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Burkina Faso

Executive Summary

The constitution states the country is a secular state, and both it and other laws provide for the right of individuals to choose and change their religion and to practice the religion of their choice. Religious-based attacks, targeted killings, and kidnappings continued in the Sahel Region and spread to the Center North and Center East Regions. The U.S. Institute of Peace reported in May that the country was experiencing “the (greater) Sahel’s most severe spike in violence” and the government was limited in its capacity to respond by deploying security forces particularly near the northern border with Mali. The government stated it believed individuals associated with terrorist organizations carried out all the religiously-based attacks during the year. According to President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, terrorists appear to have shifted their tactics from stoking conflict between farmers and herders to inducing a similar divide between Muslims and Christians. In response to dozens of terrorist attacks on religious targets throughout the year, the government repeatedly condemned the violence and called for religious tolerance and peace. In June Prime Minister Christophe Dabire joined the Catholic Archbishop of Ouagadougou during Eid al-Fitr prayers led by the Grand Imam of Ouagadougou and called on the population to cultivate religious tolerance.

Domestic and transnational terrorist groups operated throughout the year, which as of September, was described by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) as “on track to be the most violent and deadliest year on record.” These organizations continued and intensified their campaign of violence throughout the year against state entities and civilians and carried out targeted killings of at least 38 persons based on their religious identity, according to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Attackers continued to kill imams, other clergy, and worshippers while attacking and destroy mosques and churches. Reports stated that they also forced communities in the northern part of the country to dress in specific Islamic religious garb. Terrorists continued attacking schools and killing teachers for teaching a secular curriculum, and for teaching in French rather than Arabic, according to media reports. As of August, terrorist violence forced 2,024 schools to close, depriving more than 330,000 children of education, according to UNICEF. Expanding their targeted killings, terrorist groups increasingly attacked Christian religious leaders and worshippers and destroyed churches. Two Catholic parishes in the northern Sahel Region closed due to insecurity.

Human rights organizations and religious groups expressed concern that the increase in religiously targeted violence threatened the “traditional peaceful coexistence” of religious groups in the country. Academic and other observers stated that the “stigmatization” of the mostly Muslim ethnic Fulani community because of their perceived sympathy for Islamists aggravated existing societal tensions and posed a threat to stability. Throughout the year, high ranking Muslim and Catholic leaders repeatedly called for an end to violence and urged interfaith tolerance. Members of the Burkinabe Muslim Community Organization, the Catholic Archdiocese of Ouagadougou, and the Federation of Evangelical Churches stated that despite the increase in religiously motivated attacks, religious tolerance remained widespread, and numerous examples existed of families of mixed faiths and religious leaders attending each other’s holidays and celebrations. In the aftermath of attacks against Christians, Muslim clergy participated in Christian services and offered prayers for the dead.

U.S. embassy officials discussed the increase in religiously motivated attacks, particularly in the Sahel and East Regions, with the government, including the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, the Ministries of Defense and Security, and the Office of the President. In addition, embassy staff met religious leaders at the national and local levels to promote religious freedom, interfaith tolerance, and civil dialogue. Throughout the year, the Ambassador met with imams and Catholic and Protestant leaders to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom and tolerance. The Ambassador hosted an iftar during Ramadan to showcase religious freedom and tolerance. At the iftar, he gave joint remarks with the minister of territorial administration and decentralization and stressed the importance of religious tolerance. During the year, the embassy conducted regular outreach with imams, Catholic priests, and Protestant leaders to understand the current threat to religious freedom and tolerance in the country as a result of the unprecedented violence against both Christian and Muslim worshippers.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 20.3 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2006 census, 61 percent of the population is Muslim, predominantly Sunni, 19 percent is Roman Catholic, 4 percent belong to various Protestant groups, and 15 percent maintain exclusively indigenous beliefs. Less than 1 percent is atheist or belongs to other religious groups. Statistics on religious affiliation are approximate because Muslims and Christians often adhere simultaneously to some aspects of traditional or animist religious beliefs.

Muslims reside largely in the northern, eastern, and western border regions, while Christians are concentrated in the center of the country. Traditional and animist religious beliefs are practiced throughout the country, especially in rural communities. The capital has a mixed Muslim and Christian population.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states the country is secular, and both the constitution and other laws provide for the right of individuals to choose and change their religion and to practice the religion of their choice. The constitution states freedom of belief is subject to respect for law, public order, good morals, and “the human person.” Political parties based on religion, ethnicity, or regional affiliation are forbidden.

The law allows all organizations, religious or otherwise, to register with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, which oversees religious affairs. The ministry, through the Directorate for Customary Affairs and Worship, monitors the implementation of standards for burial, exhumation, and transfer of remains; helps organize religious pilgrimages; promotes and fosters interreligious dialogue and peace; and develops and implements measures for the erection of places of worship and the registration of religious organizations and religious congregations. Registration confers legal status, and the process usually takes approximately three to four weeks and costs less than 50,000 CFA francs ($86). Religious organizations are not required to register unless they seek legal recognition by the government, but after they are registered, they must comply with applicable regulations required of all registered organizations or be subject to a fine of 50,000 to 150,000 CFA francs ($86 to $260).

Religious groups operate under the same regulatory framework for publishing and broadcasting as other entities. The Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization may request copies of proposed publications and broadcasts to verify they are in accordance with the nature of the religious group as stated in their registration, and it may conduct permit application reviews.

The government generally does not fund religious schools or require them to pay taxes unless they conduct for-profit activities. The government provides subsidies to a number of Catholic schools as part of an agreement allowing students from public schools to enroll in Catholic schools when public schools are at full capacity. The government taxes religious groups only if they engage in commercial activities, such as farming or dairy production.

Religious education is not allowed in public schools. Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups operate private primary and secondary schools and some schools of higher education. These schools are permitted to provide religious instruction to their students. By law schools (religious or not) must submit the names of their directors to the government and register their schools with the Ministry of National Education and Literacy; however, the government does not appoint or approve these officials. The government reviews the curricula of new religious schools as they open and others periodically to ensure they offer the full standard academic curriculum; however, the majority of Quranic schools are not registered, and thus their curricula not reviewed.

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

Government Practices

The government stated that terrorists attacked religious institutions with the aim of dividing the population. On October 15, President Kabore issued a statement after an October 11 attack on a mosque in the northern part of the country that claimed 16 lives saying, “These attacks aim to weaken our coexistence and social cohesion, bequeathed to us by our ancestors, and which we must preserve at all costs. This is an opportunity for me to urge Burkinabe, of all religious denominations and all social and community origins, to remain united and in solidarity. Religions are vectors of tolerance, and these barbarous and villainous attacks reflect on the nature of the enemy, which we must fight, in an individual and collective commitment of every moment.”

On December 2, after a violent attack on a Protestant church service in the Eastern Region that killed 14 worshippers the previous day, Prime Minister Dabire said that through the prayers and efforts of all faiths, including “Muslims, evangelical churches, Christians, animists, and traditional religions,” the country would “overcome” rising violence.

In multiple public statements, then mayor of Djibo (Soum Province, Sahel Region) Oumarou Dicko, who on November 3 was killed by terrorists, allegedly for political motives, at Namsiguia, in the Center North Region, said that there was no indigenous conflict among religions in countries in the Sahel, and that despite the terrorist group Ansarul Islam claiming its origins in the country, religious freedom and tolerance remained strong in countries throughout the embattled Sahel.

Media reports detailed citizens’ shock at the “brazenness” of attackers and “dismay” at the inability of the country’s armed forces to stop or prevent all terrorist attacks, as attacks continued to escalate against Muslims, Protestants, and Catholics. Comments across news editorials and social media singled out the government’s response to the May 12 attack on a Catholic church in Dablo, a town in the Center North Region, as especially negligent. The attackers reportedly travelled as a group of 40 motorcyclists across the region toward Dablo, a substantial number that observers said should have provided warning to security forces of their threatening presence. During the May 12 attack, the gunmen attacked during Mass, killing a priest and five worshippers. Local citizens widely condemned security forces present in Dablo the day of the attack who “could have fought but waited for reinforcements to arrive from 45 kilometers [28 miles] away.”

The government allocated 75 million CFA francs ($129,000) each to the Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and traditional animistic communities. Sources stated that this funding was meant to demonstrate equitable government support to all religious groups in the country. The government also provided funding to registered Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim (commonly referred to as “Franco-Arabic”) schools through subsidies for teacher salaries, which were typically less than those of public school teachers.

In July the government allocated approximately 1.1 billion CFA francs ($1.89 million) to subsidize the costs of 8,143 Muslims for the Hajj. The government continued to routinely approve applications from religious groups for registration, according to religious group leaders, although the government announced it rejected some on “moral” grounds.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Human rights organizations and religious groups expressed concern that the increase in religiously targeted violence threatened the “traditional peaceful coexistence” of religious groups in the country. Observers reported the stigmatization of the Fulani community, because of their perceived association with militant Islamist groups, aggravated social tensions in some regions and that self-defense militias at times exacted vigilante justice on Fulani communities in northern and central regions of the country because of their alleged connection to “jihadists.”

On May 25, according to local media, villagers adhering to an indigenous religion destroyed and ransacked several Protestant churches in the village of Lena and neighboring Oulana, following a dispute between a traditionalist/animist youth and Protestant youth.

During a year that observers stated was characterized by “unprecedented violence” against religious persons and entities by terrorists and violent extremists, high ranking Muslim and Catholic leaders repeatedly called for nonviolence and urged interfaith tolerance. For example, after terrorists killed six Christians worshipping in Dablo on May 12, Catholic Archbishop of Koupela Seraphin François Rouamba urged the community of Dablo and the nation to forgive the attacks and remain peaceful. “We have been working together for years and years. Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, those of traditional religions, we have always all walked hand in hand. Therefore, we must not allow such tragic acts to separate us,” he stated in an interview with local newspapers. Muslim clergy participated in the funeral services of those Christians killed in Dablo and offered prayers for the dead.

During prayer services in Ouagadougou on Eid al-Fitr on June 4, Vice President of the Muslim Community of Burkina Faso El Hadj Hatimi Deme said, “Muslim affairs need to interest the Christians; Christian affairs need to interest the Muslims.” Prime Minister Dabire, a Christian, and Catholic Archbishop of Ougadougou Cardinal Philippe Ouedraogo also participated in the prayer service and in an iftar, and both called for religious tolerance. Observers stated their participation was a show of solidarity in light of the Muslim casualties of the terrorist violence.

Members of the Burkinabe Muslim Community Organization, the Catholic Archdiocese of Ouagadougou, and the Federation of Evangelical Churches stated that despite the increase in religiously motivated attacks, religious tolerance remained widespread, and numerous examples existed of families of mixed faiths and religious leaders attending each other’s holidays and celebrations. Members of the largest religious communities promoted interfaith dialogue and tolerance through public institutions, such as the National Observatory of Religious Facts, which conducted awareness campaigns and mediation throughout the country. They also worked through nongovernmental organizations such as the Dori-based Fraternal Union of Believers, which encouraged various religious communities, specifically in the Sahel Region, to conduct socioeconomic activities with the goal of fostering religious tolerance. The Catholic Archdiocese of Ouagadougou cited an interfaith Eid al-Adha celebration in August, in which Christian religious leaders participated alongside their Muslim counterparts, in what they stated was an effort to promote religious tolerance in the country.

New Muslim and Protestant congregations opened without approval and oversight from existing Muslim and Protestant federations, continuing a trend from the previous years. Religious leaders stated the Muslim and Protestant federations were often undermined by small new religious groups not falling under their oversight and took positions counter to the federation’s messages of tolerance. They said the lack of oversight made it difficult for the official religious groups to monitor and regulate the activities and messages of these new groups.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials raised the increase in religiously motivated attacks, particularly in the Sahel and East Regions, with the government, including the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, the Ministries of Defense and Security, and the Office of the President. Embassy staff regularly discussed events and policies affecting religious freedom with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, including the equitable registration process for religious groups, the equitable treatment of religious groups by the government, and the status of the relationship between the ministry and different religious groups.

The Ambassador and embassy officials met separately with Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders throughout the country, at local and national levels, to encourage their efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and advocate for religious tolerance and freedom.

In February embassy officials invited religious leaders from the Sahel Region to serve as panelists during a seminar that opened a military exercise between the U.S. and multiple African partner nations. Religious leaders discussed the nexus between terrorist attacks and an erosion of historically longstanding religious freedom and tolerance in the country.

Embassy representatives used social media platforms to reinforce messaging for religious freedom and tolerance. The Ambassador raised the need to counter the threats to the country’s tradition of religious freedom and tolerance as part of his regular messaging during interviews.

The embassy funded literacy programming in Quranic schools in northern Burkina Faso, the curriculum of which focuses on peaceful dialogue, nonviolent conflict resolution, and religious tolerance.

Throughout the year, the Ambassador met with imams, priests, and pastors to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom and tolerance. The Ambassador hosted an iftar during Ramadan, attended by Muslim, Christian, and other religious leaders as well as senior government officials, to encourage religious freedom and tolerance. At the iftar he gave joint remarks with the minister of territorial administration and decentralization and stressed the importance of religious tolerance.

During the year, embassy officers conducted regular outreach with imams, Catholic priests, and Protestant leaders to understand the current threat to religious freedom and tolerance in the wake of the unprecedented violence against both Christian and Muslim worshippers perpetrated by terrorists. On April 1, the Ambassador met with Cheick Abdul Aziz Aguib Sore, a prominent regional religious preacher, leader, and advocate for peace. Their discussion focused on strategies to engage Quranic schools and Muslim leaders in the promotion of religious tolerance. On November 1, the Ambassador and visiting U.S. officials met with the papal nuncio and the bishop of the northern town of Dori to engage on next steps in religious tolerance advocacy in light of increasing terrorist attacks.

Throughout the year, embassy officials organized or supported several activities to respond to the social divisions between religious groups. For example, in the North Region, where violent extremist organizations exacerbated religious tensions to foster conflict, U.S. assistance provided local mayors with in-kind assistance to organize community meals that brought together a cross section of community members from various ethnicities and religions to share a meal and discuss differences in social and religious beliefs in order to reduce divisions and ease tensions.

Cameroon

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes the state as secular, prohibits religious harassment, and provides for freedom of religion and worship. According to media, security officers combating Anglophone separatists in the Northwest and Southwest Regions killed Christians and clergymen and attacked places of worship. In April soldiers shot and killed a Baptist pastor on his way to church in Mfumte Village. In September soldiers shot and killed a woman outside the Roman Catholic church in Bambui. In May security forces set fire to a Protestant church during clashes with separatists in Bamenda, the Northwest Region’s capital. In October security forces arrested a Catholic priest in Bamenda, reportedly because he accused soldiers of human rights abuses during an address to the United Nations, according to one of his colleagues. He was released a day later. Religious media outlets accused the government of arming Muslim herders and encouraging them to attack Christians in the town of Wum, and of exploiting sporadic clashes over land between Mbororo herders and local farmers, attempting to introduce a religious character to the conflict in the Northwest Region between security forces and separatists. In February police briefly detained a pastor of the Cameroon Evangelical Church (CEC) and accused him of inciting rebellion during a sermon. On several occasions, Christians in the Northwest and Southwest Regions said security forces interrupted church services and prevented them from accessing places of worship. During the year, the government appointed a board to manage the CEC’s affairs. The government said it acted to preserve order within the CEC, which was undergoing an internal dispute over the election of Church leaders after the government suspended elected executives. Religious leaders expressed frustration with the government’s failure to register any new religious groups for the ninth consecutive year and said many requests remained pending.

Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued to carry out violent attacks against civilians, government officials, and military forces. Attacks on civilians included suicide bombings, church burnings, killings and kidnappings of Muslims and Christians, and theft and destruction of property, including arson. Insurgents attacked places of worship and private homes. Boko Haram targeted Muslims, Christians, and animists without apparent distinction, while ISIS-WA tended to attack military and other government installations.

Anglophone separatists in the Northwest and Southwest Regions kidnapped clerics, including bishops and priests, and sometimes limited Christians’ ability to attend church services. According to the Catholic Church, Anglophone separatists targeted Catholic clergy for kidnapping due to the Church’s advocacy for school resumption in the Northwest and Southwest Regions and their perception that the Church was able and willing to pay ransoms. Unidentified individuals killed two Bible translators in Wum; the local Christian population said the largely Muslim Mbororo herder community was responsible. In May residents of the largely Muslim neighborhood of Upkwa in Wum stated that Anglophone separatists burned down their mosque, reportedly because of rumors that some Muslims acted as informants to the security forces. Throughout the year, Muslim and Christian leaders initiated interfaith activities aimed at facilitating interreligious dialogue, promoting peaceful coexistence of different faiths, and seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, where Anglophone separatists were seeking secession. In July the Council of Imams and Muslim Dignitaries organized a seminar in Yaounde to sensitize Muslim preachers to religious extremism.

U.S. embassy officials discussed with government officials the failure to register religious organizations, the impact of the violence in the Anglophone regions on religious freedom, and perceptions by Pentecostal churches of government bias in favor of Catholic and Protestant churches. In discussions with leading figures from the main religious groups, embassy officers stressed the importance of interfaith dialogue, prevention of violent extremism related to religion, and the need for a peaceful solution to the Anglophone separatist crisis. The embassy hosted two roundtables – in Yaounde and Douala, respectively – on religious freedom, during which participants discussed religious freedom as an important component of human rights, the process for registering religious organizations, and key challenges and opportunities facing religious freedom in the country.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 26.3 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2005 census, the most recent available, 69.2 percent of the population is Christian, 20.9 percent is Muslim, 5.6 percent is animist, 1.0 percent belongs to other religions, and 3.2 percent reports no religious affiliation. Of Christians, 55.5 percent are Catholic, 38 percent are Protestant, and 6.5 percent are 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 Christians, the Pew Survey 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.

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 registration, the government may suspend the activities of unregistered 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 a registered 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 registration 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).

MINAT reviews the file and sends it to the presidency with a recommendation to approve or deny. Registration is granted by presidential decree. Official registration 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. Unregistered religious groups may gather publicly and worship under a policy of “administrative tolerance” as long as public security and peace are not disturbed.

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

According to multiple media reports, on April 7, government soldiers shot and killed Pastor Elijah Keloh of Berean Baptist Church in Mfumte Village, Northwest Region. The executive director of the Cameroon Association for Bible Translation and Literacy told media that soldiers entered Mfumte on the morning of April 7 and shot Keloh when he left his home for church. The executive director said the soldiers killed several other persons, looted homes, and burned down numerous houses during the attack, which took place in an area of frequent conflict between government forces and Anglophone secessionists. According to media reports, most inhabitants of Mfumte Village fled into the forest after the invasion.

According to a Catholic priest, on September 8, soldiers shot and killed parishioner Justina Bih outside Saint Peter Catholic Church in Bambui, Northwest Region. The priest said soldiers on patrol shot Bih when she stepped out of the church during the Sunday service to make a telephone call. Eyewitnesses told media that soldiers shot Bih in the chest despite her having raised her hands when she saw the soldiers. The priest said the shooting was deliberate and an official representative of the central government in Bambui visited the scene but did not take further action.

Residents of Mankon in Bamenda, Northwest Region, stated that on May 15, security forces burned Ramah Christian Center’s Gateway Chapel located in the Mile 8 neighborhood. They said the soldiers, who also burned several houses, cars, and a clinic, acted in revenge for the killing of two soldiers on the same day by unidentified individuals in the neighborhood. In a May 16 public statement, Minister of Defense Joseph Beti Assomo accused Anglophone separatists of killing the two soldiers and said a violent exchange between unidentified individuals and soldiers searching the neighborhood after the killings resulted in the destruction of property and burning of buildings. Beti Assomo announced an inquiry to identify the perpetrators and said they would face legal action. The government did not announce the outcome of the inquiry by the end of the year.

On October 20, security forces arrested Reverend Paul Njokikang, the local coordinator of Caritas, the Catholic relief and development agency, shortly after he celebrated Mass at Mbinfibe parish in Bamenda, Northwest Region. According to a Catholic priest, soldiers smashed the right side of Njokikang’s car, handcuffed him, and took him to the army base at the airport seven miles away, where he was forced to sleep on the bare floor. According to the priest, the army released Njokikang on October 21, after discussions with the Archbishop of Bamenda. The priest said soldiers arrested Njokikang because of his May address to the UN Security Council condemning human rights abuses by security forces and separatists in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. No formal charges were brought against Njokikang.

On February 28, the General Delegation for National Security (Police Administration) summoned Reverend Ghislain Suffo, a CEC pastor in Batoufam, West Region, and questioned him for nine and one-half hours before releasing him without charge. CEC members told media that police accused Suffo of inciting rebellion in a sermon on February 9. The CEC members said the pastor urged Christians to fight for social justice and criticized hypocrisy, self-interest, arbitrary arrests, and poor detention conditions.

On August 25, local residents of Wum Town told media that nomadic Mbororo herders killed local Bible translator Abraham Angus Fung at his home and cut off the arm of his wife, Eveline Fung, who escaped. According to The Christian Post, the assailants killed at least six other persons and burned down multiple houses and other properties during the attack. On October 25, unidentified individuals killed a local Bible translator, Benjamin Tem, at his home in Wum. Local residents told media they believed Mbororo herders killed Tem. In both cases, Christian media stated the largely Muslim Mbororo herders acted with the complicity and encouragement of the government, which saw them as allies in its fight against Anglophone separatists. According to International Christian Concern, the government suspected many local Christians of sympathizing with the separatist cause. The Christian Post reported the military in Wum armed minority Muslim herders to fight against the largely Christian local population. The publication accused the government of exploiting sporadic clashes over land between Mbororo herders and local farmers to introduce a religious aspect to the conflict in the Anglophone regions between security forces and separatists.

On July 26, the Bonanjo Court of First Instance appointed a board to manage the CEC’s affairs pending resolution of a Church leadership crisis, which began in 2017 when the losing candidate contested the election of Pastor Jean Samuel Toya as CEC president. On July 30, Toya appealed the court’s decision to appoint an interim board, which he said contradicted the electoral results and was not in accordance with CEC internal regulations. The government said it acted to preserve order within the CEC.

The government again took no action to adjudicate applications for registration 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. Although by law groups must register, the government continued to allow hundreds of unregistered small religious groups to operate freely under its policy of “administrative tolerance.” During a religious freedom conference in Yaounde on August 7, many religious leaders expressed frustration with the government’s failure to register religious groups. The leaders highlighted a lack of clarity in the system, such as whether a religious group could operate under the umbrella of another group’s registration, and said the government’s “administrative tolerance” policy for unregistered religious organizations was ad hoc and inadequate.

Religious leaders in Douala said government administrators often harassed and shut down churches because they were not registered. The leaders also said that unregistered religious organizations had difficulty obtaining loans or buying property. According to MINAT, the ministry was waiting for responses to a survey sent to all religious groups in 2015. Once MINAT received all the responses, the ministry would review the 1990 law on the registration of associations and develop a separate law that would facilitate the registration of religious groups.

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 the subsidy was proportional to the size of the student body.

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 May 30, unidentified individuals reportedly attacked Upkwa, a Mbororo settlement in Wum, and set the local mosque on fire. Northwest Region Governor Adolphe Lele Lafrique attributed the attack to Anglophone separatists and said they targeted the largely Muslim Mbororo community, looted property, and set at least 40 houses on fire. According to media, the attack took place after rumors spread that some Muslims had acted as informants on separatists to security forces. Four days later, a video circulated on social media in which armed Mbororo youth promised revenge. A later video showed an unidentified man with burns allegedly inflicted by Mbororo attackers who reportedly also killed two local citizens and burned houses in Wum. The videos reportedly were recorded by government soldiers, who did not intervene to prevent the violence or assist victims. The Southern Cameroon Liberation Council, an Anglophone separatist group, said the Mbororo attacks were a “government-sponsored Fulani Jihad in the Northwest.” On June 15, several media outlets showed a video of predominantly Muslim herders and predominantly Christian farmers in Wum jointly condemning violence in what they said was a peace-making event between the two communities in response to the violence that started on May 30.

Some Catholic clergy said the Anglophone separatists’ perception that the Church was wealthy and could pay significant ransoms fueled the abduction of Church officials, especially in isolated rural areas. They also said separatists often abducted priests in retaliation for the Church’s advocacy for the resumption of classes in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, where there has been a school boycott since the Anglophone crisis started in 2016. Anglophone separatists abducted Catholic Archbishop of Bamenda Cornelius Fontem Esua on June 25, when he attempted to remove barricades separatists had mounted on the road at Belo Village in the Northwest Region. The archbishop was traveling with his driver and two priests. The archbishop later told media the armed separatists led him to one of their camps and forced him and his companions to spend the night but released them 12 hours later. The archbishop did not clarify if he paid a ransom to secure his release.

On October 3, suspected Anglophone separatists kidnapped Reverend Augustine Nkwain, the Catholic education secretary for the Archdiocese of Bamenda, Northwest Region. In an interview after his release, Nkwain said his captors blindfolded him, forced him into his car, and drove to a separatist camp where they detained him. Nkwain said they accused him of facilitating the resumption of classes in the Northwest Region and made repeated demands for money. The priest said his kidnappers released him 24 hours later after negotiations with Catholic Church authorities. He did not clarify if the Church paid a ransom for his release.

On August 24, unidentified gunmen abducted Catholic bishop of Kumbo George Nkuo at Wainamah as he returned home from a meeting of the bishops of the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province. Priests and Christians in Kumbo marched toward Wainamah to demand the bishop’s release but stopped after Nkuo’s captors released him later the same day. The Church did not state whether a ransom had been paid to secure his release. On August 15, unidentified armed men kidnapped two priests in Kumbo, Reverend Franklin Banadzem Dindzee and Reverend Patrick Atang, and released them four days later. The Church did not make a statement on the circumstances of their release.

On July 7, unidentified armed men abducted Paddy Agbor Mbah, the pastor of Jesus Kingdom Embassy Church, as he returned from a pastoral trip in Buea, Southwest Region, to his home in Douala. His family announced his release on July 11; the pastor said the kidnappers did not demand a ransom, and no individual or group claimed responsibility.

On April 16, unidentified individuals attacked two priests at the Catholic church in Akum, Northwest Region. The Cameroon News Agency reported the assailants attacked Reverend Oliver Gam and Reverend Anthony Viban, ransacked their living quarters, and stole items from the presbytery. While no one claimed responsibility, the Cameroon News Agency reported the assault took place shortly after the Catholic Church publicized statistics pertaining to human rights violations by government forces within the Northwest Region.

On July 19, four armed, unidentified individuals broke into the Powerful Gospel Chapel in Douala, Littoral Region, during a prayer session and held the congregation at gunpoint while they assaulted them and stole personal belongings. The parishioners said the individuals pretended to participate in the prayers when they first entered the church before suddenly taking out their weapons and demanding to speak to the pastor. Parishioners stated that while three of the thieves searched their bags at gunpoint, the fourth pointed his gun at the head of the pastor’s wife and forced her to lead him to her husband, who was also robbed.

On May 24, members of a mosque in Maroua, Far North Region, brought clubs and machetes to Friday prayers after learning of its suspension by the lamido, or local Muslim religious leader. Prayers took place only after security forces prevented a confrontation between members of the mosque and men associated with the lamido.

Religious and civil society leaders said the violent conflict in the Northwest and Southwest Regions significantly limited the ability of individuals to worship and engage in other religious practices. Fighting between soldiers and separatists forced members of the Presbyterian church in Mbiame Village, Northwest Region, to abandon their chapel and organize services elsewhere, according to a pastor of the Presbyterian church in Bui, Northwest Region. In May Sheihk Said Wiysanyuy, deputy imam of the Central Mosque in Bui Division, Northwest Region, announced that Ramadan prayers would not be held at six authorized open prayer grounds because of the conflict. On September 1, gunfire between separatists and soldiers forced worshippers at the Three Corners Presbyterian Church in Kumba, Southwest Region, to lie on the floor under pews.

The National Association for Interreligious Dialogue (ACADIR), mainly composed of Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Muslim clergy, established divisional committees in six regions. These committees facilitated monthly interfaith prayer sessions and promoted dialogue between diverse faith-based organizations at local levels. The ACADIR created the National Religious Council, a nongovernmental body to serve as an intermediary between the state and religious groups and facilitate the recognition of faith-based organizations by the government.

On June 22, the Cameroon National Council for Peace, composed of the (Catholic) National Episcopal Conference, Council of Protestant Churches, Islamic Superior Council, and Orthodox Church of Cameroon, organized an interreligious prayer service in Buea, Southwest Region. The group’s stated efforts were to promote peace and social cohesion and end the violent sociopolitical crisis in the Anglophone regions. In a public statement at the end of the service, they condemned hate speech, attacks on educational institutions, and the school boycott in the Anglophone regions, and they urged the government to initiate a plan to resolve the Anglophone crisis.

On July 18, Catholics, Christians, and Muslims participated in a conference at the Cameroon Council of Protestant Churches in Yaounde. The participants committed to promoting justice, forgiveness, and peace within faith-based communities.

The Council of Imams and Muslim Dignitaries organized a seminar on July 25-27 to educate 300 imams and preachers on religious extremism.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The embassy discussed with government officials the failure to register faith-based organizations. The embassy also discussed the perception by Pentecostal churches that the government was biased in favor of the Catholic and Protestant Churches. The embassy underlined the effect of the sociopolitical crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions on freedom of worship as well as 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 officials met with leaders from the Christian and Muslim communities, including the coordinator of ACADIR, the national president of the High Islamic Council in Cameroon, the coordinator of the Council of Imams and Dignitaries, and the chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Church in Central Africa. The conversations focused on preventing violent extremism; promoting freedom of religion, interreligious dialogue, and religious diversity; and the search for a peaceful solution to the Anglophone crisis. 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.

During two embassy-hosted roundtables on religious freedom, one in Yaounde on August 7 and the other in Douala on August 21, religious leaders from a variety of faiths, civil society representatives, and a government official discussed key challenges and opportunities facing religious freedom in the country. Participants discussed religious freedom as an important component of human rights, the government’s failure to register religious organizations since 2010, and interfaith initiatives to address the Anglophone crisis.

Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and equal protection under the law regardless of religion. It prohibits all forms of religious intolerance and “religious fundamentalism.” The law also requires the head of state to take an oath of office that includes a promise to fulfill the duties of the office without any consideration of religion. The government continued to exercise limited or no control or influence in most of the country. Police and the gendarmerie (military police) continued to fail to stop or punish abuses committed by armed groups, such as killings, physical abuse, and gender-based violence, including those based on religious affiliation, according to human rights organizations. In February the government and 14 of the country’s armed groups signed a peace agreement that included commitments to safeguard places of worship from violent attacks. In June the Special Criminal Court (SCC), established in 2018 to investigate serious human rights violations and alleged war crimes, announced that three of the 29 investigations launched since its inception could lead to trials. In July the government signed a tripartite agreement with Cameroon and the United Nations to facilitate voluntary repatriation of 250,000 predominantly Muslim citizens living as refugees in Cameroon. In September the International Criminal Court (ICC) began pretrial hearings in the case of an anti-Balaka commander and member of parliament accused of war crimes, as well as a second anti-Balaka leader.

The predominantly Christian anti-Balaka and the predominantly Muslim ex-Seleka militia forces continued to occupy territories in the western and northern parts of the country, respectively, and sectarian clashes between them and Christian and Muslim populations continued. Government forces usually did not intervene to curtail the violence. In May members of the armed group 3R attacked villages in the northwest of the country, killing more than 50 civilians allegedly in retaliation for the death of a member of a Muslim ethnic minority group. The government called on the leader of the armed group, appointed to a government advisor position following the signing of the February peace accord, to hand over those responsible. On May 16, the 3R handed over to the government three commanders accused of the killings. At year’s end, they were detained in Bangui and awaiting trial. Also in May, an unknown assailant killed a 77-year-old nun. The motive for the killing remained unclear.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) stated that religion continued to be a primary feature dividing the population. Many Muslim communities remained displaced in the western part of the country, where according to media reports, they were not allowed to practice their religion freely, either due to lack of protection from the government or because of intimidation by anti-Balaka units. During the year, the country’s top religious leaders remained united in their view that the violence in the country caused by the armed groups was based primarily on the desire to control territory for their economic gain. In May at the start of Ramadan, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, President of the Islamic Community in the country, called for the strengthening of social cohesion and peaceful coexistence of religious communities.

In meetings with President Faustin Touadera and other government officials, U.S. embassy representatives raised concerns about the government’s failure to safeguard religious freedom and advocated the safe voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their home communities. They encouraged the government representatives to implement outreach activities aimed at religious communities and publicly condemn attacks on religious structures and against religious groups. Embassy officials regularly engaged with religious leaders to listen to their concerns and issues, including Roman Catholic Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga and other Christian leaders, imams, and members of the Coordinating Committee for Central African Muslim Organizations. In March the Ambassador hosted a roundtable for religious leaders designed to bridge gaps, strengthen relationships, and encourage freedom of religious choice and practice.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.9 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the Pew Research Foundation, the population is 61 percent Protestant, 28 percent Catholic, and 9 percent Muslim. Other religious groups, including traditional religious groups and those having no religious beliefs, make up an estimated 2 percent of the population. The NGO Oxfam estimates the percentage of Muslims, most of whom are Sunni, at up to 15 percent. Some Christians and Muslims incorporate aspects of indigenous religions in their religious practices.

In the central and southern regions of the country, Catholicism and Protestant Christianity are the dominant religions, while Islam is predominant in the northeast. In Bangui the majority of inhabitants in the PK5 and PK3 neighborhoods are Muslim, while other neighborhoods in the capital are predominantly Christian. The 2014 International Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic reported a significant percentage of Muslims had fled to neighboring countries; their return during the year remained a slow process.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion under conditions set by law and equal protection under the law regardless of religion. It prohibits all forms of religious intolerance and “religious fundamentalism” but does not define these terms. The law also requires the head of state to take an oath of office that includes a promise to fulfill the duties of the office without any consideration of religion.

Religious groups, except for indigenous religious groups, are required to register with the Ministry of the Interior, Public Security, and Territorial Administration. To register, religious groups must prove they have a minimum of 1,000 members and their leaders have adequate religious education, as judged by the ministry. Indigenous religious groups may receive benefits and exemptions offered to registered groups regardless of their size.

The law permits the denial of registration to any religious group deemed offensive to public morals or likely to disturb social peace. It allows the suspension of registered religious groups if their activities are judged subversive by legal entities. There are no fees for registration as a religious organization. Registration confers official recognition and benefits, such as exemptions from customs tariffs for vehicles or equipment imported into the country. There are no penalties prescribed for groups that do not register.

The law does not prohibit religious instruction in public or private schools, but religious instruction is not part of the public-school curriculum.

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

Government Practices

The government continued to exercise limited or no control or influence in most of the country. Police and the gendarmerie failed to stop or punish abuses committed by militias, including killings, physical abuse, religious- and gender-based violence, according to human rights organizations. The United Nations Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) remained the only force capable of maintaining security in much of the country, but according to most observers it remained hampered in its ability to protect civilians due to limited resources and personnel, as well as poor infrastructure impeding access to rural communities.

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

On February 6, the government and 14 of the country’s armed groups signed the Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation (APPR), which was brokered by the African Union (AU) and supported by the United Nations. Among other commitments, armed groups agreed to refrain from acts of violence directed at places of worship.

In June President Touadera launched the first of seven public consultations on the creation of a Truth, Justice, Reparations, and Reconciliation Commission in support of the peace agreement.

In September the ICC began pretrial hearings in the case of Alfred “Rambo” Yekatom, an anti-Balaka commander and member of parliament, and Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, also a senior leader of the anti-Balaka. At year’s end, both men were in ICC custody and stood accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including killings targeting Muslim civilians, deportation and torture of Muslims, and destruction of mosques. Victims and selected members of the public in the country viewed the proceedings streamed live from the ICC in The Hague.

The Ministry of Humanitarian Action and National Reconciliation continued public service announcements via nationwide radio stations, reaffirming the government’s commitment to treat all citizens equally.

The government continued to observe Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as official but unpaid holidays, while Christian national holidays were paid holidays. President Touadera participated in an iftar with Muslim leaders at the Mosque of Lakouanga, in the 2nd District of Bangui, where he reiterated his previous year’s request for tolerance and urged the participants to find ways to live together and to seek “national harmony.” Imam Mahamat Said focused his remarks on the need for justice and mutual understanding.

In August the Ministry of Territorial Administration announced the closure of several places of worship in Bangui for failing to meet guidelines for recognition as legitimate religious organizations and for disruption of public order.

In June the Special Criminal Court (SCC), established in 2018 in Bangui to investigate serious human rights violations including genocide and alleged war crimes, some of which were related to religious identity, announced that three of the 29 investigations launched since its inception could lead to trials. The SCC did not release details of these cases, however, since investigations they deemed sensitive were still underway.

MINUSCA continued to support government-led local peace and reconciliation initiatives that aimed to improve relationships between Christians and Muslims. The efforts included public outreach and sensitization workshops. For example, in June local authorities and MINUSCA jointly established three local peace committees in the subprefectures of Gambo, Pombolo, and Ngandou. The committees of 13 leaders in each community were tasked with sensitizing their communities to the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement and promoting social cohesion, peaceful coexistence, and the nonviolent settlement of conflicts. Observers continued to state that these initiatives helped counter inflammatory rhetoric and dispel rumors, and public meetings held under the auspices of the initiative helped to reassure vulnerable communities of their safety.

In March, 13 Muslim families departed the IDP camp in Bangassou and resettled in their original villages.

In July the government signed a tripartite agreement with Cameroon and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of 250,000 citizens living as refugees in Cameroon. According to UNHCR, approximately 2,800 refugees, the majority Muslim, expressed a desire to return to their home country.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

NGOs reported religion continued to be a primary feature dividing the population. Many Muslim communities remained displaced in the western part of the country, where according to media reports, they were not allowed to practice their religion freely.

Religious leaders generally avoided characterizing the ongoing conflicts as religiously based. Instead, they identified political and economic power struggles and foreign influence as the root causes. In May Bishop Nestor Nongo-Aziagbia, president of the country’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said the country was in the grips of a political, not a religious, conflict and pointed to economic exploitation as a significant driver of the conflict. He said that Christians and Muslims were working together for peace in a number of distressed regions of the country. In May at the start of Ramadan, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, president of the Islamic Community in the Central African Republic, called for the strengthening of social cohesion and peaceful coexistence of religious communities.

The Platform for Religious Confessions in Central Africa (PCRC) continued its efforts to promote interfaith dialogue throughout the country. In January its Muslim founder and representative, Imam Omar Kobine, reaffirmed the role of the PCRC in working to reduce violence and promote reconciliation in the country.

During the year, Radio Sewa FM, a community radio station dedicated to promoting interfaith dialogue, broadcast programs aimed at both Muslim and Christian communities in PK5 and PK3. Based in PK5, the station was founded by a local NGO in 2017 with the goal of promoting interfaith dialogue.

Muslims continued to report social discrimination and marginalization, including difficulties accessing identification documents, and security concerns, which hampered their inability to move freely throughout the country.

According to religious leaders, Muslims throughout the country faced challenges within their communities because of ethnic differences, such as Muslims of Arab and Peulh (Fulani) ethnicity. For example, observers said some Muslims of Arab descent considered themselves superior to Muslims of other ethnicities and that Muslims who converted from Christianity were frequently ostracized among the Muslim population. The sources also stated these converts were often prevented from living in and interacting with some Muslim communities.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In meetings with President Touadera and other government officials, embassy representatives raised concerns about religious freedom and the safe voluntary return of refugees and IDPs to their home communities. They encouraged the government representatives to implement outreach activities directed at religious communities and publicly condemn attacks on religious structures and against religious groups. They also called on the government to provide security for all citizens, regardless of faith.

Embassy officials regularly engaged with religious leaders, including Cardinal Nzapalainga, other Christian leaders, imams, and representatives of the Coordinating Committee for Central African Muslim Organizations, on issues related to religious freedom and reconciliation and explored opportunities to broaden their access and dialogue with elected officials.

The embassy continued to fund a consortium formed to build up the capacity of the Platform of Religious Confessions to bolster its role in promoting social cohesion, including reconciliation between religious communities.

In March the Ambassador hosted a roundtable for Christian and Muslim leaders at her residence. She encouraged open dialogue and explored solutions to bridge gaps, strengthen relationships, and encourage freedom of religious choice and practice.

In March and August embassy officials visited IDP camps in Bangassou and Bambari, where they discussed ways to improve security and freedom to ensure peaceful practice of religion.

In August embassy officials recognized the end of Ramadan with the presentation of foodstuffs to three Muslim communities. Participants in the ceremonies included imams, Muslim female community leaders, and more than 150 observers. Embassy officials emphasized a message of tolerance and acceptance of diversity, stressing the need for peace and asking guests to continue the spirit of coexistence that marked the day.

The embassy sponsored the participation of a Muslim community activist from the PK5 neighborhood in an exchange program in the United States focusing on women in peace and security.

Chad

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes the state as secular and affirms the separation of religion and state. It provides for freedom of religion and equality before the law without distinction as to religion. It prohibits “denominational propaganda” that inhibits national unity. The government maintained its ban on the leading Wahhabi association, but media stated that enforcement of the ban was difficult. Those practicing this interpretation of Islam continued to meet and worship in their own mosques. Religious groups and civil society continued to express concern about the required oath of office, stating it was contrary to the secular nature of the state and excluded Christians.

On National Prayer Day, December 2, religious leaders, including the secretary general of the Chadian Evangelical Umbrella Organization (EEMET), the Catholic Archbishop of N’Djamena, and the head of the High Council for Islamic Affairs (HCIA), publicly stated they supported the necessity of peaceful coexistence.

The U.S. Charge d’Affaires hosted an iftar on May 30 for religious leaders, including Muslim, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Baha’i representatives, and government officials. Participants discussed religious freedom and tolerance in the country. During the year, the Charge and other U.S. embassy representatives maintained a dialogue with Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Protestant leaders on religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 16.3 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the most recent census, in 2014-15, 52.1 percent of the population is Muslim, 23.9 percent Protestant, 20 percent Roman Catholic, 0.3 percent animist, 0.2 percent other Christian, 2.8 percent no religion, and 0.7 percent unspecified. Most Muslims adhere to the Sufi Tijaniyah tradition. A small minority hold beliefs associated with Wahhabism or Salafism. The majority of Protestants are evangelical Christians. There are small numbers of Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Most northerners practice Islam, and most southerners practice Christianity or indigenous religions; religious distribution is mixed in urban areas, and indigenous religions are often practiced to some degree along with Islam and Christianity.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution establishes the state as secular and affirms the separation of religion and state. The constitution provides for freedom of religion and equality before the law without distinction as to religion. These rights may be regulated by law and may be limited by law only to ensure mutual respect for the rights of others and for the “imperative” of safeguarding public order and good morals. It prohibits “denominational propaganda” that infringes on national unity or the secular nature of the state.

The constitution requires an oath of office for ministers “according to the denominational formula stated by the law.” The law states that directors and secretaries general and above must take an oath under “under God” or “under Allah.”

Under the law, all associations, religious or otherwise, must register with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralized Territorial Collectivities. The associations must provide a list of all the founding members and their positions in the organization, founders’ resumes, copies of the founders’ identification cards, minutes of the establishment meetings, a letter to the minister requesting registration, principal source of the organization’s revenue, address of the organization, a copy of its rules and procedures, and statutory documents of the organization. The ministry conducts background checks on every founding member and establishes a six-month temporary, but renewable, authorization to operate, pending final authorization and approval. Failure to register with the ministry means that organizations are not considered legal entities and may not open bank accounts or enter into contracts; it may also lead to the banning of a group. Group founders or board members may be subject to one month to a year in prison and a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($86 to $860). Registration does not confer tax preferences or other benefits.

Burqas, defined by ministerial notice as any garment where one sees only the eyes, are forbidden by ministerial decree. The ministerial notice also applies to niqabs, although this reportedly is not enforced.

The constitution states public education shall be secular. The government prohibits religious instruction in public schools but permits religious groups to operate private schools, and there are numerous schools operated by Muslims, Catholics, and Protestants.

The government-created HCIA continues to oversee Islamic religious activities, including some Arabic language schools and institutions of higher learning, and represents the country at international Islamic forums. The government approves those nominated by members of the HCIA to serve on the council. Wahhabis are not officially represented on the council and are banned by the government. The Grand Imam of N’Djamena, who is selected by a committee of Muslim elders and approved by the government, is the de facto president of the HCIA and oversees the grand imams from each of the country’s 23 regions. He has the authority to restrict Muslim groups from proselytizing, regulate the content of mosque sermons, and control activities of Islamic charities. In practice, he does not regulate sermons.

The constitution states military service is obligatory and prohibits invoking religious belief to “avoid an obligation dictated by the national interest.” The government does not enforce conscription, however.

The Office of the Director of Religious and Traditional Affairs under the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralized Territorial Collectivities oversees religious matters. The office is responsible for mediating intercommunal conflict, reporting on religious practices, coordinating religious pilgrimages, and ensuring religious freedom.

According to regulations of the College of Control and Monitoring of Oil Revenues, the government board that oversees the distribution of oil revenues, Muslim and Christian leaders share a rotational position on the board. The position is held for three years and may be renewed only once.

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

Government Practices

The government maintained its ban on the leading Wahhabi group, Ansar-al Sunna; however, enforcement was difficult, according to civil rights organizations, and adherents continued to meet and worship in their own mosques. They also continued to receive revenue through their leaders or from individuals, according to media.

The government continued to require ministers and some government officials, including deans of universities and senior civil servants, to take an oath of office on a religious text. Civil society and religious groups continued to express concern about the oath of office, some on grounds it was contrary to the secular nature of the state and others because they said it excluded Christians. Some Christian groups reportedly began a petition to have the oath requirement removed from the constitution, according to media reports. In April the EEMET hosted a conference to explain its opposition to the oath of office. The organization said the oath directly contradicted the article of the constitution affirming the country as a secular state, and also the article assuring “equality before the law without distinction as to origin, race, gender, religion, public opinion, or social position.”

The government continued to deploy security forces around both Islamic and Christian places of worship, in particular on Fridays around mosques and Sundays around churches, as well as other occasions for religious events.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religious leaders continued to raise awareness of the risks of terrorist attacks, which continued throughout the year, and to advocate for continued additional security in places of worship. There were no reports of terrorist attacks against places of worship, although police continued to provide security during ceremonies.

The Regional Forum on Interfaith Dialogue, comprising representatives of evangelical Protestant churches, the Catholic Church, and the Islamic community, met regularly. In December on National Prayer Day, they publicly reiterated their commitment to educate their respective groups on the necessity of peaceful coexistence.

Muslims and Christians commonly attended each other’s major ceremonies, celebrations, and inaugurations of community leaders and underlined the importance of interfaith dialogue and cooperation in public statements. In December at the National Day of Prayer, Grand Imam and HCIA President Sheikh Mahamat Khatir Issa stressed the role of religious leaders in maintaining and promoting peace in the country. EEMET, the largest Protestant association in the country, said in statements to media in December that interfaith cooperation was important and that it appreciated efforts by HCIA leaders to promote interfaith dialogue. Archbishop of N’Djamena Edmond Djitangar Goetbe said there was an openness to dialogue among all faith groups but the country’s Regional Forum on Interfaith Dialogue did not live up to its potential due to its weak organizational structure.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Charge d’Affaires met with Ministry of Territorial Administration officials and discussed shared support to maintain the country’s religiously diverse space for dialogue and coexistence.

The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy representatives met with the Grand Imam of N’Djamena and with Catholic, Protestant, and Baha’i leaders to monitor and promote religious freedom and tolerance, as well as to discuss efforts to counter extremist messages related to religion. Embassy officials continued to discuss religious tolerance with imams during meetings and in training sessions and workshops

The Charge d’Affaires hosted an iftar on May 30, attended by 70 religious leaders, including Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and Baha’i representatives, and government officials. At the iftar, attendees discussed religious freedom and tolerance in the country.

Embassy officials continued to discuss religious tolerance with imams during meetings and in training sessions and workshops. The leader of a prominent U.S. Muslim organization invited to the country by the embassy addressed local audiences about tolerance and religious freedom. The embassy used social media platforms to highlight activities and amplify messages promoting religious freedom and tolerance.

Mali

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and grants individuals freedom of religion in conformity with the law. The law criminalizes abuses against religious freedom. Notwithstanding these legal protections for religious freedom, widespread insecurity stifled full implementation of laws protecting religious freedom. The presence of groups identified by the government as violent extremist organizations and armed groups in the northern and central areas of the country limited government capacity to govern and bring perpetrators of abuses to justice, especially outside the main cities. In February the government issued a decree creating a national secretariat for the implementation of a new national strategy to counter violent extremism (CVE). The strategy, launched in 2018 under the authority of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship, includes interfaith efforts and promotion of religious tolerance. Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) said they experienced difficulties while attempting to register as an official religious institution, however in January the government granted the church official status.

Individuals affiliated with groups identified by authorities as extremist used violence and launched attacks on civilians, security forces, peacekeepers, and others they reportedly perceived as not adhering to their interpretation of Islam. In the center of the country, affiliates of Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), a U.S.-designated terrorist alliance, attacked multiple towns in Mopti Region, threatening Christian, Muslim, and traditional religious communities, reportedly for heresy. Groups identified by authorities as extremist organizations targeted and closed government schools for their perceived “Western” curriculum, replacing them with Quranic schools. The United Nations estimated such groups had opened approximately 600 Quranic schools in the center of the country.

Muslim religious leaders condemned what they termed “extremist” interpretations of sharia, and non-Muslim religious leaders condemned extremism related to religion. Some Christian missionaries expressed concern about the increased influence in remote areas of organizations they characterized as violent and extremist. Muslim, Protestant, and Roman Catholic religious leaders jointly called for peace and solidarity among all faiths at celebrations marking Christmas, the New Year, and Eid al-Fitr. In September, while addressing a meeting on the role of religious leaders in the stabilization of the country, President of the High Islamic Council of Mali (HCIM) Cherif Ousmane Madani Haidara called on attendees to take an active role and to serve as brokers of peace.

The U.S. embassy supported programs to counter violent extremism related to religion and to promote tolerance, peace, and reconciliation. The Ambassador and other officials discussed the importance of religious leaders helping bring peace to the country with former president of the HCIM Imam Mahmoud Dicko and other religious leaders, as well as with human rights organizations. The embassy sponsored the participation of an imam and owner of a medersa (Islamic religious school, a variant of madrassah) in a U.S. government exchange program aimed at empowering youth to counter violence and highlighted the importance of tolerance and respect for religious diversity on its social media accounts throughout the year.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 19 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to statistics from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship, Muslims constitute an estimated 95 percent of the population. Nearly all Muslims are Sunni, and most follow Sufism. Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Christians, of whom approximately two-thirds are Catholic and one-third Protestant; groups with indigenous religious beliefs; and those with no religious affiliation. Groups adhering to indigenous religious beliefs reside throughout the country, mostly in rural areas. Many Muslims and Christians also adhere to some aspects of indigenous beliefs. The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship estimates fewer than 1,000 individuals in Bamako and an unknown number outside of the capital are associated with the Muslim group Dawa al-Tablig.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state, prohibits discrimination based on religion, and provides for freedom of religion in conformity with the law.

According to the penal code, any act of discrimination based on religion or any act impeding the freedom of religious observance or worship is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment or 10 years’ banishment (prohibition from residing in the country). The penal code also states any religiously motivated persecution of a group of persons constitutes a crime against humanity. There is no statute of limitations for such crimes.

The law requires registration of all public associations, including religious groups, except for groups practicing indigenous religious beliefs; however, registration confers no tax preferences or other legal benefits, and there is no penalty for not registering. To register, applicants must submit copies of a declaration of intent to create an association, notarized copies of bylaws, copies of policies and regulations, notarized copies of a report of the first meeting of the association’s general assembly, and lists of the leaders of the association with signature samples of three of the leaders. Upon review, if approved, the Ministry of Territorial Administration grants the certificate of registration.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship is responsible for administering the national CVE strategy, promoting religious tolerance, and coordinating national religious activities, such as pilgrimages and religious holidays for followers of all religions.

The constitution prohibits public schools from offering religious instruction but permits private schools to do so. Privately funded medersas teach the standard government curriculum as well as Islam. Non-Muslim students in these schools are not required to attend Islamic religious classes. Private Catholic schools teach the standard government curriculum and Catholic religious classes. Non-Catholic students in these schools are not required to attend Catholic religious classes. Informal schools, known locally as Quranic schools and which some students attend in lieu of public schools, do not follow a government curriculum and offer religious instruction exclusively.

The law defines marriage as secular. Couples who seek legal recognition must have a civil ceremony, which they may follow with a religious ceremony. Under the law, a man may choose between a monogamous or polygamous marriage. The law states that the religious customs of the deceased determine inheritance rights. Civil courts consider these customs when they adjudicate such cases; however, many cases are settled informally.

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

Government Practices

The government and security forces struggled to tamp down violence generated by the spread of groups they described as violent extremist organizations in the North and Center Regions of the country – including armed religious groups as well as ethnically aligned militias.

In September members of the Church of Jesus Christ said the Church received official status from the government in January following previous difficulties to register but had been present in the country since 2017. Church leaders stated this official recognition as a public institution would allow the Church to minister to its congregation more easily and call for missionaries to serve.

In February the government issued a decree creating a national secretariat under the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship for the implementation of a new national CVE strategy. The strategy, launched in 2018, included interfaith efforts and promotion of religious tolerance.

In November the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship organized, in coordination with Archbishop of Bamako Cardinal Jean Zerbo, the annual Catholic pilgrimage to Kita. During the November 23-24 pilgrimage, Cardinal Zerbo and the president of the Episcopal Conference of Mali called for interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance among the different faiths. They were joined in their pilgrimage from Bamako to Kita by the Union of Young Malian Muslims (UJMA), a Muslim youth religious organization. The ministry also worked with private companies to ensure cooperation and organize local participation in the Hajj and other religious pilgrimages to Lourdes in France and Jerusalem in Israel. The government continued support of a Moroccan-funded training program for 500 Sufi imams in Morocco, one objective of which was to improve interfaith tolerance.

The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission launched in 2014 continued operating during the year. In September the government renewed and extended the commission’s mandate. During the year, the commission heard the testimony of 4,789 individuals compared with 3,592 in 2018 and 6,953 in 2017. Growing security concerns in the central and northern regions of the country, lack of transportation for victims, and the lack of testimony collection in camps for displaced persons limited the collection of testimony. As of February, the commission reported it collected a total of 16,088 statements since it began collecting testimony in January 2017, including cases involving religious freedom violations.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Muslim and non-Muslim religious leaders frequently and jointly condemned what they termed extremist interpretations of Islam and the violence perpetrated by extremist groups. For example, in September, representatives of the country’s Muslim Association condemned an improvised explosive attack on a public bus that killed more than a dozen civilians. JNIM subsequently released an apology stating the bomb was not intended to target civilians.

Some Christian missionaries again expressed concern about the increased influence in remote areas of organizations they characterized as violent and extremist, which the missionaries said they believed could affect their ability to continue working in the country over the long term. According to Caritas, the expanding influence of what it described as violent extremist organizations, particularly in remote areas, increasingly threatened religious freedom in the country. Caritas representatives said they were concerned that the closure of government schools and opening of Quranic schools by what it termed extremist groups would negatively impact interreligious understanding and cooperation and could endanger Christianity in the country in the long term.

Ousmane Bocoum, a local Quranic teacher, civil society leader, and businessman with a broad social media reach, spread messages of tolerance to counter radical ideologies that drive violence and instability, particularly in the center of the country. Through his messaging, he promoted religious freedom as a facilitator of youth programs and leader of a peacebuilding program in Mopti.

During the June Eid al-Fitr celebration hosted by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders renewed their calls for peace and tolerance among all faiths.

In April Ousman Cherif Madani Haidara, chairman of the Muslim Group of Religious Leaders, was elected president of the High Islamic Council of Mali (HCIM) following the conclusion of Imam Mahmoud Dicko’s term. In September Haidara called on attendees at a meeting on the role of religious leaders in the stabilization of the country to take an active role and serve as brokers of peace.

In June former HCIM president Imam Dicko, who held the position for 11 years, established an organization called the Coordination of Movements, Associations, and Supporters of Imam Dicko (CMAS) to “advance the wellbeing of all citizens.” Dicko publicly denied his organization was a political movement and that he would run for office; however, some observers said they believed CMAS was a platform for Dicko’s political ambitions and that his strong religious authority could threaten secular politics in the country. Imam Dicko previously publicly stated he did not intend to change what he termed the secular nature of the government.

Members of religious groups commonly attended the religious ceremonies of other religious groups, especially baptisms, weddings, and funerals. For example, in November members of a Muslim youth organization accompanied Christians on their pilgrimage from Bamako to Kita.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The embassy continued to work with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship to support programs to counter violent extremism related to religion. Embassy officials worked with vulnerable communities to build capacity to address conflict, radicalization, and religious violent extremism to help bring peace and reconciliation to the country. An imam and owner of a medersa participated in a U.S. government exchange program focusing on expanding educational, social, and employment opportunities for at-risk and disadvantaged youth and helping them avoid crime, violence, extremism, substance abuse, and other destructive behavior.

The Ambassador and embassy officers spoke with a wide range of religious leaders and human rights organizations to promote religious tolerance, including the former head of the HCIM Imam Dicko and local High Islamic Council presidents in Segou and Sikasso. Embassy officials urged religious leaders to advocate for tolerance and peace among various social and religious groups. The embassy brought together local and religious leaders in economically depressed communities vulnerable to violent extremist influences to boost social cohesion, support peace, and build civil society; distributed Arabic-language books on religious tolerance; and partially funded repairs of the Grand Djenne Mosque.

The embassy highlighted the importance of tolerance and respect for religious diversity on its social media accounts throughout the year. Some of its most widely shared posts included the Ambassador’s social media posts on Ramadan, Easter, Eid al-Fitr, and especially Eid al-Adha. For example, to commemorate Ramadan, the embassy highlighted the religious diversity of the United States and the different ways in which Muslims in the United States celebrate Ramadan “in a way that reflects the diversity of our country and the respect we have for pluralism.” The embassy also worked with the Ministry of Religious Affairs to organize and fund the government’s first diplomatic iftar. The event included interfaith community leaders.

Niger

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and worship consistent with public order, social peace, and national unity. It provides for the separation of state and religion and prohibits religiously affiliated political parties. The government continued to prohibit full-face veils in the Diffa Region under state of emergency provisions to prevent concealment of bombs and weapons. The government also continued to prohibit open-air, public proselytization events due to stated safety concerns. In June the National Assembly passed a new law on the “organization of the practice of religion,” which the president ratified in July. The new law reinforces the protection of freedom of religion as long as the religion is exercised in a manner that respects “public order and moral good.” The law, in line with previous regulations, grants the government the right to regulate and approve private construction and the use of places of worship as well as to oversee financial contributions for the construction of religious venues.

Protesters reacting to the arrest in June of an imam who criticized the draft law burned down one Christian church and attacked another in the southern city of Maradi. In May in Dolbel, near the borders with Burkina Faso and Mali, assailants reportedly attacked a Catholic church and injured a priest. In June members of the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped a Christian woman and threatened Christians in her village in the Diffa Region, according to international observers.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy representatives continued to advocate for religious freedom and tolerance through meetings with government leaders, including the interior and foreign ministers. Embassy representatives conveyed messages of religious tolerance in meetings with Muslim and Christian representatives, including an interfaith iftar the embassy hosted during Ramadan and a meeting with the imam of the Grand Mosque of Niamey during Eid al-Adha. The Ambassador discussed the need for interfaith dialogue with the Catholic community in Tahoua in February, attended and spoke at an event at an Assembly of God church in Niamey in September, and met twice during the year with the Catholic archbishop. The embassy sponsored programs with religious leaders nationwide focused on countering violent extremism related to religion and amplifying voices of religious tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 20.5 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the Ministry of Interior (MOI), more than 98 percent of the population is Muslim with the vast majority being Sunni. Less than 1 percent are Shia. Roman Catholics, Protestants, and other religious groups account for less than 2 percent of the population. There are several thousand Baha’is, who reside primarily in Niamey and in communities on the west side of the Niger River. A small percentage of the population adheres primarily to indigenous religious beliefs. Some Muslims intermingle animist practices with their practice of Islam, although observers note this has become much less common over the past decade.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, specifies separation of religion and state as an unalterable principle, and stipulates equality under the law for all, regardless of religion. It provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship and expression of faith consistent with public order, social peace, and national unity. The constitution also states no religion or faith shall claim political power or interfere in state affairs and bans political parties based on religious affiliation.

On June 17, the National Assembly passed a new law on the organization and practice of religion that was ratified by the president in July. The law reaffirms existing laws on freedom of religion, as long as religion is exercised respecting “public order and moral good,” and provides for government regulation and approval of the construction of places of worship and oversight of financial contributions for the construction of religious venues.

Religious groups are treated as any other nongovernmental organization and must register with the MOI. Registration approval is based on submission of required legal documents, including the group’s charter, minutes of the group’s board of directors, annual action plan, and list of the organization’s founders. Although some unregistered religious organizations reportedly operate without authorization in remote areas, only registered organizations are legally recognized entities. The MOI requires clerics speaking to a large national gathering either to belong to a registered religious organization or to obtain a special permit. Nonregistered groups are not legal entities and are not permitted to operate.

Registered religious groups wishing to obtain permanent legal status must undergo a three-year review and probationary period before the Office of Religious Affairs, which is under the MOI, grants a change in legal status from probationary to permanent.

The constitution specifies the president, prime minister, and president of the national assembly must take an oath when assuming office on the holy book of his or her religion. By law, other senior government officials are also required to take religious oaths upon entering office.

The government prohibits full-face veils in the Diffa Region under state of emergency provisions with the stated purpose of preventing concealment of bombs and weapons.

The government prohibits open-air, public proselytization events by all religious groups due to expressed safety concerns. There is no legal restriction on private peaceful proselytization or conversion of an individual’s personal religious beliefs from one religious faith to another, as long as the group sponsoring the conversion is registered with the government.

The establishment of any private school by a religious association must receive the concurrence of both the MOI and the relevant department of the Ministry of Education (Primary, Secondary, Superior, or Vocational). Private Quranic schools, established uniquely to teach the Quran without providing other education, are unregulated. Most public schools do not include religious education. The government funds a small number of special primary schools (called “French and Arabic Schools”) that include Islamic religious study as part of the curriculum.

There are no restrictions on the issuance of visas for visiting religious representatives; however, long-term residency of foreign religious representatives must be approved by the MOI.

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

Government Practices

The government drafted implementing regulations for the new law on religious practice that was ratified by the president in July and expected to be implemented in 2020, according to the MOI. The law was intended to “minimize fundamentalist and extremist influences” while “preserving freedom of worship” under the constitution, according to the minister of the interior. According to the MOI, implementation of the new law will include the creation of three National Worship Councils for Muslims, Christians, and other religious groups to liaise between the government and their respective religious communities on matters such as fundraising, religious instruction, and content of sermons. Observers stated the law responded to a specific concern of the government and was intended to be a minimally invasive way of monitoring foreign, possibly extremist, influence on the practice of religion in the country.

The government continued its efforts to reduce radicalization or the risk of radicalization through the Islamic Forum, which the government formed in 2017 with the stated goal of standardizing the practice of Islam in the country and preventing the use of Islamic institutions to spread Islamic extremism. The Islamic Forum, which represents more than 50 organizations countrywide, met regularly to provide input to the government on the new law as well as to discuss control of mosque construction, regulation of Quranic instruction, and monitoring of the content of sermons.

Government officials expressed concern about funding from Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and other countries for the construction of mosques and training of imams, but according to observers, the government had only limited resources to track the extent of the funding and fully understand its consequences.

In December the government adopted a three-year National Worship Strategy to promote social cohesion, peace, and tolerance as well as freedom of worship. The strategy’s six strategic goals are to design and implement a plan for the location of places of worship; promote quality religious training; encourage educational and tolerant religious public discourse; ensure “adequate supervision” of religious practice; strengthen intra- and interreligious dialogue; and discourage violent religious extremism.

With support from the World Bank, the government began reviewing the curricula of private Quranic schools and medersas (madrassahs).

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On June 15, protesters blocked streets, burned tires, and attacked Christian churches in the southern city of Maradi following the June 14 arrest of Sheikh Rayadoune, a Muslim cleric who criticized the draft religion law as “anti-Muslim” during Friday prayers, according to press reports. Late in the evening of June 15, a group of youths burned down an Assembly of God church and set fire to the pastor’s car, while police stopped attackers from damaging the Abundant Life Christian church. Police arrested approximately 150 individuals during the unrest; there were no reports of injuries. Prior to his release from custody on June 16, Rayadoune called for an end to the violence and said his statements regarding the new law were based on an inaccurate translation. On June 16, local authorities and religious leaders reportedly visited the burned church and apologized to the congregation.

On May 13, unidentified gunmen attacked a Catholic church in Dolbel near the border with Burkina Faso, injuring a priest, according to international observers. On June 7, members of the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped a Christian woman in the village of Kintchendi in the Diffa Region, releasing her a few days later with a written warning to Christians living in the area to leave the town within three days or be killed.

Some Muslim representatives continued to express concern that Wahhabism’s presence was growing. There was no survey data to indicate how many Wahhabist mosques there were in the country, or to support or refute the impression of growing influence. The majority of the population adhered to the Maliki interpretation of Sunni Islam, but there were separatist branches, and representatives of Islamic associations said some imams preached a version of Islam they stated may have been Wahhabist.

The Muslim-Christian Interfaith Forum continued to meet, bringing together representatives of Islamic associations and Christian churches for regular meetings to discuss interfaith cooperation. According to representatives of both Christian and Muslim groups, there were generally good relations between Muslims and Christians; however, according to some religious leaders, a minority of Muslims rejected closer ties between Muslims and Christians as a corruption of the true faith and therefore resented the forum. The representatives of the Interfaith Forum said that the practice of observing each other’s religious holidays was decreasing, and that they had a general sense that relations between Christians and Muslims had deteriorated mildly, largely due to social pressure for increased strict Islamic observance.

On November 16, the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly of Niger held a press dinner to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of the Bab (a central figure of the Baha’i Faith) and share information regarding the Baha’i Faith.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy representatives continued to advocate for religious freedom and tolerance through meetings with government and religious leaders. The Ambassador raised religious freedom with the interior minister and the foreign minister, encouraging broad engagement with Muslim associations in the government’s efforts to promote religious tolerance and counter extremist messages.

The Ambassador and embassy representatives met with representatives of Muslim and Christian groups to support intra- and interfaith dialogues to promote tolerance and understanding and to jointly tackle societal issues where religious leadership and tradition are driving factors, such as education for all and reducing early marriage. On May 23, embassy officials hosted an interfaith iftar, which included Muslim, Christian, and Baha’i leaders; government officials; and members of civil society. At the event, an embassy official delivered remarks emphasizing the importance of interfaith tolerance. The Ambassador also met with the imam of the Grand Mosque of Niamey, who is the leader of the Islamic Association of Niamey, during Eid Al-Adha to discuss religious freedom and tolerance. The Ambassador met with the Catholic community to urge interfaith dialogue in Tahoua in February, attended and spoke at a rally at an Assembly of God church in Niamey in September, and met twice during the year with the Catholic archbishop.

The embassy sponsored a program that included training on balanced media coverage of religious issues. In April the embassy provided financial support to a local organization to promote religious tolerance and understanding among youth in western Tillabery at risk of recruitment by extremists. Additionally, the embassy marked Religious Freedom Week with a social media campaign.

The embassy sponsored programs with religious leaders nationwide focused on countering violent extremism related to religion and amplifying voices of religious tolerance.

Nigeria

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 continued a campaign to combat forced child begging, which often takes place at some Islamic schools. The government also continued its programs to assist religious groups to maintain places of worship, fund and facilitate participation in the Hajj and Roman Catholic pilgrimages, permit four hours of voluntary religious education at public and private schools, and fund schools operated by religious groups. The government continued to monitor religious groups to ensure they operated according to the terms of their registration. Several draft laws related to child begging at religious schools awaited National Assembly ratification. The government provided $11 million of in-kind assistance toward the construction of the new Massalikul Jinaan Mosque, the largest in West Africa.

Local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued efforts to focus attention on the abuse of children, including forced child begging, at some traditional Islamic schools (known locally as daaras). These 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 students faced in 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 throughout the country. In meetings with civil society and religious leaders, 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 15.4 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to 2016 government statistics, 95.9 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 between 30,000 and 50,000 Shia Muslims, according to an unofficial 2017 estimate from the secretary general of the AhlouBayt Shia movement. Approximately 4.1 percent of the population is Christian. Christian groups include Catholics, Protestants, and groups combining Christian and indigenous beliefs.

Most Christians live 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

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 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 taxation on donations received. For example, the new $35-million Massalikul Jinaan Mosque received a tax exemption for the imported materials used in its construction.

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, including those affiliated with religious groups, 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 may opt out their children from attending.

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

Government Practices

The government continued working on a child protection bill pending in the National Assembly since 2016 and forbidding forced child begging, an abuse occurring in some Quranic schools or daaras. The government continued to work closely with Muslim religious leaders to gain support for the campaign and for other initiatives. A draft bill introduced by the government in 2018 to regulate the status of daaras also remained pending and was not introduced to the National Assembly. Civil society and children’s rights advocates continued to appeal to the government to approve and implement the law in order to regulate daaras more effectively and to prosecute Quaranic teachers who committed serious abuses against children, including forced begging and physical and sexual abuse.

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, the government provided $11 million of in-kind assistance for land, lighting, sanitation, and road infrastructure for the construction of the new Massalikul Jinaan Mosque, the largest in West Africa, maintained by the Mouride (Sufi) religious brotherhood in Dakar.

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. The government also organized Hajj trips for approximately 2,000 additional individuals. The government continued to provide assistance for an annual Catholic pilgrimage to the Vatican, the Palestinian territories, and Israel and assisted 350 individuals with 300,000 CFA francs ($520) each. The Catholic Church reported the government provided 380 million CFA francs ($653,000) for travel to the Vatican, the same level as the previous year.

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 the same practice with foreign-based NGOs, including those affiliated with religious groups. Each association submitted an annual report, including a financial report, which the ministries used 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 to learn Quranic teachings. Some daaras reportedly continued to force children to beg. The problem of forced begging remained widespread, according to the Global Solidarity Initiative, which in a 2018 study of Dakar daaras, estimated 28,000 children in the capital were forced to beg daily. A 2019 Human Rights Watch report estimated that over 100,000 children throughout the country were forced to beg daily.

Local media and NGOs continued to report cases of physical and sexual abuse of daara students by some marabouts, or Quranic schoolteachers. Some communities engaged local actors, such as religious and local government leaders, to combat the problem; in some communities, local women helped care for children in daaras to prevent child begging.

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 daara students faced 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 Dakar to discuss these issues. The embassy and a visiting U.S. military chaplain hosted a roundtable discussion in July with seven Muslim and Catholic religious leaders, emphasizing the importance of maintaining religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue.

The embassy sponsored two local religious leaders to attend the First Regional Conference on Cultural Heritage Protection for Religious Communities in Rabat, Morocco. During Ramadan, the Ambassador and other senior embassy officials hosted an iftar for members of the local arts community focusing on diversity and another with the LGBTI community focused on religious tolerance and inclusion. Local government officials, youth leaders, religious leaders, NGO representatives, and other members of civil society attended these events.

South Sudan

Executive Summary

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

Sudan

Executive Summary Title

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

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

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

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future