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Cameroon

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 26.3 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2005 census, the most recent available, 69.2 percent of the population is Christian, 20.9 percent is Muslim, 5.6 percent is animist, 1.0 percent belongs to other religions, and 3.2 percent reports no religious affiliation. Of Christians, 55.5 percent are Catholic, 38 percent are Protestant, and 6.5 percent are other Christian denominations, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Orthodox churches. The 2010 Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project found that 70.3 percent of the population was Christian, 18.3 percent Muslim, 3.3 percent animist, 2.7 percent other religions, and 5.5 percent with no religious affiliation. Of Christians, the Pew Survey found that 38.3 percent were Catholic and 31.4 percent were Protestant. There is a growing number of Christian revivalist churches.

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

To become a registered entity, a religious group must legally qualify as a religious congregation, defined as “any group of natural persons or corporate bodies whose vocation is divine worship” or “any group of persons living in community in accordance with a religious doctrine.” The entity must submit a request for registration as a religious group and include with it the group’s charter describing planned activities, names and functions of the group’s officials, and a declaration of commitment to comply with the law on freedom of association to the relevant divisional (local level) office. That office forwards the documents to the Ministry of Territorial Administration (MINAT).

MINAT reviews the file and sends it to the presidency with a recommendation to approve or deny. Registration is granted by presidential decree. Official registration confers no general tax benefits but allows religious groups to receive real estate as a tax-free gift for the conduct of activities and to gather publicly and worship. It also permits missionaries to receive visas with longer validity. Unregistered religious groups may gather publicly and worship under a policy of “administrative tolerance” as long as public security and peace are not disturbed.

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The government again took no action to adjudicate applications for registration by a number of religious groups whose applications had been pending for years. The government approved only one new religious group in the last 18 years and none since 2010. Although by law groups must register, the government continued to allow hundreds of unregistered small religious groups to operate freely under its policy of “administrative tolerance.” During a religious freedom conference in Yaounde on August 7, many religious leaders expressed frustration with the government’s failure to register religious groups. The leaders highlighted a lack of clarity in the system, such as whether a religious group could operate under the umbrella of another group’s registration, and said the government’s “administrative tolerance” policy for unregistered religious organizations was ad hoc and inadequate.

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The embassy discussed with government officials the failure to register faith-based organizations. The embassy also discussed the perception by Pentecostal churches that the government was biased in favor of the Catholic and Protestant Churches. The embassy underlined the effect of the sociopolitical crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions on freedom of worship as well as the importance of interfaith dialogue with government officials, including regional delegations from the Ministry of Social Affairs and the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms.

Embassy officials met with leaders from the Christian and Muslim communities, including the coordinator of ACADIR, the national president of the High Islamic Council in Cameroon, the coordinator of the Council of Imams and Dignitaries, and the chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Church in Central Africa. The conversations focused on preventing violent extremism; promoting freedom of religion, interreligious dialogue, and religious diversity; and the search for a peaceful solution to the Anglophone crisis. The embassy underscored the commitment of the United States to interfaith dialogue and cooperation in the face of threats by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA.

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

Chad

Executive Summary

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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

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

Niger

Executive Summary

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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

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

Nigeria

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future