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Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

The religious freedom law requires religious groups to register for legal recognition from the state. Legal recognition gives religious groups the ability to purchase property collectively and use their property to hold religious events, exempts them from paying certain property taxes, and authorizes a group to be treated as an incorporated entity in the court system. To apply for government recognition, a religious group must collect 100,000 member signatures from legal residents from 12 of the 18 provinces and submit them to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (MJHR). The law also requires religious groups to submit documents defining their organizational structure, methods of worship, leadership, and the amount of time the group has operated in the country, and that their doctrine be in accordance with principles and rights the constitution. In 2015 the MJHR issued a circular that provides for the establishment of ecumenical associations and the requirements for an unrecognized religious group to incorporate with the ecumenical association. While the MJHR is responsible for registration and recognition of religious groups, oversight of religious organizations is the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture through its National Institute for Religious Affairs (INAR).

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

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

On November 24, a court in Luanda sentenced four Muslims to three years’ imprisonment and fined them 70,000 kwanzas ($410) for allegedly forming a radical Islamic group and pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. Two other defendants were acquitted. The defendants maintained their innocence and said they were discriminated against because of their Muslim faith. They acknowledged they discussed religion over the internet through a Facebook page and stated they had discussed writings by a Brazilian Muslim who was detained in Brazil related to charges of participating in a terrorist cell. Lawyers for the defendants asserted their clients’ innocence and said that discussing religion on social media and sharing religious beliefs with others was not a crime and was a common practice among other religious communities. In a private meeting, a leader in the Muslim community said that he did not believe the individuals were persecuted for their religious beliefs, and he agreed that they should be tried and held accountable for any crimes they might have committed so as not to cast a negative light on the Muslim community in Angola.

Government officials at the highest levels continued to state concern about the proliferation of religious “sects,” some of which were alleged to have exploited vulnerable populations with limited financial means by requiring them to provide recurring payments or dues to worship or belong to these organizations. In President Lourenco’s first address to parliament on October 16, he expressed the desire to change the law on religious freedom in order to reinforce the lines separating religion from business. A few days after the president’s speech, the minister of culture started a dialogue with officially recognized churches to elicit input that would be taken into account as the government drafted a new religious freedom law. On November 11, the vice-governor of Luanda Province stated her wish to curtail the proliferation of religious sects that she said operated churches solely as profitable businesses rather than simply places of worship, or were detrimental to social order.

The government again recognized no new religious groups, and the number officially recognized remained at 81. The government has not recognized a new religious group since 2004 when it created the current application system. A large number of groups continued to await recognition despite having submitted several applications for registration. In 2015, the government estimated that approximately 1,300 religious groups were operating without government recognition, some of which were providing education and medical care to members despite having no legal authority to do so.

The government continued not to recognize any Muslim groups officially or issue any licenses to Muslim groups to practice their religion legally. The Muslim community requested official recognition of its groups but was unable to meet the requirements of the 2004 law, including having 100,000 citizen members and a religious doctrine aligned with the country’s constitution. In the past government officials had stated that some practices allowed by Islam, such as polygamy, contradicted the constitution.

The Muslim community was organized under the Islamic Foundation of Angola (FIA), which interacts with the government and organizes the mosques and adherents in the country. The FIA applied for recognition but did not receive an official response from the government as of year’s end. The Islamic Community of Angola (COIA) is a civil rights organization that applied for recognition in 2005 and also had not received a response from the government. According to the COIA leadership, the high threshold for obtaining legal status, combined with the fact that the majority of recognized religious organizations were Christian, indicated the government opposed recognizing non-Christian religious groups. The Bahai Faith and the Global Messianic Church remained the only two non-Christian organizations legally registered.

During the year the government continued to lead an effort to bring unrecognized Christian groups together in associations that would then receive de facto government recognition, requesting those groups to support actively government requests, such as calls to register for elections, and not to engage in illegal practices. The government approved the operation of four coalitions of Christian churches: the evangelical Christian Union of Churches of the Holy Spirit in Angola, the Protestant Christian Church Coalition of Angola, the National Convention of Angolan Christian Churches, and the Angolan Reviving Churches Council. The INAR stated that since 2016 dozens of groups had joined these associations to avoid closure.

Some religious leaders, civil society members, and media outlets continued to accuse the government of trying to coerce religious groups to align themselves with the ruling party in exchange for authorization to operate freely. In June and July the media reported several instances of national- and local-level politicians presenting the ruling party’s platform to religious leaders and requesting their support in getting congregation members to polling places and ensure an atmosphere of peace during the election period.

While religious groups were free to run radio stations and written press, the government did not approve a 2009 request from the Catholic radio station Ecclesia to extend its signal beyond Luanda.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution establishes a secular state, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for freedom of religious thought, expression, and practice, consistent with public order as established by law and regulations.

The Ministry of Defense through the gendarmes, generally in rural areas, and the Ministry of Interior through the police, generally in cities, have the authority to intervene in conflicts between religious groups to ensure public order and social peace, provided the intervention complies with the principle of state neutrality in religious affairs. On July 18, the government announced the police force and the gendarmerie would merge into a single entity under the Ministry of Interior effective January 1, 2018.

Persons who wish to form a religious group or establish a religious affiliation must register with the Ministry of Interior. Registration requirements include submission of administrative materials (including the applicant’s birth certificate, police record, request letter, copy of identification, and the group’s internal rules) and payment of a registration fee of 50,000 CFA francs ($89). If a group is not registered, the Ministry of Interior orders the closing of the religious facilities until the group registers.

By law, public schools may not provide religious instruction. Religious groups may establish private schools given the authorization of the state and may benefit from state subsidies.

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

On the night of January 28, five followers of the Baname Church died from asphyxiation in the department of Oueme and several more were hospitalized after church leaders told followers to shut themselves in their prayer rooms and burn incense and charcoal sold to them by the church. Following the incident, the prosecutor at the Court of Porto-Novo ordered the detention of four priests of the church and in February entered manslaughter charges against them. The church leader, who, according to media reports, is known for opposing other religions, especially voodoo, and who has stated that she was a “living god” was not arrested or charged; she later told a radio reporter that the five who died were not really church members, but “people who came to test us.”

Government officials attended inductions, funerals, and other religious ceremonies organized by various groups. State-owned television often broadcast these events. Police provided security for any religious event upon request.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Under its broader protections of freedom of conscience, the constitution provides for freedom of thought and religion, the right to change religion or belief, and the right to manifest and propagate religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. The constitution permits the government to restrict these rights in the interest of protecting the rights of other persons, national defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health when the restrictions are deemed “reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.” The government has never exercised this provision. The constitution’s provision of rights also prohibits discrimination based on creed.

The constitution permits every religious group to establish places for religious instruction at the group’s expense. The constitution prohibits requiring religious instruction, as well as requiring participation in religious ceremonies in a religion other than one’s own. The constitution also prohibits compelling an individual to take an oath that is contrary to that individual’s religious beliefs. The penal code criminalizes “hate speech” towards any person or group based on “race, tribe, place of origin, color or creed” with a maximum fine of 500 pula (BWP) ($51).

All organizations, including religious groups, must register with the government. To register, a group must submit its constitution to the registrar of societies section of the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration, and Gender Affairs. A group must register to conduct business, sign contracts, or open an account at a local bank. Any person who manages, assists in the management of, or holds an official position in an unregistered group is subject to a fine of up to 1,000 BWP ($100) and up to seven years in prison. Any member of an unregistered group is subject to penalties including fines up to 500 BWP ($51) and up to three years in prison.

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

An amendment passed in March 2015 raising the minimum membership threshold for registration for new religious groups from 10 to 150 members received presidential assent and became law in August 2016. The amendment did not affect previously registered groups.

Optional religious education remained part of the curriculum in public schools; this curriculum continued to emphasize Christianity but also addressed other religious groups in the country. Government regulation of private schools did not distinguish among Christian, Muslim, or secular schools.

As a matter of policy, the government no longer granted residence permits for religious workers. While the government did permit 90-day visits for Mormon missionaries, it inconsistently granted or denied missionaries’ applications for extensions of a further 90 days, as the law allows. The government reportedly remained concerned about unregulated churches (sometimes called “fire churches”) coming into the country to take advantage of local citizens by demanding tithes and donations for routine services or special prayers. There were reports some pastors from countries normally allowed visa-free travel were required to apply for visas to enter the country, while the government deported others without explanation. For example, the government reportedly put Shepherd Bushiri, the Malawian founder of the Enlightened Christian Gathering, on a visa-required list in April.

The Dalai Lama was scheduled to attend a conference at Gaborone’s Botho University on August 17-19. President Ian Khama criticized China’s attempts to prevent the Dalai Lama’s visit, saying Botswana “is not a colony of China.” The Dalai Lama’s office released a statement praising President Khama and the government for “their unwavering principled stand to welcome him to their country, despite overwhelming pressure not to do so.” The Dalai Lama eventually canceled his visit, citing health concerns.

Although it was common for government meetings to begin with a Christian prayer, members of non-Christian groups occasionally led prayers as well.

Burkina Faso

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states the country is secular, 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. 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, Decentralization, and Internal Security, which is in charge of religious affairs. The ministry, through the Directorate for Customary Affairs and Worship, monitors the implementation of standards for burial, exhumation, and transfer of the 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. The registration process usually takes approximately three to four weeks and costs less than 50,000 CFA francs ($89). Registration confers legal status but no specific obligations or benefits. Religious organizations are not required to register, but when they do so, failure to comply with applicable regulations required by all registered organizations may result in a fine of 50,000 to 150,000 CFA francs ($89 to $270).

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.

Religious teaching is not allowed in public schools. Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups operate private primary and secondary schools and some schools of higher education. 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, but the government does not appoint or approve these officials.

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

In March military forces killed one individual and arrested 18 associated with the militant Islamist group Ansarul Islam near the Mali border. The security minister stated that the country was determined to defeat what he termed extremists trying to enforce sharia.

The National Observatory of Religious Facts (ONAFAR), an organization created by the government in 2015 to “monitor regulations on cultural practices” and promote tolerance and interfaith dialogue, continued to monitor religious communities and cultural practices. Along with monitoring, the ONAFAR played a mediator role within the religious community to mitigate tensions between communities through dialogue. For example, the ONAFAR intervened in the Hauts-Bassins region to conduct mediation within a community in which a dispute over funeral rites to be performed on a deceased individual who had converted to Islam had resulted in violence. The ONAFAR, along with national and local government officials, met with the community leaders and members to find a peaceful resolution.

On January 9, the government announced the withdrawal of a draft bill designed to regulate religious organizations and practices, after the Federation of Burkina Islamic Associations (FAIB) publicly expressed concerns that the proposed bill would “reduce their freedom of conscience and worship.” The FAIB specifically objected to provisions stating that collective worship shall take place exclusively in buildings intended for public worship that have received prior authorization from authorities. It also objected to a provision that would prevent public officials from “conspicuously” and visibly exhibiting their religious beliefs in the performance of their duties. The FAIB additionally opposed provisions that required leaders of religious organizations and associations to “demonstrate solid knowledge of religious matters attested by at least one recognized structure or institution.”

The government continued to give all religious groups equal access to registration and routinely approved their applications, according to religious group leaders.

The government generally did not fund religious schools or require them to pay taxes unless they conducted for-profit activities. The government provided 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 taxed religious groups only if they engaged in commercial activities, such as farming or dairy production. The government reviewed the curricula of religious schools to ensure they offered the full standard academic curriculum; however, the majority of Quranic schools were not registered, and thus their curricula were not reviewed.

The government allocated 75 million CFA francs ($133,000) each to the Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and traditional animistic communities. According to the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, the government could provide an additional subsidy under the following circumstances: when the religious community or organization pursued a mission of general interest, such as education, health, or vocational training; when the religious community conducted an activity of national interest, such as promoting peace or social stability; or when the success or failure of an activity could have affected a significant part of the population, as in the case of religious pilgrimages. 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 August the government allocated approximately one billion CFA francs ($1.78 million) to subsidize the costs of the 8,100 Muslims going on the Hajj.

On September 8, the ethics commission of the CSC, the governmental body in charge of regulating media, summoned and questioned officials of the Al Houda radio station for content it stated was “undermining the principle of religious tolerance” and violating the terms of agreements signed between the CSC and media organizations. During a program, a preacher stated that individuals adhering to Ahmadiyya beliefs should not be considered Muslims, prompting a complaint from a listener. Al Houda radio officials had been summoned in a similar incident in 2016. A CSC commission reviewed the case and sent a warning letter to Al Houda radio. The CSC could adopt sanctions against the radio if another incident occurs.

In March armed men killed a teacher and a resident in the northern city of Kourfayel. Several media reports indicated that armed men entered classrooms in Wonrongoma, Pelem Pelem, and Lassa and threatened teachers, telling them they would be killed if they did not start teaching the Quran instead of the regular curricula. This attack caused the temporary closure of dozens of schools and the departure of teachers from the region. Governmental delegations including the minister of security and the minister of education traveled several times to the region and met with representatives of teachers and local authorities to discuss ways to ensure the safety of teachers working in the northern part of the country.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution establishes a secular state; prohibits religious discrimination; recognizes freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; and provides for equal protection under the law regardless of religion. These rights may be limited by law in the general interest or to protect the rights of others, and may not be abused to compromise national unity, independence, peace, democracy, or the secular nature of the state, or to violate the constitution. The constitution prohibits political parties from preaching religious violence, exclusion, or hate.

The government recognizes and registers religious groups through the law covering nonprofit organizations, which states these organizations must register with the Ministry of Interior. There is a 20,000 Burundian franc ($12) fee for registration. Each religious group must provide the denomination or affiliation of the institution, a copy of its bylaws, the address of its headquarters in the country, an address abroad if the local institution is part of a larger group, and the names and addresses of the association’s governing body and legal representative. Registration also entails identifying any property and bank accounts owned by the religious group. The ministry usually processes registration requests within two to four weeks. Leaders of religious groups who fail to comply or who practice in spite of denial of their registration are subject to six months’ to five years’ imprisonment.

The law does not generally grant tax exemptions or other benefits to religious groups, with certain exceptions. Some religious and nonreligious schools have signed agreements with the government entitling them to tax exemptions when investing in infrastructure or purchasing school equipment and educational materials.

The official curriculum includes religion and morality classes for all secondary and primary schools. The program offers religious instruction for Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam, although all classes may not be available if the number of students interested is insufficient in a particular school. Students are free to choose from one of these three religion classes or attend morality classes instead.

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

In August during a civil marriage ceremony in Karuzi Province, a Jehovah’s Witness couple refused to pronounce their marriage vows while holding the national flag – a practice common in civil marriages but not required by law. The couple was arrested and detained in a jail in Karuzi. They were released two weeks later without any charges and were subsequently allowed to marry, pronouncing their vows with their hands on the Bible.

The government sometimes prevented religious groups without official recognition from holding meetings. In December police and members of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) detained members of an unrecognized Christian congregation in Mwaro Province during a late-night prayer session. Members of the security services reportedly believed that the group was engaged in political activities rather than, or in addition to, prayer, reflecting widespread restrictions on the freedom of assembly in the country. The detained individuals were subsequently released without charges.

On December 27, SNR agents detained 13 Ahmadi Muslims between 12 and 24 years of age who were visiting the Ahmadiyya mosque in Bujumbura, reportedly on suspicion that they were members of the al-Shabaab terrorist group. They were subsequently released, allegedly for a bribe.

The Ministry of the Interior sometimes denied requests for registration from religious groups but did not make information available on the applicants who were refused or the reasons for refusal.

Following tense rhetorical exchanges between the government and the Catholic Church over political issues exacerbated by the 2015 presidential election, observers stated that both government officials and members of the Catholic hierarchy made efforts to improve relations. In August Archbishop of Gitega Simon Ntamwana inaugurated a government-organized prayer retreat in Gitega, which was attended by President Nkurunziza and other senior officials.

President Nkurunziza routinely employed religious rhetoric in the context of political speeches and invoked divine guidance for political decisions. In a November speech, he lauded the members of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, by using a play on words in which he called God “the first Imbonerakure,” literally “one who sees far” or “a visionary.”

In May the president issued a decree launching a campaign requiring unmarried couples to legalize their relationships by the end of the year. The Ministry of the Interior subsequently announced that couples who did not marry before the end of the year could face fines of 50,000 francs ($29), based on the provisions of the criminal code against unmarried cohabitation, and that children born out of wedlock would not be eligible for waivers on primary school fees and other social services. The media described this as a campaign to “moralize society.” The president stated that church- and state-sanctioned weddings were an effort to reinforce positive moral values. Civil society activists said that compelling cohabitating couples to marry was part of a “religious crusade” led by the president and his wife.

In January the Ministry of the Interior announced the establishment of a new religious monitoring body to “monitor, regulate, and settle” inter and intradenominational disputes and to ensure that religious organizations operate according to law. The committee was also charge with tracking subversive or inflammatory teachings. Eight of the 11 members named were religious leaders, with no representative from the Catholic Church. There were no reports of the body taking action during the year.

Some of the followers of Eusebie Ngendakumana who had earlier been released from prison were subject to continued legal proceedings under consideration by the Supreme Court, according to their lawyer. Ngendakumana, who remained in exile in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was accused of leading an unrecognized cult that formed after she reported seeing visions of the Virgin Mary in 2013.

Government benefits, such as tax waivers, continued to be granted to religious groups for the acquisition of materials to manage development projects. According to the Burundi Revenue Authority, tax waivers were granted to religious denominations for the import of religious materials such as printed materials, wines for the observation of Mass, and equipment to produce communion wafers. The authority granted to a Catholic congregation a tax waiver for the purchase of building material for a new convent, and to a diocese for the import of two vehicles for its development projects.

President Nkurunziza led the country’s 14th annual National Prayer Breakfast on November 14, with the theme “Be the change you wish to see.” The president’s speech focused on the need “to root out evil and to plant good,” alternating his message between a call for citizens to work for change and offering that “some things only God can do.”


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

The MINATD may issue an order to suspend any religious group for “disturbing public order,” which is not defined in the law. 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.

The government and leaders of the Catholic Church disagreed about the circumstances surrounding the death of Bishop Jean Marie Benoit Bala of the Diocese of Bafia. On June 2, his body was recovered from the Sanaga River after his car was found on the bridge with a note inside stating, “I am in the water.” On June 13, the National Episcopal Council of Cameroon (NECC) declared the Bishop had been brutally murdered. The NECC challenged the results of an official autopsy, which stated that the Bishop probably drowned, given that there were no signs of violence on his body. On July 4, the attorney general also released a statement at the Central Appeal Court stating, “Drowning is the most probable cause of death of the Bishop.” On July 10, the NECC stated in a public statement, based on what it said was moral certitude, “the corpse which was recovered from the river and identified as his, bore marks of violence.” Bala’s death followed a series of killings of Roman Catholic clergymen since the 1980s. Bishop Abraham Kome, appointed as administrator of the Diocese of Bafia following Bala’s death, said during a homily that people in positions of power killed Bala because he stood against homosexual activity. On August 4, NECC President Archbishop Samuel Kleda said the controversy surrounding the Bishop’s death had significantly strained relations between the Church and the government. The NECC filed a private lawsuit against government officials for “mishandling the case.”

On September 17, security officers in Douala arrested the pastor of the Salvation for All Nations revivalist church following the death of Henriette Fagna, a parishioner who sought treatment from her pastor after falling ill. The pastor initiated a healing service on her behalf, but her condition deteriorated, and she was eventually taken to a health facility where she later died. Authorities charged the pastor with her death, stating the pastor’s actions delayed medical intervention until it was too late.

On August 8, the newly appointed governor of the Center Region, Paul Naseri Bea, announced the closure of unauthorized revivalist churches, citing public order and health concerns, especially nighttime noise that disturbed residents. The authorities, however, did not implement his order or close any churches.

The government intervened on several occasions in protracted leadership crises within Christian groups, such as the Cameroon Evangelical Church (CEC) and the Cameroonian Presbyterian Church (EPC). In July the courts suspended the president and other executives of the CEC, who had been elected in April. In February the Divisional Officer of Mvila, South Region, placed five parishes of the CPC under the temporary administration of its General Assembly. In both cases, the government stated it took this measure to preserve order and encourage a solution and reconciliation among those involved. Various factions of the two denominations accused the government of administrative bias and judicial discrimination.

On June 25, security officers dispersed a group of persons attempting to disrupt Islamic prayers marking the end of Ramadan in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region. The group that attempted the disruption stated that the traditional Muslim ruler (Lamido) and the governor had wrongfully expelled 48 families from the prayer site in May after public authorities granted the land to them. The governor said the state owned the land in question and granted the Muslim community access after an official request. Gendarmes arrested six protesters.

The government again took no action to adjudicate applications for legal status 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. According to the MINATD, incomplete application submissions and lengthy background investigations contributed to delays. Although, by law, groups must register, the government continued to allow hundreds of unauthorized small religious groups to operate freely under its policy of “administrative tolerance.” Forty-seven religious groups continued to be legally authorized at year’s end.

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

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

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

Boko Haram continued committing acts of mass violence in its quest to impose its religious and political beliefs. Boko Haram perpetrated numerous attacks, sometimes directly targeting places of worship. For example, on September 13, a young girl walked into the Sanda-Wadjiri mosque in Kolofata and set off an explosive that killed five worshippers during morning prayers. Boko Haram perpetrated multiple and indiscriminate killings of civilians – Muslim and Christian alike – and of government officials and military personnel. In addition, insurgents kidnapped civilians and set residences on fire. On September 5, Amnesty International released a report stating that Boko Haram suicide bombers had killed 158 civilians in the country between April and September.

The government worked in conjunction with the Nigerian government in a joint forces campaign to free citizens under the control of Boko Haram and arrest Boko Haram fighters. In March troops from the country’s Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), alongside Nigerian forces, freed several localities, including Siyara, Kote, Sigawa Tchatike, and Lamukura, in the border region under Boko Haram control.

Central African Republic

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,” which is not defined in law. It specifies an oath of office for the head of state made “before God” 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.

The law permits the ministry to deny registration to any religious group it deems offensive to public morals or likely to disturb social peace, and to suspend the operation of registered religious groups if it finds their activities subversive. Registration is free and confers official recognition and certain benefits, such as customs duty exemptions for vehicles or equipment. There are no penalties prescribed for groups that fail to register.

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

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

According to media reports and religious and civil society leaders, civilian authorities failed to maintain effective control over the security forces, a situation that has persisted for a number of years. Human rights organizations stated the government again failed to take steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed abuses that targeted members of various religious groups. These individuals were in the security forces and elsewhere in the government, and the human rights organizations stated this was a long-standing problem and one that fostered a climate of impunity.

During a government and UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) military operation to question and arrest local Muslim militia leader Yossouf Malinga, security forces killed Malinga in a February 7 shootout in Bangui’s predominantly Muslim PK5 neighborhood. According to the Christian Broadcasting Network, his death was followed by several violent incidents, including the fatal stabbing of a Protestant minister at his church by supporters of Malinga’s militia group, the burning of two other churches, and the killing of a Muslim civilian, reportedly by anti-Balaka elements in retaliation. In addition, 300 residents of the Fondo neighborhood, also in the same district, fled their homes and took shelter at the recently closed IDP site at nearby M’Poko International Airport.

Muslims continued to report harassment outside of the PK5 enclave and exclusion from national decision making. Muslim leaders cited situations where Muslims were treated as outsiders or as a different class of citizens, especially when requesting government services.

Some government officials stated they intended to focus efforts on reconciliation among religious groups, although observers stated they made limited progress for a second year. The national Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Reconciliation Commission was created in December 2016, but its members had not been named by the end of 2017. Following the announcement of its creation in 2016, local peace committees began meeting in several areas. On August 23, President Faustin-Archange Touadera appointed new administrators for all of the country’s 16 prefectures; none of the appointees were Muslim. Critics stated the appointments lacked religious diversity. On September 12, Touadera named a new cabinet that included seven Muslims among the 34 ministers. The previous cabinet included four Muslims among 23 ministers. The percentage of Muslims in the cabinet increased from 17 to 21.

In February the government completed the closure of the IDP camp located at M’Poko International Airport. More than 28,000 residents, predominantly Christian, were unsure of where to go after the camp’s closure, according to UNICEF. Many of the IDPs previously lived in the PK5 neighborhood.

In July the Ministry of Social Affairs provided Muslim IDPs living on the grounds of Bangui’s Central Mosque with 50,000 CFA francs ($88) each to assist them with finding housing, mostly in the PK5 neighborhood.

The government continued to observe Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as official but unpaid holidays. Unlike in the previous year, the government did not host an iftar.

Armed groups, which generally operated freely in certain areas of the country, continued to commit many of the actions affecting religious freedom. The government remained incapable of imposing its authority throughout the territory, preventing abuses, or ensuring the rule of law and the administration of justice, according to many observers.

Armed groups, particularly the anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka, continued to control significant swaths of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing institutions, according to media and UN reports.

Police and the gendarmerie failed to stop or punish abuses committed by the ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka militias, including killings, abductions, physical mistreatment, extortion, and gender-based violence.

MINUSCA was deployed to multiple areas within the country in response to violence between anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka elements during the year.

According to UN Independent Expert Marie-Therese Keita Bocoum, in mid-February anti-Balaka fighters reportedly killed at least 16 civilians from the predominantly Muslim and nomadic Peulh community near Ippy, Ouaka Prefecture, during an ambush on a truck carrying persons trying to reach safety in Bambari. Between March 7 and 15, attacks carried out by anti-Balaka elements on the village of Site Chinois, to the south of Bria, reportedly resulted in the deaths of an estimated nine Peulh civilians and massive population displacement.

On May 11, the local branch of the Red Cross in Alindao, Basse-Kotto, reported that 37 bodies had been recovered and 110 persons injured in the locality following attacks carried out against the population between May 8 and May 10, reportedly by predominantly Muslim Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique – Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) militias. According to MINUSCA, a group of assailants believed to be associated with anti-Balaka forces attacked a UN convoy near the town of Bangassou in the southeast on May 8, killing five peacekeepers. This was part of a series of attacks that included attacks on the Muslim population in Bangassou.

According to the July report from the UN Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic, on May 13, anti-Balaka fighters attacked the Tokoyo neighborhood of Bangassou and the MINUSCA base, resulting in 72 persons killed, 76 injured, and 4,400 displaced. During the attacks 1,000 persons took refuge in a mosque in Bangassou, and 500 took refuge in a hospital. According to the UN Panel, attackers specifically targeted members of the Muslim community sheltering inside a Catholic church after peacekeepers left the church and returned to the MINUSCA base to protect it, leaving the Muslims at the church unprotected. One UN peacekeeper was killed. On May 14, UN forces were able to regain control of the area and those who sought refuge were freed. The Red Cross reported that it found the bodies of 115 individuals, the majority of whom were likely Muslim, in Bangassou on May 17, following the several days long anti-Balaka attacks. Approximately 2,000 Muslims remained in the Catholic mission after the attacks. Their Muslim neighborhood was destroyed by the anti-Balaka, and many homes were burned down. Additional anti-Balaka attacks targeting Muslims took place in June, leading to the displacement of additional civilians, approximately 21,000 altogether.

According to MINUSCA, on July 21, anti-Balaka militias targeted a Roman Catholic seminary in Bangassou which was providing refuge to an estimated 2,000 internally displaced Muslims. During the attack, two children were seriously hurt. A Muslim woman was also kidnapped, presumably by anti-Balaka militia; in response Muslim groups detained six Christians. Two of the Christians were reportedly released on July 22, and the whereabouts of the others remained unknown at year’s end.

According to international media reports, in mid-May the predominantly Muslim armed group Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central African Republic (FPRC) entered the town of Bria and faced off with anti-Balaka militants, displacing tens of thousands of persons, mostly Christians. A month after the FPRC forces entered, approximately 41,000 persons, mostly Christians, continued to live in IDP camps. The PK3 camp, close to the UN base in Bria, had more than 26,000 inhabitants.

On August 8, 50 Christians were killed by the ex-Seleka in Gambo after anti-Balaka forces were cleared from the area by the MINUSCA.

According to the July UN Report of the Independent Expert, the Human Rights Division of MINUSCA documented 45 cases of violence committed against persons accused of witchcraft, involving 77 victims – 38 men, 32 women, and seven children. According to the report, most individuals accused of witchcraft and charlatanism were women and children, and a large number went to prison. The report said false allegations were made by members of armed groups to terrorize and extort money from the population. The report recommended the prosecution and punishment of all perpetrators of violence against persons accused of witchcraft.

In October a Bangui newspaper reported that a “network of sorcerers” had been dismantled in the village of Ndangala, outside Bangui. Villagers reportedly handed over to authorities in the town of Bimbo for investigation 12 individuals whom they accused of attempting to kill a woman through witchcraft.


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 only be limited by law 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.

Under the law, all associations, religious or otherwise, must register with the Ministry of Territorial Planning, Urban Development, and Housing. The associations must provide a list of all the founding members and their positions in the organization, the founders’ resumes, copies of the founders’ identification cards, minutes of the establishment meetings, a letter to the minister requesting registration, the principal source of the organization’s revenue, the address of the organization, a copy of the rules and procedures, and the statutory documents of the organization. The Ministry of Public Security and Immigration 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 a bank account or enter into contracts; it may also lead to the banning of a group, one month to a year in prison, and a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($88 to $880). 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 in the entire national territory by ministerial decree. This also applies to niqabs.

The constitution states public education shall be secular. The government prohibits religious instruction in public schools but permits religious groups to operate private schools.

The government-created High Council for Islamic Affairs (HCIA) oversees Islamic religious activities, including some Arabic language schools and institutions of higher learning, and represents the country at international Islamic forums. Wahabbists 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.

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 Planning, Urban Development, and Housing 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 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.

The government maintained its ban on the leading Wahabbist group; however, those practicing continued to meet and worship in their own mosques.

The government continued its long running public education campaign in the national media to inform individuals of the burqa ban. During the year, there were no known prosecutions for violating the ban.

In June during the celebration of the end of Ramadan, President Deby stated that all mosques should affiliate with the HCIA and that the HCIA would have oversight over all Muslim activities. Institutions that did not comply could face closure.

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

Cote d’Ivoire

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

Religious education is not included in the public school curriculum but is often included in private schools affiliated with a particular faith.

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

On June 6, women and children from the Guinean faction of one of the largest mosques in Man staged a sit-in to protest its closing in 2016. Local authorities closed the mosque following violent incidents to resolve a question of leadership between the Guinean and Ivorian factions. The women ended their sit-in on June 25, on the condition that the local authorities would look into reopening the mosque. The mosque was still closed at the end of the year.

The government continued to supervise and organize Hajj pilgrimages for Muslims and fund pilgrimages to Israel and France for Christians, as well as fund local pilgrimages for members of independent African Christian churches. The government organized and transported 4,200 pilgrims to the Hajj and funded pilgrimages for 3,500 Christians of all denominations.

The government included prominent Muslim and Catholic religious leaders in talks with disgruntled soldiers who staged a mutiny in January over the back payment of promised bonuses. Religious leaders also met with the soldiers before the second mutiny in May, and shared their assessment with government officials that the soldiers were likely to stage a second mutiny.

The national government declared the one-year anniversary of the March 2016 terrorist attack in Grand Bassam a “Day of Remembrance.” On this occasion, the mayor organized a public ceremony to unveil a headstone in memory of the victims. A Catholic priest and an imam said prayers for the victims.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

Because religious and political issues overlap, it was difficult to categorize some incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

On September 15, government security forces shot and killed 36 Burundian refugees and asylum seekers in Kamanyola outside of Bukavu in the eastern part of the country. The Burundians were Christian followers of Eusebie Ngendakumana, who said she had visions of the Virgin Mary in Burundi. The followers were critical of the Burundi president and were killed while protesting the forcible deportation of some of their members back to Burundi. The motive for the killings was unclear. Since 2015, over 2,000 Burundian members of this movement have sought refuge in the country.

In March authorities arrested Ne Muanda Nsemi, the leader of the BDK separatist political-religious group, which calls for the secession of Kongo Central, after a series of clashes between Nsemi and government forces. Nsemi, who is believed by his followers to have religious or mystical powers, used women and children as human shields during the standoff to keep government security forces from raiding his compound. In May Nsemi escaped from jail, along with as many as 4,000 other prisoners, when unknown assailants attacked Kinshasa’s Makala Prison. On August 7, BDK members attacked police and civilians in Kinshasa, killing several. According to the UN Joint Office of Human Rights, government security forces killed an unspecified number of civilians during the ensuing security force response.

On December 31, government security forces used teargas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition to disrupt peaceful protests in Kinshasa organized by Catholic Church leaders calling for credible elections and implementation of the CENCO-mediated December 2016 Agreement between the government and opposition parties. Church leaders and civil society organizations reported that state security forces arrested priests and churchgoers, encircled at least 134 parishes in Kinshasa, interrupted Mass in five churches, blocked access to two churches, forcibly entered at least 18 churches, and deployed tear gas in 10 others. At least five people were killed and as many as 92 were injured. More than 100 people were arrested, some of whom were held incommunicado. Some of those who were severely injured were shot by live ammunition or rubber bullets while inside church compounds. Security forces shot at least one person in the head at point blank range and then shot with rubber bullets a priest who was carrying the injured parishioner.

Catholic Church leaders reported acts of violence and intimidation against Church officials in response to Church support for elections and implementation of the December 2016 Agreement, which called for elections by December, prevented President Joseph Kabila from seeking a third presidential term or changing the constitution, and called for the release of political prisoners and an end to politically motivated prosecutions. For instance, Catholic seminaries were targets of vandalism in February and March in what CENCO said was retaliation for its mediation of the December 2016 Agreement and support for its implementation. On February 12, unknown assailants vandalized Saint Dominique’s Church in Kinshasa. On February 18, assailants ransacked and burned part of a seminary in Malole in the town of Kananga in Kasai Central Province. On February 19, assailants vandalized a Catholic church in Kinshasa’s Limete neighborhood. According to Church leaders, assailants “overturned the tabernacle, ransacked the altar, smashed some of the benches, and attempted to set fire to the church.” On February 21, unidentified individuals broke into the parish of St. Mary in Lukalaba of Kasai Oriental, breaking windows and stealing liturgical books and other objects. That same day in Lubumbashi, unidentified individuals vandalized the St. Jean parish building and attempted to break into the parish of St. Kizito. Following these incidents, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, said in a public statement that the Catholic Church was “being targeted deliberately in order to sabotage her mission of peace and reconciliation.” Catholic clergy were also threatened after CENCO released a statement on April 21 expressing concern about the government’s failure to implement the December Agreement as written.

Catholic leaders and institutions were also threatened after Church leaders expressed concern over violence they attributed to government security forces and the Kamuina Nsapu militia in Kasai. According to the UN Joint Office of Human Rights, on February 4-5 in Luiza territory, government security forces killed 49 civilians including 39 children who had taken refuge at a Catholic mission. In June the Catholic Church reported that as many as 3,383 people had been killed in Kasai since August 2016. The Apostolic Nunciature also reported that from October 2016 to June 2017, 232 Catholic Church buildings and schools in Kasai were attacked amid fighting between government security forces and the Nsapu militia. Church leaders also stated that some Catholic officials in Kasai who publicly denounced the behavior of government security forces were subjected to government harassment and attacks against their congregations. Catholic Bishops in Luiza and Luebo sought refuge in Kinshasa after receiving death threats from both Nsapu militia and members of government security forces.

The MOJ again did not issue any final registration permits for religious groups and has not done so since 2014, reportedly due to an internal investigation into registration practices resulting in fraud. The government, however, continued its practice that groups have been presumed to have been approved and have been permitted to organize. Unregistered domestic religious groups reported they continued to operate unhindered. The MOJ previously estimated that more than 2,000 registration applications for both religious and nonreligious NGOs remained pending and 3,569 associations with no legal authorization continued to operate. Foreign-based religious groups reported they operated without restriction after applying for legal status. Under existing law, which was under review, nonprofit organizations could operate as legal entities by default if a government ministry gave a favorable opinion of their application and the government did not object to their application for status. According to 2015 registration statistics, the latest year for which the MOJ had statistics, there were a total of 14,568 legally registered nonprofit organizations, 11,119 legal religious nonprofit organizations, and 1,073 foreign nonprofit organizations. Religious nonprofits that were legally operating and registered included 404 Catholic, 93 Protestant, 54 Muslim, and 1,322 evangelical nonprofits, the latter including those belonging to the Kimbangu Church.

The government continued to rely on religious organizations to provide public services such as education and healthcare throughout the country. According to the Ministry of Education, approximately 72 percent of primary school students and 65 percent of secondary school students attended government-funded schools administered by religious organizations. The government paid teacher salaries at some schools run by religious groups depending on sectors, areas, and needs.

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

Equatorial Guinea

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and prohibits political parties based on religious affiliation. The law states the country has no national religion and individuals are free to change religions. Christians converting to Islam are permitted to add Muslim names to their Christian names on their official documents.

Regulations establish an official preference for the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed Church of Equatorial Guinea. Neither group is required to register with the MJRAPI. The only religious group to receive state funding for operating educational institutions is the Roman Catholic Church.

Some long-standing religious groups such as Methodists, Muslims, and Bahais hold permanent authorizations and are not required to renew their registrations with the MJRAPI. Newer groups and denominations may be required to renew their registration annually. To register, religious groups at the congregational level must submit a written application to the MJRAPI director general of religion. Those seeking to register must supply detailed information about the leadership (e.g., curriculum vitae) and members of the group; construction plans of religious buildings; property ownership documents, accreditations, and religious mandate; and a fee of 100,000 Central African francs (CFA) ($180). The director general of religion adjudicates these applications and may order an inspection by the MJRAPI before processing. The government may fine or shut down unregistered groups. The law requires a permit for door-to-door proselytism.

An MJRAPI decree specifies that any religious activities taking place outside the hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. or outside of registered places of worship require pre-authorization from the MJRAPI. The decree prohibits religious acts or preaching within private residences if those acts involve persons who do not live there. Foreign religious representatives or authorities must obtain advance permission from the MJRAPI to participate in religious activities. The decree exempts the Catholic Church.

The government recognizes official documents issued by authorized religious groups, such as birth certificates and marriage certificates.

The constitution states individuals are free to study religion in schools and may not be forced to study a faith other than their own. Catholic religious classes are part of the public school curriculum, but such study may be replaced by non-Catholic religious study or by a recess with a note from a leader of another religious group.

All foreigners, including foreign evangelical missionaries, are required to obtain residency permits to remain in the country.

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

While the government routinely granted religious groups permission for activities outside of places of worship, except in private homes, it usually denied permits to hold activities outside of the prescribed hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., according to religious leaders. All religious groups, including a small number of Bahai and Jewish groups, were allowed to hold services as long as they finished before 9 p.m. and did not disturb the peace. Evangelical Christian groups continued to hold activities outside the prescribed period with no repercussions from law enforcement. Religious leaders said authorities routinely issued permits for proselytism and door-to-door proselytism occurred without incident.

Evangelical Christians reported residency permits were prohibitively expensive at 400,000 CFA ($700), leading some missionaries to risk the consequences of not obtaining or renewing such permits. The local police reportedly enforced the requirement with threatened deportation and requested a small bribe as an alternative. There were no deportations reported. The residency permit fee for foreign missionaries was the same as for all other foreigners; however, if the missionary coordinated with the MJRAPI, the residency permit could be obtained for free, provided missionary status could be proven and the requisite security checks were passed. The residency permits were not required for Catholic missionaries.

Protestant groups, including the Reformed Church, Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God, Methodists, Baptists, and other Christians, operated primary and secondary schools. These schools had to be registered with the government and fulfill standard curriculum requirements.

Catholic masses were a normal part of all major ceremonial functions, such as National Day on October 12 and the President’s Birthday on June 5. Catholic leaders were the only religious leaders to meet publicly with government officials. Catholic and Reformed Church leaders were often seated in preferred locations at official functions.

On April 2, Minister of Justice, Religious Affairs, and Penitentiary Institutions Evangelina Filomena Oyo Ebule opened celebrations to mark the National Day of Prayer, which included representatives from all major faiths. In her speech, the minister emphasized the need of all religious faiths to continue to work together to promote peace and security.

Some non-Catholics who worked for the government continued to report that their supervisors strongly encouraged participation in religious activities related to their government positions, including attending Catholic masses. Government officials stated that it was expected that they attend the president’s birthday Mass at the Catholic Church.

Unlike in previous years, the government allowed the Islamic community to celebrate the festival of Eid al-Adha in the Malabo Stadium. Hundreds of Muslims gathered in the stadium from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on September 4.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit religious discrimination and provide for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief and the freedom to practice any religion.

Proclamation 73/1995 calls for separation of church and state; outlines the parameters to which religious organizations must adhere, including foreign relations and social activities; establishes an Office of Religious Affairs; and requires religious groups to register with the government or cease activities. Members of religious groups that are unregistered or otherwise not in compliance with the law are subject to penalties under the provisional penal code. Such penalties may include fines and prison terms. The Office of Religious Affairs has authority to regulate religious activities and institutions, including approval of the applications of religious groups seeking official recognition. Each application must include a description of the religious group’s history in the country, an explanation of the uniqueness or benefit the group offers compared with other religious groups, names and personal information of the group’s leaders, detailed information on assets, a description of the group’s conformity to local culture, and a declaration of all foreign sources of funding.

The government recognizes and has registered four religious groups: the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea (affiliated with the Lutheran World Federation). A 2002 decree required all other religious groups to submit registration applications and to cease religious activities and services until these applications were approved. Since 2002, the government has not approved the registration of additional religious groups.

The government appoints the heads of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and the Sunni Islamic community.

Religious groups may print and distribute documents only with the authorization of the Department of Religious Affairs, which has only approved requests from the four officially registered religious groups.

Religious groups must obtain government approval to build facilities for worship.

While the law does not specifically address religious education in public school, Proclamation 73/1995 outlines the parameters to which religious organizations must adhere, and education is not included as an approved activity. Government attempts to enforce the proclamation have been sporadic over the years, occurring in 1998, 2007, 2001, and in October.

By law, all citizens between 18 and 50 must perform national service, with limited exceptions, including for health reasons such as physical disability or pregnancy. A compulsory citizen militia requires persons not already in the military, including many who were demobilized, elderly, or otherwise exempted from military service in the past, to carry firearms and attend militia training. Failure to participate in the militia or national service could result in detention. Militia duties mostly involve security-related activities, such as airport or neighborhood patrolling. Militia training primarily involves occasional marches and listening to patriotic lectures. The law does not provide for conscientious objector status for religious reasons, nor are there alternative activities for persons willing to perform national service but unwilling to engage in military or militia activities.

The law prohibits any involvement in politics by religious groups.

All citizens must obtain an exit visa prior to departure. The application requests the applicant’s religious affiliation, but the law does not require that information.

The law limits foreign financing for religious groups. The only contributions legally allowed are from local followers, the government, or government-approved foreign sources.

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

Summary paragraph: There were reports of deaths of members of minority religious groups imprisoned for their religious beliefs as well as physical mistreatment of persons in custody. In October the government’s enforcement of its ban on religious groups operating schools sparked demonstrations that led to the arrest of an Islamic school director and at least 40 other persons. In May international NGOs reported the government arrested approximately 210 Christians in house-to-house raids, and they remained imprisoned, reportedly under harsh conditions. The patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church made his first public appearance since 2006, and he reportedly remained under house arrest. According to international NGO Human Rights Watch, members of all religious groups, to varying degrees, continued to be subject to government restrictions. Observers stated the government continued to impose restrictions on proselytizing, accepting external funding from NGOs and international organizations, groups selecting their own religious leaders, gathering for worship, constructing places of worship, and teaching religious beliefs to others. The government’s lack of transparency and intimidation of sources continued to make it difficult to obtain accurate information on specific cases. The government did not make available information on how many registrations for religious groups were pending.

In February the Jehovah’s Witnesses news service, JW News, and Human Rights Concern Eritrea, reported that Tsehaye Tesfamariam, a Jehovah’s Witness, who was arrested in 2009 and imprisoned at the Me’eter Prison Camp until 2015, died in November 2016 from an illness contracted while in prison that authorities reportedly refused to treat.

According to Erimedrek News, on March 17, two Pentecostal Christians died after staging a hunger strike to protest their alleged abuse while imprisoned in the Wi’ia Military Camp. Their bodies reportedly showed signs of sexual abuse.

According to CSW, since May the government arrested approximately 210 evangelical Christians in house-to-house raids throughout the country, reportedly for belonging to an unregistered group, and sent them to a prison on Nakura Island, where they were reportedly imprisoned under harsh conditions. According to CSW’s June report to the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea, authorities detained 122 Christians: 45 in Adi-Quala, 15 in Ghinda, and 45 and 17 in two separate incidents in Asmara. In August Human Rights Concern Eritrea reported that Fikadu Debesai, a mother of four who was among those reportedly arrested in May, died in prison. Her husband and 18-year-old son were reportedly held in the Merkel Abiet Prison and Gergera Labor Camp, respectively.

On October 27, authorities arrested Al Diaa Islamic School board president Hajji Musa Mohamed Nur, who had opposed government efforts to close the school. On October 31, demonstrators gathered in Asmara to protest his arrest. Security forces dispersed the protesters with gunfire and arrested approximately 40 persons. Nur remained in prison at year’s end. According to diaspora opposition groups, the government’s effort to close the school was part of an effort to enforce a 1995 proclamation banning religious groups from operating religious schools and an unwritten 2014 Ministry of Education policy to secularize schools and follow the ministry’s curriculum. The government issued similar orders to the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches to close the Eastern Orthodox Edna-Mariam School and the Roman Catholic Medhanie Alem Secondary School. The Edna-Mariam School complied with the order while the Medhanie Alem School refused. In response, authorities arrested and later released the Medhanie Alem School’s director, a priest, and its secretary, a nun. Other schools across the country run by religious groups did not receive such orders.

It remained very difficult to determine the number of persons imprisoned for their religious beliefs given the lack of government transparency and reported intimidation of those who might come forward with such information.

Arrests and releases often went unreported. Information from outside the capital was extremely limited. Independent observers stated many persons remained imprisoned without charge. International religious organizations reported authorities interrogated detainees about their religious affiliation and asked them to identify members of unregistered religious groups.

On July 17, Eritrean Orthodox Church Patriarch Abune Antonios attended Mass at Enda Mariam Orthodox Church, his first public appearance since 2006. Authorities placed Antonios under house arrest in 2006 for protesting government interference in Church affairs and subsequently prevented him from engaging in religious activities or appearing in public. Authorities also removed him as patriarch and replaced him with a government-chosen leader. Church leaders, international NGOs, and foreign governments raised concern about his poor health and called for his release. The government refuted claims that Antonios was under house arrest, stating that church leaders imposed his seclusion from the public. CSW and other observers characterized the patriarch’s brief appearance as a government attempt to counter international concern about his detention and stated government-backed Eritrean Orthodox Church leaders and Antonios had reconciled their differences.

The government continued to detain without due process persons associated with unregistered religious groups, occasionally for long periods, and sometimes on the ground of threatening national security, according to minority religious group members.

The government continued to single out Jehovah’s Witnesses for particularly harsh treatment because of their blanket refusal to vote in the 1993 referendum on Eritrean independence and subsequent refusal to participate in National Service. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, 53 of their members were in detention as of February for their conscientious objection to military service, including three men imprisoned without charge for 22 years. Other NGO sources corroborated these reports. The government continued to hold Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious prisoners for failure to follow the law or for national security reasons. Prisoners held for national security reasons were not allowed visitors, and families often did not know where they were being held. Authorities generally permitted family members to visit prisoners detained for religious reasons only. Former prisoners who had been held for their religious beliefs continued to report harsh detention conditions, including solitary confinement, physical abuse, and inadequate food, water, and shelter.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report members were unable to obtain official identification documents, which meant they were generally unable to study in government institutions, find employment, or obtain an exit visa to leave the country. Authorities collectively stripped Jehovah’s Witnesses of citizenship in 1994 after their refusal to participate in the independence referendum. The government continued to withhold documents and entitlements such as passports, national identification cards (required for employment), and ration cards. The government also required all customers to present a national identification card in order to use computers at private internet cafes, where most individuals access the internet. This identification requirement rendered Jehovah’s Witness members generally unable to use the internet.

Official attitudes toward members of unregistered religious groups worshipping in homes or rented facilities differed. Some local authorities reportedly tolerated the presence and activities of unregistered groups, while others attempted to prevent them from meeting. Local authorities sometimes denied government coupons (which allowed shoppers to make purchases at discounted prices at certain stores) to Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of Pentecostal groups.

Diaspora groups noted authorities controlled virtually all activities of the four formally recognized groups. The leaders of the four groups continued to state their officially registered members did not face impediments to religious practice, but there were private reports of restrictions on import of religious items used for worship. It was unclear whether authorities used these restrictions to target religious groups, since import licenses remained generally restricted. There were also reports of restrictions on clergy meeting with foreign diplomats.

Most religious facilities not belonging to the four officially registered religious groups remained publicly closed to worship. The government allowed only the practice of Sunni Islam and banned all other practice of Islam. Religious structures used by unregistered Jewish and Greek Orthodox groups continued to exist in Asmara. The government protected the historic Jewish synagogue building, maintained by an individual reported as the country’s last remaining Jew. Other structures belonging to unregistered groups, such as Seventh-day Adventists and the Church of Christ, remained shuttered. The government allowed the Bahai center to remain open, and, according to reports, the members of the center had access to the building except for prayer meetings. The Greek Orthodox Church remained open, but there were no services. There were services held in the Anglican Church building, but only under the auspices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Some church leaders continued to state the government’s restriction on foreign financing reduced church income and religious participation by preventing churches from training clergy or building facilities.

Government control of all mass media continued to restrict the ability of unregistered religious group members to bring attention to government repression against them, according to observers. Restrictions on public assembly and freedom of speech severely limited the ability of unregistered religious groups to assemble and conduct their worship, according to group members.

The sole political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) led by the president, appointed both the mufti of the Sunni Islamic community and the patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, as well as some lower-level officials for both communities. PFDJ-appointed lay administrators managed some operations of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, including disposition of donations and seminarian participation in national service.

The government continued to permit a limited number of Sunni Muslims, mainly the elderly and those not fit for military service, to take part in the Hajj, travel abroad for religious study, and host clerics from abroad. The government generally did not permit Muslim groups to receive funding from governments of nations where Islam was the dominant religion on grounds that such funding threatened to import foreign “fundamentalist” or “extremist” tendencies.

The government continued to grant some visas permitting Catholic dioceses to host visiting clergy from Rome or other foreign locations. Catholic clergy were permitted to travel abroad for religious purposes and training, although not in numbers Church officials considered adequate; they were also discouraged from attending certain religious events while overseas. Students attending the Roman Catholic seminary, as well as Catholic nuns, did not perform national service and did not suffer repercussions from the government, according to Church officials. Some Catholic leaders stated, however, national service requirements prevented adequate numbers of seminarians from completing theological training in Rome or other locations, because those who had not completed national service were not able to obtain passports or exit visas.

While three ministers and at least one senior military leader were Muslims, foreign diplomats reported that individuals in positions of power, both in government and outside, often expressed reluctance to share power with Muslim countrymen and distrusted foreign Muslims.

Some Eritrean Orthodox clergy operating outside the country continued to state the government sought control over Eritrean Orthodox churches in foreign countries, including through pressure on adherents abroad designed to influence family members still inside the country.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

The SOE, which was put in place in October 2016 and affected religious activities, was lifted on August 4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On January 26, the Federal High Court found all 13 Muslim defendants guilty of crimes of terrorism for their role in the 2012 killing of an imam in Dessie, Amhara Region. The group received prison terms ranging from three years and eight months to 16 years.

In April the EHRC reported to the parliament on its investigations into the dozens of deaths at the October 2016 Irreecha festival, a large Oromo religious and cultural celebration. The commission recommended the government hold local and regional officials of Oromia accountable for failing to stop the festival in advance. The commission attributed blame for the deaths to the Oromo Media Network, a diaspora-based media outlet, for fueling the unrest leading to the incident. The government filed terrorist charges against the network (in absentia) in March for allegedly rendering support to terrorists, which was listed as a crime under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and punishable by imprisonment from 10 to 15 years. The trial continued as of year’s end.

A court-ordered EHRC report documented what it stated was the authorities’ torture of 16 inmates, which included targeting of Muslim inmates, in a federal prison. Inmates told the EHRC prison officials in Shoa Robit Prison subjected them to various forms of torture during a three-month period in 2016 and holding them in what was described by the report as inhumane conditions for five months in 2017. Muslim inmates reported the officers shouted anti-Muslim language and further harassed, threatened, and intimidated them based on their religious beliefs. Inmates criticized the EHRC for not extending its findings of torture by prison officials to cover the 176 other inmates they alleged were tortured, objected to the report’s failure to hold prison officials or Federal Police officers who carried out the torture accountable for their actions, and requested an independent investigation be conducted.

In January an NGO reported the Supreme Court had acquitted three Protestants who had been sentenced to nine years in prison by a lower court judge in 2014 for allegedly burning down an EOC church. The ruling left the three still liable for paying for the damage to the church, but a separate court order in May released them from that responsibility. According to the NGO account, the three maintained they had been falsely convicted and had offered witnesses in support of their innocence, but the lower court judge had ignored their testimony.

According to NGO reports, in June authorities ordered the Full Gospel Church in Tikil Dingaye, a Pentecostal church in Amhara Region, to stop meeting in a residential area in the wake of a mob attack on the church. The attackers had assaulted some of the church members and then destroyed the church’s meeting hall, offices, and the accommodations of a church worker. After the attack, according to the NGO, a church member was arrested for “illegal activities” that “incited religious clashes,” and when the church officials asked authorities in Gondar for protection against further attacks, they received a letter informing them they were no longer allowed to conduct religious services there. According to media accounts, the attackers were believed to be members of the student association Mahibere Kidusan, an organization established under the auspices of the EOC to support and preserve EOC traditions. Representatives of Mahibere Kidusan denied involvement in the attack, saying no members of their association had been questioned or charged by police in connection with the attack.

The SOE made protests illegal for most of the year, and there were no reports of religious communities engaging in protests either before or after the lifting of the SOE.

Muslim community members continued to assert the government had co-opted religious leaders to impose Al-Ahbash, a Sufi religious movement rooted in Lebanon and different from indigenous Islam, on local Islamic religious practice, despite government statements made in previous years saying it no longer supported a program to impose Al-Ahbash. Reports from the Muslim community suggested the government continued to arrange for the dissemination of Al-Ahbash teachings, and, consequently, Friday prayers still conformed to Al-Ahbash teachings.

In June during Ramadan, Muslims in the town of Adwa, Tigray Region, reported authorities denied them access to their mosques, alleging the community supported a movement for religious freedom for the country’s Muslims.

Muslim community members reported widespread sentiment in their community that the government exercised excessive influence over the EIASC, which remained the lead religious organization for the country’s Muslims, managing religious activities in the approximately 40,000 mosques and annual Hajj pilgrimages to Mecca. Some Muslim community members also reported continued governmental interference in religious affairs.

The Directorate for Registration of Religious Groups within MoFPDA reported it had registered 1,600 religious groups and associations as of 2016.

Members of some religious groups continued to state the EOC exemption from the registration requirement for all other religious groups constituted an unfair double standard.

Although holding religious services inside public institutions remained banned per the constitutionally required separation of religion and state, the government continued to mandate public institutions take a two-hour break from work on Fridays for workers to attend Islamic prayers. Private companies were not required to follow this policy.

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

In July the media reported a government announcement saying it would issue national identity cards to the nearly 1,000 Rastafarians who had been living in the country for many years as stateless persons. The measure reportedly would grant the Rastafarians residency but would not give them citizenship.

Two opposition parties (the All Ethiopian Unity Party and Blue Party), in what the media characterized as an attempt to embarrass the government, reported government officials in the town of Legetafo Legedadi, Oromia, had demolished a church belonging to the EOC and confiscated sacred items on August 7. The town’s administration told the media that authorities had demolished the church because it was built illegally, thereby violating the master development plan of the town.

The MoFPDA continued to work with the EIASC and civil society groups to sponsor workshops and training of religious leaders, elders, and community members with the stated purpose of decreasing the potential for sectarian violence.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the state as secular and establishes separation of religion and state. It prohibits religious discrimination and holds all citizens equal before the law, regardless of religion. The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, the free practice of religion, and the right to form religious communities that may govern and manage their affairs independently, “consistent with public order.” The constitution stipulates religious communities whose activities are contrary to law or promote conflict among ethnic groups may be banned.

The law requires all associations to register, including religious groups. Registered groups are eligible for exemptions from fees for land use and construction permits. To register, a group must present to the MOI copies of its founding statutes and internal rules, a letter attesting to publication of these documents in the applicable local administrative bulletin, a formal letter of request for registration addressed to the minister of interior, a property lease, the police records of the group’s leaders, and the group’s bank statements. The registration fee is 10,000 CFA francs ($18). Registered religious groups must also provide the MOI with proof of nonprofit status to receive exemptions from local taxes and customs duties on imports. The MOI maintains an official registry of religious groups.

The constitution states parents have the right to choose their children’s religious education. The state provides for public education based on “religious neutrality.” Public schools are secular and do not provide religious instruction. Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups operate primary and secondary schools, in which representatives of religious groups give religious instruction. These schools must register with the Ministry of Education, which ensures they meet the same standards as public schools.

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

The MOI reported it generally processed registration requests from religious groups within one month and estimated it rejected more than 40 such applications in 2016 and 2017. Ministry officials described the religious groups it rejected as often “one-man operations,” practicing a mixture of Christianity and traditional animist beliefs. Their difficulty with registration usually concerned gathering the appropriate documents, according to ministry officials. The MOI emphasized the necessity for all groups to register and no longer allowed unregistered groups to operate freely.

On December 16, a Niger citizen stabbed two Danish journalists and allegedly shouted “Allahu akbar.” The man, a long-time resident, reportedly told police he acted in retaliation for what he called U.S. attacks against Muslims, as well as U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The defense minister denounced the isolated act and assured that the perpetrator and any accomplices would be punished to the full extent of the law. The president also responded this incident would not mar the harmonious relations that the country has with its foreign residents who respect the country’s laws and institutions.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and stipulates individuals are free to profess and practice any religion and manifest such practice. These rights may be limited for stipulated reasons, which include “restrictions that are reasonably required in the interest of defense, public safety, public health or the running of essential services, on the movement or residence within Ghana of any person or persons generally, or any class of persons.”

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

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

The Ministry of Education includes compulsory religious and moral education in the national public education curriculum. There is no provision to opt out of these courses, which incorporate perspectives from Islam and Christianity. There is also an Islamic education unit within the ministry responsible for coordinating all public education activities for Muslim communities. The Ministry of Education permits private religious schools; however, they must follow the prescribed curriculum set by the ministry. International schools are exempt from these requirements.

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

Muslim leaders continued to report that some publicly funded Christian mission schools required female Muslim students to remove their hijabs and required Muslim students to participate in Christian worship services, despite a Ministry of Education directive prohibiting these practices. For example, Muslim leaders reported that Wesley Girls Senior High School in Cape Coast required Muslim students to participate in church services, saying they were compulsory school gatherings. Similarly, there were continued reports that some publicly funded Muslim mission schools required female Christian students to wear the hijab. There were reports that nursing students were either pressured or ordered to remove their hijabs due to uniform requirements, for example, at Krobo Nursing Training College in Techiman.

Government officials leading meetings, receptions, and state funerals offered Christian and Muslim prayers and occasionally traditional invocations. The president and vice president continued to emphasize the importance of peaceful religious coexistence in public remarks. For example, in March the media reported President Nana Akufo-Addo said, “Let us continue to stay as one different people, different religion, and different beliefs but united as Ghanaians and united in our vision of developing our country as a free, prosperous nation that is governed according to the rule of law and where human rights are respected.”


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states the state is secular, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for the right of individuals to choose and profess their religious faith. It recognizes the right of religious institutions and groups to establish and manage themselves freely. It bars political parties that identify with a particular religious group. These rights are subject only to “those limits that are indispensable to maintain the public order and democracy.”

By law, the SRA must approve all religious groups. Groups must provide a written constitution and application to the SRA along with their address and a fee of 250,000 Guinean francs (GNF) ($28). The SRA then sends the documents to the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization for final approval and signature. Once approved, the group becomes an officially recognized religion. Each registered religious group must present to the government a report on its affairs every six months. Registration entitles religious groups to value-added tax (VAT) exemptions on incoming shipments and select energy subsidies.

Unregistered religious groups are not entitled to VAT exemptions and other benefits. By law, the government may shut down unregistered groups and expel foreign group leaders. There is limited opportunity for legal appeal of these penalties.

Religious groups may not own radio or television stations.

The compulsory primary school curriculum does not include religious studies.

The imams and administrative staff of the principal mosque in Conakry and the principal mosques in the main cities of the four regions are government employees. These mosques are directly under the administration of the government. Other mosques and some Christian groups receive government subsidies for pilgrimages.

The SRA secretary general of religious affairs appoints six national directors to lead the Offices of Christian Affairs, Islamic Affairs, Pilgrimages, Places of Worship, Economic Affairs and the Endowment, and Inspector General. The SRA is charged with promoting good relations among religious groups and coordinates with other members of the informal Interreligious Council, which is composed of Muslims and members from Catholic, Anglican, and other Protestant churches as well as the SRA.

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

The SRA continued to issue mandatory weekly themes for inclusion in Friday sermons at mosques and Sunday sermons in churches. The stated purpose of the weekly guidance was to harmonize religious views in order to prevent radical or political connotations in sermons. Although the SRA did not monitor sermons at every mosque and church, its inspectors were present in every region and responsible for ensuring that mosque and church sermons were consistent with SRA directives. Clerics whom the SRA judged to be noncompliant were subject to disciplinary action. Discrepancies were often reported in the various sermons at mosques and other Islamic events, but the SRA had difficulty imposing disciplinary sanctions. The new secretary general met the imams of the capital, as well as leaders of communal and regional leagues, aiming to warn imams for any breach of the principles of Islam; he said imams who speak about politics, attack the president, or preach division between citizens would be subject to sanctions.

Saudi Arabia increased the country’s quota of pilgrims to 9,000 from 6,000 in 2016 and limited the age of travelers to Mecca to under 70. The SRA facilitated and organized the travel of 7,000 pilgrims who each paid approximately 40 million GNF ($4,400) toward the cost of travel.

The government subsidized the travel of Christians on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Greece, and Italy, providing 3.5 billion GNF ($389,000) compared to 2 billion GNF ($222,000) in 2016. The government decided in 2016 to rotate the benefits to different Christian groups in each subsequent year with Anglicans, Catholics, and Adventists receiving support for their 2017 pilgrimages.

According to the SRA, several unregistered religious groups operated freely but did not receive the tax and other benefits received by registered groups. The small Jehovah’s Witnesses community reportedly proselytized from house to house without interference, although neither it nor the Bahai community requested official recognition. Some groups stated they preferred not to have a formal relationship with the SRA.

Islamic schools were prevalent throughout the country and remained the traditional forum for religious education. Some Islamic schools were wholly private, while others received local government support. Islamic schools, particularly common in the Fouta Djalon region, taught the compulsory government curriculum along with additional Quranic studies. Private Christian schools, which accepted students of all religious groups, existed in Conakry and most other large cities. They taught the compulsory curriculum but did not receive government support and held Christian prayers before school.

The government allocated free broadcast time on state-owned national television for Islamic and Christian programming, including Islamic religious instruction, Friday prayers from the central mosque, and church services. Muslim programs received more broadcast time, while different Christian groups received broadcast time on Sundays on a rotating basis. The government permitted religious broadcasting on privately owned commercial radio.

The General Secretariat of Religious Affairs, through the National Directorate of Christian Affairs, initiated for the first time a conference of Christian religious leaders. The conference aimed to bring Christians of different denominations together to improve working relations and share information related to the work of churches and missions in the country. Another goal was to get the different Christian denominations to agree on a common program of awareness and prayer within the framework of the strengthening of national unity, which continued to be an important theme in the country.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates the state shall be separate from religious institutions and shall respect and protect legally recognized religious groups, whose activities shall be subject to the law. It holds freedom of conscience and religion as inviolable, even if the state declares a state of siege, and provides for freedom of worship as long as it does not violate the fundamental principles cited in the constitution. It establishes that all citizens are equal under the law with the same rights and obligations, irrespective of their religion. Political parties and labor unions are barred from affiliating with a particular religious group. The constitution recognizes the freedom of religious groups to teach their faith.

The government requires religious groups to obtain licenses. The formal process, which is not often followed, entails providing the name, location, type, and size of the organization to the Ministry of Justice. Under the law, religious groups are recognized as associations and benefit from tax exemptions.

In accordance with the constitution, there is no religious instruction in public schools. The Ministry of Education regulates and enforces the decree against religious teaching in public schools. There are some private schools operated by religious groups.

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

There were no reports of significant government actions affecting religious freedom.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

A 2014 law creating fees for multiple steps in the marriage process applies to all marriages, religious or secular. For example, all officiants are required to purchase an annual license, and all public marriage venues must be registered.

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

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

Summary paragraph: There were reports by human rights groups that government agents, including members of counterterrorism entities, committed extrajudicial killings and disappearances of Muslims. On October 17, authorities in Malindi charged Christian televangelist Paul Makenzi and his wife with radicalizing children. An appeal by the Methodist Church regarding female students wearing hijabs as part of their school uniforms remained pending at year’s end. Muslim groups said the government linked the entire Muslim community with the terrorist group al-Shabaab and discouraged, through intimidation, Muslim community members from reporting police misconduct. Muslim community leaders also stated they faced difficulties obtaining official identification documents, which they needed for voting and access to government and financial services. Since religion and ethnicity are closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

Human rights groups and prominent Muslim leaders stated the government targeted Muslims for extrajudicial killing, torture and forced interrogation, arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, and denial of freedom of assembly and worship. A December 2016 report by the Mombasa-based NGO HAKI Africa entitled What do we tell the families? implicated police and counterterrorism entities in the extrajudicial killings or disappearances of 81 Muslims – primarily youth – in the coastal region over a five-year period in an antiterror campaign. The report detailed 31 extrajudicial killings, 22 deaths resulting from police use of excessive force, four deaths in police custody, and 24 enforced disappearances of individuals last seen in police custody. Imams in mosques or Islamic schools where youth had previously been arrested for alleged links with al-Shabaab reported they and their colleagues were frequently targeted for questioning, arbitrary arrests, and, in some cases, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. In October Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International published a report on rights violations by security forces following the August 8 general election.

According to international reports, on November 2, Islamic preacher Khalid Mohamed Ali was acquitted of four terrorism charges by the Mombasa Principal Magistrate after the prosecution failed to prove its case against him. Authorities charged Ali as a member of al-Shabaab in 2015 after arresting him reportedly in possession of bomb making materials and a military hand grenade.

On October 17, authorities in the coastal city of Malindi in Kilifi County charged Christian televangelist Paul Makenzi and his wife with radicalizing children by teaching them to reject medical care, enticing them to drop out of school, and teaching them formal education is evil. According to multiple press reports, police raided Makenzi’s church and rescued children who had abandoned their homes and schools to follow Makenzi’s ministry. The prosecution was pending at year’s end.

On October 31, a court in Nairobi held the first hearing on the May 2016 suspension by the attorney general of the registration of the Atheists in Kenya Society (AIK). The suspension followed complaints by some religious leaders over AIK’s registration. They argued AIK’s beliefs were not consistent with the constitution, stating the constitution “recognizes Kenya as a country that believes in God.” A court ruling was expected in January 2018.

Muslim leaders engaged in discussions with the National Environment Management Authority about how to balance compliance with noise pollution regulations and the religious requirement for the morning call to prayer.

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

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

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

Muslim leaders reported Muslim citizens continued to face difficulties acquiring national identification from the National Registration Bureau and passports from the Immigration Department. Identification cards are required by law and are a prerequisite for voting and access to certain government and financial services. Failure to register is a crime. Muslim communities – including ethnic Somali communities, coastal Muslim communities, the Nubian community in Nairobi, and the Galjeel community around the Tana River – reported they were often subjected to more requirements than other groups in order to register. These requirements included presentation of birth certificates and citizenship documents of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers. They stated they were also required to make special appearances at specified police stations and endure long waiting periods. The government stated the additional scrutiny was necessary to deter illegal immigration and to fight terrorism, and that such scrutiny was not intended to discriminate against certain ethnic or religious groups. In July the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims complained publicly that the extended passport application process for Muslims prevented more than 100 individuals from obtaining travel documents in time to attend the Hajj.

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


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, including the freedom to change religion or belief, and to manifest and propagate one’s religion. These rights may be limited by laws in the interests of defense, public safety, order, morality, or protecting the rights of other persons, provided the limitations are the minimum necessary.

The government has no established requirements for recognition of religious groups. By law, any group, religious or otherwise, may register as a legal entity with the government, regardless of its purpose, as long as it has a constitution and a leadership committee. Most religious groups register, but there is no penalty for those that do not. Registration gives a group legal standing, formalizes its structure under the law, and provides exemption from income tax. In the absence of registration, religious organizations may operate freely and tend to business as they see fit, but without any of the legal standing or protections of registered organizations.

The education ministry pays and certifies all teachers at government-funded schools, including religious schools, and requires a standard curriculum for both secular and religious schools. The government does not officially mandate religious education in schools, and the constitution exempts students at any educational institution from requirements to receive instruction or attend any ceremony or observance associated with a religion that is not their own. The minister of education must approve all curricula, including for religious education classes.

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

Churches owned and operated approximately 80 percent of all primary and secondary schools. The Roman Catholic Church, Lesotho Evangelical Church, Anglican Church, and, to a lesser extent, Methodist Church were the primary operators of religious schools, which were publicly funded. In practice, in any school offering religious education – including all religious schools and some secular schools – the subject was mandatory. Children continued to be permitted to attend schools run by a religious group other than their own, and some families chose this option. Others went to public schools or secular private schools.

The government continued to invite the CCL regularly to open government ceremonies and meetings.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the separation of religion and state and stipulates all persons are entitled to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It states no one shall be hindered in the exercise of these rights except as required by law to protect public safety, order, health, or morals, or the rights of others. It also provides for equal protection under the law and prohibits political parties that exclude citizens from membership based on religious affiliation.

The government requires all religious groups, except for indigenous ones that generally operate under customary law, to register their articles of incorporation and their organizations’ statements of purpose.

Local religious organizations register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and pay a one-time fee of 6,900 Liberian dollars (LD) ($55) to file their articles of incorporation and an annual fee of 3,600 LD ($29) for registration and a registration certificate. Foreign religious organizations pay 50,100 LD ($400) for registration annually and a one-time fee of 62,600 LD ($500) to file their articles of incorporation. Religious organizations also pay 1,000 to 2,000 LD ($8 to $16) to the Liberia Revenue Authority for notarization of articles of incorporation to be filed with the MFA and an additional 1,000 LD ($8) to receive a registered copy of the articles. The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning issues proof of accreditation for the articles of incorporation. There is also an option of completing the same process at the Liberia Business Registry, where each of the other offices has representation.

Registered religious organizations, including missionary programs, religious charities, and religious groups, receive tax exemption on income taxes and duty-free privileges on goods brought into the country, privileges not afforded unregistered groups. Registered groups may also appear in court as a single entity.

The law requires high-level government officials to take an oath ending with the phrase, “So help me God,” when assuming office. Christians kiss the Bible and Muslims the Quran on those occasions.

Public schools offer nonsectarian religious and moral education as an elective in all grades.

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

Some religious groups continued to pursue a constitutional amendment declaring the country a “Christian nation,” an effort begun in 2015. President Sirleaf, along with Catholic, Episcopal, Baptist, Lutheran, and Muslim communities, continued to oppose the initiative, while some evangelical Christian pastors, political parties and leaders, and members of the national legislature supported it. Muslim organizations, including the NMCL and NICL, continued to express concern about what they said was the implied prejudice of the proposal. They also expressed concern over the refusal of government to recognize major Muslim religious holidays while major Christian holidays were public holidays, as well as the imbalance of religious group representation in government roles. For example, the president has an official (Christian) religious advisor working for her as part of her staff, while other religions are not officially represented. The NICL stated it was concerned that some political parties called for making the country a “Christian nation” during election campaign-related events and interviews. In May the leader of the UPP told a group of Christian leaders in Ganta, Nimba County, that he would make Liberia a Christian state if elected. He also criticized the IRCL for having a Muslim leader, calling him unrepresentative of the country, particularly in international forums where he said it was unacceptable to have a Muslim representing the interests of Christians. The IRCL chair rotates every three years between a Muslim and a Christian as directed by the founding charter. According to the NMCL, political parties were also prejudiced against the selection of Muslim candidates as potential vice presidential picks due to fear that, upon the death of the president, a Muslim would become president.

The Liberia Muslim Women Network (LMW-NET) and NICL reported National Elections Commission workers refused to allow some Muslim women to register to vote because the women refused to remove their hijabs for voter ID photographs. LMW-NET representatives said that women were forced to choose between registration and going against their religious beliefs and reported that women offered to uncover their ears for the photograph, but NEC workers rejected the proposed compromise. LMW-NET members stated women wearing traditional head wraps and Catholic nuns were allowed to wear head coverings in their voter ID photographs.

In April Imam Ali Krayee of the NICL called on the government to make Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha national holidays. Imam Krayee said the country “no longer has the luxury of time” to give Muslims their full rights “like their Christian brothers and sisters.” The request to make Eid al-Fitr a national holiday has been pending since 1995.

Although enforcement of the registration requirement was lax, according to religious groups, most religious groups registered, since unregistered groups risked being shut down by the government and did not qualify for tax-free status.

The government, through city ordinances and presidential proclamations, required businesses and markets, including Muslim-owned or -operated businesses and shops, to remain closed on Sundays for municipal street cleaning and on Christmas, a national holiday. Muslim-owned businesses stated they viewed the regular Sunday street cleaning as an excuse for the government to force their businesses to close to honor the Christian Sabbath. According to both the NICL and NMCL, the ordinances and proclamations were a violation of the constitution and a threat to the peace. The NMCL reported that it brought action in court seeking redress for the forced closures (which remained unresolved). Since penalties – consisting of fines of up to 200 LD ($2) – were not strictly enforced, some Muslim-owned or -operated shops opened for limited hours on Sundays. Both the NICL and NMCL continued to say they would not have a problem with the closing of Muslim-owned businesses on Christmas if the end of Ramadan was also observed as a national holiday.

Government ceremonies commonly included opening and closing prayers. The prayers were usually Christian but occasionally were both Christian and Muslim. In Lofa County, where a large number of Muslims reside, opening and closing prayers were alternately Christian and Muslim. The NICL, NMCL, and IRCL noted that government health facilities increasingly observed a period for Christian prayer at the start of workday.

Muslim groups, including the NICL, were concerned that more Christian chaplains than Muslim imams were appointed to serve in a religious capacity in government institutions and that the government paid more pastors than imams to teach religious education in public schools. The government subsidized private schools, most of which were affiliated with either Christian or Muslim organizations, and subsidies were provided proportionally based on the number of students. Muslim leaders complained that the academic calendar developed by the Ministry of Education favored Christians, as schools were closed for Christmas and Easter (which fell during spring break), but were not closed for the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. As a result, Muslim children were likely to miss class time and exams.

In October after the president met with a foreign Muslim cleric, whose views many considered controversial, her office released a statement emphasizing the country’s policy of equality for all and of nondiscrimination.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits religious discrimination in the workplace. Other laws protect individual religious freedom against abuses by government or private actors. The constitution states that such rights may be limited by the need to protect the rights of others or to preserve public order, national dignity, or state security. The labor code prohibits religious discrimination in labor unions and professional associations. Public schools do not offer religious education. There is no law prohibiting or limiting religious education in public or private schools.

The law requires religious groups to register with the Ministry of the Interior. By registering, a religious group receives the legal status necessary to receive direct bequests and other donations. Once registered, the group may apply for a tax exemption each time it receives a gift from abroad. Registered religious groups also have the right to acquire land from individuals to build places of worship; however, the law states landowners should first cede the land back to the state, and the state will then transfer it to the religious group. To qualify for registration, a group must have at least 100 members and an elected administrative council of no more than nine members, all of whom must be citizens.

Groups failing to meet registration requirements may instead register as “simple associations.” Simple associations may not receive donations or hold religious services, but the law allows them to conduct various types of community and social projects. Associations engaging in dangerous or destabilizing activities may be disbanded or have their registration withdrawn. Simple associations must apply for a tax exemption each time they receive a donation from abroad. If an association has foreign leadership and/or members, it may form an association “reputed to be foreign.” An association is reputed foreign only if the leader or members of the board include foreign nationals. Such foreign associations may receive only temporary authorizations, subject to periodic renewal and other conditions. The law does not prohibit national associations from having foreign nationals as members.

The government requires a permit for all public demonstrations, including religious events such as outdoor worship services.

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

In January the government promulgated a law amending the nationality code, mainly to address inequality between the rights of men and women to transmit nationality to their children. The new law enables a Malagasy woman to transmit her nationality to a child regardless of her marital status. According to the law, however, children born of two stateless parents remain unable to obtain Malagasy citizenship, even after several generations of residence in the country. Children with unknown parentage are evaluated based on appearance, ethnicity, and other factors. Muslim leaders continued to state that the nationality code affected the Muslim community disproportionately, as many members are descendants of immigrants and have been unable to acquire Malagasy nationality, despite generations of residence in the country. Children of ethnic Indian, Pakistani, and Comorian descent often have had difficulty obtaining citizenship, leaving a disproportionate number of Muslims stateless. A 2014 study by the NGO Focus Development and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that approximately 6 percent of individuals in the communities surveyed were stateless and of this number, more than 85 percent were born in the country. No statistics were available on the number of children born of Malagasy women able to profit retroactively from the amendment to the nationality code.

The Ministry of the Interior registered 17 new religious groups during the year, bringing the total to a reported 296 officially registered groups. Religious groups stated the government did not always enforce registration requirements and did not deny requests for registration.

Religious leaders stated that inadequate government enforcement of labor laws resulted in some employers requiring their employees to work during religious services. A Catholic priest in Antananarivo who managed a social services center catering to factory workers stated some employers failed to respect the labor code provisions requiring a 24-hour break weekly, which affected factory workers’ ability to attend worship services.

Leadership of the Muslim Malagasy Association, which states it represents all Muslims in the country, reported that some Muslims continued to report difficulty obtaining official documents such as national identity cards and passports because of their Arabic-sounding names. Some Muslims reported religious discrimination when applying for civil service positions. For example, to apply to civil service positions, applicants must provide criminal records, which some Muslims found difficult to obtain from the government.

Members of the Muslim community reported that during the administration of baccalaureate exams, some test center managers required female Muslim students to remove their headscarves for admittance to the exam rooms, which they said caused feelings of trauma and humiliation in the students.

On April 21, Minister of Education Andrianiana Rabary threatened to close 16 Islamic schools he classified as “Quranic” because they provided more than the five weekly hours of religious classes permitted by the Ministry of Education for private religious schools. Representatives of the Muslim community denied the existence of such practices and called the minister’s warning “Islamophobic.” Others defended the schools, stating they were established specifically to teach the Quran and were not to be considered ordinary primary schools. The minister defended the decision on television, stating the 16 schools were among 190 private schools identified as not complying with various administrative requirements. The minister of education further recommended setting up a national directorate of all Islamic schools (similar to those that exist for several Christian groups) to facilitate their relationship with the government. While attending a ceremony marking the start of Ramadan, Prime Minister Olivier Solonandrasana underlined the right of Quranic schools to operate if they had the proper permits, but he stated they needed to comply with the same laws as all other religious schools. As of the end of the year, there were no reports of any further reactions.

Religious leaders, especially those from smaller or minority religious groups, stated that politicians sought to use religion to improve their political image. During the year, several ceremonies organized by the Catholic, Methodist, and Lutheran Churches saw the presence of at least one, if not both, the current president and former President Marc Ravalomanana. According to some religious leaders, donations to religious groups had become a way to pressure some church leaders to help promote politicians’ ambitions rather than to fulfill church tasks.

State-run Malagasy National Television continued to provide free broadcasting to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and to Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Presbyterians on weekends, along with the Muslim community once a week. During Ramadan, the Muslim community was able to purchase additional airtime. The leader of a well-known local evangelical Christian church reported his church was rarely given access to the state-run television and radio, even if it agreed to pay for the broadcast time.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, belief, and thought. These rights may be limited only when the president declares a state of emergency.

The law states that holders of broadcast licenses “shall not broadcast any material which is…offensive to the religious convictions of any section of the population.”

Religious groups, like nonprofit organizations, must register with the government to be recognized as legal entities. Registered groups, like other legal entities, may own property and open bank accounts in the group’s name. Groups must submit documentation detailing the structure and mission of their organization and pay a fee of 1,000 kwacha ($1). The government reviews the application for administrative compliance only. According to the government, registration does not constitute approval of religious beliefs, nor is it a prerequisite for religious activities, but allows a group to acquire land, rent property in its own name, and obtain utility services such as water and electricity. Religious groups may apply to the Ministry of Finance for tax exemptions regardless of registration status.

Detainees have a right to consult with a religious counselor of their choice.

Religious instruction is mandatory in public primary schools, with no opt-out provision, and is available as an elective in public secondary schools. According to the constitution, eliminating religious intolerance is a goal of education. In some schools, the religious curriculum is a Christian-oriented “Bible knowledge” course, while in others it is an interfaith “moral and religious education” course drawing from the Christian, Islamic, Hindu, and Bahai faiths. According to the law, local school management committees, elected at parent-teacher association meetings, decide on which religious curriculum to use. Private Christian and Islamic schools offer religious instruction in their respective faiths. Hybrid “grant-aided” schools are managed by private, usually religious, institutions, but their teaching staffs are paid by the government. In exchange for this financial support, the government chooses a significant portion of the students who attend. At grant-aided schools, a board appointed by the school’s operators decides whether the “Bible knowledge” or the “moral and religious education” curriculum will be used.

Foreign missionaries are required to have employment permits.

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

Several Muslim women reported that Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) photographers required they remove their hijab to take their driving license picture. Alerted by the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM), the DRTSS issued a statement in May reaffirming that Muslim women were free to wear a hijab when taking pictures for official documents as long as their faces and eyes were visible. However, MAM continued to receive reports every few months of DRTSS staff asking Muslim women to remove their hijab for identification photographs.

Representatives of the Rastafarian community reported children with dreadlocks continued to be prohibited from attending certain public schools. Children are usually required by school policy to shave their heads to attend. Most Rastafarian parents relented and shaved their children’s heads, but the children of several families continued to be denied access to public school, and at least one child dropped out of school because of her dreadlocks. In September a child who through a highly competitive process had been selected to attend Malindi Secondary School in Zomba was denied enrolment because of his hair. The Malawi Human Rights Commission continued to investigate the issue of Rastafarian children’s access to education. In January the solicitor general reaffirmed in writing Rastafarian children’s constitutional rights to education, but as of the end of the year, the Ministry of Education had taken no further measures to ensure access.

Some Muslim groups continued to request the education ministry to discontinue use of the “Bible knowledge” course and use only the broader-based “moral and religious education” curriculum in primary schools, particularly in predominantly Muslim areas. The issue arose most frequently in grant-aided, Catholic-operated schools.

Muslim organizations continued to express concern about the impact of operating schools in two shifts. Due to rapidly rising enrollment, certain schools in urban areas offered classes in two shifts – one in the morning and another in the afternoon, or staggered start and end times. Muslim groups stated the shifts complicated the delivery of religious education at madrassahs in the afternoon on government school premises.

Most government meetings and events began and ended with a prayer, usually Christian in nature. At larger events, government officials generally invited clergy of different faiths to participate.

During events marking the Catholic Church’s 51st Communications Sunday on August 2, Information Minister Nicholas Dausi praised the country’s Catholic media services for their evangelization work and expressed continued government encouragement of Catholic media organizations.

In November President Mutharika gave official comments at the opening of the annual Muslim gathering where Muslims shared experiences and challenges facing their religion. President Mutharika commended the Muslim community for its contributions to the development of the country and emphasized the freedom to worship and the peaceful co-existence of religions.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state 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 with 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 failure to register. 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 names of the leaders of the association with signature samples of three of the leaders. Upon review, the Ministry of Territorial Administration grants the certificate of registration.

The constitution prohibits public schools from offering religious instruction, but private schools may do so. Islamic religious schools, which are privately funded and known locally as medersas (a variant of madrassah), teach Islam but are required to adhere to the standard government curriculum. Non-Muslim students are not required to attend Islamic religious classes. Catholic schools teach the standard educational curriculum and do not require Muslim students to attend Catholic religious classes. Informal schools, known locally as Quranic schools, which some students attend in lieu of public schools, do not follow a government curriculum and offer exclusively religious instruction.

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.

By year’s end, the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, established in 2014, continued to make slow progress on its core functions and implementation of full-fledged operations on the ground. The commission stated it had established contact with victims of the country’s armed conflict and presented its mission and services to affected communities, including victims of religious persecution. A commission member reported that five antennes (mobile units for taking depositions) were established around the country, and victims made 6,263 depositions. The government provided compensation for commissionaires and equipment, and other donors provided additional support to the commission.

The minister of religious affairs and traditions was responsible for promoting religious tolerance and coordinating national religious activities such as pilgrimages and religious holidays for followers of all religions. The minister, a Muslim, spoke during a Catholic Mass at the national cathedral in the presence of Archbishop of Bamako Jean Zerbo in June.

On June 28, President Keita made a public statement to congratulate Archbishop Zerbo when Pope Francis elevated him to the rank of cardinal, the first Malian ever to hold the title. The president accompanied several ministers to meet Cardinal Zerbo at the Bamako international airport upon his return from Italy in a public show of congratulations.

Throughout the country, violent armed groups, including Ansar al-Dine and its affiliate Macina Liberation Front (MLF/Katiba Macina), AQIM, and al-Mourabitoun, sometimes united under the umbrella group Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), continued to carry out targeted attacks against security forces, UN peacekeepers, civilians, and others they reportedly perceived as not adhering to their interpretation of Islam.

The Malian Episcopal Conference reported multiple incidents of harassment. In September Katiba Macina members chased Christians from the town of Bodwal and threatened to kill them if they prayed in the town’s sole church. Likewise, since April 15, Katiba Macina had forbidden Christian services in the church and the raising of pigs in the village of Djidja. On August 15, unidentified armed men believed to be Katiba Macina threatened the local population and told them Christian music and prayers were banned in the town of Djanweli. In the village of Bodwal, armed men also believed to be Katiba Macina threatened Christians and forced them to remove their church bell. On September 19, armed men believed to be Katiba Macina vandalized the church in Dobara village. The men burned all property and material inside the church and threatened to kill anyone who prayed there. In the town of Douna on October 6, unidentified armed men believed to be Katiba Macina attacked and burned everything inside the church and threatened the Christian population with death if they prayed inside it. In the same incident, the armed men also threatened the Muslim population because of the manner in which they held their hands during prayer and ordered the striking and relocation of the Toguna – a traditional public tent where elderly persons gather in the Dogon tradition – because it was too close to the mosque.

The media reported armed men believed to be Katiba Macina threatened to kidnap the village chief of Kouakourou for refusing to hand over village youths who celebrated Eid al-Adha , a Muslim holiday, with firecrackers in August.

In May media reported a group linked to al-Qaida stoned an unmarried couple to death in public in Taghilt. The group accused the couple of violating Islamic law by living together without being married.

In February armed men kidnapped a Colombian nun from Karangasso, where she worked in a health center. In July JNIM kidnappers released a video of several hostages in their custody, including the nun. She remained in captivity at year’s end.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

On June 14, police arrested three citizens in Cabo Delgado based on their engagement in Islamic extremist activities, including distributing materials that rejected the authority of secular government authorities, advocated against modern education, and called for discrimination against women. Those arrested described themselves as followers of “Al-Shabab”; however, according to observers any direct links were unlikely. Islamic religious leaders publicly distanced themselves from these actions, stating they deemed the beliefs expressed to be inconsistent with Islam.

According to reports, on October 5, 30-50 armed persons attacked police and district government facilities in Mocimboa da Praia, in Cabo Delgado. The group was referred to locally as “Al-Shabab” or “Ahl-el-Sunnah.” Observers said that direct ties to foreign terrorist organizations were unlikely. Reports indicated that at least two police officers and significantly more attackers were killed. Local observers reported that security forces significantly increased their presence in the area and that outwardly observant Muslims feared being targeted for harassment as part of the ensuing investigation and security operation. Local Islamic religious leaders issued a formal statement condemning the attacks in Mocimboa da Praia, deeming such violent activities as inconsistent with Islam.

According to international reports, on November 20, the government ordered the closure of three mosques in Pemba after the deadly attacks in October. Provincial Official Alvaro Goncalves stated that the closures “only affect mosques that had some contact with the group involved in the events in Mocimboa da Praia.”

The MOJ registered 22 new religious groups and seven new religious organizations between January and September. There were a total of 881 religious groups and 226 religious organizations registered. There were no reports of difficulty with religious groups registering.

A Catholic Church representative said provincial authorities in certain provinces violated the 2012 accord with the Holy See by requiring local dioceses to register with local authorities separately or present some form of proof of previous registration. The Catholic Church continued to pursue the return of property the government seized following independence. There was no movement in the return of the remaining properties; however, negotiations continued at year’s end.

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

In April the national director of the Tax Authority announced that organizations affiliated with religious denominations conducting activities generating profits, such as schools and day-care facilities, would be subject to taxation. Until April these activities had been tax exempt, if a religious order applied for a waiver.

In July President Filipe Nyusi questioned the line between religion and politics during a visit to the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs, saying, “I would not like the religion of my country to be confused with politics… But if the new way of doing religion is this, we will have difficulties, as a country, reaching a conclusion.” Journalists said the remarks were intended to send a message to churches that had taken positions on political issues and were prompted by the Catholic bishops’ stand on the country’s “hidden” debt, referring to a debt scandal involving large, undeclared loans to state-owned companies. Some diplomatic observers stated they believed the president might have also had in mind the recent challenges in the north of the country, since his comments followed shortly after the arrest of the three citizens engaged in what the government stated were Islamic extremist activities, including a call to reject of the authority of secular government authorities.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution specifies the country is a secular state, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief, as well as the right to enjoy, practice, profess, maintain, and promote any religion. These rights may be subject to “reasonable restrictions” justified by interests such as “the sovereignty and integrity of Namibia, national security, public order, decency, or morality.”

The law allows recognition of any religious group as a voluntary association, without the need to register with the government. Religious groups may also register as nonprofit organizations (an “association without gain”) with the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Both religious groups registered as nonprofit organizations, and religious groups formed as voluntary associations are exempt from paying taxes. A welfare organization may apply to the Department of Inland Revenue to receive tax-exempt status. Once registered as a welfare organization, a religious group may seek to obtain communal land at a reduced rate, which is at the discretion of traditional authorities or town councils, based on whether they believe the organization’s use of the land will benefit the community.

The constitution permits religious groups to establish private schools provided no student is denied admission based on creed. The government school curriculum contains a nonsectarian “religious and moral education” component that includes education on moral principles and human rights and introduces students to a variety of African traditions and religions, as well as world religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, the Bahai Faith, and Rastafarianism.

Similar to other foreigners seeking to work in the country, religious workers must obtain an appropriate visa.

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

The government periodically included religious leaders in discussions regarding issues affecting the country and in national events. President Hage Geingob held consultations with leaders from major religious groups in the country, including from various Christian denominations and from the Muslim community, to discuss opportunities for collaboration in fighting poverty.

The Namibian Islamic Judicial Council stated that in contrast to deportations of Muslims in 2016 for working without a work visa, there had been “no persecution” against Muslims on the part of the government during the year.

Echoing problems raised by nonreligious organizations, some religious groups noted they had difficulty in obtaining work visas for foreign coreligionists and religious workers to enter the country to engage in religious activities. According to the groups, however, the government also strictly enforced work visa requirements for nonreligious, nontourist foreign visitors, and they stated they did not believe they were targeted based on religion.


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.

Nongovernmental organizations, including religious organizations, must register with the MOI. Registration approval is based on submission of required legal documents, such as the group’s charter, and vetting of the organization’s leaders. 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, the prime minister, and the 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 Diffa Region under state of emergency provisions to prevent 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 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 espousing the transition 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 Ministry of Education (Primary, Secondary, Superior, or Vocational). Private Quranic schools, established uniquely to teach the Quran without providing other education, are unregulated. Mainstream public schools do not include religious education. The government funds a small number of special primary schools (called “French and Arabic Schools”) that include Muslim religious study as part of the curriculum.

There are no restrictions on the issuance of visas for visiting religious representatives; however, permanent 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.

Police detained civil society activist Sirajo Issa, President of the Youth Movement for the Emergency of Niger, on August 27. Issa was reportedly detained in connection with a leaked WhatsApp conversation that he initiated, claiming members of the Islamic Council accepted a bribe to move the date of the Eid al-Adha holiday from September 1 to September 2 to avoid holding the holiday on a Friday, which according to local tradition was unlucky. He was released without charge on September 11.

The government reported that it was responding to concerns about the unregulated practice of Islam, including the incursion of foreign Islamic groups, the inconsistent application of Islamic practices, and the possible increase of Islamic extremism, by establishing an Islamic Forum with the stated goal of standardizing the practice of Islam in the country. The Directorate of Religious Affairs (within the Ministry of Interior) initiated the forum in October with a national tour engaging Muslim representatives. The forum met in late November, with approximately 200 attendees from more than 50 organizations, and began work by discussing how creation of norms and the supervision of the practice of Islam in the country can help prevent radicalization and violent religious extremism. Future meetings were expected to address means to control mosque construction, Quranic instruction, and the content of sermons.

The government engaged Islamic leaders during the year to develop consensus on the text of a law, which Islamic leaders had publicly condemned in 2016, to require that girls remain in school through their completion of secondary school. One purpose of the law is to reduce early marriage. The cabinet approved the proposal in November as a cabinet directive.

In March the government did not publicly respond to the accusations of a group of Muslim associations that condemned government efforts to improve reproductive health and curb population growth. The clerics viewed the proposed introduction of this specific teaching as an exposure of students to pornographic material, a decline of social values, and a conspiracy against Islam.

The Directorate of Religious Affairs proposed instituting a registration system for Quranic schools, which were not regulated. According to representatives of both the government and a leading Islamic association, the desire for Quranic school regulation was motivated by concern about forced begging and poor quality education, as well as the possible incursion of extremist groups. The topic was to be discussed in the Islamic Forum inaugurated in November.

Complaints about difficulties associated with performing the Hajj continued, with the government’s Commission for the Organization of the Hajj and Umrah coming under criticism again, as in past years. Some observers criticized the commission for failing to negotiate adequately with travel companies and achieve a more organized Hajj and Umrah travel season. The commission oversaw Hajj participation for more than 13,000 pilgrims during the year.


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 religion and to manifest and propagate religion “in worship, teaching, practice, and observance,” provided these rights are consistent with the interests of defense, public safety, order, morality, or health, and protecting the rights of others. The constitution also states it shall be the duty of the state to encourage interfaith marriages and to promote the formation of associations that cut across religious lines and promote “national integration.” It prohibits political parties that limit membership on the basis of religion or with names that have a religious connotation.

The constitution provides for state-level courts based on common or customary law systems, which have operated in the region for centuries. It specifically recognizes sharia courts of appeal in any states that require it, with jurisdiction over civil proceedings such as marriage, inheritance, and other family matters, where all the parties are Muslims. Sharia courts hear criminal cases in 12 northern states. State laws on sharia criminal courts vary, but at least one state, Zamfara, requires that criminal cases in which all litigants are Muslim be heard in sharia courts. According to state laws, sharia courts may pass sentences based on the sharia penal code, including hudood offenses (serious criminal offenses with punishments prescribed in the Quran) and prescribe punishments, such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning. State laws dictate non-Muslims have the option to try their cases in sharia courts if involved in civil or criminal disputes with Muslims. Common law courts hear the cases of non-Muslims and Muslims (in states where they have the option) who choose not to use sharia courts. Sharia courts do not have the authority to compel participation by non-Muslims. Aggrieved parties may appeal sharia court judgments to three levels of sharia appellate courts. According to the constitution, decisions by the state sharia courts of appeal (the highest level of the sharia courts) theoretically can be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court, although none have been.

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

In order 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 ($56).

Both federal and state governments have the authority to regulate mandatory religious instruction in public schools. The constitution states schools may not require students to receive religious instruction or to participate in or attend any religious ceremony or observance pertaining to any religion other than their own. State officials and many religious leaders have stated students have the right to request a teacher of their own religious beliefs to provide an alternative to any instruction offered in a religion other than their own. The constitution also says no religious community will be prevented from providing religious instruction to students of that community in any place maintained wholly by that community.

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

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

Summary Paragraph: In November Kano State police fired tear gas and bullets, killing three members of the IMN during its annual Ashura procession. The government continued to detain Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, leader of the IMN, the largest Shia Muslim group in the country, despite a court order that he be released by January 15. There were no reports of accountability for soldiers implicated in the December 2015 clash between the army and IMN members that, according to a Kaduna State government report, left at least 348 IMN members and one soldier dead, with IMN members buried in a mass grave. Some Christian groups reported a lack of protection by government authorities for churches and Christian communities, especially in the central and northern regions. They reported discrimination in acquiring land permits to build churches and in admission to universities in the north. Muslims living in predominantly Christian states reported discrimination by state governments against such practices as women wearing the hijab. There were continued conflicts between migrant ethnic groups, known as settlers, who were mainly Muslim, and longstanding residents or indigenes, who were mainly Christian, which the groups accused the federal government of ignoring. Farmer-herder violence remained a form of the indigene-settler conflict, since herders were generally not seen as indigenous to the land by farmers. The differences between the indigenes and settlers were frequently religious as well as ethnic and economic. State governments often granted preferential treatment, for example in access to education and jobs, to indigenes over settlers.

According to international reports, on November 5, Kano State police fired tear gas and bullets, killing three IMN members during the group’s annual Ashura procession. Police arrested 10 members. The police spokesperson stated the IMN ignored instructions from police not to hold the procession.

The government stated publicly that Sheikh Zakzaky, leader of the IMN and a prominent Shia cleric, would remain in what it said was “protective custody” pending appeal of the December 2016 decision of Federal High Court in Abuja that the government must release him. At year’s end, Zakzaky remained in prison. The court also ruled the government must provide him with a house and pay him and his wife restitution of 25 million naira ($69,600) by January 15; at year’s end, the court’s order had yet to be followed.

There were no reports of accountability for soldiers implicated in the December 2015 clash between the army and IMN members that, according to a Kaduna State government report, left at least 348 IMN members and one soldier dead. Dozens of IMN members were still being held since December 2015, charged with the death of the soldier. In August Acting President Osinbajo announced the creation of a Presidential Investigative Panel that committed to transparently and credibly investigating human rights abuses committed by the military. On August 17, the IMN publicly stated it would boycott the panel because it doubted the panel’s sincerity. Outside human rights observers also expressed concern over lack of transparency and rigor of the panel. At year’s end, the panel’s findings were not yet available.

According to local media reports, the 23rd Armored Brigade of the Nigerian Army in Yola, Adamawa State, began an investigation into the disruption of an Assemblies of God church service in March by men in military uniforms but without nametags. Media reported the church had been affected by a leadership crisis, and a clergy member representing a rival faction in the leadership struggle reportedly invited the soldiers to enter the church and remove the presiding pastor. An army spokesperson stated that the army sent no personnel to the church and would investigate whether the attackers were in fact soldiers.

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

A pending bill in Kaduna State would require all preachers to obtain preaching licenses or risk fines and/or imprisonment for up to two years. The bill was introduced in 2016 in the state legislature and remained pending at year’s end. Deputy Governor of Kaduna State Barnabas Bala said the bill was proposed to protect the state from religious extremism and hate speech. The bill would also restrict playing religious recordings at certain times and places as well as prohibit “abusive” religious speech, which it did not define further. The draft bill generated widespread opposition from both Muslim and Christian groups, who cited fears that such steps would lead to broader government restrictions on religious organizations and general religious activity.

The media regularly reported on claims by Christian leaders and organizations that northern leaders, backed by the federal government, were engaged in an effort to Islamize the country. In September Caritas Nigeria stated a bill to regulate nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) would give the federal government authority to regulate churches, which are registered as incorporated trustees and thus fall under the category of NGO, and thereby provide the government authority to restrict the activity of churches and promote Islam. The National Assembly member who introduced the bill responded that the bill’s intent was to ensure transparency and accountability in the way NGOs collected and used funds, and he said the bill would not affect mosques or churches. Also in September, CAN reported that the federal government’s proposal to issue Sukuk bonds, an Islamic financial certificate, was in violation of the country’s secular constitution and an attempt to Islamize the country. The minister of information responded that the Sukuk bond issuance was an attempt at financial inclusiveness, and the difference between a Sukuk bond and other bonds was that Sukuk bonds paid no interest.

In December BBC and other media reported that Amasa Firdaus, a law graduate from Ilorin University, was denied admission to the “call to bar” ceremony because she wore a hijab to the ceremony in what her law school said was violation of its dress code.

Christian groups reported authorities in northern states continued to deny building permits to minority religious communities for the construction of new places of worship, expansion, and renovation of existing facilities, or reconstruction of buildings that had been demolished. Christian religious leaders in Adamawa complained that Christians in Yola, Adamawa State, could not obtain permits to purchase land for churches. They said that Christians built the churches anyway, but remained vulnerable when governments decided to demolish them, such as what occurred in Jigawa State. In January the Jigawa State government demolished churches belonging to the Redeemed Christian Church of God and the Lord Chosen God in the state capital, Dutse. The state government said the churches were built illegally and the churches had been given three notices to stop development. CAN said the churches did not receive a response from the government for their land permit application. In Ekiti State in April, the state government was reportedly prepared to demolish a mosque in the state capital, Ado Ekiti. After protests, the governor and Muslim leaders in the state were able to reach an agreement, and the government allowed the mosque to remain, despite not having a permit.

The Hisbah continued to arrest street beggars and prostitutes, and destroy confiscated bottles of alcohol. There were no reports of Christians being forced to use sharia courts.

Christian and Muslim groups continued to report that individual administrators of government-run universities and technical schools in several states refused to admit certain individuals or delayed the issuance of their degrees and licenses because of religion or ethnicity. For example, in Borno State, Christian religious leaders said it is very difficult for Christians to be admitted into certain schools at the University of Maiduguri, especially medicine and engineering, where Muslims make up over 90 percent of the student body. They also stated that Christianity was not offered for the religious studies courses in many public schools in Maiduguri and northern Borno, only Islam. Muslim leaders in Jos, Plateau State, complained that local governments in Plateau discriminated against Muslim residents regarding land purchases, admittance to universities, and access to government jobs. According to Christian and Muslim groups and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, the issue was connected to the country’s indigene-settler conflict, whereby state governments granted benefits, such as access to government services, to ethnic groups considered to be indigenous to a particular state and distinguished them from ethnic groups considered to be settlers, even if their families had lived in the state for generations. In certain states, especially in the Middle Belt, the divide between Christian indigenes and Muslim settlers was religious as well as ethnic and economic.

In February the Kwara State government hosted an international conference on security and peaceful coexistence, which included Muslim and Christian religious leaders. During his remarks, the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, the spiritual leader of Muslims in Nigeria, said “God did not make a mistake when he created us as Nigerians and put us together. We must understand that and all of us who profess to be Christians or Muslims have a guide which is either the Quran or Bible. In these two major religions there is nowhere where killing of innocent people is allowed.” In July more than 480 participants, including the Army Special Task Force, local government officials, and Christian and Muslim community leaders, met in Kafanchan to discuss establishing peace in the area and address grievances of victims of the communal violence. In January the governments of Nasarawa and Benue States worked together to enact a peace agreement between predominantly Muslim herdsmen and predominantly Christian farmers in Agatu, Benue State, after the January 2016 attack on the Christian community by herdsmen left more than 300 farmers dead.

According to press reports, in April Senate President Bukola Saraki stated: “….whatever laws we pass here, will be respectful to the religious beliefs of our people. We will not do anything that will in anyway go against that.”

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

Boko Haram and ISIS-WA continued to attack population centers and security personnel in the states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe. Vulnerable populations, notably those perceived as disagreeing with the groups’ political or religious beliefs or those perceived as interfering with their access to resources, were targeted by the groups. There were multiple reports of Boko Haram killing scores of unarmed civilians. On November 21, Boko Haram blew up a mosque in Mubi, Adamawa State, resulting in the deaths of 50 worshippers.

While Boko Haram no longer controlled as much territory as it once did, the two insurgencies maintained the ability to stage forces in rural areas and launched attacks against civilian and military targets across the Northeast. On November 25, ISIS-WA militants launched an attack on Magumeri town in Magumeri local government area of Borno State, but security forces were able to repel them. From these areas of influence, the groups were still capable of carrying out complex attacks on military positions, and they deployed large numbers of roadside improvised explosive devices. According to estimates from NGO Nigeria Watch, which did not appear to differentiate between Boko Haram and ISIS-WA, 1,794 persons, including Boko Haram members, died as a result of the group’s activities during the year, compared with 2,900 killed in 2016. The Adamawa State chapter of the country’s Muslim Council reported that Boko Haram killed more than 5,247 Muslims since 2013 in Adamawa State. According to reports, Boko Haram killed more than 500 Catholics in Borno State since the insurgency began.

Approximately half of the students abducted by Boko Haram from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in 2014 remained in captivity. The government successfully negotiated the release of 82 of the kidnapped students in May, in addition to the 21 students released in October 2016. According to media reports, in September members of Boko Haram killed Chief Imam Ustaz Goni Bukar Tabare and four other individuals in Magumeri, Borno State. CAN reported more than 900 churches were destroyed by Boko Haram in the northeast since the insurgency began.

Republic of the Congo

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states the country is secular, provides for freedom of belief, prohibits religious discrimination, and makes forced impositions on conscience based on “religious fanaticism,” such as forced conversion, punishable by law. The constitution bans the use of religion for political ends and political parties affiliated with a particular religious group.

A decree bans individuals from wearing the full-face Islamic veil, including the niqab and the burqa, in public places. The decree also bans Muslims from foreign countries from spending the night in mosques.

All organizations, including religious groups, must register with, and be approved by, the Ministry of Interior. Religious group applicants must present a certification of qualifications to operate a religious establishment; a title or lease to the property where the establishment is located; the exact address where the organization will be located; bylaws; and a document that clarifies the mission and objectives of the organization. Penalties for failure to register include fines and potential confiscation of goods, invalidation of contracts, and deportation of foreign group members.

The law prohibits religious instruction in public schools. Private schools may provide religious instruction. The law requires that all public and private schools respect all philosophical and religious doctrines. The constitution protects the right to establish private schools.

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

The government granted Christians and Muslims access to public facilities for special religious events. For example, on September 1, the Muslim community celebrated Eid al-Adha in a stadium on the grounds of the presidential residence. The Ecumenical Council celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation at the same stadium on November 12.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship and its public manifestation even when the government declares a state of emergency. Exercising these rights may be subject to limitations in order to ensure respect of others’ rights and good morals, public order, and social welfare. The constitution bars political parties based on religious affiliation. The penal code stipulates religious discrimination is punishable by five to seven years in prison and fines of 100,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($120 to $1,200).

Under the law governing religious groups, all groups “whose members share the same beliefs, cult, and practice” must register with the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) to acquire legal status. According to the law, a faith-based organization (FBO) must submit the following in order to register: an application letter addressed to the RGB chief executive; authenticated statutes governing its organization, including provisions stipulating its activities; general information including the location of its head office and the names of its legal representative and his/her deputy, their duties, full address, curricula vitae, and criminal records; a document certifying the legal representative and his/her deputy were appointed in accordance with its statutes; a brief statement describing its major doctrines; the minutes of the group’s general assembly that approved the statutes of the organization; and an action plan for the fiscal year. The law allows FBOs to operate with an endorsement letter from district authorities pending final registration by the RGB.

The law covering religious groups does not address nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) associated with religious groups. Domestic NGOs associated with religious groups are required to register with the RGB, but under a different law governing NGOs. The law details a multistep NGO registration process and requires annual financial and activity reports and action plans.

The government grants legal recognition only to civil marriages.

New public servants are required by law to take an oath of loyalty “in the name of God almighty” and touch the flag while reciting the oath. Those who do not fulfill the requirement forfeit their position. The law does not make accommodations for religious minorities whose faith does not permit them to comply with this requirement.

The law establishes fines of 20,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($24 to $1,200) and imprisonment from eight days to five years for anyone who hinders the free practice of religion; publicly humiliates rites, symbols, or objects of religion; or insults, threatens, or physically assaults a religious leader.

The law regulates public meetings, including assemblies for religious reasons, that may disturb public order or are deemed politically sensitive, and establishes fines of 100,000 to five million Rwandan francs ($120 to $5,800) and imprisonment of eight days to three years for unauthorized public meetings. District mayors are required to respond within 15 days to FBO requests to hold special meetings in public. FBOs are not required to seek authorization for routine meetings.

For nighttime meetings, including religious meetings, local authorities often require advance notification, particularly for ceremonies involving amplified music and boisterous celebrations. Laws prohibit excessive noise that disrupts neighborhoods and undermines property values, and impose fines for violations ranging from 10,000 to 100,000 Rwandan francs ($12 to $120). Nighttime noise disturbances may be punished by imprisonment of eight days to two months and/or a fine of 50,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($58 to $1,200). Religious organizations are required to conform to laws protecting public security, public health, good morals, and human rights.

Unregistered religious groups may congregate after informing local authorities and may be granted a temporary registration certificate while the legal application process, which might last well over a year, is pending.

All students in public primary school and the first three years of secondary education must take a religion class that discusses various religions. The Ministry of Education establishes the curriculum. The law does not specify either opt-out provisions or penalties for not taking part in the class. The law allows parents to enroll their children in private religious schools.

The government subsidizes some schools affiliated with different religious groups. A presidential order guarantees students attending any government-subsidized school the right to worship according to their beliefs during the school day, as long as their religious groups are registered in the country and the students’ worship practices do not interfere with learning and teaching activities. The order does not stipulate any procedure for arranging special accommodations.

The law prohibits religious groups from engaging in activities designed to achieve political power, defined as supporting political organizations or candidates for public office.

Every foreign missionary must have a temporary resident permit and a foreign identity card. Specific requirements to obtain the permit (valid for two years and renewable) include a signed curriculum vitae, an original police clearance from the country of residence, an authorization letter from the parent organization, and a fee of 100,000 Rwandan francs ($117).

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

During the year, police arrested five Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to participate in night patrols or pay security fees. All were released after detention ranging from several hours to two days. Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report local officials’ retaliation against members who refused to sing the national anthem in school, take an oath while holding the national flag, or participate in community night patrols and government-sponsored “solidarity” civil and military training. Between January and October, 67 Jehovah’s Witnesses students were punished, including dismissal from school, for not attending religious services at school or not participating in military and patriotic activities at school. Jehovah’s Witnesses schoolteachers were threatened with dismissal for objecting to holding the national flag while taking an oath. These included 18 teachers in Ngororero District 4, four teachers in Huye District, Maraba Sector, and two teachers in Karongi District. Jehovah’s Witnesses also reported that the government applied the law on the oath of loyalty retroactively, at times dismissing from office civil servants who had begun service before 2011, when the requirement was codified.

In contrast with the previous year, there were no reported arrests or shootings of Muslims or Muslim leaders. The Muslim community leadership reported working collaboratively with the Rwanda National Police (RNP) in combating extremism and radicalization in the Muslim community. The trial of approximately 40 Muslim individuals arrested in 2016 and accused of being associated with al-Shabaab, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations remained in progress at year’s end.

Unregistered religious groups received a significant degree of government scrutiny of their leadership, activities, and registration application until they obtained FBO registration under the law. Small religious congregations sometimes temporarily affiliated with larger registered organizations in order to operate.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to pursue judicial remedies for civil servants, including more than 200 teachers dismissed since 2011 for refusing to swear an oath on the flag. Of the 36 Jehovah’s Witnesses who took their cases to court on the grounds of alleged violations of their religious beliefs and illegal dismissal, only one case was decided in favor of the plaintiff, and the decision hinged on technical rather than substantive grounds. Three cases remained pending before the High Court, and Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed 16 cases to the Supreme Court during the year. Jehovah’s Witnesses leadership also reported difficulties in securing appointments with authorities to discuss a range of legal requirements imposing certain limitations on their religious practices and beliefs.

Both Christian and Muslim places of worship were affected by noise ordinance restrictions and were required to decrease the volume on their sound equipment. There were no reports of religious organizations being cited under the ordinance during the year.

Government officials presiding over wedding ceremonies generally required couples to take a pledge “in the name of God almighty” while touching the national flag, a legal requirement. Jehovah’s Witnesses stated this made it difficult to marry legally since few officials were willing to perform the ceremony without the flag oath; Jehovah’s Witnesses objected to the practice on religious grounds. For some Jehovah’s Witnesses, placing their hands on a Bible on top of the flag was an acceptable alternative. Jehovah’s Witnesses were not able to obtain a waiver and reported difficulties in getting an appointment with relevant authorities. Of the approximately 800 Jehovah’s Witnesses who were reportedly refused marriage registration, 760 reported “having to apply workarounds” (i.e. bribes) in order to obtain marriage licenses.

On April 11, a district authority in Rwamagana denied Jehovah’s Witnesses permission to hold a memorial commemorating Jesus’s death and sent security agents to prevent the memorial from being held. The memorial coincided with the week of commemoration of the Rwandan genocide. On April 9, the Mayor of Rwamagana told the Jehovah’s Witnesses that the event could be held if he could address the audience. The national office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Rwanda wrote to the mayor to explain that this would interfere with their freedom of religion.

In May the RNP arrested four senior leaders of the Association of Pentecostal Churches of Rwanda on embezzlement charges, a prosecution that some church members said they believed was politically motivated. According to observers, the Pentecostal Church maintained a complicated relationship with the government, with some branches very close to the government, while others are more critical. Some congregations reported government interference in church operations.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

By law all faith-based organizations, such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) representing religious groups, must register with the interior ministry 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, and activities or projects implemented; and proof of previous and future funding. They must also pass a background check. Registration enables a group to conduct business, own property, establish a bank account, receive financial contributions from private sources, and receive applicable tax exemptions. There is no formal penalty for failure to register other than ineligibility to receive these benefits. Registered religious groups and nonprofit organizations are exempt from many forms of taxation.

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

By law religious education may be proposed in public and private schools, and parents have the option to enroll their children in the program.

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

Until funding resources were no longer available in the middle of the year, the government continued its campaign, begun in 2016, to implement a 2005 law forbidding forced child begging as practiced at some traditional Islamic schools. The campaign had met with limited success according to observers, many of whom criticized its efficacy, saying the campaign had focused strictly on removing child beggars from the streets rather than on addressing the conditions under which children were forced to beg, or prosecuting individuals who forced children to beg. Once funds for the campaign were depleted, the government suspended its implementation.

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 often competed on an ad hoc basis to obtain them. President Macky Sall occasionally visited beneficiaries of these funds.

The government continued to encourage and assist Muslim participation in the Hajj, again providing imams with hundreds of free airplane tickets for the pilgrimage for distribution among citizens. There were no reliable estimates of the number of tickets the government provided. In addition to these free tickets, the government organized trips to the Hajj for approximately 1,500 of the 10,500 Senegalese who participated. The government also again provided assistance for an annual Roman Catholic pilgrimage to the Vatican, the Palestinian territories, and Israel. The Catholic Church reported the government provided 370 million CFA francs ($658,000) for Senegalese Catholic pilgrims who traveled to the Vatican in August and September, compared with 368 million CFA francs ($654,000) in 2016.

The government continued to permit up to four hours of voluntary religious education per week in public and private elementary schools. Parents were able to choose either a Christian or an Islamic curriculum. The possibility also remained for students to opt out of the curriculum. The Ministry of Education reported slightly more than a million students again participated in religious education through the public elementary school system during the 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 with strong academic reputations. The majority of students attending Christian schools continued to be Muslim. 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, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to do the same with foreign-based NGOs, including those affiliated with religious groups. Each association submitted an annual report, including a financial report, which the ministries used in their effort to track potential funding of terrorist groups. There were no reports of the government revoking the registration of any association for operating outside the terms of its registration.

Sierra Leone

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides that no person shall be hindered in exercising freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and religion, freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in a community, in public or in private, to manifest and propagate one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. These rights may be subject to limitations in the interests of defense or public safety, order, morality, or health, or to protect the rights and freedoms of other persons. Although the country does not have an explicit law regarding hate speech, the Public Order Act describes as seditious libel spoken or written words that “encourage or promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different tribes or nationalities or between persons of different religious faith in Sierra Leone.”

The MSWGCA is responsible for religious matters. Religious groups seeking recognition by the ministry must complete registration forms and provide police clearance attesting that they do not have a criminal record, proof of funding, and annual work plans to receive tax concessions. There is no penalty for organizations that choose not to file for recognition, but registration is required in order to obtain tax exemptions and waiver benefits.

The constitution provides that “except with his own consent” (or if a minor the consent of the parent or guardian), no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or to attend any religious ceremony or observance if that instruction, ceremony, or observance relates to a religion other than the person’s own. The course, Religious and Moral Education, provides an introduction to Christianity, Islam, African traditional beliefs, and other religious traditions around the world, as well as teachings about morals and ethics; it is required in all public schools through high school, without the choice to opt out. Instruction in a specific religion is permissible only in schools organized by religious groups.

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

The government continued to enforce the law prohibiting the production, sale, and consumption of marijuana (cannabis). Rastafarians reported this prohibition restricted their ability to use cannabis as a core component of their religious practices. According to an elder of the Rastafarian community, there were 15 incidents of police harassment during the year, often tied to the latter’s use of cannabis. The alleged harassment included beatings and confiscation of property found on their persons. They also stated the government continued to refuse to recognize Rastafarian titles to land the community used to construct and operate its temples.

As of December the Rastafarian community reported the authorities had not held nine police officers accountable for reportedly damaging a temple near Freetown in May 2016. The Sierra Leone Police (SLP) reported that, in response to complaints from residents, the officers went to the temple to apprehend several adolescents who had been smoking marijuana and entered the temple to escape the police.

The Office of National Security (ONS) held several meetings with the IRC and the Council of Imams as part of its counterterrorism strategy but did not organize a formal event, reportedly due to lack of funding. The ONS continued to express concerns regarding the possible emergence of what it referred to as Muslim extremism, including radio stations operated by Shia and Sunni groups engaging in polemical exchanges against each other’s religious beliefs. The ONS also reported concerns by Christian and Muslim leaders and civil society groups relating to susceptible unemployed and uneducated youth from the Muslim community joining the Tabligh movement, a revivalist Sunni Muslim movement originating in India that preached a fundamentalist form of Islam. The ONS identified radical Islam as a national security issue and inserted a section on religious radicalization in its counterterrorism strategy.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the right to worship, alone or in community with others, and to change religion or belief. These rights may be limited by laws that are “reasonably required” in the interest of defense, public safety, order, morality, health, or protecting the rights of others. The constitution provides religious groups the right to establish and operate private schools and to provide religious instruction for their students without interference from the government.

The constitution recognizes unwritten traditional laws and customs, which are interpreted by traditional courts, granted equal status with codified laws, and protected from amendment or regulation by the parliament and/or national courts. The law requires religious groups to register with the government. In 2016 the government designated the Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA) to be the government agency responsible for monitoring religious affairs in the country. In order to register as a religious group, Christian groups must apply through one of the country’s three umbrella religious bodies – the League of Churches, Swaziland Conference of Churches, or Council of Swaziland Churches – for a recommendation, which is routinely granted and does not impede registration, according to church leaders. The application process requires a group to provide its constitution, membership, and physical location, along with the umbrella body’s recommendation, to the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Trade, which then registers the organization. For indigenous religious groups and non-Christian religious organizations, authorities consider proof of a religious leader, a congregation, and a place of worship as sufficient grounds to grant registration. Registered religious groups are exempt from taxation, but contributions to these groups are not tax deductible.

Religious groups must obtain government permission for the construction of new religious buildings in urban areas, and permission from the appropriate chief and chief’s advisory council for new religious buildings in rural areas. In some rural communities, chiefs have designated special committees to allocate land to religious groups for a minimal fee.

Christian religious instruction is mandatory in public primary schools and incorporated into the daily morning assembly. Christian education is also compulsory in public secondary schools. There are no opt-out procedures. Religious education is neither prohibited nor mandated in private schools.

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

In January the cabinet issued a directive that declared Christianity the only religion in the school curriculum and banned the teaching of other religions in public schools. While the Swaziland Conference of Churches and some other Christian groups praised the order, other religious groups, including several Christian groups, educators, and civil society groups stated they believed that imposition of Christian-only education violated the constitution and infringed on religious and educational freedoms.

Muslim communities and the media reported that plainclothes police officers sometimes attended and monitored Friday prayer sessions in mosques. Swazi Muslims also said that they were required to submit to prolonged searches by immigration officials at borders. There were no reports of arrests of Swazi Muslims.

Religious leaders said the government continued to protect the right of Muslim workers to close businesses in order to attend Friday afternoon prayer sessions at mosques despite the government-mandated business operating hours. Businesses owned by members of the Bahai community were allowed to close shops in observance of Bahai religious holidays. Public schools, however, did not allow early departure for Muslim students to attend Friday prayers.

According to local religious leaders, unwritten traditional laws and customs allowed approximately 360 chiefs and their councilors to continue to restrict some rights of minority religious groups within their jurisdictions if the chiefs determined the groups’ practices conflicted with tradition and culture. Some chiefs continued to state they would not allow the operation of businesses in their jurisdictions by individuals who appeared to be associated with Islam.

According to religious leaders and civil society organizations, only voluntary Christian religious youth clubs were permitted to operate in public schools by the schools’ administration while non-Christian religious clubs were prohibited from meeting in the schools. Christian clubs conducted daily prayer services in many public schools. The schools’ administration permitted the Christian clubs to raise funds, and at times the clubs received funding from the school or from the general public. Christian clubs’ activities are normally conducted during lunch breaks, weekends, and school holidays.

Non-Christian groups reported that the government continued to provide some preferential benefits to Christians, such as free transportation to religious activities and free airtime on state television and radio. Government-owned television and radio stations broadcast daily morning and evening Christian programming. The government continued to provide each of the three Christian umbrella religious bodies and their affiliates with free airtime to broadcast daily religious services on the state-run radio station. Non-Christian religious groups stated the government continued to deny them airtime despite their repeated calls for inclusion in state-run television and radio programs.

The monarchy, and by extension the government, aligned itself with Christian faith-based groups and supported many Christian activities. The king, the queen mother, and other members of the royal family commonly attended Zionist programs, including Good Friday and Easter weekend services, where the host church usually invited the king to preach. Official government programs generally opened with a Christian prayer, and several government ministers held Christian prayer vigils (which civil servants were expected to attend) to address social issues such as crime and increases in traffic accidents.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitutions of the union government and Zanzibar both provide for equality regardless of religion, prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, and stipulate freedom of conscience or faith and choice in matters of religion, including the freedom to change one’s faith. The union government constitution allows these rights to be limited by law for purposes such as protecting the rights of others; promoting the national interest; and defense, safety, peace, morality, and health. The Zanzibar constitution allows the rights to be limited by law if such a limitation is “necessary and agreeable in the democratic system” and does not limit the “foundation” of the right or bring “more harm” to society.

The law prohibits religious groups from registering as political parties. In order to register as a political party, an entity may not use religion as a basis to approve membership, nor may the promotion of religion be a policy of that entity.

The law prohibits any person from taking any action or making statements with the intent of insulting the religious beliefs of another person. Anyone committing such an offense is liable to a year’s imprisonment.

On the mainland, secular laws govern Christians and Muslims in both criminal and civil cases. In family-related cases involving inheritance, marriage, divorce, and the adoption of minors, the law also recognizes customary practices, which could include religious practices. In such cases, some Muslims choose to consult religious leaders in lieu of bringing a court case.

Zanzibar, while also subject to the union constitution, has its own president, court system, and legislature. Muslims in Zanzibar have the option of bringing cases to a civil or qadi (Islamic court or judge) court for matters of divorce, child custody, inheritance, and other issues covered by Islamic law. All cases tried in Zanzibar courts, except those involving Zanzibari constitutional matters and sharia, may be appealed to the Union Court of Appeals on the mainland. Decisions of Zanzibar’s qadi courts may be appealed to a special court consisting of the Zanzibar chief justice and five other sheikhs. The President of Zanzibar appoints the chief qadi, who oversees the qadicourts and is recognized as the senior Islamic scholar responsible for interpreting the Quran. There are no qadi courts on the mainland.

Religious groups must register with the registrar of societies at the Ministry of Home Affairs on the mainland and with the Office of the Registrar General on Zanzibar. Registration is required by law on both the mainland and in Zanzibar, but the penalties for failing to comply with this requirement are not stated in the law.

To register, religious groups must provide the names of at least 10 members, a written constitution, resumes of their leaders, and a letter of recommendation from the district commissioner. Such groups may then list individual congregations, which do not need separate registration. Muslim groups registering on the mainland must provide a letter of approval from the National Muslim Council of Tanzania (BAKWATA). Muslim groups registering in Zanzibar must provide a letter of approval from the mufti, the government’s official liaison to the Muslim community. Christian groups in Zanzibar may register directly with the registrar general.

On the mainland, BAKWATA elects the mufti. On Zanzibar, the President of Zanzibar appoints the mufti, who serves as a leader of the Muslim community and as a public servant assisting with local governmental affairs. The Mufti of Zanzibar nominally approves all Islamic activities and supervises all mosques on Zanzibar. The mufti also approves religious lectures by visiting Islamic clergy and supervises the importation of Islamic literature from outside Zanzibar.

Public schools may teach religion, but it is not a part of the official national curriculum. School administration or parent and teacher associations must approve such classes, which are taught on an occasional basis by parents or volunteers. Public school registration forms must specify a child’s religious affiliation so administrators can assign students to the appropriate religion class if one is offered. Students may also choose to opt out of religious studies. Private schools may teach religion, although it is not required, and these schools generally follow the national educational curriculum unless they receive a waiver from the Ministry of Education for a separate curriculum. In public schools, students are allowed to wear the hijab but not the niqab.

The government does not designate religious affiliation on passports or records of vital statistics. Police reports must state religious affiliation if an individual will be required to provide sworn testimony. Applications for medical care must specify religious affiliation so that any specific religious customs may be observed. The law requires the government to record the religious affiliation of every prisoner and provide facilities for worship for prisoners.

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

In June police detained former Prime Minister and opposition leader Edward Lowassa and questioned him regarding remarks he made at an iftar calling for the government to proceed with the case involving the leaders of the Association of Islamic Mobilization and Propagation, known as Uamsho (meaning “Awakening” in Swahili). The Uamsho leaders had been in custody since 2013 awaiting trial on terrorism charges. After questioning, Lowassa was released on bond.

In July Sheikh Khalifa Khamis, chairman of the Imam Bhukhary Islamic Organization, was arrested and interrogated after speaking in support of Lowassa’s call for the release of the Uamsho sheikhs. During a November 13 parliamentary session, the presiding officer ignored the request of Civic United Front parliamentarian Khatib Said Haji for an update on the Uamsho case.

In May members of the Uamsho prisoners group refused to exit their bus when brought to court in Dar es Salaam for pretrial hearings and complained to reporters about poor treatment in prison. According to local media reports in March, dozens of Muslim prisoners said that they would boycott their pretrial hearings on terrorism charges to protest the four years they had spent in custody without trial and with their families barred from visiting. The prisoners said they did not want to appear in court until the authorities had finished the investigation.

Morningstar News reported that in October a judge failed to appear at a hearing for a Christian pastor in Zanzibar who was accused of abusing a Muslim girl in 2014. The case was closed in 2015, with charges against the pastor twice dropped for lack of evidence. Church leaders stated that the case was reopened as a pretext for jailing the Christian pastor and that Christians found it difficult to obtain a fair court hearing in Zanzibar. In November a court date was set for December 13, but the judge again failed to appear. A new court date was set for January 2018.

In June Christian advocacy organizations reported that a district commissioner and police officers in Zanzibar arrested three Christians for cooking during the daytime in their home during Ramadan. According to Christian media, the police reportedly told the Christians, “Today you will learn how to fast.” The Christians were released after three days in custody.

In July a court ruled that the Pentecostal Assemblies of God in Zanzibar could not continue building on property the group purchased in 2004 on which it was trying to construct a church against opposition from the local Muslim community. After opponents to the construction demolished several temporary church structures between 2004 and 2007, the group had completed approximately half the construction of a stone building in 2009 when local Muslims filed suit. A lower court ruling in 2011 in favor of the church had allowed the construction to move forward. In the most recent ruling, the court decided that the party who sold the property to the church was not the rightful owner. According to Christian media, church leaders stated the court ruled due to religious bias and threatened the survival of the congregation on the island. They stated they planned to appeal to the High Court of Zanzibar.

In April President John Magufuli attended Easter services at the African Inland Church and St. Peter’s Church. In remarks he thanked Christians and members of other religious denominations for their prayers for him and urged all Tanzanians to preach and demonstrate peace, unity, hard work, and harmony in the country.

Also addressing an Easter event, held at a stadium and attended by thousands, Minister of Home Affairs Mwigulu Nchemba reaffirmed the government’s commitment to protect the freedom of worship and individual rights. He further said the constitution provides freedom of worship as long as one does not infringe on the rights of others, and stated that Tanzania would always be a nation of different religions, commending religious leaders for their role in protecting the country’s peace.

Speaking to Islamic worshippers celebrating Eid al-Adha, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa called on religious leaders to sensitize worshippers on the importance of maintaining peace and to preach against “evil acts.”

The Gambia

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states, “Every person shall have the freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice,” subject to laws that may impose such “reasonable restrictions” as necessary for national security, public order, decency, or morality. The constitution also imposes the condition that such freedom “not impinge on the rights and freedoms of others or on the national interest, especially unity.” The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, the establishment of a state religion, and religiously based political parties. The constitution provides for the establishment of qadi courts, with judges trained in the Islamic legal tradition. The courts are located in each of the country’s seven regions. The court’s jurisdiction applies only to marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance where the involved parties are Muslims.

There are no formal guidelines for registration of religious groups, but faith-based groups that provide social services as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must meet the same eligibility criteria as other NGOs. By law, all NGOs are required to register with the NGO Affairs Agency and register as charities at the Attorney General’s chambers under the Companies Act. They are required to have governing boards of directors of at least seven members responsible for policy and major administrative decisions, including internal control. The NGO decree requires all NGOs to submit to the NGO Affairs Agency a detailed annual work program and budget, a detailed annual report highlighting progress on activities undertaken during the year, work plans for the following year, and financial statements audited by NGO Affairs Agency-approved auditors. The government has stated the submissions help the NGO Affairs Agency monitor the activities of NGOs.

The law requires all public and private schools throughout the country to include basic Muslim or Christian instruction in their curricula. Students may not opt out of these classes. The government provides religious education teachers to schools that cannot recruit such teachers.

The constitution bans political parties organized on a religious basis.

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

In January President Barrow announced the country’s return to a secular republic, as outlined in the constitution, overturning a decree by former President Jammeh that had proclaimed the country to be an Islamic state. In February President Barrow appointed a Special Advisor on Religious and Traditional Affairs, Dembo Bojang, who reassured Muslim leaders that the Barrow administration would not seek to interfere in religious affairs. President Barrow called for continued religious tolerance between Christians and Muslims in the West Africa region on various occasions, such as during a meeting with the Archbishop Ndiaye of Dakar in August. On several occasions, the president hosted religious leaders from both the Christian and Muslim communities at his official residence, and on each occasion, he reiterated the need for continued religious freedom and tolerance.

All principal religious groups stated they supported the Barrow administration’s return to a secular republic. Ahmadi leaders privately praised the president’s decision and indicated the state should stay out of religious affairs. SIC leaders also agreed with the return to a secular republic and indicated they had not supported former President Jammeh’s proclamation of the country to be an Islamic state. President Barrow used various occasions to encourage religious freedom and tolerance and linked religious peace with economic advancement and better investment opportunities. In a meeting with the Christian community, he stated, “having Christians in my cabinet manifests our belief that we are all Gambians and we should nurture and celebrate the peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians.” There were three Christians in the cabinet of 19 members.

In May Minister of Agriculture Omar Jallow spoke at the 41st Jalsa Salana (Annual Convention) of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at (community), declaring himself a life-long friend of the Ahmadiyya. He promised full government protection of the community.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states the nation is a secular state and ensures equality before the law of all citizens, regardless of religion, respects all religious beliefs, and prohibits religious discrimination. It provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship, the free exercise of religious belief, and the right of religious groups to organize themselves and carry out their activities consistent with the law, the rights of others, and public order.

The law does not recognize specific religions, but the government in practice recognizes Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam with their religious holidays observed as national holidays and religious leaders of these groups invited to government events. The law requires all other religious groups, including indigenous groups, to register as religious associations. Official recognition as a religious association provides these groups the same rights as those afforded to the three recognized religions, including import duty exemptions for humanitarian and development projects. Registering is not obligatory, but unregistered groups do not receive import duty exemptions or additional government benefits such as government-provided teachers for private schools.

Organizations apply for registration with the Directorate of Religious Affairs in the MTA. A religious group must submit its statutes, statement of doctrine, bylaws, names and addresses of executive board members, its leaders’ religious credentials, a site use agreement and map for religious facilities, and description of its finances. It must also pay a registration fee of 150,000 CFA francs ($270). Criteria for recognition include the authenticity of the religious leader’s diploma and the government’s assessment of the ethical behavior of the group, which must not cause a breach of public order. The Directorate of Religious Affairs issues a receipt that serves as temporary recognition for religious groups applying for registration. The investigation and issuance of formal written authorization usually takes several years.

By law, religious groups must request permission to conduct large nighttime celebrations, particularly those likely to block city streets or involve loud ceremonies in residential areas.

The public school curriculum does not include religion classes. There are many Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic schools, to which the government assigns its own paid employees as additional teachers and staff. Other registered religious groups have the right to establish schools as long as they meet accreditation standards.

The constitution prohibits the establishment of political parties based on religion. The law forbids private religious radio stations from broadcasting political material.

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

On October 16, security forces arrested Imam Djobo Mohamed Alhassan, an advisor to the head of an opposition party, for inciting persons to violence during a sermon. The incident, in the country’s second largest city, led to violence perpetrated by both supporters and opponents of the imam. The Togolese Catholic Bishops Council issued a statement deploring the violence, including the reported vandalizing of a mosque. Most observers considered the arrest and its consequences were politically motivated.

Similar to the previous year, the MTA stated it did not approve pending applications nor accept new applications for registration from religious groups because draft legislation regarding religious freedom had not passed. The MTA continued to organize meetings with religious leaders and communities to discuss the draft legislation, with the last meeting held in August. As of the end of the year there were approximately 900 applications pending at the MTA.

While unregistered religious groups continued to be able to conduct religious activities while awaiting registration, the MTA reported that religious groups faced obstacles such as obtaining building permits for places of worship. The ministry continued to state, however, this was not because they were religious groups but because applying for a building permit required at least a six-month waiting period for any applicant. Observers reported that officials routinely granted religious groups’ requests for permission to conduct nighttime celebrations.

The government invited only Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim religious leaders to government events. The government invited the three groups to conduct worship at important national events, such as the independence celebration on April 27.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and establishes there shall be no state religion. It provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief and the right to practice and promote any religion as well as to belong to and participate in the practices of any religious body or organization in a manner consistent with the constitution. The constitution also stipulates the government may limit these rights by measures that are “reasonably justifiable for dealing with a state of emergency.” The constitution prohibits the creation of political parties based on religion.

The government requires religious groups to register to obtain legal entity status. According to the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), the government requires faith-based organizations (FBOs) to register as not-for-profit companies with the URSB and then secure a five-year operating license from MOIA. Although there are no formal criteria to be exempted from the operating license requirement, in practice, larger religious groups, including the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Seventh-day Adventist Churches, and the UMSC, are exempt and not required to obtain an operating license.

In accordance with the constitution, religious instruction in public schools is optional. The state has developed separate curricula for a number of world religions, including Christianity and Islam. Public primary and secondary schools may choose which, if any, religious studies to incorporate into their curriculum; however, they must adhere to the state-approved curriculum for each religion they choose to teach.

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

On September 11, local media reported that the Uganda Police Force (UPF) in Tororo District arrested John Kariek, a member of the Christian Church religious group, for prohibiting the vaccination of his children under a government polio immunization program. A local government leader said a number of the group’s members and their children fled the village when the immunization program staff arrived. Kariek said his religious group also prohibited education from outside the group. Local police said they were not aware if Kariek was arraigned or released.

According to local media, the UPF in January released the suspects it arrested in raids on two Salafi mosques in Kampala in December 2016 and publicly apologized to the Muslim community, stating the police had “acted on false intelligence.” The UPF raided the two mosques and arrested 14 individuals for suspected involvement in the November 2016 killing of Muslim cleric Sheikh Mohammed Kiggundu and other unspecified criminal activity.

On May 5, local media reported that the MOIA Religious Affairs Department Director, Reverend Aaron Mwesigye, said the government intended to increase regulation of FBOs’ activities to make them more accountable and transparent. He added that without these regulations, FBOs could “lead to insecurity, and gross exploitation or manipulation of the citizens.” Some evangelical Christian ministers stated the government’s plan, which included setting age and academic qualifications to be licensed to lead an evangelical church, would violate religious freedom, since it would give government undue authority over religious practices. Mwesigye denied the government aimed to control FBOs, stating that it sought “to develop a framework guiding the organizations’ operations.”

The UMSC said the government continued to discriminate against Muslims when hiring senior as well as lower-level officials. The UMSC stated the government had taken no steps to address what it described as its discriminatory hiring practices against Muslims. In 2016, the UMSC reported that fewer than 10 percent of government employees were Muslim, while, according to its estimates, Muslims constituted 25 percent of the population. The most recent census reported Muslims at 14 percent of the population.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares the country to be a Christian nation but upholds freedom of conscience, belief, and religion for all persons. It prohibits discrimination based on religion and provides for the right of individuals to manifest and propagate religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. It protects the freedom of individuals to change their religion or belief. It states no one shall be compelled to take an oath or perform acts contrary to his or her religious belief. The law prescribes legal recourse against, and penalties of fines and imprisonment for, violations of religious freedom.

The Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs, established in 2016, has a mandate that includes the implementation of the country’s declaration as a Christian nation, providing policy and legal framework on matters pertaining to Christian and religious affairs, and guidance on the promotion of national values, principles, and ethics. Ministry functions include preserving religious heritage sites and the coordination of public religious celebrations, such as the commemoration of the declaration as a Christian nation and the National Day of Prayer. The ministry’s mandate also includes ensuring that Christian values are reflected in government, education, family, media, arts and entertainment, and business. The ministry is also charged with promoting church-state, interdenominational, and interfaith dialogue.

Faith-based organizations and religious groups may register their organizations through the Chief Registrar’s Office in the Ministry of Home Affairs or through the Patent and Companies Registration Authority as a company. All are required to pay regular statutory fees of approximately 750 kwacha ($75) as stipulated by the law. If registered as a company, all faith-based organizations are required to seek clearance from the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs in addition to fulfilling other statutory requirements. To be registered, a group must have a unique name, possess a constitution consistent with the country’s laws, and adhere to laws pertaining to labor and employment practices and criminal conduct.

To be registered by the chief registrar under the Ministry of Home Affairs, the registrar’s office conducts a preliminary assessment to ascertain the authenticity of the applicants and a security check. Clearance for religious groups must also be obtained from the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs. To gain clearance, the religious group must provide documentation that includes the organization’s constitution and a recommendation letter from a recognized mother body to which it is aligned. Major church mother bodies include the Zambia Conference for Catholic Bishops (formerly Zambia Episcopal Conference-Catholic churches), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (evangelical Protestant churches), and the Council of Churches in Zambia (traditional Protestant churches). Based on its findings, the ministry provides recommendations to the chief registrar on any additional steps required to complete the registration.

Unlike for nonreligious organizations, under regulations put out by the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs, it is no longer sufficient for religious groups to inform law enforcement directly of their intent to hold a meeting or event outside of normal religious services. The regulations require clearance from the religious ministry first and for the religious group to belong to a mother body that has provided a validation letter. The religious group must submit the validation letter and documentation for the activity to the ministry. After granting approval, the ministry instructs law enforcement authorities under the Ministry of Home Affairs to allow the religious group to hold the event.

The Minister of Home Affairs has the legal authority to revoke the registration of religious groups. Grounds for revocation include failure to pay registration fees or a finding by the minister that the group has professed purposes or has taken or intends to take actions that run counter to the interests of “peace, welfare, or good order.” Groups may appeal this finding through the courts. The government has the authority to levy fines and prison sentences of up to seven years against unregistered religious groups and their members; there were no reported cases involving prison sentences or fines levied during the year.

The Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs may make a recommendation to the tax authority for consideration of a tax exemption for religious groups. The recommendation is based on a long-term record and profile of community social work. The law provides for privileged tax treatment for public benefit organizations, including religious groups, provided they are established for the promotion of religion, education, and relief of poverty or other distress.

The constitution allows religious groups the right to establish and maintain private schools and provide religious instruction to members of their religious communities. The government requires religious instruction in all schools from grades one through nine. Students may request education in their religion and may opt out of religious instruction only if the school is not able to accommodate their request. Religious education after grade nine is optional and is not offered at all schools. The religious curriculum focuses on Christian teachings but also incorporates comparative studies of Islam, Hinduism, and traditional beliefs.

Entry into the country of foreign missionaries or clergy is also scrutinized by the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs. The ministry, in collaboration with the Immigration Department, may approve or deny permits and visas for travelers coming into the country for religious activities.

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

By the end of the year, no legislation existed for the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs to specifically define its roles and responsibilities, leading to ambiguity regarding its mandate. According to religious groups, the administrative measures put in place by the ministry made the process of obtaining a permit to hold a religious gathering more bureaucratic. The Catholic and Protestant church mother bodies, along with leaders of numerous minority religious groups, continued to oppose the creation of the ministry, stating citizens were already able to practice their faith freely.

The Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs stated it instituted a new strategy in March aimed at curbing “false churches and prophets.” In her statement to Parliament, Minister of National Guidance and Religious Affairs Godfridah Sumaili announced requirements of affiliation to a church mother body for “accountability or supervision” and additional screening her ministry would perform for certain visa applications. Sumaili did not provide a clear definition of “false churches.” The minister stated the strategy intended to stop those “who are exploiting the favorable environment of religious freedom.”

Minority religious groups with no representative mother body expressed doubts about their ability to comply with regulations instituted during the year by the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs that require all religious groups to associate with a mother body. The ministry explained that foreign religious groups that did not belong to a mother body could work with their aligned embassy for validation by certifying the organization was registered in its country of origin.

On April 14, immigration authorities deported Nigerian Andrew Ejimadu (also known as “Seer 1”) on grounds of being a danger to peace and good order. On May 5, immigration authorities denied Zimbabwean Uebert Angel, founder of the Good News Church and Uebert Angel Ministries, entry into the country for a religious event. Angel allegedly insisted on holding a “Millionaire Academy” meeting for which he was charging a 1,995 kwacha ($200) entry fee. Officials from the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs stated they would not allow any clergy to take advantage of persons they described as desperate for spiritual attention.

Religion remained a dominant theme surrounding politics in the country. Religious groups said there was self-censorship by clergy members who commented on governance issues. According to religious leaders, any clergy member who expressed dissenting views on governance or human rights faced the possibility of being labeled as “aligned” with the political opposition.

On October 18, the government sponsored and organized the third National Day for Prayer and Fasting under the theme “Repentance, Promoting Peace and Reconciliation, Consolidating National Unity in Diversity.” Many church and political opposition leaders did not participate, stating the event blurred the line between church and state. Various religious groups announced a boycott of the event, which they stated was politically driven. During the event, authorities ordered all liquor traders to open after 6 p.m. instead of the prescribed 10 a.m. According to the government, the holiday was structured to enable the general public to commemorate it in a solemn and sober manner. During the event, President Lungu reaffirmed the country’s identification as a Christian nation. Major opposition political parties and several religious bodies stated the occasion was highly politicized by the ruling party and attracted mostly ruling party Patriotic Front supporters.

Prominent religious groups continued to state the government should not be involved in church affairs, such as the building of the proposed Interdenominational House of Prayer, which remained incomplete. The Council of Churches in Zambia and the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops continued to state the declaration of October 18 as a day of prayer and the building of the National House of Prayer should not be government driven. Several religious leaders outside the council agreed and expressed the same sentiment.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious belief and provides for freedom of religion and the freedom to practice, propagate, and give expression to one’s religion, in public or in private and alone or with others. It recognizes the right of prisoners to communicate with and receive visits by their chosen religious counselor. It stipulates these rights may be limited by a law during a state of emergency or by a law taking into account, among other things, the interests of defense; public safety, order, morality, or health; regional or town planning; or the general public interest. Any such law must not impose greater restrictions on these rights than is necessary to achieve the purpose of the law. Although the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) restricts freedom of assembly, expression, and association in many cases, the act itself specifies that POSA is not meant to apply to public gatherings “held exclusively for bona fide religious…purposes.”

The government does not require religious groups to register; however, religious groups operating schools or medical facilities must register those institutions with the appropriate ministry. Religious groups as well as schools and medical facilities run by religious groups may receive tax-exempt status. Religious groups may apply for tax-exempt status and duty-free privileges with the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA), which generally grants these requests. To obtain tax-exempt status, a group is required to bring a letter of approval from a church umbrella organization confirming the group’s status as a religious group. Examples of approval letter-granting organizations include the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Zimbabwe Council of Churches, and Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe. ZIMRA generally grants a certificate of tax-exempt status within two to three days.

The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MPSE) sets curricula for public primary and secondary schools. Many public primary schools require a religious education course focusing on Christianity but covering other religious groups, emphasizing religious tolerance. There is no provision for opting out of religious instruction courses at the primary level. Students are able to opt out at the secondary level beginning at age 14, when they begin to choose their courses. The government does not regulate religious education in private schools but must approve employment of headmasters and teachers at those schools.

The law requires all international NGOs, including religiously affiliated NGOs, to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the government defining the NGO’s activities and zones of geographic activity. The law stipulates international NGOs “shall not digress into programs that are not specified in the MOU as agreed upon by line ministries and registered by the Registrar.” Local NGOs, including religious NGOs, are not required by law to sign an MOU with the government but “shall, prior to their registration, notify the local authorities of their intended operations.” The law gives the government the right to “deregister any private voluntary organization that fails to comply with its conditions of registration.”

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

There were reports the government used security laws to target public events and prayer rallies of religious groups, particularly those events and rallies that the government reportedly perceived as politically motivated. According to human rights groups and media reports, Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) arrested Evan Mawarire, pastor of His Generation Church, on June 26 while he participated in a prayer meeting with UZ students. According to religious leaders, UZ students invited Mawarire to participate in the prayer meeting after they conducted a protest against an increase in student fees. Police charged Mawarire with participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence and disorderly conduct as defined in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. On September 29, a magistrate acquitted Mawarire on all charges. In a separate case against Mawarire for subversion, a court found him not guilty on November 29. Presiding high court judge Priscilla Chigumba said, “He urged passive resistance, he urged prayers for peace. How can prayers for peace be considered an unconstitutional means of removing a constitutional government?”

In January local media reported that police arrested Pastor Patrick Mugadza, leader of the Remnant Pentecostal Church, for insulting persons of a certain race or religion after prophesizing that then-President Mugabe would die in October. The arrest came while Mugadza was making a court appearance in connection with a November 2016 charge of unlawfully and intentionally wearing or displaying the national flag over his shoulders without seeking permission from authorities. In October the Constitutional Court dismissed an application filed by Mugadza to stop his prosecution for making the prophecy, stating Mugadza insulted the Christian religion. There was no further action on the case by year’s end.

On October 21, the ZRP blocked a planned event organized by NGO Ibhetshu LikaZulu, an advocacy and protection group, in Matabeleland South. Police barricaded the road to a memorial service that included prayers to commemorate the victims of the 1980s Gukurahundi mass killings of mainly Ndebele civilians by government forces, which stopped civil society and opposition political leaders from attending.

There were reports from religious and civil society groups of government monitoring or harassment of church congregations and religiously affiliated NGOs and their members perceived to be critical of the government. Instances included surveillance by security officials and denial of police permission to hold public events. Christian aid organizations and local NGOs focused on memorializing victims of the 1980s Gukurahundi mass killings said security officials also monitored their activities with increased frequency, particularly in areas considered strongholds of the political opposition.

While religious activities and events continued to be exempt from POSA regulations, the government continued to categorize as political any public gathering, including religious gatherings, critical of the ruling party. The government reportedly became increasingly distrustful of all gatherings and activities by individuals or groups perceived as opponents of the government. In July the ZRP questioned Bishop Ancelimo Magaya, leader of the Zimbabwe Divine Destiny Church, over the launch of the “Christian Vote” campaign aimed at mobilizing Christians to participate in the 2018 general election. In June the Catholic Bishops Conference released a pastoral letter on Pentecost Sunday in advance of the 2018 elections. The letter appealed for tolerance, national unity, peace, and stability while calling on the government to uphold the constitution and protect citizens’ political rights.

Most official state and school gatherings and functions included nondenominational Christian prayers, as did political party gatherings. In courts and when government officials entered office, individuals often swore on the Bible.

In February a parent challenged the constitutionality of a national pledge to be recited daily by students that had been introduced in 2016 by the MPSE. Religious leaders complained the ministry did not properly consult with religious communities, demanding the government revoke the national pledge. Following the February court filing, the Constitutional Court reserved judgment on the case while directing the ministry to consult further with religious leaders. Religious leaders criticized the ministry when it failed to do so.

Some Christian leaders and parents of students reportedly criticized the MPSE’s decision to include the study of Islam in the country’s new educational curriculum that was introduced in January. MPSE Minister Lazarus Dokora defended the decision, noting that students had previously learned about Islam, as well as other religions, before the new curriculum’s implementation.

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