliation as part of its mandate.  The council did not convene any formal meetings with religious figures.  Faith leaders, however, reported sustained communication among themselves on religious matters and ways to address issues of concern or sensitivity.  While there were some reports of supervisors directing Muslim nursing students to remove their veils in the ward, such moves were not authorized or directed by faith leaders or government figures.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy representatives discussed with officials from the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration the importance of mutual understanding, religious tolerance, and respect for all religious groups.  The embassy urged the government to restart dialogue with religious communities regarding concerns about religious accommodations in publicly funded, religiously affiliated schools.  Embassy officials also discussed these subjects with a broad range of other actors, including Muslim civil society organizations and Christian groups.  Although in previous years the embassy engaged Education Service officials about the importance of facilitating religious accommodation in schools, requests for a meeting with the agency went unanswered.

The embassy provided funding again to the Islamic Peace and Security Council of Ghana, which held a series of lectures on good governance and encouraged Muslim leaders to take a more active role in governance.  The objective was to increase their visibility in the public sphere and promote tolerance of Muslims generally.

In May the Ambassador hosted a Ramadan event with religious leaders from various faiths during which he emphasized the importance of nurturing interfaith understanding and protecting religious freedom as foundations of peace and security.  During the program, embassy officials distributed food kits to several dozen Muslim schoolchildren to enable them to break the fast with their families.  In August the Charge d’Affaires presented the customary gifts of a ram, oil, and rice to the national chief imam as part of embassy outreach for Eid al-Adha.  In his remarks, the Charge recognized the important role of religious institutions in facilitating interfaith dialogue and promoting peace, prosperity, and development in the country.

Kenya

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws and policies prohibit religious discrimination and protect religious freedom, including the freedom to practice any religion or belief through worship, teaching, or observance and to debate religious questions.  The constitution provides for special qadi courts to adjudicate certain types of civil cases based on Islamic law.  Human rights and Muslim religious organizations stated that certain Muslim communities, especially ethnic Somalis, continued to be the target of government-directed extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest, and detention.  The government denied directing such actions.  The Registrar of Societies did not register any new religious organizations pending completion of revised Religious Societies Rules, which had not been finalized at year’s end.  According to the Alliance of Registered Churches & Ministries Founders, more than 4,400 religious group applications were pending as of the start of the year.  The High Court in Nairobi overturned a decision to suspend the registration of the Atheists in Kenya Society (AIK), following 2017 court hearings regarding the attorney general’s suspension of the group’s registration.  A 2016 appeal by the Methodist Church opposing the wearing of hijabs as part of school uniforms remained pending as of the end of the year.  In May filings to the Supreme Court, the attorney general and Teachers Service Commission continued to support the right to wear a hijab in school.

The Somalia-based terrorist group Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (al-Shabaab) again carried out attacks in Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, and Lamu Counties and said the group had targeted non-Muslims because of their faith.  In September al-Shabaab reportedly stopped a bus in Lamu County and killed two Christian travelers.  In October a group of residents in Bungale, Magarini Sub County, burned and demolished a Good News International Ministries church.  The government reported that local residents took action following claims the pastor was indoctrinating local residents with false Christian teachings promoting extremism among followers.  A police investigation continued at year’s end.  In June the Kenya National Union of Teachers presented a report to the Senate Education Committee detailing religious and gender discrimination against nonlocal teachers in Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa Counties.  Muslim minority groups, particularly those of Somali descent, reported continued harassment by non-Muslims.  There were again reports of religiously motivated threats of societal violence and intolerance, such as members of Muslim communities threatening individuals who converted from Islam to Christianity.  According to religious leaders, some Muslim youths responded to alleged abuses by non-Muslim members of the police who came from other regions by vandalizing properties of local Christians.

U.S. embassy officials emphasized the importance of respecting religious freedom in meetings with government officials, especially underscoring the role of interfaith dialogue in stemming religious intolerance and countering violent extremism.  Embassy representatives regularly discussed issues of religious freedom, including the importance of tolerance and inclusion, with local and national civic and religious leaders.  The embassy urged religious leaders to engage in interfaith efforts to promote religious freedom and respect religious diversity.  The embassy supported interfaith and civic efforts to defuse political and ethnic tensions.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 48.4 million (July 2018 estimate), of which approximately 83 percent is Christian and 11 percent Muslim.  Groups constituting less than 2 percent of the population include Hindus, Sikhs, and Baha’is.  Much of the remaining 4-5 percent of the population adheres to various traditional religious beliefs.  Non-evangelical Protestants account for 48 percent of the population, Roman Catholics 23 percent, and other Christian denominations, including evangelical Protestants and Pentecostals, 12 percent.  Most of the Muslim population lives in the northeast and coastal regions, where religion and ethnicity (e.g., Somali and Mijikenda ethnic groups) are often linked.  The Dadaab refugee camps are home to approximately 209,000 refugees and asylum seekers, most of whom are ethnic Somali Muslims.  The Kakuma refugee camp is home to approximately 186,000 refugees, including Somalis, South Sudanese, and Ethiopians, who practice a variety of religions.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates there shall be no state religion and prohibits religious discrimination.  The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief individually or in communities, including the freedom to manifest any religion through worship, practice, teaching, or observance.  The constitution also states individuals shall not be compelled to act or engage in any act contrary to their belief or religion.  These rights shall not be limited except by law, and then only to the extent that the limitation is “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society.”

The constitution requires parliament to enact legislation recognizing a system of personal and family law adhered to by persons professing a particular religion.  The constitution also specifically provides for qadi courts to adjudicate certain types of civil cases based on Islamic law, including questions relating to personal status, marriage, divorce, or inheritance in cases in which “all the parties profess the Muslim religion.”  The country’s secular High Court has jurisdiction over civil or criminal proceedings, including those in the qadi courts, and accepts appeals of any qadi court decision.

Although there is no penal law referring to blasphemy, a section of the penal code states that destroying, damaging, or defiling any place of worship or object held sacred with the intention of insulting the religion of any class of persons is a misdemeanor.  This offense carries a penalty of a fine or up to two years in prison but is reportedly rarely prosecuted using this law.  Crimes against church property are more likely to be treated as malicious destruction of property, which is also a misdemeanor.

According to the law, new religious groups, institutions or places of worship, and faith-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must register with the Registrar of Societies, which reports to the Attorney General’s Office.  Indigenous and traditional religious groups are not required to register, and many do not.  To register, applicants must have valid national identification documents, pay a fee, and undergo security screening.  Registered religious institutions and places of worship may apply for tax-exempt status, including exemption from duty on imported goods.  The law also requires that organizations dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, or the promotion of charity or research register with the NGO Coordination Board.

All public schools have religious education classes taught by government-funded teachers.  The national curriculum mandates religious classes, and students may not opt out.  Some public schools offer religious education options, usually Christian or Islamic studies, but are not required to offer both.

The law establishes fees for multiple steps in the marriage process, which apply to all marriages, religious or secular.  All officiants are required to purchase an annual license, and all public marriage venues must be registered.

The Ministry of Information, Communications, and Technology must approve regional radio and television broadcast licenses, including for religious organizations.

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

Government Practices

Human rights groups and prominent Muslim leaders and religious organizations stated the government’s antiterrorism activities disproportionately impacted Muslims, especially ethnic Somalis and particularly in areas along the Somalia border.  The government’s actions reportedly included extrajudicial killing, torture and forced interrogation, arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, and denial of freedom of assembly and worship.

Prosecution was pending at year’s end of Christian televangelist Paul Makenzi of the Good News International Ministries and his wife Joyce Mwikamba, whom, in October 2017 in the coastal city of Malindi in Kilifi County, authorities charged with radicalizing children by teaching them to reject medical care, enticing them to drop out of school, and teaching them formal education is evil.  According to multiple press reports, police raided Makenzi’s church and rescued children who had abandoned their homes and schools to follow Makenzi’s ministry.

The Registrar of Societies continued not to register any new religious organizations pending completion of revised Religious Societies Rules, which had not been finalized at year’s end.  According to the Alliance of Registered Churches & Ministries Founders, more than 4,400 religious group applications were pending as of the start of the year.  In 2016 the government withdrew proposed Religious Societies Rules in response to religious leaders’ objections after a meeting between President Uhuru Kenyatta and religious leaders.  Religious leaders reported the attorney general proposed the rules to make leaders of religious organizations more accountable for financial dealings and radical or violent teachings.  The government agreed to consult religious leaders and the public and allow them to provide input on a new draft.

In January the High Court in Nairobi overturned the registration suspension of the AIK imposed after court hearings in 2017.  The attorney general suspended AIK’s registration due to questions surrounding the issue of the group’s constitutional rights.  Opponents of AIK’s registration argued AIK’s beliefs were not consistent with the constitution, stating the constitution “recognizes Kenya as a country that believes in God.”

In July the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) reinstated three priests who had been dismissed in 2015 on suspicion of homosexual acts.  Shortly after their dismissal, an Employment and Labor Relations judge ordered the Church to reinstate the priests, citing a lack of any evidentiary findings against them.  The ACK reinstated the priests after a court ordered the Church provide back pay and held the presiding bishop in contempt for having failed to adhere to the 2015 ruling.  Protesters, however, prevented the priests from returning to work at their parishes.

An appeal by the Methodist Church was still pending at year’s end regarding a 2016 ruling by the Court of Appeal that Muslim female students be allowed to wear a hijab as part of their school uniforms.  The ruling overturned a 2015 High Court verdict that declared hijabs were discriminatory because they created disparity among students.  In filings to the Supreme Court in September, the attorney general and Teachers Service Commission continued to support the right to wear the hijab in schools.  Religious leaders reported public schools complied with the Court of Appeals’ ruling, while some private schools – particularly religious ones – continued to insist students remove the hijab.  Schools applied the ruling to members of the Akorino religious group, which combines Christian and African styles of worship and requires adherents to cover their heads with turbans for men (referred to as headgear) and veils for women.

Muslim leaders continued to state that police often linked the whole Muslim community to al-Shabaab.  The Independent Policing Oversight Authority, a civilian government body that investigates police misconduct, reported numerous complaints from predominantly Muslim communities, particularly in the Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi, regarding intimidation, arbitrary arrest, and extortion by police.  Some complainants stated police accused them of being members of al-Shabaab.

Religious leaders reported the government sought to circumvent a legal prohibition on taxing religious organizations by applying certain regulations to both religious and secular institutions, such as requiring licensing fees for marriage officiants and venues for large social meetings.  Religious leaders stated the fee regulations were unevenly enforced, although not in a discriminatory manner.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Authorities received more than 150 reports of terrorist attacks in the northeast of the country bordering Somalia by al-Shabaab and its sympathizers that targeted non-Muslims.  In one such attack in September, al-Shabaab reportedly ordered travelers to disembark a bus in Lamu County, then identified and killed the two Christians before letting the other travelers proceed.

On February 23, al-Shabaab killed three Christian teachers near Wajir Town.  Reports indicated that, following the attack, more than 60 teachers fled Wajir and neighboring Mandera.  In June the Kenya National Union of Teachers presented a report to the Senate Education Committee detailing the plight of nonlocal teachers in Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa Counties.  According to the report, female teachers “suffered discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, and language,” including being forced to wear deeras (long dresses) and hijabs.

On January 24, media reported al-Shabaab militants raided a village in the Lamu region where they forced villagers to listen to “radical” preaching and hoisted a black flag at the deserted police station.  The militants called upon all civilians to enroll their children in Arabic and Islamic education classes, causing many to flee the scene due to fear of violence.  Many villagers fled the area, and a number of schools remained closed because of security concerns.

Al-Shabaab remained the focus of government antiterror and police efforts throughout the northeast and coastal region.

In October a group of residents in Bungale, Magarini Sub County of Kilifi County, reportedly burned down a house belonging to a pastor associated with the Malindi televangelist, Paul Makenzi.  The group also demolished a Good News International Ministries church and residence belonging to Pastor Titus Katana, also linked to Makenzi.  The group threatened to kill Katana and demanded he leave the area.  Local government officials reported that residents took action following claims Makenzi was promoting extremism and indoctrinating followers with what they characterized as false Christian teachings that included opposition to formal education for children and rejection of modern medicine.  A police investigation continued at year’s end.

Authorities continued to receive reports of threats of violence towards individuals based on religious attire and expressions of intolerance toward members of other faiths.  Since religion and ethnicity are closely linked, authorities could not categorize many incidents as being based exclusively on religious identity.

According to NGO sources, some Muslim community leaders and their families were threatened with violence or death, especially some individuals who had converted from Islam to Christianity, particularly those of Somali ethnic origin.

Interreligious NGOs and political leaders said tensions remained high between Muslim and Christian communities because of terrorist attacks in recent years.  Non-Muslims reportedly harassed or treated with suspicion persons of Somali origin, who were predominantly Muslim.  Police officers often did not serve in their home regions, and therefore officers in some Muslim majority areas were largely non-Muslim.  Religious leaders suggested, anecdotally, that some Muslim youths responded to reported police abuses by largely non-Muslim police forces by vandalizing properties of local Christians.

A two-year survey conducted by DevTech systems on indicators of violent extremism found that fundamental religious beliefs alone do not lead to violent extremism, but that violent extremists often manipulate or invoke religion and ethnic tensions to frame grievances, divide communities, and justify violence.  When asked about the perceptions of ethnic and religious social cohesion, acceptance of identity-based grievances, and the use of violence to defend religious beliefs, 83 percent of respondents believed they could practice their religion freely.  Reports of discrimination were highest in Nairobi at 24 percent.  Nationally, 84 percent of respondents said diversity made the country a better place to live, and 25 percent said violence was always justified in defending one’s religion or culture.

Religious leaders representing interfaith groups, including the Anglican, Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Muslim, and Hindu communities, engaged with political parties and the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission in the national reconciliation process following violent 2017 presidential elections.  Representatives of a number of religious organizations participated in an October National Dialogue Reference Group conference to promote national healing and identify social cohesion challenges.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials emphasized the importance of respecting religious freedom in meetings with government officials, including senior police officials and local governments in the coastal region, especially emphasizing the role of interfaith dialogue in stemming religious intolerance and countering religiously based violent extremism.

The Ambassador and embassy staff met frequently with religious leaders and groups, including the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya, Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics, Interfaith Council of Kenya, Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, Hindu Council of Kenya, National Muslim Leaders Forum, Alliance of Registered Churches & Ministries Founders, and National Council of Churches of Kenya.  Topics of discussion included the importance of religious groups in countering religiously based extremism, seeking guidance from religious leaders on human rights issues, and working together to resolve the country’s electoral issues.

U.S. embassy officials supported interfaith efforts to defuse political and ethnic tensions, including efforts to resolve disputes related to the preparations, conduct, and outcome of the national elections.

The Ambassador met periodically throughout the year with Muslim leaders in Nairobi and the coastal region.  He hosted iftars during Ramadan with Muslim, Christian, and Hindu leaders in Nairobi, and a senior embassy official hosted an all-women’s iftar that included representatives of all faiths.  The embassy also assisted efforts to promote intrafaith dialogue on freedom and tolerance within the Muslim community.

Embassy officials met individually with religious and civic leaders to urge them to continue to work across sectarian lines to reaffirm the importance of religious freedom, tolerance, and diversity.  The embassy encouraged faith communities and other societal figures to see religious diversity as a national strength rather than a source of strife and division.

Mozambique

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the right to practice or not to practice religion freely and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  These and other rights may temporarily be suspended or restricted only in the event of a declaration of a state of war, siege, or emergency.  The constitution prohibits faith-based political parties and the use of religious symbols in politics.  Religious groups have the right to organize, worship, and operate schools.  In the northernmost province of Cabo Delgado, the government responded to attacks on security forces and killings and beheadings of civilians by a group sometimes referred to as Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamaah and which was termed jihadist by the government and the media, with significant security force operations and the arrest of hundreds of suspected jihadists.  These operations were characterized by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and news media as sometimes heavy-handed and contributing to a “growing cycle of grievance and revenge” between militant Islamists and security forces.  The government reopened all seven mosques it ordered closed in 2017.  The Greek Orthodox Church reported no progress in its efforts to regain property the government seized following independence.

Religious leaders at the national and provincial level called for religious tolerance and condemned the use of religion to condone violence.  For example, Muslim leaders joined former liberation fighters condemning those who allegedly use religion for illicit and criminal purposes.

The Ambassador discussed the challenge and importance of sustaining the country’s tradition of religious tolerance, especially in light of the attacks in the northern region, with President Filipe Nyusi, the minister of justice, and other high-level contacts.  The Ambassador hosted an iftar at the Anwaril Mosque during which religious tolerance was discussed with members of Islamic civil society organizations and religious leaders.  Embassy representatives discussed the importance of religious tolerance with Catholic Church representatives and Islamic religious leaders in the provinces of Cabo Delgado, Sofala, and Nampula.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 27.2 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the U.S. government, 28 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 18 percent Muslim (mostly Sunni), 15 percent Zionist Christian, 12 percent Protestant (includes Pentecostal/Evangelical, 10 percent), and 7 percent other religious groups, including the Baha’i Faith, Judaism, and Hinduism.  Approximately 18 percent do not profess any religion or belief.  According to Christian and Muslim religious leaders, a significant portion of the population adheres to syncretic indigenous religious beliefs, characterized by a combination of African traditional practices and aspects of either Christianity or Islam, a category not included in government estimates.  Muslim leaders state their community accounts for 25-30 percent of the total population, a statistic frequently reported in the press.

A census conducted in August 2017 included questions on religious affiliation.  The full census results were scheduled to be released in spring 2019.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state.  It prohibits religious discrimination, provides for the right of citizens to practice or not practice a religion, and stipulates that no individuals may be deprived of their rights because of religious faith or practice.  Political parties are constitutionally prohibited from using names or symbols associated with religious groups.  The constitution protects places of worship and the right of religious groups to organize, worship, and pursue their religious objectives freely and to acquire assets in pursuit of those objectives.  It recognizes the right of conscientious objection to military service for religious reasons.  These and other rights may temporarily be suspended or restricted only in the event of a declaration of a state of war, siege, or emergency, in accordance with the terms of the constitution.

The law requires all NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs.  Under the law, “religious organizations” are charities or humanitarian organizations, whereas “religious groups” refer to particular denominations.  Religious groups register at the denominational level or congregational level if they are unaffiliated.  Religious groups and organizations register by submitting an application, providing identity documents of the local leaders, and submitting documentation of declared ties to any international religious group or organization.  There are no penalties for failure to register; however, religious groups and organizations must show evidence of registration to open bank accounts, file for exemption of customs duties for imported goods, or submit visa applications for visiting foreign members.

An accord between the national government and the Holy See governs the Catholic Church’s rights and responsibilities in the country.  The agreement recognizes the Catholic Church as a “legal personality” and recognizes the Church’s exclusive right “to regulate ecclesiastical life and to nominate people for ecclesiastical posts.”  The agreement requires Catholic Church representatives to register with the government to benefit from the Church’s status.  The accord also gives the Catholic Church the exclusive right to create, modify, or eliminate ecclesiastical boundaries; however, it stipulates that ecclesiastical territories must report to a Church authority in the country.

The law permits religious organizations to own and operate schools.  The law forbids religious instruction in public schools.

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

Government Practices

Violent attacks by Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamaah continued throughout the year in northern Cabo Delgado Province.  The group, which claimed ties to the al-Shabaab terrorist group and was characterized by the government and the media as jihadist, was composed primarily of Muslims who followed what observers said was a strict version of Islam.  The attacks, which began in October 2017, included killings of security force members and beheading of civilians.  Significant security force operations to counter these attacks were at times heavy-handed, according to NGOs and news media, which said they focused primarily on Muslims following a strict interpretation of Islam and contributed to a “growing cycle of grievance and revenge” between militant Islamists and security forces.  Several organizations reported men, women, and children being arbitrarily detained based on appearing to be Muslim.  The government charged the detainees with crimes including first-degree murder, use of banned weapons, membership in a criminal association, and instigating collective disobedience against public order.  The government continued to state publicly that security forces had the situation under control.

In response to the attacks, government officials stated they arrested more than 280 attackers, whom they termed suspected jihadists, and at year’s end were prosecuting 189 of those individuals, including 152 Mozambicans, 26 Tanzanians, and three Somali nationals.  Among the individuals arrested were Muslim religious leaders.  Representatives of international organizations with access to the region stated they believed the number of individuals arrested was higher than that reported by the government.

Human rights organizations stated that the government also responded by implementing policies that they said inhibited reliable reporting in the northern region.  Reporting on the attacks remained limited and was often characterized as unreliable due to a strong security force presence and what journalists termed a government-imposed media blackout in the region.

In May the government reported reopening all of the seven mosques it ordered closed in 2017 after repeated attacks on police stations and hospital units by armed men who had alleged links to persons termed Islamists.  According to Provincial Director of Justice Alvaro Junior, the government decided to destroy seven other mosques due to their links to radicalism.

The Ministry of Justice registered 32 new religious groups and six new religious organizations during the year.  There were a total of 913 religious groups and 232 religious organizations registered.  There were no reports of difficulty with religious groups registering.

The Greek Orthodox Church continued to report no progress in its efforts to obtain the return of the Ateneu (Athenaeum), a church property in central Maputo seized by the government after independence and renamed the Palacio dos Casamentos (Wedding Palace).

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The leader of a Maputo mosque, Sheikh Saide Habibe, condemned the attacks in the northern part of the country, stating that the Islam preached by Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamaah was not in line with traditional Muslim values.  Habibe also coauthored, with prominent civil society members, a yet-to-be-released study on the nature of what was termed the extremist threat in the north of the country.  In a preview the study identified the group’s membership as consisting mainly of disenfranchised youth from the overwhelmingly Muslim M’wani ethnic group that believed itself unjustly dominated by the overwhelmingly Christian Makonde ethnic group, which was perceived as constituting much of the ruling and economic elite in the province and in their districts.

In January the Mozambican Council of Religions facilitated a National Summit on Peace and Reconciliation to find solutions to the conflict that followed the 2014 general election.  The summit was widely attended by religious and political leaders from throughout the country, as well as the international community.

Civil society and religious organizations conducted outreach to promote religious tolerance during the year.  During Eid al-Adha, Muslim leaders in Nampula gathered former liberation fighters, civil society groups, and politicians at a rally condemning those who allegedly use religion for illicit and criminal purposes.  Muslim leaders and organizations in Maputo worked with the government to counter violence in the northern part of the country.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In light of the violence in the northern region, the Ambassador directly engaged President Nyusi and the minister of justice on the continued importance of the country’s history of religious tolerance.  Through a series of outreach initiatives, the Ambassador and embassy representatives discussed the importance of religious tolerance to promote peace and security with representatives of different religious denominations.  This included an iftar hosted by the Ambassador at the Anwaril Mosque attended by members representing Islamic civil society and religious organizations active in the country.  Embassy officials also discussed the status of religious freedom and expressed U.S. government support for this fundamental right with Catholic and Muslim leaders in Cabo Delgado, Sofala, and Nampula Provinces.

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.  Members of the armed forces fired on Shia Muslims participating in the Arba’een Symbolic Trek organized by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) on October 27, killing at least three persons, and again on October 29, killing 39 and injuring over100, according to human rights organizations.  The government reported t conducted an investigation into these incidents but did not release its findings publicly.  The government did not keep its commitments to ensure accountability for soldiers implicated in the December 2015 clash between the army and IMN members that, according to a Kaduna State government report, left at least 348 IMN members and a soldier dead, with IMN members buried in a mass grave.  On November 7, the Kaduna State High Court denied the bail request for the leader of the IMN Shia group, despite a December 2016 court ruling that the government should release him by January 2017.  Authorities arrested a Christian man for inciting violence after attempting to convert a Muslim girl.  A Muslim law graduate was called to the bar wearing her hijab after initially being denied.  The federal government launched military operations in Middle Belt states with the stated aim of stemming resource-driven rural violence, which frequently played out along ethnic and religious lines.  Members of regional minority religious 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 organizations Boko Haram and Islamic State-West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued to attack population centers and religious targets.  On January 3, a Boko Haram suicide bomber attacked a Gambaru mosque, killing 14 and injuring 15.  According to international news, on April 22, two suicide bombers killed three in a Bama, Borno State mosque.  On May 1, twin suicide bombings in Mubi, one in a mosque and another in a market, killed at least 27 and injured more than 60 persons.  According to Christian news outlets, on June 12, Boko Haram burned 22 buildings, including part of a Catechetical Training Center in Kaya, Adamawa State.  On June 16, two Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked the town of Damboa, killing 31 persons returning from Ramadan celebrations on Eid al-Fitr.  On July 23, a Boko Haram suicide bomber killed eight worshippers in a mosque in Mainari.  Boko Haram also conducted limited attacks in Adamawa, while ISIS-WA also attacked targets in Yobe.  Although government intervention reduced the amount of territory these groups controlled, the two insurgencies maintained the ability to stage forces in rural areas and launch attacks against civilian and military targets across the Northeast.

There were incidents of violence reflecting tension between different ethnic groups involving predominantly Muslim Fulani herders and predominantly Christian farmers.  Scholars and other experts assessed that ethnicity, politics, and increasing competition over dwindling land resources were among the drivers of the violence, but religious identity and affiliation were also factors.  In January and May Fulani herdsmen attacked several villages in northern Benue State, resulting in the deaths of more than 200, mostly Christian, Tiv farmers.  During the year, clashes between farmers and herders in Adamawa and Taraba States resulted in more than 250 deaths.  In June Fulani herdsmen attacked several villages in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area (LGA) of Plateau State, killing approximately 200 ethnic Berom farmers.  The following day, Berom youth set up roadblocks and killed dozens of Muslim passersby.  In March the Nigerian Interreligious Council (NIREC), which includes the nation’s most influential religious leaders and addresses interfaith collaboration, met for the first time in five years.  In September religious leaders throughout the country met in Abuja to sign a peace pact and pledged to combat ethnoreligious divisions.

U.S. embassy and visiting U.S. government officials promoted religious freedom and interreligious tolerance in discussions throughout the year with government officials, religious leaders, and civil society organizations.  The Ambassador and other senior embassy 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 U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited Abuja, Kaduna, and Lagos to engage with relevant stakeholders and highlight U.S. government support for interfaith cooperation.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 203.5 million (July 2018 estimate).  A 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life estimated the population to be 49.3 percent Christian and 48.8 percent Muslim, while the remaining 2 percent belong to other or no religions.  Many individuals combine indigenous beliefs and practices with Islam or Christianity.  A 2010 Pew report found 38 percent of the Muslim population self-identified as Sunni and 12 percent 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 groups, including Tijaniyah and Qadiriyyah.  There are also Izala (Salafist) minorities and small numbers of Ahmadi Muslims.  Christian groups include evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Pentecostals, Baptists, Anabaptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Other groups include Jews, Baha’is, and individuals who do not follow any religion.

The Hausa-Fulani and Kanuri ethnic groups are most prevalent in the predominantly Muslim northern states.  Significant numbers of Christians, including some Hausa-Fulani and Kanuri, also reside in the north.  Christians and Muslims reside in approximately equal numbers in the central region and southwestern states, including Lagos, where the Yoruba ethnic group, whose members include both Muslims and Christians, predominates.  In the southeastern states, where the Igbo ethnic group is dominant, Christian groups, including Catholics, Anglicans, and Methodists, constitute the majority.  In the Niger Delta region, where the Ogoni and Ijaw ethnic groups predominate, Christians form a substantial majority, and a very small minority of the population is Muslim.  Evangelical Christian denominations are growing rapidly in the central and southern regions.  Ahmadi Muslims maintain a small presence in several cities, including Lagos and Abuja.

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 on the basis of religion or with names that have a religious connotation.

The constitution provides that, in addition to common law courts, states may establish courts based on sharia or customary (traditional) law.  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”; they do not have the authority to compel participation, whether by non-Muslims or Muslims.  At least one state, Zamfara, requires civil cases in which all litigants are Muslim be heard in sharia courts, with 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” offenses (serious criminal offenses with punishments prescribed in the Quran) that provide for punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by 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 are not required to have any formal training in the sharia penal code.  Sharia experts often advise them.

Kano and Zamfara’s state-sanctioned Hisbah Boards regulate Islamic religious affairs and preaching, distribute licenses to 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 states schools may not require 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 maintained wholly by that community.

Several states have laws requiring licenses for preachers, places of worship, and religious schools of registered religious groups.  A Katsina State 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

As in previous years, international and domestic media reported significant violence against the IMN, the country’s largest Shia organization, by security forces.  According to media, on October 27, members of the armed forces fired on Shia Muslims participating in the Arba’een Symbolic Trek organized by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) on October 27, killing at least three persons.  IMN members marched from Suleja to Abuja for the Arba’een Symbolic Trek, marking the Shia Muslim commemoration of the end of the 40-day period following Ashura.  The army released a statement saying the IMN had set up illegal roadblocks in Abuja, blocking the path of an army convoy transporting missiles.  The army also said it met “resistance” from IMN members who attempted to steal missiles and threw stones and other objects.  The army stated it opened fire in response, killing three civilians, while the IMN said 10 of its members died in the incident.  On October 29, with IMN marchers confirmed by the press to be approaching the city along at least three major feeder thoroughfares, an additional clash occurred at a military checkpoint at the border between Nasarawa State and the Federal Capital Territory near Abuja, in which the army used live rounds to break up the crowd.  Amnesty International Nigeria reported at least 39 deaths and numerous injuries among the marchers.  The government reported it opened an internal investigation of this incident but did not publish its findings, and no military or police were held accountable.  On December 17, the New York Times reported that video footage appeared to show armed forces members beating and shooting unarmed protesters.  The video contained no evidence the soldiers were provoked.

The federal government continued to detain IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky despite a December 2016 court ruling the government should release him.  Hundreds of IMN members regularly protested in Abuja against Zakzaky’s continued detention.  In April the Kaduna State government charged Zakzaky in state court with multiple felonies stemming from the death of the soldier in Zaria.  The charges include culpable homicide, which can carry the death penalty.  At year’s end, the case was pending.

There were no reports of accountability for soldiers implicated in the 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.  In July a Kaduna High Court dismissed charges of aiding and abetting culpable homicide against more than 80 IMN members.  The Kaduna State government appealed the ruling, and at year’s end the case remained pending.  Approximately 100 additional IMN members remained in detention.

According to international media reports, on December 25, unidentified gunmen abducted two Catholic priests from St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Umueze Anam, Anambra State, as they were returning from an official function.  Haruna Mohammed, the state’s Police Public Relations Officer, said police secured their release on December 27.

Both Muslim and Christian groups again said there was a lack of just handling of their mutual disputes and inadequate protection by federal, state, and local authorities, especially in central regions, where there were longstanding, often violent, disputes among ethnic groups.  In disputes between primarily Christian farmers and Muslim herders, herders stated they did not receive justice when their members were killed or their cattle stolen by farming communities, which they said caused them to carry out retaliatory attacks.  Farmers stated security forces did not intervene when herdsmen attacked their villages.

In June the High Court in Yola, Adamawa State sentenced five men to death for killing a Fulani herdsman.  Christian groups, including the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and the Christian Association of Nigeria, criticized the ruling.  They said the sentences highlighted the government’s bias in dealing with communal violence, noting the five men convicted were Christians who killed a Muslim, but there were no similar convictions when Fulani herdsmen killed Christians.

In July the Nigeria Body of Benchers, a body that regulates legal practice in the country, admitted Firdaus Amasa to the Nigerian Bar Association.  Amasa was denied participation in the call to the bar ceremony in December 2017 for refusing to remove her hijab, according to media reports.  After nationwide criticism from Muslim associations, including the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), the body reversed its earlier decision.

According to international media, on November 13, the Lagos State government ordered the tutor-general and permanent secretaries and principals to permit use of the hijab in public schools immediately.  According to the government, since the case of wearing hijabs was still pending in the Supreme Court, schools should revert to the status quo, allowing the use of hijabs with school uniforms.

In February the federal government launched Exercise Ayem Apatuma (Cat Race) to combat armed ethnoreligious conflict in Benue, Taraba, and Kogi States.  In March the federal government sent security forces to halt the increasing rural violence occurring in several Middle Belt states, where several conflicts occurred between Muslim and Christian groups.  In May the military launched Operation Whirl Stroke to increase security in Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, and Zamfara States, where some of the ethnoreligious violence took place.

In July the Plateau Peacebuilding Agency organized a three-day peace and security summit, which included participation from religious leaders, traditional youth leaders, and female leaders, along with state government ministries and heads of the security agencies operating within the state.  The summit’s mission was to address ethnoreligious tensions and conflicts in the state and find a path towards sustainable peace.  In August the Kaduna State Peace Commission inaugurated its committees in all 23 LGAs of the state.  The committees in each LGA were to be comprised of traditional, religious, and youth leaders, who would cooperate on peacebuilding among ethnic and religious groups.

In August the Office of the Vice President (OVP) collaborated with the U.S. Institute for Peace, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) to organize a two-day Justice and Security National Dialogue (JSD).  The event included government, military, paramilitary, traditional, and religious leaders, along with civil society organizations and representatives from farming and herding communities.  The participants agreed to set up state-level JSD models developed during the event to manage ethnoreligious conflicts, as well as criminal activities, which sources stated often exacerbated conflicts.  State-level stakeholders began preparing to set up the models, and as of the end of the year, the state-level police commands had nominated officers to attend training in 2019 that is expected to be designed and conducted by the OVP, NHRC, and IPCR.

A pending bill in Kaduna State that would require all preachers to obtain preaching licenses or risk fines and/or imprisonment for up to two years was deferred indefinitely after widespread opposition from Muslim and Christian religious leaders.

Christian groups reported authorities in some northern states refused to respond to requests for building permits for minority religious communities for construction of new places of worship, expansion and renovation of existing facilities, or reconstruction of buildings that had been demolished.  A Christian religious leader in Kano noted Christians could build churches freely in Sabon Gari, a part of town reserved for Christians, but only very old churches had valid permits; he added new permits had not been granted in decades.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Zamfara noted a case where a Christian businessman sold land and the certificate of occupancy to a Christian church during the year.  The church attempted to register the sale with the state government, but the sale was not approved because, according to the church, the government was concerned it would build a church.  CAN also said Christians in local communities in Zamfara occasionally did not inform the government when building a church because they feared the government would have it demolished.  He noted some Muslim traditional rulers have also had difficulty getting the sales approved when they have sold land to Christian churches.

Muslim students at Rivers State University of Science and Technology continued to complain they were unable to construct a place of worship.  In 2012 the university prevented Muslim students from constructing a mosque, leaving them with no place of worship.  The Muslim students filed a suit against the university, and the court ruled in their favor, but the university had not granted them a license to build the mosque by year’s end.

The Hisbah continued to arrest street beggars and prostitutes, and destroy confiscated bottles of alcohol.  There were no reports of Christians being forced to use sharia courts.  In January the Kano State Hisbah arrested 94 individuals who violated the law banning street begging, and in April the Hisbah received 36 cases of prostitution.  In May Zamfara State signed a bill conferring more powers on the state Hisbah commission to interrogate and arrest individuals and to undertake searches for evidence of anti-sharia activities or substances banned by sharia.  In September the Kano State Hisbah stated it confiscated 12 million bottles of beer within the past seven years, including more than 17,000 confiscated in September.  In April the Jigawa State Hisbah Board announced it had “saved” 4,000 marriages in the past two years by settling marriage disputes.  According to international media, in December Hisbah arrested 11 women for planning a lesbian wedding in Kano.  Director-General Abba Sufi stated “We can’t allow such despicable acts to find roots in our society.  Both Islam and Nigerian laws prohibit same-sex relationships.”

Christian and Muslim groups continued to report that individual administrators of government-run universities and technical schools in several states refused to admit certain individuals or delayed the issuance of their degrees and licenses because of religion or ethnicity.  A Christian pastor in Yobe said while Christians could gain entry into universities dominated by Muslims, they were relegated to the “lower” subjects and found it difficult to study for degrees in more desirable areas such as engineering, medicine, finance, and law.  A Muslim leader in southern Kaduna stated all government positions in the region were reserved for Christians.  He said Hausa and Fulani Muslims earned livelihoods predominantly in the private sector because there was no alternative.  According to Christian and Muslim groups and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, the issue was connected to the country’s indigene-settler conflict, whereby state governments granted benefits, such as access to government services, to ethnic groups considered to be indigenous to a particular state, and distinguished them from ethnic groups considered to be settlers, even if their families had lived in the state for generations.  In certain states, especially in the Middle Belt, the divide between Christian indigenes and Muslim settlers was religious as well as ethnic and economic.

According to international reporting, on May 10, the Southern Kaduna Peace and Reconciliation Committee brought together security agencies in the state including police, army, civil defense, Department of State Security, and civil society, including religious leaders.  In the previous two years, southern Kaduna had experienced large-scale ethnoreligious violence, and the event was organized to foster trust through dialogue between the religious communities and security agencies.  Participants discussed the importance of resolving issues peacefully, how to focus on things the communities have in common instead of what divides them, and how security services could serve as assets in conflict mitigation.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

Although the U.S.-designated terrorist organization Boko Haram split into two factions in 2016, one pledging allegiance to ISIS and calling itself ISIS-WA, headed by Abu Musab al Barnawi, and another headed by Abubakar Shekau and retaining the traditional Boko Haram name, Jama’atu Ahl as-Sunnah li-Da’awati wal-Jihad (JASDJ), most residents and government officials continued to refer to both groups collectively as Boko Haram.

Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacked population centers and religious targets in Borno State.  Boko Haram also conducted limited attacks in Adamawa, while ISIS-WA attacked targets in Yobe.  While Boko Haram no longer controlled as much territory as it once did, the two insurgencies nevertheless maintained the ability to stage forces in rural areas and launch attacks against civilian targets across the Northeast.

Boko Haram continued to employ suicide bombings targeting the local civilian population, including places of worship.  On January 3, a Boko Haram suicide bomber attacked a Gambaru mosque, killing 14 and injuring 15.  According to international news, on April 22, two suicide bombers killed three in a Bama, Borno State mosque.  On May 1, twin suicide bombings in Mubi, one in a mosque and another in a market, killed at least 27 and injured more than 60 persons.  According to Christian news outlets, on June 12, Boko Haram burned 22 buildings, including part of a catechetical training center in Kaya, Adamawa state.  On June 16, two Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked Damboa killing 31 persons returning from Ramadan celebrations on Eid al-Fitr.  On July 23, a Boko Haram suicide bomber killed eight worshippers in a mosque in Mainari.

On September 8, ISIS-WA militants, in what was reported as an effort to spread its religious ideology, launched an attack lasting several hours on Gudumbali town in Guzamala LGA of Borno State, but security forces repelled them.  According to estimates from the NGO Nigeria Watch, which did not appear to differentiate between Boko Haram and ISIS-WA, 1,911 persons, including Boko Haram members, died because of the group’s activities during the year, compared with 1,749 killed in 2017.

Approximately half of the students abducted by Boko Haram from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in 2014 remained in captivity.  In January the army reported the rescue of one girl in Borno State.  On February 19, ISIS-WA abducted 111 girls from the town of Dapchi, Yobe State.  According to press reports, five of the girls died during the abduction, while 105 were released on March 22 for unknown reasons.  Leah Sharibu remained with the insurgents, reportedly because she refused to convert to Islam from Christianity.  All other abductees were Muslims.  The CAN reported more than 900 churches were destroyed by Boko Haram in the Northeast since the insurgency began in 2010.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Numerous fatal clashes occurred throughout the year in the central Middle Belt region between predominantly Christian farmers from various ethnic groups and predominantly Fulani Muslim herders.  Scholars and other experts assessed ethnicity, politics, and increasing competition over dwindling land resources because of population growth, soil degradation, and internal displacement from other forms of violence and criminality occurring in the north were among the drivers of the violence, but religious identity and affiliation were also factors.  According to international news reports, on April 24, Fulani herdsmen killed 17 worshippers and two priests during a Mass in Mbalom, Benue State.  The reports also stated local youth engaged in reprisal attacks and killed nine persons in Muslim Hausa settlements and raided two mosques.  According to international media, on May 28, herdsmen beat two priests and shot another in the leg in Jalingo, Taraba State.

In January and May Fulani herdsmen attacked several villages in Guma, Logo, Gwer East, and Gwer West LGAs in Benue State, killing more than 200 ethnic Tiv Christians.  The Benue government said the attackers were headquartered in neighboring Nasarawa State, where most Fulani herdsmen fled after Benue State began enforcing the ban on open grazing in November 2017.  The Nasarawa government rejected the claim, stating the situation was caused by the implementation of Benue’s anti-grazing law and that Nasarawa was hosting more than 7,000 IDPs from Benue State.

From the beginning of the year, clashes between Fulani herdsmen and ethnic, primarily Christian, Bachama, Nyandan, and Mumuye farmers in Adamawa and Taraba States resulted in more than 250 deaths.  The conflict began after a Bachama farmer was found dead on his farm in Numan LGA, Adamawa State in November 2017, and followed by a reprisal attack on a Fulani settlement, killing more than 50 persons.  That attack was followed by a series of reprisals by the Bachama in Numan and the Fulanis who fled to neighboring Demsa LGA, and then into Lau LGA of Taraba State.  Cross-border attacks continued throughout the year, including a September 15 attack by Fulani herdsmen on villages in Numan LGA, resulting in more than 50 deaths.

On June 23, Fulani herdsmen attacked several villages in Barkin Ladi LGA, Plateau State, killing approximately 200 Berom Christians.  According to international news reports, the following day Berom youth in Barkin Ladi, Riyom, and Jos South set up roadblocks and killed dozens of travelers who appeared to be Muslim.  The state government imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the three affected LGAs.  The impetus for the initial attack was reported to have been a series of incidents between the Fulani and Berom communities that resulted in the deaths of some members on both sides and the theft of some cattle.  In the midst of the June 23 attacks in Barkin Ladi, Imam Abdullahi Abubakar sheltered his Christian neighbors in his home and in the mosque while confronting the attackers, and he refused to allow them entry.

On October 18, ethnoreligious riots broke out in the town Kasuwan Magani in Kajuru LGA, Kaduna State, resulting in 55 deaths and 22 arrests.  The state government imposed a 24-hour curfew on the town, which it lifted on December 21.  On October 24, Kaduna State representatives from CAN and Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), the Islamic umbrella organization, held a joint press conference in Kasuwan Magani to condemn the violence, call for peace and calm, and urge the government to investigate the incident.  On October 30, the Secretary General of the JNI, Dr. Khalid Aliyu, the Kaduna State Chairman of CAN, Bishop George Dodo, and the Emir of Zazzau, Chairman of the Kaduna State traditional council, Dr. Shehu Idris, held a press conference and said the authorities must investigate pastors and imams who preach hate and division.

In August authorities in Yobe State arrested a Hausa Christian convert after he proselytized to, and converted, a 19-year old Muslim woman.  According to a Christian pastor with knowledge of the situation, the woman converted back to Islam after pressure from her mother and the community, and she and her mother brought a case against the Christian man.  He was charged in customary court with unlawful trespassing and instigating violence.  Initially, the police refused to release him on bail, reportedly because of fear the youth in the community would harm him; however, he was released in September and awaited trial at year’s end.

In October local Muslim youth in Bungudu LGA beat and hospitalized a Hausa Christian convert.  The Hausa man converted from Islam to Christianity in 2017 and was sent to Jos after threats against him.  He was attacked after returning home for a visit in October 2018.  The CAN worked with Muslim traditional and religious leaders to calm the situation and clarify that all Nigerians are free to choose their religion.

On March 22, the NIREC, the highest interreligious body in the country, met for the first time in five years.  The Sultan of Sokoto and president of CAN cochaired the NIREC; council members included 50 of the highest-ranking Muslim and 25 Christian religious leaders in the country.  Christian and Muslim religious leaders discussed the necessity of a functioning NIREC in fostering peaceful coexistence in the country, and stressed they must continue to engage in dialogue no matter how difficult their problems became.  NIREC met again on November 21 to plan engagement regarding the February 2019 national elections.

On November 24, NIREC Youth organized a summit bringing together 250 Muslim and Christian youth leaders in Abuja for training on peace messaging and encouraged youth leaders not to allow religious or community leaders to encourage them to resort to violence, especially in areas where parties may be associated with a particular religion, during the upcoming national elections.  The event also included 50 NIREC religious leaders and presentations by the sultan and CAN president.

On September 18, the Nigerian Interfaith Action Association organized a national peace summit, at which Christian and Muslim religious leaders signed a peace pact.  CAN President Samson Ayokunle, represented by Prelate of the Methodist Church Reverend Samuel Uche, and Sultan of Sokoto Sa’ad Abubakar III, represented by Emir of Keffi Dr. Shehu Chindo-Yamusa, were signatories.  The religious leaders pledged not to use religion to promote conflict and violence, to denounce hate speech and violence, and to promote peace and understanding throughout their communities.

On November 19, University of Ibadan International School shut down as members of the Muslim Parents Forum protested a restriction prohibiting their daughters from wearing the hijab in the school.  On November 21, Concerned Parents of Students of the International School, University of Ibadan, held a counterprotest and argued the Muslim Parents Forum was fostering disunity and religious strife.  After a week of closure, the school’s board announced it would resume classes on November 26, and the students must comply with the status quo dress code (no hijab), adding parents must go through the proper process to change the dress code.

On May 22, Catholic bishops led nationwide protests over the April attacks in Benue and the government’s inability to hold accountable those responsible for farmer-herder violence.  The protests took place the same day the two priests and 17 worshippers were buried.

In May the Church of the Brethren hosted an Interfaith Peace Conference in Yola, Adamawa State, to discuss peaceful messaging at religious services, elections, and countering violent extremism.

On January 19, Muslim and Christian women under the auspices of the Interfaith Council of Women Associations met in southern Kaduna to observe a day of prayer for an end to the violence affecting their communities.

On November 13, Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II called on the government to enact legislation to regulate preaching in the country.  He made the call during a three-day conference on the Boko Haram insurgency organized by the Center for Islamic Civilization and Interfaith Dialogue at Bayero University in Kano.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials and visiting U.S. government officials promoted religious freedom and interreligious tolerance in discussions throughout the year with government officials, including the vice president, secretary to the government of the federation, governors, and national assembly members.  The Ambassador and other senior embassy officials hosted interfaith dinners, participated in interfaith conferences, and conducted press interviews to promote interfaith dialogue.  The embassy sponsored training sessions for journalists that emphasized ways to report on ethnoreligious conflicts without further inflaming the situations.

In March the Ambassador participated in the reconvening of NIREC.  In his remarks, he highlighted the significance of the leaders coming together at a time when rural violence appeared to be dividing the nation along ethnic and religious lines.  The Ambassador also hosted a number of interfaith dinners bringing together Muslim and Christian religious leaders, NGOs, and journalists to encourage interfaith dialogue.

The Ambassador and other senior embassy officials participated in multiple interfaith conferences and summits throughout the year encouraging religious, traditional, government, and community leaders to continue to dialogue and work towards sustainable peace.  They also spread this messaging in media interviews during multiple trips to states affected by ethnoreligious conflict, including Kaduna, Plateau, Benue, Taraba, and Adamawa States.

In July and August a senior embassy official made three visits to Jos after deadly ethnoreligious attacks claimed the lives of more than 200 persons.  During the trips, he visited two of the affected villages and participated in a state-level interfaith summit that included Muslim and Christian religious leaders, traditional leaders, NGOs, and security and government personnel.  He also conducted media interviews expressing condolences to the victims and stressing the importance of dialogue in resolving conflict.

The embassy hosted a number of training sessions in Abuja and Jos for journalists who report on ethnoreligious conflicts to increase professionalism and reduce bias in reporting on sensitive matters.  The embassy also funded peacebuilding programs in conflict-prone states, such as Kaduna, Plateau, and Nasarawa.  The programs were designed to train farming and herding communities, including traditional, youth, religious, and female leaders, to build mechanisms to resolve tensions before they became violent conflicts.

In June the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited Abuja, Kaduna, and Lagos, engaging with government and religious leaders as well as NGOs to highlight U.S. support for interfaith cooperation in the country and to encourage greater efforts to combat ethnoreligious violence.  The Ambassador at Large met with the deputy governor of Kaduna State, the vice president, the governors of Benue and Taraba States, the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, and the head imam of the National Mosque.

The U.S. Consul General in Lagos continued to discuss religious tolerance and interfaith relationship building with a wide range of religious leaders.

Senegal

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the free practice of religious beliefs and self-governance by religious groups without government interference.  By law, all faith-based organizations must register with the government to acquire legal status as an association.  The government restarted a lapsed campaign to combat forced child begging, which often takes place at some Islamic religious schools.  The government also continued its programs to assist religious groups to maintain places of worship, to fund and facilitate participation in the Hajj and Roman Catholic pilgrimages, to permit four hours of voluntary religious education at public and private schools, and to fund schools operated by religious groups.  The government continued to monitor religious groups to ensure they operated according to the terms of their registration.

Local and international NGOs continued their efforts to focus attention on the abuse of children, including forced child begging, at some traditional Islamic religious schools (known locally as daaras); the organizations continued to urge the government to address the problem through more effective regulation and prosecution of offending teachers.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officers met regularly with senior government officials to discuss conditions faced by students at daaras as well as the government’s efforts to combat forced child begging.  The Ambassador and embassy officers also discussed these issues with religious leaders and civil society representatives in Dakar and across the country.  In meetings with civil society and religious leaders, including leaders of the main Islamic brotherhoods, embassy officers continued to emphasize the importance of maintaining religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 15 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to government statistics from the 2014 census, 96.1 percent of the population is Muslim.  Most Muslims are Sunni and belong to one of several Sufi brotherhoods, each of which incorporates unique practices.  There are approximately 5,000 Shia Muslims, according to an unofficial 2011 estimate.  Approximately 3.8 percent of the population is Christian.  Christian groups include Roman Catholics, Protestants, and groups combining Christian and indigenous beliefs.  The remaining 0.1 percent exclusively adheres to indigenous religions or professes no religion.

The Christian minority is located in towns in the west and south.  Members of indigenous religious groups live mainly in the east and south.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for the free practice of religious beliefs, provided public order is maintained, as well as self-governance by religious groups free from state interference.  The constitution prohibits political parties from identifying with a specific religion.  It states religious discrimination is punishable by law.

Muslims may choose either the civil family code or sharia to adjudicate family conflicts, such as marriage and inheritance disputes.  Civil court judges preside over civil and customary law cases, but religious leaders informally settle many disputes among Muslims, particularly in rural areas.

By law, all faith-based organizations, including religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) representing religious groups, must register with the Ministry of Interior to acquire legal status as an association.  To register, organizations must provide documentation showing they have been in existence for at least two years as an association.  Organizations must also provide a mission statement; bylaws; a list of goals, objectives, activities, or projects implemented; and proof of previous and future funding.  They must also pass a background check.  Registration enables a group to conduct business, own property, establish a bank account, receive financial contributions from private sources, and receive applicable tax exemptions.  There is no formal penalty for failure to register other than ineligibility to receive these benefits.  Registered religious groups and nonprofit organizations are exempt from many forms of taxation.

The law requires associations, including religious groups and NGOs affiliated with them, to obtain authorization from the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender in order to operate.  This second registration requirement allows the government to monitor organizations operating in the field of social development and identify any interventions these organizations implement.  Foreign NGOs must obtain authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

By law, religious education may be offered in public and private schools, and parents have the option to enroll their children in the program.  The government permits up to four hours of voluntary religious education per week in public and private elementary schools.  The government allows parents to choose either a Christian or an Islamic curriculum.  Parents have the opportunity to allow their children to opt out of the curriculum.

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

Government Practices

In March the government restarted a 2016 campaign to implement a 2005 law forbidding forced child begging, an abuse encountered at some Quranic schools or daaras.  The government worked closely with Muslim religious leaders to gain support for the campaign and for other initiatives, such as a draft law regulating traditional Islamic schools.

The government continued to provide direct financial and material assistance to religious groups, for use primarily in maintaining or rehabilitating places of worship or for underwriting special events.  There continued to be no formal procedure for applying for assistance.  All religious groups continued to have access to these funds and competed on an ad hoc basis to obtain them.  President Macky Sall occasionally visited and supported beneficiaries of these funds.  For example, every year members of the Mouride religious brotherhood travel to the seat of the brotherhood in Touba for the annual Magal pilgrimage.  Under President Sall, the government constructed a new highway to connect Touba with the city of Thies to the west in order to ease travel for the pilgrimage.  Although the highway was not complete in time for the Magal pilgrimage in October, the president opened up the nearly complete highway, free of charge, for all Magal pilgrims.  The highway was subsequently completed and inaugurated by President Sall on December 20.

The government continued to assist Muslim participation in the Hajj and again provided imams with hundreds of free airplane tickets for the pilgrimage for distribution among citizens.  In addition, the government organized Hajj trips for approximately 2,000 additional individuals.  The government also continued to provide assistance for an annual Roman Catholic pilgrimage to the Vatican, the Palestinian territories, and Israel.  The Catholic Church reported the government provided 380 million CFA francs ($668,000) for travel to the Vatican, compared with 370 million CFA francs ($651,000) in 2017.

The Ministry of Education continued to provide partial funding to schools operated by religious groups that met national education standards.  It provided the largest share of this funding to established Christian schools, which in general maintained strong academic reputations.  The majority of students attending Christian schools continued to be Muslim.  The Ministry of Education reported approximately 50 percent of primary school students again participated in religious education through the public elementary school system during the year.  The government also continued to fund a number of Islamic schools, which enrolled approximately 60,000 students.

The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender continued to monitor domestic associations, including religious groups and NGOs affiliated with them, to ensure they operated according to the terms of their registration.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to do the same with foreign-based NGOs, including those affiliated with religious groups.  Each association submitted an annual report, including a financial report, which the ministries used in their effort to track potential funding of terrorist groups.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Local and international NGOs continued to highlight abuses of students at some daaras, where young children sometimes resided.  Some daaras reportedly continued to force children to beg.  Local media and NGOs continued to document cases of physical and sexual abuse of daara students by certain marabouts, or Quranic schoolteachers.  Human Rights Watch reported tens of thousands of children suffered from abuse in 2017.  Civil society and children’s rights advocates reprised their appeals to the government to implement more effective regulation of daaras and to prosecute Quranic teachers who committed serious violations against children.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to meet with federal and local government officials in Dakar and with local authorities in Saint Louis to discuss conditions faced by daara students as well as the government’s efforts to combat forced child begging.  The Ambassador and embassy officers also met with civil society representatives and religious leaders in the central regions of Thies, Diourbel, Louga, and Fatick to discuss these issues.  As part of their continuing engagement with religious figures, including leadership of the main Islamic brotherhoods, as well as with civil society, embassy officers emphasized the importance of maintaining religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue.  In particular, the Ambassador discussed efforts to combat forced child begging and emphasized religious tolerance with the heads of the country’s two largest Islamic brotherhoods, the Mouride Brotherhood (based in the city of Touba) and the Tidiane Brotherhood (based in the city of Tivaouane).

During Ramadan, the embassy hosted a series of iftars in Dakar and Fatick, geared to different audiences, which focused on diversity as well as religious tolerance and inclusion.  Attendees at the different events included local government officials, youth leaders, religious leaders, NGO representatives, and other members of civil society.

South Africa

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.  The government does not require religious groups to register; however, registered groups receive tax-exempt status.  In September Rastafarians welcomed a Constitutional Court ruling that declared unconstitutional a ban on marijuana cultivation and personal consumption by adults in private homes.  Throughout the year, religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to express concerns that two separate draft laws, one requiring religious groups to register with the government and the other criminalizing, defining, and punishing hate crimes and speech, could potentially infringe on religious freedom and freedom of speech.

On May 10, three men attacked the Imam Hussain Mosque, a Shia mosque, located in Durban, in what many stated they believed was a sectarian attack.  The assailants stabbed two worshippers, cut the throat of another, and set parts of the mosque on fire, leaving one dead.  In July police discovered five explosive devices around Durban.  Police affidavits stated the 11 men arrested in connection with the devices and the mosque attack had links to ISIS.  The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) recorded 62 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, compared with 44 in 2017.  Numerous individuals made anti-Semitic comments throughout the year.

The U.S. consulates in Durban and Cape Town coordinated with several U.S. government agencies to offer workshops on social cohesion and peaceful religious coexistence to local audiences including government officials, law enforcement, NGOs, civil society organizations, religious leaders, academics, and representatives of refugee and immigrant communities.  U.S. government officials met with religious groups and NGOs, including Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and Jewish representatives, to gauge and discuss issues of religious freedom, including cases of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, and a proposed draft bill that would require religious institutions to register with the government in order to operate.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 55.4 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to a 2010 Pew Research Center report, 81 percent of the population is Christian.  Approximately 15 percent of the population adheres to no particular religion or declined to indicate an affiliation; some of these individuals likely adhere to indigenous beliefs.  Muslims constitute 1.7 percent of the population, of whom the great majority are Sunni.  Shia religious leaders estimate that not more than 3 percent of the Muslim population is Shia.  Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, and adherents of traditional indigenous beliefs together constitute less than 4 percent of the population.  Many indigenous persons adhere to a belief system combining Christian and indigenous religious practices.  The Church of Scientology estimates it has approximately 100,000 members.

The Pew Research Center estimates 84 percent of the Christian population is Protestant, 11 percent Roman Catholic, and 5 percent other denominations (2010 estimate).  African independent churches constitute the largest group of Christian churches, including the Zion Christian Church (approximately 11 percent of the population), the Apostolic Church (approximately 10 percent), and a number of Pentecostal and charismatic groups.  Other Christian groups include Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, and members of the Greek Orthodox, Dutch Reformed, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Assemblies of God, and Congregational churches.

Persons of Indian or other Asian heritage account for 2.5 percent of the total population.  Approximately half of the ethnic Indian population is Hindu, and the majority resides in KwaZulu-Natal Province.  The Muslim community includes Cape Malays of Malayan-Indonesian descent, individuals of Indian or Pakistani descent, and approximately 70,000 Somali nationals and refugees.  The SAJBD estimates the Jewish community at 75,000 to 80,000 persons, the majority of whom live in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief, including the right to form, join, and maintain religious associations.  It prohibits religious discrimination and specifies freedom of expression does not extend to advocacy of hatred based on religion.  The constitution permits legislation recognizing systems of personal and family law to which persons professing a particular religion adhere.  It also allows religious observances in state or state-supported institutions, provided they are voluntary and conducted on an equitable basis.  These rights may be limited for reasons that are “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom” and takes account of “all relevant factors.”  Cases of discrimination against persons on the grounds of religion may be taken to Equality Courts, the South African Human Rights Commission, and the Constitutional Court.  The constitution also provides for the promotion and respect of languages used for religious purposes, including, but not limited to, Arabic, Hebrew, and Sanskrit.

The constitution allows for the presence and operation of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities (CRL) with the mission of fostering the rights of communities to freely observe and practice their cultures, religions, and language.  The CRL is an independent national government institution whose chair is appointed by the president and whose commissioners include members of the clergy, scholars, and politicians, among others.

The law does not require religious groups to register; however, registered religious and other nonprofit groups may qualify as public benefit organizations, allowing them to open bank accounts and exempting them from paying income tax.  To register as a public benefit organization, groups must submit a nonprofit organization application, including their constitution, contact information, and list of officers and documentation stating they meet a number of prescribed requirements that largely ensure accounting and tax compliance, to the provincial social development office.  A group registers once with the local office but their status then applies nationwide.  Once registered, the group must submit annual reports on any changes to this information, important achievements and meetings, and financial information, as well as an accountant’s report.

The government allows but does not require religious education in public schools but prohibits advocating the tenets of a particular religion.

The law allows for marriages to be conducted under customary law; however, it applies only to “those customs and usages traditionally observed among the indigenous African people” and may be performed by all religious groups and their leaders.

The constitution grants detained persons visitation rights with their chosen religious counselor.

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

Government Practices

In September the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court, declared unconstitutional a ban on marijuana cultivation and personal consumption by adults in private homes.  The court upheld a lower court ruling from 2017.  Since 2002, the Rastafarians had called for the drug, colloquially known as dagga, to be declared lawful on religious grounds.  Jeremy Acton, the head of the Dagga Party of South Africa, brought the court case.

Several groups, including the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the nonprofit Christian organization Freedom of Religion South Africa (FORSA), and the International Institute for Religious Freedom, stated their continued opposition to a 2016 CRL legislative proposal requiring religious groups to register, stating it would restrict their religious freedom.  The proposal would require religious groups to register formally with the government and would create a peer review council, consisting of representatives from various religious groups, which would grant organizations and individual religious leaders’ permission to operate.  Accredited umbrella organizations for each religious group would recommend the licensing of institutions and individual members of the clergy.  Another recognized umbrella organization would then either approve or decline licensing the institutions.  The groups in opposition stated the proposal’s intent to regulate all religious organizations was unconstitutional and unnecessary because existing laws could be used to address governmental concerns of improper religious activities, such as feeding congregant’s snakes and dangerous substances.  In January the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs announced that every comment it had received from the religious community opposed the CRL proposal.  The committee recommended a national consultative conference, where a full discussion could take place on the issues in the CRL proposal.  The committee also suggested a code of ethics.  No member of the committee recommended that the CRL proposal be forwarded for adoption by parliament.

According to the media, the legislative proposal was prompted by the CRL’s 2016 investigation that revealed some independent church leaders instructed their congregations to eat live snakes, expose their faces to insect repellant, drink gasoline, and pay large sums of money to receive blessings and miracles.  The CRL also found that some religious organizations failed to adhere to tax rules and demonstrated a lack of financial transparency.  Opponents of the proposal stated the CRL based its investigation and subsequent report that justified the recommendation for legislation on generalizations about alleged abuses.  Opponents further stated that the supporting evidence upon which the CRL based its investigation consisted of an inadequate number of interviews with religious groups.  The Council for the Protection and Promotion of Religious Rights and Freedoms – established to oversee the process drawn up by religious and civil organizations that define religious freedoms, rights, and responsibilities of citizens – described the report’s proposals as “the fruit of a poisonous tree.”  The proposal remained with the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs at year’s end.

In May the Department of Justice introduced to parliament a hate crimes and hate speech bill that would criminalize any action or statement motivated by bias or hatred towards an individual based upon a number of categories, including his or her ethnic, national, religious, or sexual identity; health status; employment status or type; or physical ability.  The bill would provide law enforcement officials and courts increased authority to arrest, punish offenders, and would mandate prison sentences of up to three years for first-time offenses.  The Department of Justice invited public commentary on the draft bill in 2017 and received more than 77,000 responses from individuals, religious groups, and other organizations.  Opponents to the bill, including religious figures, media representatives, and civil society and NGOs, argued the bill’s definition of hate crimes and speech was too vague and could potentially restrict freedom of religion and speech.  FORSA expressed concern that the bill’s provisions were “over-broad and unconstitutional” and could punish churches and Christians who spoke out against homosexuality; sexual identity is among the categories covered in the legislation.  The Hate Crimes Working Group, a network of civil society groups, stated that existing laws adequately addressed hate speech and the bill, if passed, could have unintended consequences.  The draft legislation was expected to be debated in parliament in early 2019, according to media reports.

Twin brothers Brandon Lee Thulsie and Tony Lee Thulsie continued to await trial on charges of contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terror and Related Activities.  The brothers, along with two others who were alleged to have links to ISIS, were arrested in 2016 for allegedly planning to set off explosives at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria and Jewish institutions in the country.  The case continued at year’s end.

In August the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town ordered the state to pass legislation that recognizes Islamic marriages.  The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) successfully argued that the failure of legislation to recognize Islamic marriages degraded Muslim women’s rights.  The Association of Muslim Women of South Africa and the United Ulama Council of South Africa opposed the WLC case, stating it violated freedom of religion by singling out Islam.  The court found that marriage was given “a seal of constitutional significance” and that the only reasonable way the state could fulfill its constitutional obligations would be by enacting legislation that recognized Islamic marriages.  The court gave the government 24 months to pass the legislation; otherwise, all marriages validly concluded under sharia would be dissolved according to the existing legislation.

In September several Muslim pupils at Jeppe Girls School in Johannesburg were charged with “misconduct for repeated dress code infringements” for wearing hijabs without formally asking permission.  The Gauteng Education Department launched an investigation into the matter.  School officials agreed in principle to amend the school’s code of conduct to allow for religious headwear.  The girls’ families retained counsel, who said that if the school attempted to hold a planned hearing on the “defiance and disregard” the school officials said the pupils had shown, they would sue for religious discrimination.

Some prominent individuals and politicians were quoted throughout the year making anti-Semitic statements.  Economic Freedom Fighters political party leader Julius Malema stated at a media briefing in August, “There’s a group of white right wingers who are being trained by Jews in Pretoria to be snipers.”

In February African National Congress Western Cape legislator Sharon Davids accused the Democratic Alliance party of fabricating the Cape Town water crisis in order to obtain desalination contract kickbacks from what she referred to as the “Jewish mafia.”

In February the Democratic Alliance party instructed deputy provincial chair nominee and Women’s Network provincial leader Shehana Kajee to apologize for a 2013 online post in which she called for the Muslim community to “go on the attack” against non-Muslims in the name of Islam.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On May 10, assailants attacked the Shia Imam Hussain Mosque in Verulam, north of Durban, in what many stated they believed was a sectarian attack.  The assailants entered the mosque during midday prayers, stabbed the imam and a worshipper, cut the throat of a man who attempted to help the two being attacked, and set a section of the mosque on fire.  The victim whose throat was cut later died of his injuries.  According to police, the motives behind the targeting of the mosque remained unknown.  Representatives of the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Muslim community pointed to growing anti-Shia rhetoric – from some of KZN’s Muslim leaders, local analysts, and community members – as fomenting hate and divisions between majority Sunni and minority Shia Muslims.  In July police discovered five explosive devices around Durban.  Police affidavits stated the 11 men arrested for the mosque attack and the explosive devices were linked to ISIS.  The investigation remained ongoing at year’s end.

In June a man killed two worshippers and wounded two others during prayers at the Sunni Malmesbury Mosque near Cape Town.  Police responding to the incident killed the attacker, who was described by authorities as a Somali national.  The motivation for the attack remained unclear, according to a local news channel.

In a Friday sermon in March at the Masjid Al Furqaan in Cape Town, Sheikh Riyaad Fataar, Deputy President of the Muslim Judicial Council, said the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was “slipping from the hands of the Islamic nation…because the plans of the Jews are moving [ahead]…There is a new page coming that is going to exclude the Zionists from that page.”  The SAJBD stated anti-Semitism increased after South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel in May following the deaths along the Gaza border of 52 Palestinians in clashes with Israeli security forces.

In June the SAJBD filed a criminal complaint against three individuals it accused of using anti-Semitic and threatening hate speech.  Muhammad Hattia, Tameez Seedat, and Matome Letsoalo made disparaging remarks on social media, including “The #Holocaust Will be like A Picnic When we are done with all you Zionist Bastards” (Letsoalo), and “Hitler [expletive] he should’ve killed you all” (Hattia).  The SAJBD withdrew the charges against Hattia and Seedat after they met with SAJBD and said they showed “remorse” and “anguish.”  Letsoalo did not apologize but instead created additional Twitter accounts.

In June a man arriving at Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg shouted at fellow passengers on a flight from Tel Aviv, “Jews are wicked.”  The man said he had been denied entry into Israel and returned to South Africa.  The incident was filmed in the baggage claim area by a passenger who had just arrived in Johannesburg on the flight.

In August the South African Human Rights Commission ruled that Tony Ehrenreich, former Western Cape Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, was guilty of hate speech for a Facebook post in which he said, “If a woman or child is killed in Gaza, then the Jewish board of deputies, who are complicit, will feel the wrath of the people of South Africa with the age old biblical teaching of an eye for an eye.”

In November pro-Palestinian groups and supporters of the academic and cultural boycott of Israel called for the withdrawal of seven professors from Israeli universities from participation in a December conference at the University of Stellenbosch titled “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation:  The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma.”  The conference chair, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, issued a statement defending the participation of the Israeli scholars, but she later posted a letter to delegates on the conference website stating the scholars had “rescinded their participation” after discussion.  The media and others, however, stated conference organizers had withdrawn their invitations.

The SAJBD recorded 62 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, compared with 44 during 2017.  The incidents included verbal threats and intimidation, verbal abuse, abusive communications, and graffiti/offensive slogans.

In June in Cape Town, several Islamic leaders, both Sunni and Shia representatives, signed the “Cape Accord,” a document meant to encourage peace and unity and to eradicate extremism in the country.  The document also emphasized a tolerance of differences among Muslims and a call not to escalate intrafaith hostilities.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In September the U.S. Consulates in Durban and Cape Town coordinated with several U.S. government agencies to offer workshops on social cohesion and peaceful religious coexistence to local audiences including government officials, law enforcement, NGOs, civil society organizations, religious leaders, academics, and representatives of refugee and immigrant communities.

U.S. embassy representatives engaged with religious leaders and NGOs, including individuals from the Muslim Judicial Council, Islamic Council of South Africa, the Inner Circle (a Muslim lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex organization), Hindu Maha Sabha, the Christian Coalition, Christian Social Services, and the SAJBD to discuss the environment for religious freedom and concern over cases of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.  They also discussed a proposed draft bill that would require religious institutions to register with the government in order to operate.

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