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Benin

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes a secular state and provides for freedom of religious thought, expression, and practice.  All religious groups must register with the government.  In February and March President Patrice Talon met with leaders of the Catholic Church, the Protestant Methodist Church of Benin (EPMB), the Islamic Union of Benin (UIB), and the Group of the Evangelical Church Association of Benin (CAEEB) to discuss government reforms and ways to defuse social discord.

Bishop Antoine Sabi Bio donated furniture, teaching materials, and hardware to private French-Arabic primary and secondary schools in the city of Natitingou and stated that among the aims was to encourage interreligious dialogue.

Embassy staff met with representatives from various religious groups to discuss their roles in promoting interreligious dialogue within the country.  Embassy officials met with imams and Quranic teachers during visits to mosques and Quranic schools in the predominantly Muslim north.  The Ambassador donated foodstuffs to the Muslim community at Ramadan and conveyed a message of religious tolerance.  The Ambassador hosted an iftar with leaders from various religious groups during which she highlighted the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.3 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2013 census, 48.5 percent of the population is Christian, 27.7 percent is Muslim (mostly Sunni), 11.6 percent practice Voodoo, 2.6 percent are members of indigenous religious groups, 2.6 percent are members of other religious groups, and 5.8 percent declare no religious affiliation.  The largest Christian denominations are Roman Catholicism with 25.5 percent of the population, and Celestial Christians with 6.7 percent.  Other smaller religious groups include Methodists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baha’is, Baptists, Pentecostals, the Family Federation of World Peace and Unification, the Very Holy Church of Jesus Christ of Baname, and Eckankar followers.

Many individuals who identify themselves as Christian or Muslim also practice Voodoo or other traditional religions.

Most Muslims are concentrated in northern regions.  The few Shia Muslims are primarily foreign residents.  Southern regions are predominantly Christian.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

The Ministry of Interior and Public Security has the authority to deploy the Republican Police to intervene in conflicts between religious groups to ensure public order and social peace, provided the intervention complies with the principle of state neutrality in religious affairs.

Persons who wish to form a religious group or establish a religious affiliation must register with the Ministry of Interior.  Registration requirements include submission of administrative materials (including the applicant’s birth certificate, police record, request letter, copy of identification, and the group’s internal rules) and payment of a registration fee of 50,000 CFA francs ($88).  If a group is not registered, the Ministry of Interior orders the closing of its religious facilities until the group registers.

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

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

Government Practices

Observers stated that religious groups continued to hold political influence and their influence extended into other aspects of society.  Local politicians regularly sought the support of religious leaders in addressing social issues.  President Talon met with leaders of the Catholic Church on February 7, the Protestant Methodist Church of Benin (EPMB) on February 14, the Islamic Union of Benin (UIB) on February 22, and the Group of the Evangelical Church Association of Benin (CAEEB) on March 1.  During these meetings, the leaders discussed government reforms and ways to defuse social discord triggered by a labor dispute involving the health, justice, and education sectors.  Each religious group proposed solutions for defusing the social crisis.

Authorities released on bail four detained priests of the Baname Church charged with manslaughter.  The priests were charged and jailed following a 2017 incident in which five followers of the Baname Church died from asphyxiation and several were hospitalized after church leaders told followers to shut themselves in their prayer rooms and burn incense and charcoal.  Bail for the detainees ranged from 10 to 20 million CFA francs ($17,600 to $35,200) and the case remained pending at year’s end.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On February 12, Bishop Sabi Bio of Natitingou in the northwest donated furniture, teaching materials, and hardware to private French-Arabic primary and secondary schools in the city.  The bishop stated the donation aimed to contribute to students’ educations and to encourage interreligious dialogue.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials met with representatives of religious groups and encouraged religious tolerance.  Embassy officials met with the President of the Group of the Evangelical Church Association of Benin and the Secretary General of the Islamic Union of Benin on March 20 and May 3, respectively, to discuss their roles in nation building and to share views on interreligious dialogue in the country.  The embassy encouraged them to continue their activities promoting interreligious tolerance and understanding.  On July 31, the Ambassador met with the imam of a large mosque in Cotonou and discussed ways to promote continued productive relations among the country’s various religious groups, and between these groups and the country’s government.

On June 4-7, the Ambassador and other embassy officials visited three mosques and two Quranic schools in the predominantly Muslim north, in the towns of Nikki, Parakou, and Perere.  The embassy delegation met with imams, members of mosque congregations, and Quranic teachers.  The Ambassador expressed the U.S. commitment to advancing religious tolerance.

On June 11, the Ambassador hosted an iftar with religious leaders from various religious groups during which she delivered remarks highlighting the U.S. government’s commitment to religious freedom and respect for religious diversity.  During Ramadan, the Ambassador also donated foodstuffs to the Muslim community and conveyed a message of religious tolerance.

Cameroon

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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

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

Ethiopia

Executive Summary

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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

Gabon

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and worship and equality for all, irrespective of religious belief.  It grants religious groups autonomy and the right to provide religious instruction.  The government denied more than 100 applications for registration of religious groups, higher than the previous year.  The government stated that the reasons were often related to documentation, as well as an increase in individuals seeking to use religious cover to scam individuals.  Ministry officials described the religious groups it rejected as often “one-man operations,” practicing a mixture of Christianity and traditional animist beliefs.

Leaders of Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic faiths met regularly, attended each other’s major festivals, and worked together to promote religious tolerance and to defend freedom of religion.

U.S. embassy staff met with senior government officials from the Ministry of Interior (MOI) to encourage continued respect for religious freedom and encouraged government officials to continue their outreach to religious communities to discuss religious freedom.  Embassy staff encouraged Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic leaders to continue their interfaith dialogue and activities promoting interreligious tolerance and understanding.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.1 million (July 2018 estimate).  Demographic studies do not track religious affiliation, and estimates from religious leaders and government agencies vary widely.  The Episcopal Conference of Gabon estimates approximately 80 percent of the population is Christian.  Of the Christian population, approximately two-thirds are Roman Catholic and one-third Protestant.  The High Council of Islamic Affairs estimates approximately 10 percent is Muslim, including many noncitizen residents with origins in West Africa.  The remaining 10 percent of the population practices animism exclusively or does not identify with any religious group.  Many individuals practice a syncretic faith that combines elements of Christianity with traditional indigenous faiths, Voodoo, or animism.  There is a very small number of Jews.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

The law requires all associations to register, including religious groups.  Registered groups are eligible for exemptions from fees for land use and construction permits.  To register, a group must present to the MOI copies of its founding statutes and internal rules, a letter attesting to publication of these documents in the applicable local administrative bulletin, a formal letter of request for registration addressed to the minister of interior, a property lease, the police records of the group’s leaders, and the group’s bank statements.  The registration fee is 10,000 CFA francs ($17).  Registered religious groups must also provide the MOI with proof of nonprofit status to receive exemptions from local taxes and customs duties on imports.  The MOI maintains an official registry of religious groups.

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

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

Government Practices

The MOI reported it generally processed registration requests from religious groups within one month and estimated it rejected more than 100 such applications during the year, compared with more than 40 in the 2016-17 period.  Ministry officials described the religious groups it rejected as often “one-man operations,” practicing a mixture of Christianity and traditional animist beliefs.  Their difficulty with registration usually concerned gathering the appropriate documents, according to ministry officials.  In addition, there was anecdotal evidence of an increase in “fake pastors” seeking to defraud their followers.  The MOI emphasized the necessity for all groups to register and no longer allowed unregistered groups to operate freely.  Unregistered groups charged with fraud or other illegal activity were most likely to be sanctioned.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic leaders met regularly, attended each other’s major festivals, and worked together to promote religious tolerance.  The interfaith dialogues and activities included discussion of religious issues.

In November Archbishop of Libreville Basile Mve Engone and Ali Akbar Onanga Y’Obegue, Special Adviser of the head of the Muslim community in the country, called upon their respective religious communities to form a prayer chain for a swift recovery of President Ali Bongo Ondimba, who had fallen ill.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy staff met with senior MOI officials to encourage continued respect for religious freedom, to discuss registration issues, and to encourage government officials to continue their outreach to religious communities to discuss religious freedom.

Embassy staff encouraged Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic leaders to continue their interfaith dialogue and activities promoting interreligious tolerance and understanding, such as regular meetings among religious leaders of different faiths.

Kenya

Executive Summary

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

Madagascar

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits religious discrimination in the workplace.  Other laws protect individual religious freedom against abuses by government or private actors.  The government began implementation of the nationality law passed in 2017, and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported an increase in requests for nationality certificates.  Muslims born in the country continued to report they were unable to obtain citizenship documentation based on nationality laws that fail to provide a mechanism for some stateless children born in country to naturalize.

Members of the Muslim community and adherents of some evangelical Protestant churches reported they sometimes had limited access to employment due to their religious affiliation, while members of a small Jewish community continued to report general improvement regarding their interaction with society.

U.S. embassy officials regularly engaged with Ministry of Interior officials responsible for registration of religious groups.  Embassy officials continued to engage with international community representatives to minimize the impact of the nationality code on stateless persons, including Muslims with long-standing ties to the country.  The embassy regularly met with religious leaders throughout the year and organized an interfaith virtual discussion to encourage solidarity among different religious faiths around a common concern.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 25.6 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the last national census in 1993, 52 percent adheres to indigenous beliefs, 41 percent is Christian, and 7 percent is Muslim.  It is common to alternate between religious identities or to mix traditions, and many individuals hold a combination of indigenous and Christian or Muslim beliefs.

Muslim leaders and local scholars estimate Muslims currently constitute between 20 and 25 percent of the population.  Muslims predominate in the northwestern coastal areas and Christians predominate in the highlands.  According to local Muslim religious leaders and secular academics, the majority of Muslims are Sunni.  Citizens of ethnic Indian and Pakistani descent and Comorian immigrants represent the majority of Muslims, although there is a growing number of ethnic Malagasy converts.

Local religious groups state nearly half of the population is Christian.  The four principal Christian groups are Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and the Presbyterian Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM Church).  Smaller Christian groups include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, and a growing number of local evangelical Protestant denominations.

There are small numbers of Hindus and approximately 360 Jews in the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits religious discrimination in the workplace.  Other laws protect individual religious freedom against abuses by government or private actors.  The constitution states that such rights may be limited by the need to protect the rights of others or to preserve public order, national dignity, or state security.  The labor code prohibits religious discrimination in labor unions and professional associations.

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

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

Public schools do not offer religious education.  There is no law prohibiting or limiting religious education in public or private schools.

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

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

Government Practices

As of July media reported an increase in requests for nationality certificates following promulgation in 2017 of a new law enabling a woman to transmit her nationality regardless of her marital status.  The legal specialist from the NGO Focus Development reported the court in Antananarivo alone had delivered more than 1,500 certificates since this legal reform.  She did not indicate the number of Muslims among those beneficiaries.  The new code of nationality did not address the problem of children born of two stateless parents; these individuals remained unable to obtain citizenship, even after several generations of residence in the country.  Under the nationality code, children with unknown parentage were to be evaluated based on appearance, ethnicity, and other factors.  Muslim leaders continued to state the nationality code affected the Muslim community disproportionately, as many members were descendants of immigrants and were unable to acquire the country’s nationality, despite generations of residence in the country.  Children of ethnic Indian, Pakistani, and Comorian descent often had difficulty obtaining citizenship, leaving a disproportionate number of Muslims stateless.  A 2014 study by Focus Development and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that approximately 6 percent of individuals in the communities surveyed were stateless and of this number, more than 85 percent were born in the country.

The Ministry of the Interior registered 49 new religious groups during the year, an increase from 17 registrations in the previous year, bringing the total to a reported 345 officially registered groups.  Religious groups stated the government did not always enforce registration requirements and did not deny requests for registration.  In addition, the government acknowledged that some registered groups may have become inactive or have dissolved without informing the government.

Religious leaders continued to state that inadequate government enforcement of labor laws resulted in some employers requiring their employees to work during religious services.  Faith-based social centers receiving vulnerable workers and labor unions continued to report that employers failed to respect the labor code provisions requiring a 24-hour break weekly, which affected factory workers’ ability to attend worship services.

The leadership of the Muslim Malagasy Association, which states it represents all Muslims in the country, reported some Muslims continued to report difficulty obtaining official documents such as national identity cards and passports because of their Arabic-sounding names.

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

Because religion and politics are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.  The media stated that politicians sought to use religion and religious events to increase their visibility ahead of the presidential elections scheduled to occur by the end of the year.  Several prospective candidates appeared in larger religious events such as the 50th anniversary of the FJKM Church, the eighth annual Catholic youth assembly, and other smaller religious events and gatherings.  Several media outlets criticized what they called an obvious intent to use religious occasions as a tool to target and attract potential voters through their religious affiliation.

In August the central committee of the church council FFKM (composed of the four biggest Christian churches of the country) released a communique urging citizens of voting age to make the best choice during the upcoming presidential elections.  The communique described the ideal candidate as a person who believes in God as defined by Christianity.  Many observers viewed the communique as referring to traditional or mainstream Christianity and as aiming to denigrate and exclude a specific candidate who was the founder and leader of a local evangelical Christian church with what observers described as nontraditional views.  In October, however, Catholic bishops announced during the official closing of a youth general gathering in Mahajanga that the Catholic Church (part of the FFKM) deliberately avoided endorsing any presidential candidate.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Members of the Muslim community in Mahajanga reported the public generally associated them with Islamists and extremists, in addition to labeling them with other negative stereotypes.

In June Catholic Cardinal-designate Tsarahazana Desire reportedly warned a Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, that “extremist Islam was being introduced” to Madagascar, stating that radical groups from the Gulf States and Pakistan were “buying people” and funding large numbers of foreign Muslims to enter the country, as well as planning to build 2,600 mosques.  He also stated that women in the north were being paid to wear a burqa in public in order to advertise the expansion of Islam.  These and similar allegations had circulated repeatedly since 2016, but several locally based diplomats and journalists who investigated the allegations stated they were untrue.

Members of the Muslim community and adherents of some evangelical Protestant churches, especially those celebrating their Sabbath on a Saturday, stated they were sometimes denied access to employment, and believed it was due to their religious affiliation.  Members of the small Jewish community, however, reported a general improvement of their interaction with society; examples included increased acceptance by members of their local community and increased acceptance of their children at local schools.

In August a newspaper reported a parish priest from a Catholic church in Antananarivo had denounced the deliberate destruction of statutes of the Virgin Mary on the national roads.  He said unknown individuals destroyed the statues for unknown reasons and described such acts as hatred and disrespect towards Catholicism.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials regularly engaged with the Ministry of Interior to discuss registration and to understand the status of various religious groups.  Embassy officials continued to discuss the nationality code with members of the diplomatic community and local representatives of the United Nations who focused on human rights in order to undertake joint approaches to encourage the government to amend the new code to allow for naturalization of certain categories of stateless persons.

In February the embassy hosted an interfaith virtual discussion with a leading member of a U.S. Islamic organization in which she shared her vision on fighting extremism, including ISIS.  The speaker also shared her experience and stories about restrictions on religious freedom around the world.  The audience included representatives from different religious groups and members of civil society, who could exchange their points of view on the situation and interact with the speaker.  The program, streamed live on Facebook, reached 3,840 persons, with 1,978 views and 137 reactions, comments, or shares.

Mozambique

Executive Summary

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The constitution states that the country is secular, prohibits religious discrimination, provides for freedom of religion, bans the use of religion for political ends, and stipulates impositions on freedom of conscience stemming from “religious fanaticism” shall be punishable by law.  The government continued to grant Christians and Muslims access to public facilities for special religious events.

The Catholic and Protestant communities conducted public outreach and evangelization campaigns in stadiums and other public spaces during the year.  In support of the atmosphere of religious harmony, the Islamic Council encouraged the country’s Muslims to lead ethically sound lives and to be respectful of other religious communities in the country.  According to Muslim, Catholic, and other Christian leaders, there were no reports of religiously motivated incidents or actions directed against their respective communities.  Sources stated there were varying views on the practice and acceptance of religious syncretism.

The U.S. embassy continued to promote religious freedom and tolerance in engagements with leaders in government, the diplomatic community, and civil society groups.  The Ambassador celebrated National Religious Freedom Day by hosting an interfaith dinner with six prominent religious leaders where the Ambassador and guests discussed religious freedom, the state of interfaith cooperation, and religious syncretism.  The U.S. embassy supported multiple events with religious leaders and youth groups to discuss community engagement and countering violent extremism related to religion.  Embassy officials met separately with Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim leaders to discuss the state of religious tolerance and cooperation.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.1 million (July 2018 estimate).  A 2012 survey by the Ministry of Economy, Planning, Territorial Management, and Integration estimates 55 percent of the native-born population is Protestant (of whom approximately 33 percent belong to evangelical Christian churches), 32 percent Roman Catholic, and 2 percent Muslim.  Another 9 percent belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ on Earth through the Prophet Simon Kimbangu (Kimbanguist), the Celestial Church of Christ, Salvation Army, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  An estimated 2 percent of the population is atheist.  In significant portions of the population, traditional beliefs influence religious practices, including ancestor worship and a widespread belief in witchcraft or “Ndoki.”

Many residents not included in government statistics are foreign workers with families that come from predominantly Muslim countries, primarily in West Africa.  The country hosts more than 26,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR), although the refugees began returning to the CAR voluntarily during the year with assistance from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  According to UNHCR, more than 15 percent of the refugees from the CAR are Muslim.

There are varying estimates for the size of the Muslim community, which is predominantly Sunni.  The High Islamic Council of Congo (CSIC) states Muslims are nearly 12 percent of the population.  The government stated it planned to conduct an official census during the year, to include statistics on religious identity, but funding was not available.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

As in previous years, the government granted Christians and Muslims access to public facilities for special religious events.  For example, on September 12, the country’s Muslim community celebrated Eid al-Adha in Saint-Denis at a stadium located on the grounds of the presidential residence.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

NGOs and religious leaders stated that the general population, including Muslims, continued its broad support of the 2015 ban on full-face Islamic veils, viewing the ban as a preemptive counterterrorism measure.

During the year, leaders and representatives from the Muslim community reported tensions between adherents of Sunni and Shia Islam.  According to a religious leader, the tensions were a result of philosophical differences within the Muslim community and did not result in violence.

According to various sources, there were differing views on the practice and acceptance of religious syncretism.

All religious communities conducting humanitarian, social support, or community development activities informed local authorities of their travel within the country.  According to the CSIC, the organization notified the government when it knew of Muslims traveling out of country to participate in religious education or for activities sponsored by the CSIC.  Representatives of Christian communities did not report their international travel to domestic authorities.

The Ecumenical Council, representing the Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist Churches, met at least biweekly and conducted joint community outreach on topics including peace and religious tolerance.  The Revivalist Council, representing evangelical Protestant churches, met at least twice during the year.

During the year, the Islamic Council remained active and hosted discussions on humanitarian efforts, social action, and assistance to vulnerable persons.  In January the Islamic Council conducted an awareness campaign with participation by the Ministry of Women’s Promotion on gender-based violence.  As part of the campaign, the CSIC issued a public statement against gender-based violence in the country that encouraged Muslims to lead ethically sound lives, respect the laws of the country, and respect the teachings of their religious doctrine.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. embassy raised the issue of countering religious extremism, in addition to promoting the value of religious tolerance, in its engagement with the government, the diplomatic community, religious leaders, and representatives of civil society.  The embassy used public diplomacy tools, including social media platforms, to highlight religious engagement, to counter religious extremism, and to promote religious tolerance.

U.S. embassy officials discussed religious freedom issues including interfaith relations and countering religious extremism with leaders and representatives of religious groups, including the relationship between various religious communities and their individual relationships with government organizations.

On January 18, embassy officials facilitated a discussion with more than 80 youth leaders on religious freedom in the United States that provided participants the opportunity to discuss religious and interfaith practices in Congo, promote religious freedom, and advance a counter-extremism narrative.

In celebration of National Religious Freedom Day on March 15, the Ambassador hosted an interfaith dinner for six of the country’s most prominent religious leaders.  Guests discussed the state of interfaith cooperation, religious syncretism, and the question of whether the government interfered in their work.  The Ambassador emphasized our shared commitment to religious freedom.

In October the Ambassador met with the Catholic Bishop of Kinkala to identify ways to advance peace initiatives in a post-conflict situation.  Meeting participants discussed the need for interreligious dialogue to strengthen the current peace efforts in the country.  The embassy continued its engagement with religious communities involved in interfaith dialogue and conflict reduction throughout the country.

Togo

Executive Summary

The constitution specifies the state is secular and protects the rights of all citizens to exercise their religious beliefs, consistent with the nation’s laws.  Religious groups other than Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims must register with the government.  After unknown assailants vandalized four mosques in July and August in Lome, the government denounced the attacks and called for solidarity with the Muslim community.  The government subsequently posted security forces to guard mosques throughout the country and promised to conduct investigations to find the perpetrators and prosecute them.  The government again did not approve any pending registration applications from religious groups, nor did it accept new applications; approximately 900 remained pending at year’s end.  The Ministry of Territorial Affairs (MTA) continued to organize meetings with religious leaders and communities to discuss pending draft legislation regarding religious freedom that would delineate procedures on registering religious associations and federations.

Leaders of different religious groups and civil society organizations condemned the July and August mosque attacks.  Noise caused by religious celebrations or competition for parishioners among churches caused occasional disputes among religious groups.  The Directorate of Religious Affairs in the MTA reported approximately 50 complaints, almost all regarding noise in Lome, received during the year.  Members of different religious groups frequently attended each other’s ceremonies, and interfaith marriage remained common.

U.S. embassy officials met with the government officials and discussed the importance of finding the perpetrators of the mosque attacks.  Embassy officers also met with religious leaders throughout the year and discussed the latters’ efforts to reduce tensions in communities related to the political crisis during the year.  The embassy launched a program during the year to enhance social cohesion among youth of different religious backgrounds and to promote the use of peaceful methods to resolve disputes.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 8.2 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to a 2009 estimate by the University of Lome, the most recent data available, the population is 43.7 percent Christian, 35.6 percent traditional animist, 14 percent Sunni Muslim, and 5 percent followers of other religions.  Roman Catholics are the largest Christian group at 28 percent of the total population, followed by Protestants at 10 percent, and other Christian denominations totaling 5.7 percent.  Protestant groups include Methodists, Lutherans, Assemblies of God, and Seventh-day Adventists.  Other Christians include members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The 5 percent representing “other religions” includes Nichiren Buddhists, followers of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Baha’is, Hindus, and persons not affiliated with any religious group.  Many Christians and Muslims also engage in indigenous religious practices.

Christians live mainly in the south, while Muslims are predominately in the central and northern regions.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

The law requires all religious groups, including indigenous groups, to register as religious associations, except for Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims.  Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim holidays are observed as national holidays.  Official recognition as a religious association provides other groups the same rights as those afforded to Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims, including import duty exemptions for humanitarian and development projects.  Registering is not obligatory, but registration entitles religious groups to receive government benefits, such as government-provided teachers for private schools and special assistance in case of natural disasters.

Organizations apply for registration with the Directorate of Religious Affairs in the MTA.  A religious group must submit its statutes, statement of doctrine, bylaws, names, and addresses of executive board members, its leaders’ religious credentials, a site use agreement and map for religious facilities, and description of its finances.  It must also pay a registration fee of 150,000 CFA francs ($260).  Criteria for recognition include authenticity of the religious leader’s diploma and the government’s assessment of the ethical behavior of the group, which must not cause a breach of public order.  The Directorate of Religious Affairs issues a receipt that serves as temporary recognition for religious groups applying for registration.  The investigation and issuance of formal written authorization usually takes several years.

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

Unknown assailants vandalized four mosques in July and August in different neighborhoods in Lome.  The minister of security immediately denounced the attacks and called on the public to help find the perpetrators.  The government subsequently posted security forces to guard mosques throughout the country and promised to conduct investigations to find the perpetrators and prosecute them in accordance with the country’s laws.  There were no further attacks after August; by year’s end, the authorities had not identified the attackers.

Similar to previous years, the MTA stated it did not approve any pending applications nor accept new applications for registration from religious groups because the government was still considering new legislation regarding religious freedom.  The government amended a previous draft religious freedom bill during the year and submitted it to the Council of Ministers for review.  The new bill details the processes for opening places of worship and regulates the hours of operation and levels of noise allowed during worship in neighborhoods.  The MTA continued to organize meetings with religious leaders and communities to discuss the draft legislation, with the last meeting held in August.  As of year’s end, there were approximately 900 applications pending at the MTA.

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the Directorate of Religious Affairs in the MTA, disputes continued to occur when new churches established themselves in neighborhoods, particularly those led by religious leaders from Nigeria.  Local residents continued to state some of these congregations worshiped too loudly and often late at night, using drums.  The MTA received approximately 50 complaints during the year, nearly all regarding noise in Lome, and the ministry stated it sought to resolve them.  Religious leaders noted that complaints reportedly often focused on evangelical Protestant congregations, led by charismatic leaders who presided over services employing musical instruments and loud praying.

Members of Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim religious groups continued to invite one another to their respective ceremonies.  Marriage between persons of different religious groups remained common.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials met with the MTA during the year to discuss religious tolerance, methods of countering extremist messaging, and the importance of finding the perpetrators of the mosque attacks.

The ambassador and other embassy officials raised issues of religious freedom and tolerance with Protestant leaders, Catholic bishops, Muslim leaders, traditional chiefs, and civil society organizations.

The U.S. embassy launched a program to promote social cohesion among youth of different religious backgrounds implemented by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in the Muslim majority city of Sokode in November.  The program aimed to teach participants to resolve differences peacefully.  It follows a CRS-initiated project that brought together 115 religious leaders from various backgrounds to participate in a series of social cohesion workshops in March.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future