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Ghana

Executive Summary

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

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

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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

Nigeria

Executive Summary

The constitution bars the federal and state governments from adopting a state religion, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for individuals’ freedom to choose, practice, propagate, or change their religion.  Members of the armed forces fired on Shia Muslims participating in the Arba’een Symbolic Trek organized by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) on October 27, killing at least three persons, and again on October 29, killing 39 and injuring over100, according to human rights organizations.  The government reported t conducted an investigation into these incidents but did not release its findings publicly.  The government did not keep its commitments to ensure accountability for soldiers implicated in the December 2015 clash between the army and IMN members that, according to a Kaduna State government report, left at least 348 IMN members and a soldier dead, with IMN members buried in a mass grave.  On November 7, the Kaduna State High Court denied the bail request for the leader of the IMN Shia group, despite a December 2016 court ruling that the government should release him by January 2017.  Authorities arrested a Christian man for inciting violence after attempting to convert a Muslim girl.  A Muslim law graduate was called to the bar wearing her hijab after initially being denied.  The federal government launched military operations in Middle Belt states with the stated aim of stemming resource-driven rural violence, which frequently played out along ethnic and religious lines.  Members of regional minority religious groups continued to report some state and local government laws discriminated against them, including by limiting their rights to freedom of expression and assembly and in obtaining government employment.

Terrorist organizations Boko Haram and Islamic State-West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued to attack population centers and religious targets.  On January 3, a Boko Haram suicide bomber attacked a Gambaru mosque, killing 14 and injuring 15.  According to international news, on April 22, two suicide bombers killed three in a Bama, Borno State mosque.  On May 1, twin suicide bombings in Mubi, one in a mosque and another in a market, killed at least 27 and injured more than 60 persons.  According to Christian news outlets, on June 12, Boko Haram burned 22 buildings, including part of a Catechetical Training Center in Kaya, Adamawa State.  On June 16, two Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked the town of Damboa, killing 31 persons returning from Ramadan celebrations on Eid al-Fitr.  On July 23, a Boko Haram suicide bomber killed eight worshippers in a mosque in Mainari.  Boko Haram also conducted limited attacks in Adamawa, while ISIS-WA also attacked targets in Yobe.  Although government intervention reduced the amount of territory these groups controlled, the two insurgencies maintained the ability to stage forces in rural areas and launch attacks against civilian and military targets across the Northeast.

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

U.S. embassy and visiting U.S. government officials promoted religious freedom and interreligious tolerance in discussions throughout the year with government officials, religious leaders, and civil society organizations.  The Ambassador and other senior embassy officials hosted interfaith dinners, participated in interfaith conferences, and conducted press interviews to promote interfaith dialogue.  The embassy sponsored training sessions for journalists who report on ethnoreligious conflicts to help reduce bias in their reporting and prevent tensions from becoming further inflamed.  The U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited Abuja, Kaduna, and Lagos to engage with relevant stakeholders and highlight U.S. government support for interfaith cooperation.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 203.5 million (July 2018 estimate).  A 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life estimated the population to be 49.3 percent Christian and 48.8 percent Muslim, while the remaining 2 percent belong to other or no religions.  Many individuals combine indigenous beliefs and practices with Islam or Christianity.  A 2010 Pew report found 38 percent of the Muslim population self-identified as Sunni and 12 percent as Shia, with the remainder declining to answer or identifying as “something else” (5 percent) or “just a Muslim” (42 percent).  Included among the Sunnis are several Sufi groups, including Tijaniyah and Qadiriyyah.  There are also Izala (Salafist) minorities and small numbers of Ahmadi Muslims.  Christian groups include evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Pentecostals, Baptists, Anabaptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Other groups include Jews, Baha’is, and individuals who do not follow any religion.

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

There were no reports of accountability for soldiers implicated in the December 2015 clash between the army and IMN members that, according to a Kaduna State government report, left at least 348 IMN members and one soldier dead, with IMN members buried in a mass grave.  In July a Kaduna High Court dismissed charges of aiding and abetting culpable homicide against more than 80 IMN members.  The Kaduna State government appealed the ruling, and at year’s end the case remained pending.  Approximately 100 additional IMN members remained in detention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rwanda

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws prohibit religious discrimination and provide for freedom of religion and worship.  In September the government enacted a new law requiring faith-based organizations (FBOs) to obtain legal status before beginning operations.  It also calls for legal representatives of FBOs and preachers with supervisory responsibilities eventually to hold academic degrees.  In February the government closed more than 6,000 churches, mosques, and other places of worship it deemed in violation of health and safety standards and/or noise pollution ordinances.  In March police arrested six pastors for organizing to defy the government’s order to close church buildings.  All six were released later that month.  Later in the year, the government permitted some of the places of worship to reopen after they made required infrastructure improvements.  Muslim community leaders reported effective collaboration with police and local authorities, including collaboration on programs to combat extremism.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported Roman Catholic schools, including government-subsidized schools, required all students to attend Mass regardless of personal faith.  Religious leaders reported numerous faith-based groups and associations contributed to greater understanding and tolerance by participating in interfaith meetings, organizing activities under the auspices of an interfaith religious leaders’ forum, and collaborating on community development projects.

Embassy representatives engaged the government and religious leaders on religious freedom and hosted interfaith events, including an iftar, where religious freedom and tolerance were among the key messages.  The Ambassador hosted an interfaith lunch and emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 12.2 million (July 2018).  According to the 2012 census, the population is 44 percent Catholic; 38 percent Protestant, including Anglican, Pentecostal, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, and evangelical Christian churches; 12 percent Seventh-day Adventist; 2 percent Muslim; and 0.7 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Several other small religious groups, together constituting less than 1 percent of the population, include animists, Baha’is, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a small Jewish community consisting entirely of foreigners.  Approximately 2.5 percent of the population holds no religious beliefs.  The head office of the Rwanda Muslim Community (RMC) stated Muslims could constitute as much as 10 percent of the population.  The majority of Muslims are Sunni, with a small number of Shia (200-300), according to the RMC.  While generally there are no concentrations of religious groups in certain geographic areas, a significant number of Muslims live in the Nyamirambo neighborhood of Kigali.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, worship, and public manifestation thereof even when the government declares a state of emergency.  Exercising these rights may be subject to limitations to ensure respect of others’ rights and good morals, public order, and social welfare.  The constitution bars political parties based on religious affiliation.  In September the government enacted a new penal code that stipulates religious discrimination is punishable by five to seven years in prison and fines of 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandan francs ($560 to $1,100).

On September 10, the government enacted a new law determining the organization and functioning of FBOs, which include religious groups and nongovernmental organizations associated with religious groups.  Under the new law, which replaced a 2012 law governing religious groups, any organization, umbrella organization, or ministry that intends to begin operations must obtain legal status from the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB).  According to the law, an FBO must submit the following to obtain legal status:  an application letter addressed to the RGB; notarized statutes governing its organization; the address of its head office and the names of its legal representative and his/her deputy, their duties, full address, and criminal records; a document certifying the legal representative and his/her deputy were appointed in accordance with its statutes; a brief notarized statement explaining its doctrine; a notarized declaration of the legal representatives of the organization of consent to the responsibilities assigned to them; notarized minutes of the group’s general assembly that established the organization, approved its statutes, and appointed members of its organs; a notarized document describing the organization’s annual action plan and source of funding; a document indicating the building that meets the requirements of the building code of the area of operation; a letter issued by district authorities agreeing to collaborate with the organization; a partnership document issued by an umbrella organization of the organization’s choosing; and proof of payment of a nonrefundable application fee.  The law states the RGB must either issue a certificate of legal personality within 60 days of the date of receipt of the application or, in case of denial, send a written notice explaining the reasons for the denial within 30 days of the date of receipt of the application.

Under the law, if the RGB denies the FBO’s application for legal status, the FBO may reapply when the reason for denial no longer exists.

The law further stipulates preachers with supervisory responsibilities must possess a degree in religious studies from an institution of higher learning or any other degree with a valid certificate in religious studies issued by a recognized institution.  The law also requires that an FBO’s legal representative hold a degree from an institution of higher learning.  Government officials stated these requirements were necessary to prevent unqualified ministers from putting adherents at risk or exploiting adherents for personal gain.  The law states that persons required to hold an academic degree shall have five years from the date of the law’s enactment to comply the requirement.

The government grants legal recognition only to civil marriages.

By law, new public servants must take an oath of loyalty, which includes the phrase “so help me God.”  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 one to two million Rwandan francs ($1,100 to $2,200) and imprisonment from one to two years for any individual who obstructs the practice of religious rituals.  The law also prohibits public defamation of rituals, symbols, and cult objects.  The penalty for doing so is imprisonment for a term of not less than 15 days but less than three months and a fine of 100,000 to 200,000 Rwandan francs ($110 to $220), or only one of these penalties.

The law regulates public meetings and states that any person who demonstrates in a public place without prior authorization is subject to eight days’ to six months’ imprisonment, a fine of 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandan francs ($560 to $1,100), or both.  Penalties increase if the illegal meeting or demonstration is found to have threatened security, public order, or health.  The law states that religious sermons must be delivered in designated facilities that meet the requirements of the law and that if an FBO intends to organize a special public gathering, it must seek authorization from the competent authority.

Under the law, FBOs are prohibited from causing noise pollution.  Offenders are subject to a fine of 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandan francs ($560 to $1,100), and repeat offenders are subject to increased fines and up to one month’s imprisonment.  By law, FBOs may not use their faith, religious practices, and preaching to jeopardize national unity, peace and security, public order and health, good morals, good conduct, freedom, or the fundamental rights of others.

All students in public primary school and the first three years of secondary education must take a religion class on 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 states FBOs may give their opinions on social or faith-related matters but may not engage in political activities to gain political power, organize debates to support political organizations or political candidates, register, or use any other means to support candidates for any 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 prior residence, an authorization letter from the parent organization, and a fee of 100,000 Rwandan francs ($110).

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

Government Practices

Following a February meeting between government officials, including the RGB and Ministry of Local Government, and religious leaders, the government closed more than 6,000 places of worship across the country that it deemed in violation of health and safety standards and/or noise pollution ordinances.  The head of the RGB publicly stated authorities targeted churches that were conducting services in shoddy and unclean structures, which was detrimental to the health of worshippers.  Kigali local authorities reported cases of noise pollution, a lack of required permits, and a proliferation of churches operating inside tents and unsanitary facilities.  Leaders of major religious groups made statements supporting the closures, describing them as needed and timely.  Some observers, however, expressed skepticism regarding the government’s motivation for closing the churches.  A large number of the closed places of worship were evangelical Christian churches, although mosques, Catholic churches, and other Christian churches were also affected.  Some were later allowed to reopen after making the required infrastructure improvements.  The head of the RGB told the press that 14 percent of the buildings had reopened as of July.  In many cases, those congregations whose buildings remained closed opted to hold worship services in hotels, private residences, or buildings belonging to other congregations; the RGB clarified that while some places of worship had been closed, religious organizations had not been closed.  Following the church closures, police arrested six clergymen in March for organizing to defy implementation of the order.  All six were released later that month.

On February 21, the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) ordered Amazing Grace, a Christian radio station, to suspend operations for one month following a live broadcast on January 29 of a sermon by local pastor Nicolas Niyibikora in which he said women were “dangerous creatures of evil, going against God’s plans.”  Women’s groups and journalists filed complaints with the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), stating the language of the broadcast constituted discrimination and incitement to hate.  Following the station owner’s refusal to comply with RURA’s sanctions, in April RURA revoked the station’s broadcasting license.  The station’s owner filed suit against RURA and RMC for violating his right to opinion and conscience.  The case was pending at year’s end.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported in some cases they could negotiate alternatives to participating in compulsory community night patrols.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report local officials’ retaliation against members who refused to sing the national anthem in school or take an oath while holding the national flag.

Jehovah’s Witnesses students were reportedly punished and dismissed from school for not attending religious services at school or not participating in military and patriotic activities at school.

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 and teachers dismissed for refusing to swear an oath on the flag.  Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that authorities included the names of those dismissed over the issue of oath-taking on an online list of persons considered unsuitable for public service, making it difficult for these individuals to obtain employment in the private sector as well.  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 Islamic places of worship were affected by noise ordinance restrictions and were required to decrease the volume on their sound equipment.

Some places of worship were also required to install soundproofing materials.  In March local authorities in Kigali issued a directive prohibiting mosques from using loudspeakers to call worshippers to prayer.  Authorities reversed the ban after Muslim leaders engaged them and reached a compromise allowing for the continued use of loudspeakers at an acceptable volume.

Government officials presiding over wedding ceremonies generally required couples to take a pledge while touching the national flag, a legal requirement that Jehovah’s Witnesses rejected on religious grounds.  Jehovah’s Witnesses said the requirement made it difficult for them to marry legally because few officials were willing to perform the ceremony without the flag oath.  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.

Muslim community leaders reported working collaboratively with the Rwanda National Police (RNP) in combating extremism and radicalization in the Muslim community.  For example, on December 2, the RNP launched a campaign to educate young Muslims about the dangers of extremism in five of the country’s 30 districts with the collaboration of Muslim leaders.  In public remarks, the RNP commissioner for counterterrorism commended the role of Muslim leaders in educating the Islamic community on “the true meaning” of their faith.  The Imam of Kigali, in turn, reiterated the community’s commitment to working with security organs to fight radicalization and promote security.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported Catholic schools, including government-subsidized schools, required all students to attend Mass regardless of their personal faith.

Religious leaders reported numerous religious groups and associations contributed to greater religious understanding and tolerance by participating in interfaith meetings and collaborating on community development projects, such as providing assistance to HIV/AIDS patients and supporting government development initiatives.  During the year, the Rwanda Religious Leaders Forum, an organization under the joint leadership of the Grand Mufti of Rwanda and Protestant, Catholic, Anglican, and evangelical Christian leaders, continued to pursue its stated aim of strengthening interfaith collaboration on education, combating gender-based violence, socioeconomic development, and unity and reconciliation.  Activities included conferences on gender equality and a public dialogue on combating child abuse and unwanted pregnancies, and promoting positive parenting.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy representatives engaged with government officials, including RGB staff responsible for FBO registration, to discuss the new FBO law and plans for its implementation.  The embassy also met with the Ministry of Education to discuss religious curriculum in schools and the RNP regarding their countering violent extremism program.  Embassy representatives consulted with FBOs to identify concerns with the new law and raised them with senior government officials.

The embassy hosted interfaith discussions focused on religious diversity and included members of different religious groups in numerous public outreach programs it conducted in Kigali and throughout the country.  In September the Ambassador hosted a lunch for representatives of the Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Muslim community, and several evangelical Christian churches.  The Ambassador emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.  In June the Ambassador hosted an iftar attended by more than 45 guests, including the Mufti of Rwanda and representatives from the government, diplomatic corps, local universities, as well as 25 members of the Muslim community.  In his remarks, the Ambassador emphasized the importance of the freedom to practice one’s faith without persecution or fear and of interfaith efforts to build peace and promote tolerance.  The Ambassador and embassy officials also engaged religious leaders through the Rwanda Religious Leaders Forum.

The embassy underscored the value of religious diversity and inclusion at key community events, including during the genocide commemoration, which featured interfaith prayers.

Senegal

Executive Summary

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

Tanzania

Executive Summary

The constitutions of the union government and of the semiautonomous government in Zanzibar both prohibit religious discrimination and provide for freedom of religious choice.  Since independence, the country has been governed by alternating Christian and Muslim presidents.  Sixty-one members of Uamsho, an Islamist group advocating for Zanzibar’s full autonomy, remained in custody without a trial since their arrest in 2013 under terrorism charges.  In May the Office of the Registrar of Societies, an entity within the Ministry of Home Affairs charged with overseeing religious organizations, released a letter ordering the leadership of the Catholic and Lutheran Churches to retract statements that condemned the government for increasing restrictions on freedoms of speech and assembly, and alleged human rights abuses.  After a public outcry, the minister of home affairs denounced the letter and suspended the registrar.  The Zanzibar Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources destroyed a church being built on property owned by the Pentecostal Assemblies of God after the High Court of Zanzibar ruled the church was built on government property.  This followed a protracted court battle in which Zanzibar courts ruled the church was allowed on the property.

Vigilante killings of persons accused of practicing witchcraft continued to occur.  As of July, the government reported 117 witchcraft-related incidents.  There were some attacks on churches and mosques throughout the country, especially in rural regions.  Civil society groups continued to promote peaceful interactions and religious tolerance.

The embassy launched a three-month public diplomacy campaign in support of interfaith dialogue and sponsored the visit of an imam from the United States to discuss interfaith and religious freedom topics with government officials and civil society.  Embassy officers continued to advocate for religious tolerance in meetings with religious leaders in the country.  The Charge d’Affaires hosted iftars and interfaith roundtables with religious leaders to promote and highlight the country’s religious diversity.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 55.5 million (July 2018 estimate).  A 2010 Pew Forum survey estimates approximately 61 percent of the population is Christian, 35 percent Muslim, and 4 percent other religious groups.  A separate 2010 Pew Forum Report estimates more than half of the population practices elements of African traditional religions in their daily lives.

On the mainland, large Muslim communities are concentrated in coastal areas, with some Muslim minorities located inland in urban areas.  Christian groups include Roman Catholics, Protestants (including Pentecostal Christian groups), Seventh-day Adventists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Other groups include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’is, animists, and those who did not express a religious preference.  Zanzibar’s 1.3 million residents are 99 percent Muslim, according to a U.S. government estimate, of whom two-thirds are Sunni, according to a 2012 Pew Forum report.  The remainder consists of several Shia groups, mostly of Asian descent.

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 safeguarding 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.  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 qadi courts 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-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.

Government Practices

Sixty-one members of Uamsho, an Islamist group advocating for Zanzibar’s full autonomy, remained in custody following their arrest in 2013 on terrorism charges.  The cases were not brought to trial during the year, and the investigation continued.  Those charged remained imprisoned on mainland Tanzania.  They were initially arrested and detained in Zanzibar, which has an independent court system.  In January 24 of the Uamsho members were separately sentenced to six months in prison for public indecency after they protested their detention and poor prison conditions by undressing before entering a court chamber.  This charge was separate from and in addition to their original terrorism charge.

In January unknown persons kidnapped five members of the Uamsho movement in Zanzibar and held them for seven days before releasing the captives.  One kidnapping victim alleged they were abducted by state police in retaliation for their support for families of the imprisoned Uamsho leaders.

In May the Ministry of Home Affairs sent a letter to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania and the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (which represents the Catholic bishops) threatening legal action after the churches issued statements that criticized the government’s perceived repression of basic freedoms.  The letter gave a 10-day ultimatum to denounce the criticism of the government.  The government letter was leaked on social media and went viral.  After strong public backlash against perceived government interference in religious affairs, the government disowned the letter and suspended the registrar of religious communities and societies, who had signed the letter.

In September the Department of Immigration deported seven Islamic clerics from Pakistan who had arrived two weeks earlier in Kilwa, a Muslim-majority region on the southeast coast.  Department officials stated the clerics did not have permission to enter the country from the head Mufti of BAKWATA, although a Kilwa legislator, Suleiman Bungara, said the clerics had a letter from BAKWATA.  The English-language daily newspaper The Citizen reported that Bungara’s efforts to resolve the issue with Minister of Home Affairs Kangi Lugola were unsuccessful and Bungara questioned whether BAKWATA or the Immigration Department had the authority to approve international religious visitors.

In August a court in Mwana Kwerekwe acquitted and freed a Pentecostal pastor in Zanzibar accused of abusing a Muslim girl in 2014, ending a protracted court case.  The court originally closed the case in 2015, with charges against the pastor twice dropped for lack of evidence.  Christian leaders in Zanzibar stated that the government later reopened the case as a pretext for jailing the pastor, and that Christians found it difficult to obtain a fair court hearing in Zanzibar.

In March the Zanzibar Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources confiscated and destroyed a church being built on property which the Pentecostal Assemblies of God stated it owned, but the High Court of Zanzibar ruled the church was built on government property.  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, arguing the church was being built illegally.  A lower court ruling in 2011 in favor of the church had allowed the construction to move forward, although the court later decided the party who originally 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.

During the year, the Tanzanian Revenue Authority (TRA) announced religious organizations would no longer receive automatic tax exemptions for charitable in-kind donations.  Religious groups must hereafter submit individual requests to the TRA to receive tax exemptions on donations.

The government used various public forums to emphasize that religious organizations should be self-funded and not rely on international donors.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Witchcraft-related killings continued in the country.  The Ministry of Home Affairs reported 117 incidents from January through June.  The Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) reported 106 such killings in the same time period.  More than three-quarters of the victims were men.  Approximately the same number of witchcraft-related killings were reported in the same period in 2017.  The LHRC reported that 501 persons were killed due to mob violence spurred by witchcraft suspicion between January and June.  On March 23, according to the LHRC, an angry mob killed a woman of the Taba Village in Kilauwa District over suspicion of witchcraft.

In May a burglar broke into a Catholic church in Dar es Salaam and stole money and church equipment.  Police were investigating at year’s end.

Unknown assailants broke into a mosque in the Tabora Region and stole 720,000 Tanzanian shillings ($310) in June.  No motive was known, and an investigation was ongoing.  Observers stated that houses of worship were usually regarded as sacred regardless of religion and, as such, attacks on mosques and churches could be seen as religiously targeted.

In January courts in Bukoba issued a three-year prison sentence to three men found guilty of burning churches in 2015 in the Kagera Region in the northwest part of the country.  The men were already serving life sentences for other crimes related to burning churches.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

During the year, the embassy supported interfaith dialogue through a three-month public diplomacy campaign aimed at underscoring the importance of religious freedom and tolerance in preventing violent extremism.

As part of this campaign, the embassy sponsored the visit of a U.S. imam for a one-week program in Dar es Salaam, Pemba, and Unguja (the main island in the Zanzibar archipelago) in August.  The imam engaged with the leadership and members of the Supreme Council of Muslims in Tanzania, the Inter-Religious Council for Peace in Tanzania, the Zanzibar and Pemba Association of Imams, former participants in U.S. government exchange programs, and secondary school students through a series of lectures on religious freedom, diversity, and expression.  In these meetings and discussions, the imam promoted interfaith cooperation in addressing community and social issues and shared experiences on how religious organizations and secular institutions can work together to teach tolerance in their communities.

On June 7 and 8, the Charge d’Affaires hosted iftars in Dar es Salaam and Arusha, bringing together influential civil society, interfaith, and media leaders to launch the interfaith dialogue campaign.  Media coverage of both events, including articles and photographs in leading English and Swahili newspapers, reached a potential readership of one million individuals.

During a July interfaith roundtable in the coastal town of Lindi, the Charge d’Affaires met with a local peacekeeping council comprised of eight Christian and Muslim religious leaders to discuss how to address the area’s economic and social challenges collectively from a position of religious solidarity.

The U.S. government continued programs with religious communities in Kagera, Arusha, Mwanza, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar.  With this support, nongovernmental organizations worked with local government officials, youth, media, and religious groups to improve relationships between communities and address drivers of marginalization that contribute to religious tensions.

Uganda

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and stipulates there shall be no state religion.  It provides for freedom of belief, the right to practice and promote any religion, and to belong to and participate in the practices of any religious organization in a manner consistent with the constitution.  The government requires religious groups to register.  The government restricted activities of religious groups it defined as “illegal” and arrested some individuals it accused of running “illegal churches.”  Local nongovernmental organizations, the media, a politician, and the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) all stated the government disproportionately and unfairly arrested and imprisoned Muslims and continued to discriminate against Muslims when hiring senior and lower-level officials.  Former Minister of Security Henry Tumukunde accused the Uganda Police Force (UPF) of victimizing Muslims arrested in its quest to solve a spate of unresolved killings.

On October 4, media reported that Umar Mulinde, a pastor and Christian convert from Islam, complained that Muslims had broken into his house and stolen property worth 30 million shillings ($8,100).  The UPF was investigating the incident at year’s end.

The embassy brought together religious leaders to promote religious tolerance and diversity.  The embassy hosted an interfaith dialogue at which a U.S. Muslim cleric urged local leaders to build interfaith collaboration to prevent violent extremism.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 40.8 million (September 2018 estimate).  According to the most recent census, conducted in 2014, 39 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 32 percent Anglican, 14 percent Muslim, and 11 percent Pentecostal Christian.  Other religious groups, which collectively constitute less than 5 percent of the population, include Seventh-day Adventists, adherents of indigenous beliefs, Baptists, Orthodox Christians, Hindus, Jews, and those with no religious affiliation.  The UMSC estimates Muslims (primarily Sunni) are closer to 25 percent of the population.  According to the Indian Association in Uganda, the largest non-African ethnic population is of Indian origin or descent, most of whom are Hindu.

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, the government requires faith-based organizations to register as nonprofit organizations with the bureau and then to secure a five-year operating license from the Ministry of Internal Affairs.  Although there is no formal mechanism to request an exemption from the requirement to obtain an operating license, in practice larger religious groups, including the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and Seventh-day Adventist Churches, and the UMSC are de facto exempt, and the government does not require them 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 curricula; 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.

Government Practices

On October 4, local media reported the UPF arrested eight persons it accused of conducting an illegal meeting after it reportedly found them holding a nude prayer service.  The UPF accused the group’s leader, Aggrey Elias Mubangizi, of operating an illegal church.  The UPF released the eight without charge.

On September 26, local media reported the UPF arrested Alex Okello after he declared himself to be Jesus Christ and led 14 persons in Lira Town to drop out of school, cease work, and sell off their property in anticipation of the end of time, which Okello indicated would occur in October.  The UPF also arrested Okello’s 14 followers.  The UPF released Okello and the group a week later without charge.

On June 4, local media reported that the UPF cancelled an open-air prayer service organized by evangelical Christians in Iganga Town after Muslims in the area complained the event organizers ridiculed Islamic teachings.  The UPF said it cancelled the service to prevent violence, saying it had received intelligence that some Muslims planned to disrupt it.

Local media, Islamic civil society organizations, and the UMSC regularly stated that the government maintained a policy of discrimination against and persecution of Muslims, and that it continued to discriminate against Muslims when hiring senior and lower-level officials.  On May 21, local media reported that former Minister of Security Henry Tumukunde accused the UPF of victimizing Muslims in its quest to solve a spate of unresolved killings.  Local media reported that since 2010, the UPF had arrested at least 116 individuals, of whom 106 were Muslim, in relation to high-profile killings.  Local media reported the state had secured convictions of only 13 Muslim suspects since 2010 and no convictions in 2018.  The UMSC said authorities did not accord Muslim detainees the same rights to bail and access to visitors as to other detainees.

The inspector general of police in May denied the UPF victimized Muslims but added that once the UPF had credible evidence of a crime committed or plans to commit crime, it would not shy away from arresting Muslim suspects for fear of offending Muslims.

A group of evangelical Christian ministers said they would resist a draft government policy to regulate religious groups once it came into force, saying it was a violation of their religious freedom.  The government announced in December that the cabinet would in the same month vote on a draft policy that sought to introduce academic qualifications for religious leaders.  Evangelical ministers, however, said the government’s intent was to “turn every church pulpit into an NRM (National Resistance Movement) campaign platform by 2021,” and warned it would “definitely have a backlash, and it will not be pretty.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On October 4, media reported that Umar Mulinde, a pastor and Christian convert from Islam, complained that Muslims had broken into his house and stolen property worth 30 million shillings ($8,100).  The UPF said it would investigate the incident but did not release any findings by year’s end.  Mulinde had survived an acid attack in 2012, which he said his attackers carried out to avenge his conversion.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

During a May 30 iftar, the ambassador urged religious and political leaders to promote interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.  In August the embassy hosted an interfaith dialogue of 35 interdenominational leaders, at which a U.S. scholar and interfaith activist urged local religious leaders to cultivate meaningful, lasting connections with persons of differing beliefs in order to prevent violent extremism.

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