Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, provides for individuals’ freedom to profess and practice any religion, and does not designate a state religion.  These rights may be limited for stipulated reasons including defense, public safety, public health, or the management of essential services.

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

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

The Ministry of Education includes compulsory religious and moral education in the national public education curriculum.  There is no provision to opt out of these courses, which incorporate perspectives from Christianity and Islam.  There is also an Islamic education unit within the Ministry of Education responsible for coordinating all public education activities for Muslim communities.  The ministry permits private religious schools, but these must follow the prescribed curriculum set by the ministry.  International schools, including those that do not follow the government curriculum, are exempt from these requirements.  Faith-based schools that accept funds from the government are obliged to comply with the directive that states students’ religious practices must be respected.

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

Government Practices

Debate among religious groups and lawmakers regarding how best to regulate religious practices continued during the year.  As of December, key stakeholders, including the Ghana Education Service, the Christian Council of Ghana, the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, Muslim leaders and the Office of the Chief Imam, the Catholic Bishops Conference, as well as leaders of smaller faith communities and traditional religious authorities, continued to work on a proposed regulatory framework that would ensure religious rights and deconflict policies, particularly policies that regard elementary and secondary education.  The issue of regulating “self-styled” pastors, those working outside of established ecumenical bodies, continued to be debated between legislators and the Christian Council of Ghana, an umbrella group of mainly traditional Protestant denominations.

There were reports of uneven enforcement and implementation in schools across the country of the government directive requiring schools to respect students’ religious practices.  In March, Achimota School admitted two Rastafarian students on the condition they shave their dreadlocks.  The students challenged the directive and the Human Rights High Court ruled in their favor, but the decision was appealed by the school, with a final decision pending at year’s end.

During Ramadan, Wesley Girls’ School and other schools barred Muslim students from fasting.  Wesley Girls’ School said it was preventing doing so for health reasons.  The issue divided segments of the Christian and Muslim population.  It was widely covered in traditional and social media and discussed in parliament.  On May 1, the Ghana Education Service, the division of the Ministry of Education responsible for ensuring that all school-age children are provided with quality formal education, ordered all schools to permit Muslim students to fast during Ramadan, a decision hailed as a victory for religious tolerance.  President Akufo-Addo made a public show to break the Ramadan fast on Eid al-Fitr with members of the Muslim community served by the school during the debate.

Support for and opposition to the President’s proposal to build an interdenominational national Christian cathedral continued.  Although President Akufo-Addo stated that public funds would not be used for the project, to be constructed on state-owned lands, critics continued to question whether the $100 million cathedral complex should be a priority for a country with urgent development needs and argued that the project inappropriately linked the state with a particular faith.  In September, President Akufo Addo traveled to Texas to attend a fundraising event for the cathedral, following his attendance at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.  At a midyear budget review presentation to Parliament, Minister of Finance Ken Ofori-Atta urged each citizen to contribute 100 Ghana cedis ($17) per month voluntarily towards the construction of the National Christian Cathedral.

The government continued to issue and revise directives for COVID-19 protocols affecting public events.  As of year’s end, all public gatherings, including worship activities, could not exceed two hours and were required to be held in open spaces.  Religious leaders generally expressed appreciation that the government consulted with religious institutions on COVID-19 protection measures.  While most Christian and Muslim leaders advised their communities to follow the directive, some small, independent churches continued to complain that the ban on large gatherings and the two-hour time limit on church and mosque religious activities infringed upon religious liberties.

Government officials leading official events generally offered Christian and Islamic prayers and, occasionally, traditional invocations.  President Akufo-Addo, a Christian, and Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, a Muslim, continued to emphasize the importance of peaceful religious coexistence in public remarks.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to NGO International Christian Concern, a U.S.-based Christian advocacy organization, three members of the Action Prayer Ministry in Kumasi were wounded when armed assailants attacked their all-night prayer service on February 6.  According to police and congregation members, gunmen fired into the congregation at 2:00 am, slightly injuring three individuals.  Police responded and found church members restraining one of the attackers.  The perpetrators were later found to be members of armed gangs who sought to extort money from church members.

Muslim and Christian leaders continued informal dialogue between their respective governing bodies and the National Peace Council.  Faith leaders said they regularly communicated among themselves on religious matters and ways to address issues of concern or sensitivity.  Religious institutions played a key role in providing vulnerable citizens a social safety net during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were Muslim-Christian and intra-Muslim tensions in the country, with the latter being found largely in northern areas.  Researchers described the main cause of intra-Muslim tensions as doctrinal differences, with different groups interpreting the Quran and hadith differently.  They stated the Ahlus-Sunnah wal Jamaa viewed the Tijaniyya as heretics and innovators, while the latter viewed the former as ignorant and resistant to change.  According to sources, chieftaincy, land tenure, and politics played an important role in exacerbating intra-Muslim tensions between the two major chieftaincies in the Dagbon region.


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, and to debate religious questions.  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 secular High Court has jurisdiction over civil and 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 under this law.  Crimes against the property of religious groups or places of worship 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 in turn 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, the promotion of charity, or research register with the NGO Coordination Board.

All public schools have religious education classes taught by government-funded teachers.  These classes focus on either Christian, Muslim, or Hindu teachings and on the basic content of the religious texts of the religion being taught, as well as ethics.  The Ministry of Education allows local communities and schools to decide which course to offer.  The course selected usually depends on the dominant local religion and the sponsor of the school, which is often a religious group.  The national curriculum mandates religious classes for primary school students, and students may not opt out.  Some public schools offer religious education options, usually Christian or Islamic studies, but are not required to offer more than one.

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

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 continued to state the government’s antiterrorism activities disproportionately affected Muslims, especially ethnic Somalis and particularly in areas along the border with Somalia.  The government continued to deny directing such actions, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest, and detention.

In November, the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims called for weekly protests to demand government accountability regarding alleged enforced abductions.  According to the council, security forces had killed or disappeared 133 individuals during the year.  The governmental Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), established to provide civilian oversight of the work of police, and human rights organizations reported numerous complaints from predominantly Muslim communities, particularly in the Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi and coastal regions, regarding intimidation, arbitrary arrest, and extortion by police.  Some complainants stated police accused them of being members of al-Shabaab.

In October, Muslim leaders from various religious and human rights organizations issued a joint statement criticizing the government for not protecting the rights of Muslim citizens.  The leaders stated security forces abducted more than 40 Muslims through October, only 10 of whom had returned to their homes.  They highlighted the case of a Muslim employee of Lamu County whom they stated was abducted in June by individuals in a government vehicle and whose whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.

In October, unknown persons allegedly abducted a Muslim male after he left a mosque in Mombasa.  Activists accused police of targeting Muslim youths and accusing them of having ties to terrorism without providing evidence.  Police denied involvement and were reportedly investigating the matter.

In February, the government evicted approximately 3,500 members of the Muslim Nubian community in Kisumu County, whose homes were allegedly built on land belonging to the state-owned Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC).  In August, the Environment and Land Court ruled the KRC violated the Nubians’ rights by conducting an illegal eviction.  Activists said that homes and other structures belonging to non-Muslims were even closer to the railway line than the Nubians’ homes but were left alone.  They described this incident as a case of religious discrimination.  This ruling laid the groundwork for an additional lawsuit against KRC to claim damages, but it was unclear at year’s end whether residents had done so.

The government continued to take steps, described by human rights organizations as limited and uneven, to address cases of alleged abuses by security force members.  IPOA continued to refer cases of police misconduct to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution.  Public prosecutors, however, experienced lengthy delays in moving cases to trial and conviction.  IPOA investigations led to five convictions of police officers during the year.

The Registrar of Societies, which has not registered any religious organizations since 2014, continued not to register any new religious organizations pending completion of revised Religious Societies Rules.  Religious leaders criticized the government’s inaction, which had led to a backlog of thousands of unapproved religious group applications.  Some religious leaders called on the government to resume registrations, stating the suspension interfered with freedom of worship, including by making it more difficult to purchase property and conduct operations.

At the start of the pandemic, the government appointed an Inter-faith Council on the National Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic to develop guidelines for the phased reopening of places of worship, which closed in late March 2020 to stem the spread of COVID-19, and the holding of religious ceremonies.  The council continued to advise the government and adjust its guidelines based on evolving COVID-19 conditions.

In October, the council raised its recommended limit on attendance of in-person worship services to two-thirds of a house of worship’s seating capacity, if religious leaders implemented masking and social distancing guidelines.  Council members and religious leaders familiar with the council’s work said government officials largely adopted the council’s recommendations.  Religious leaders reported local officials at times attempted to harass religious groups for failing to follow COVID-19 guidelines but said national government officials intervened to help resolve these issues.

Many religious leaders criticized politicians for holding political gatherings that did not adhere to the government’s restrictions on public gatherings and for politicizing funerals and other religious gatherings.

Some predominately Muslim ethnic groups, including Kenyan Somalis and Nubians, reported difficulties obtaining government identification cards.  These communities stated government officials at times requested supporting documents not required by law and implemented vetting processes in a biased manner.  In June, the NGO Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) said it helped nearly 200 young individuals obtain national identification cards, which are required to obtain government services or register to vote.  These individuals, the majority of whom were Muslim, lived in Lamu County near the border with Somalia.  The government reportedly halted issuance of identification cards in this region due to concern that al-Shabaab terrorists from Somalia could pose as Kenyan nationals to fraudulently obtain government-issued identification cards.  MUHURI and other human rights organizations stated the government was unfairly profiling Muslims.

There were reports that, in general, non-Muslims continued to harass or treat with suspicion persons of Somali ethnicity, who are predominantly Muslim.  Police officers typically do not serve in their home regions, and therefore officers in some Muslim-majority areas are largely non-Muslim.  NGOs stated this often led to misunderstandings between police officers and the communities they are assigned to serve.

Religious leaders representing interfaith groups, including the Anglican, Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Muslim, and Hindu communities, continued to engage with political parties and government bodies in the national reconciliation process initiated after violent 2017 presidential elections.  The interfaith Dialogue Reference Group, composed of prominent Christian, Muslim, and Hindu groups, continued to hold national and county forums to promote national reconciliation.  The Dialogue Reference Group also regularly issued statements calling for national unity and urging the government to take necessary steps to conduct a peaceful and credible general election in August 2022.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Somalia-based terrorist group al-Shabaab again carried out attacks in Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, and Lamu Counties in the northeastern part of the country, sometimes targeting non-Muslims because of their faith.  In January, the international Christian advocacy organization Open Doors noted what it described as a rise in violence against Christians, especially in the northeast where al-Shabaab was responsible for many threats and attacks.  In June, al-Shabaab terrorists attacked two buses traveling through Mandera County near the Kenyan border with Somalia, killing three individuals.  Media outlets reported the attackers were targeting non-Muslims.

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

Some interreligious NGOs and faith leaders, citing extensive interfaith efforts to build peace between communities, promote peaceful elections, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, said relations between religious groups continued to improve.  For example, the national interfaith umbrella group the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK) partnered with the governmental National Cohesion and Integration Commission to call on politicians to avoid inciting violence by adhering to an elections code of conduct in advance of the country’s general election in August 2022.  It also encouraged members of its religious communities to register to vote and educate themselves about the electoral process.  The interfaith Dialogue Reference Group, composed of prominent Christian, Muslim, and Hindu groups, continued to hold national and county forums to promote national reconciliation.  The Dialogue Reference Group also regularly issued statements calling for national unity and urging the government to take necessary steps to conduct peaceful and credible elections.

IRCK also partnered with other NGOs such as the Kenya Community Support Centre (KECOSCE) to increase religious tolerance and reduce opportunities for radicalization related to religion, particularly in Nairobi and the coastal region.  KECOSCE and IRCK hosted interfaith dialogues and joint community activities to encourage peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding.  IRCK and religious leaders reported that close collaboration among different faiths continued to inform and improve the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Leaders collaborated on several initiatives at the national and county level to disseminate accurate information, protect public health, and address the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

According to the constitution, the country is a “sovereign Muslim state,” and Islam is the religion of the state.  The constitution guarantees freedom of thought, expression, and assembly, and the state guarantees every individual the freedom to “practice his religious affairs.”  The constitution states the King holds the title “Commander of the Faithful,” and that he is the protector of Islam and the guarantor of the freedom to practice religious affairs in the country.  The constitution prohibits the enactment of laws or constitutional amendments infringing upon its provisions relating to Islam, and it also recognizes the Jewish community as an integral component of society.  According to the constitution, political parties may not be founded on religion and may not denigrate or infringe on Islam.  A political party may not legally challenge Islam as the state religion.  Religions other than Islam and Judaism are not recognized by the constitution or laws.

The constitution and the law governing media prohibit any individual, including members of parliament, who are normally immune from arrest, from criticizing Islam on public platforms, such as print or online media, or in public speeches.  Such expressions are punishable by imprisonment of up to two years, a fine of up to 200,000 dirhams ($21,600), or both.  Imprisonment may be increased to five years or fine of 50,000 to 500,000 dirhams ($5,400-$53,900), or both, if the acts “are committed either by speech, scream, or threat made in public places or public meetings, or by poster publicly exhibited by sale, distribution, or any other means used for publicity included by online form, paper, and audiovisual form.”

The law penalizes anyone who “employs enticements to undermine the faith” or convert a Muslim to another faith by exploiting a weakness or need for assistance, or through the use of educational, health, or other institutions and provides punishments of six months to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams ($22-$54).  The same penalties apply to anyone who intentionally interferes with religious rites or celebrations where this causes disturbances or affects the dignity of such religious acts.  It also provides the right to a court trial for anyone accused of such an offense.  Voluntary conversion is not a crime under the law.  The law permits the government to expel summarily any noncitizen resident it determines to be “a threat to public order,” and the government has used this clause to expel foreigners suspected of proselytizing.

By law, impeding or preventing one or more persons from worshipping or from attending worship services of any religion is punishable by six months to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams ($22-$54).  The penal code states any person known to be Muslim who breaks the fast in public during the month of Ramadan without an exception granted by religious authorities is liable to punishment of six months in prison and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams ($22-$54).  Owners have discretion to keep their restaurants open during Ramadan.

The High Authority for Audiovisual Communications established by the constitution requires all eight public television stations to dedicate 5 percent of their airtime to Islamic religious content and to broadcast the Islamic call to prayer five times daily.

Sunni Muslims and Jews are the only religious groups recognized in the constitution as native to the country.  A separate set of laws and special courts govern personal status matters for Jews, including functions such as marriage, inheritance, and other personal status matters.  Rabbinical authorities, who are also court officials, administer Jewish family courts.  Muslim judges trained in the country’s Maliki-Ashari Sunni interpretation of sharia administer the courts for personal status matters for all other religious groups.  According to the law, a Muslim man may marry a Christian or Jewish woman; a Muslim woman may not marry a man of another religion unless he converts to Islam.  Non-Muslims must formally convert to Islam and be permanent residents before they can become guardians of abandoned or orphaned children.  Guardianship entails the caretaking of a child, which may last until the child reaches 18, but it does not allow changing the child’s name or inheritance rights, and requires maintaining the child’s birth religion, according to orphanage directors.

Many foreign-resident Christian churches (churches run by and attended by foreign residents only) are registered as associations.  The Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican Churches maintain different forms of official status.  The Russian Orthodox and Anglican Churches are registered as branches of international associations through the embassies of Russia and the United Kingdom, respectively.  The Protestant and Catholic Churches, whose existence as foreign-resident churches predates the country’s independence in 1956, as well as the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches, maintain a special status recognized by the government, which allows them to preserve houses of worship and assign foreign clergy.

Legal provisions outlined in the general tax code provide tax benefits, land and building grants, subsidies, and customs exemptions for imports necessary for the religious activities of recognized religious groups (Sunni Muslims and Jews) and religious groups registered as associations (some foreign-resident Christian churches).  The law does not require religious groups to register to worship privately, but a nonrecognized religious group must register as an association to conduct business on behalf of the group (e.g., open and hold bank accounts, rent property, acquire land and building grants, and have access to customs exemptions for imports necessary for religious activities) or to hold public gatherings.  Associations must register with local MOI officials in the jurisdiction of the association’s headquarters.  An individual representative of a religious group neither recognized nor registered as an association may be held liable for any of the group’s public gatherings, transactions, bank accounts, property rentals, and/or petitions to the government.  The registration application must contain the name and purpose of the association; the name, nationality, age, profession, and residential address of each founder; and the address of the association’s headquarters.  The constitution guarantees civil society associations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) the right to organize themselves and exercise their activities freely within the scope of the constitution.  The law on associations prohibits organizations that pursue activities the government regards as “illegal, contrary to good morals, or aimed at undermining the Islamic religion, the integrity of the national territory, or the monarchical regime, or which call for discrimination.”

The law does not allow Moroccan Christians to be buried in Christian cemeteries or to hold Christian names.

By law, all publicly funded educational institutions must teach Sunni Islam in accordance with the teachings and traditions of the Maliki-Ashari school of Islamic jurisprudence.  Foreign-run and privately funded schools have the choice of including or omitting religious instruction within the school’s curriculum.  Private Jewish schools may teach Judaism.

According to the constitution, only the High Council of Ulema, a group headed and appointed by the King with representatives from all regions of the country, is authorized to issue fatwas, which become legally binding only through the King’s endorsement in a royal decree and a subsequent confirmation by parliamentary legislation.  Such fatwas are considered binding only on Maliki-Ashari Sunni Muslims.  If the King or parliament declines to ratify a decision of the council, the decision remains nonbinding and unenforced.

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

Government Practices

On June 17, security services arrested an Italian national of Moroccan origin, Ikram Nazhi, upon her arrival in Morocco from Italy, for contempt and blasphemy against Islam via her use of social media networks in 2019 while visiting Morocco.  On June 28, the First Instance Court of Marrakesh sentenced Nazhi to three years in prison and a fine of 50,000 dirhams ($5,400) for insulting Islam.  Nazhi appealed on June 30 and the court reduced her sentence to two months in prison without a monetary fine.  Following the sentencing, AMDH-Marrakesh released a statement calling on the government to stop “depriving” citizens of fundamental freedoms enshrined in the constitution.  Nazhi was released from prison on August 23.

In May, a court in Casablanca fined movie actor Rafik Boubker 5,000 dirhams ($540) as a condition for provisional release from custody pending a hearing on his case.  Authorities arrested him in May 2020 and charged him with making blasphemous remarks against Islam and attacking the sacredness of worship in an alleged posting of a video of himself on social media.  No date had been set for the hearing as of year’s end.

Following a process that lasted more than a year, authorities renewed the registration of the Rabat International Church in December.  By year’s end, the new pastor of the church, a non-Moroccan who had arrived in February, had not received his residency permit and permission to manage the church’s activities.

Authorities continued to deny Moroccan citizen Christian groups the right to Christian or civil marriage and funeral services, and the right to establish churches.  The government denied official recognition to NGOs that it considered to be advocating against Islam as the state religion.

The government continued to allow the operation of 44 registered, foreign-resident Christian churches.  Some church leaders reported that Christian citizens generally did not attend those services out of fear of incurring governmental harassment, including concern that security authorities might open a file on them.  However, some foreign-born clergy and Christian citizen leaders stated that some citizens who were well known to be Christian encountered no harassment from government security officers when they attended the services of registered foreign-resident Christian churches.  Foreign residents and visitors attended religious services without restriction at those churches.

The Justice and Charity Organization (JCO), a Sunni Islamist social movement that rejects the King’s spiritual authority, remained banned but still active.  The government continued to monitor the JCO’s activities, and it remained the largest social movement of its kind in the country, despite being unregistered.  The JCO continued to release press statements, hold conferences, manage internet sites, and participate in political demonstrations.  According to media in the country, there were instances in which the government prevented the organization from meeting and restricted public distribution of JCO’s published materials.  In December, during a visit from the Israeli Defense Minister to the country, JCO participated in a protest that local police dispersed.

Community leaders from various Christian groups said authorities continued to make phone or house calls to monitor the activities of Christians.  According to various sources, authorities continued to say the purpose of such monitoring was to protect minority religious communities.  Authorities informed religious communities they would be monitoring compliance with COVID-19 restrictions at religious venues, as they did with the general population.

A number of religious groups reported occasionally informing authorities of planned large gatherings, for which authorities at times assisted with security measures.

According to religious leaders and legal scholars, the government’s refusal to allow Shia Muslim groups to register as associations continued to prevent these groups from gathering legally for public religious observations.  There are no known Shia mosques in the country.  According to Shia community members, they were able to pray in Sunni mosques, but they risked criticism from other worshippers for their religious practices.  Shia representatives reported they did not attempt to register during the year because they feared security forces would harass them, as had been the case in previous years.

The Moroccan Association of Religious Liberties, an organization that advocates for rights of religious minorities, applied for registration in 2019 and remained unregistered at year’s end.  A foreign, non-Muslim religious association was still waiting for its organization’s registration to be renewed, limiting its ability to hold meetings and raise funds.

The U.S.-based NGO Open Doors stated in its annual 2021 World Watch List that the penal code, which criminalizes “shaking the faith” of a Muslim, put many Christians who talked to others about their faith at risk of criminal prosecution and arrest.  The NGO also stated that while the penal code provision “only punish[ed] proselytization, converts to Christianity [could] be punished in other ways, such as loss of inheritance rights and custody of their children.”

Christian leaders continued to say there were no reports of authorities pressuring converts to renounce their faith by informing friends, relatives, and employers of the individual’s conversions.

According to the government, 79 persons were criminally charged or convicted for performing prohibited acts during the month of Ramadan.

A 2017 ban on the import, production, and sale of the burqa remained in effect.  The MOI cited security concerns as justification for the ban.  The ban did not prevent individuals from wearing burqas or making them at home for individual use.  Authorities prohibited news anchors on national television and police and army personnel in uniform from wearing a hijab or burqa.

The MEIA’s Mohamed VI Institute remained the principal government institution responsible for shaping the country’s religious life and promoting its interpretation of Sunni Islam.  It employed 2100 morchidines (male Muslim spiritual guides) and 901 morchidates (female Muslim spiritual guides) in mosques or religious institutions throughout the country.  The morchidates taught religious subjects and provided counsel on a variety of matters, including women’s legal rights and family planning.  The institute continued to provide government-required one-year training for imams and trained an average of 150 morchidines and 100 morchidates per year.  It also continued to train foreign imams, predominantly from sub-Saharan Africa.  The training sessions fulfilled the requirement for religious leaders to acquire a certificate issued by the High Council of Ulema to operate in the country.  The High Council of Ulema also continued to host continuing training sessions and capacity-building exercises for the religious leaders.

The government required religious leaders who worked in the country to abide by the guidelines outlined in the MEIA-issued Guide of the Imam, Khatib, and the Preacher.  The MEIA continued to guide and monitor the content of sermons in mosques, Islamic religious education, and the dissemination of Islamic religious material by broadcast media, actions it said were intended to combat violent extremism.

The MEIA continued to monitor Quranic schools to prevent what the ministry considered inflammatory or extremist rhetoric and to ensure teaching followed approved doctrine.

The government required mosques to close to the public shortly after daily prayer times to prevent use of the premises for what it termed “unauthorized activity,” including gatherings the government believed could promote extremism.  Construction of new mosques, including those constructed using private funds, required authorization from the MEIA.

The government continued to restrict the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as some Islamic materials it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam.

Some Amazigh (Berber)-rights activists reported intolerance and suppression of traditional Amazigh customs in rural Amazigh villages by government-appointed Muslim spiritual guides.

The government’s policy remained prohibiting the sale of all books, videotapes, and DVDs it considered religiously extremist.

The government permitted the display and sale of Bibles in French, English, and Spanish.  A limited number of Arabic translations of the Bible were available for sale in a few bookshops for use in higher education courses.

The government continued drafting and implementing an educational charter mandating traditional education be based on “values” and the “respect for religious and legal studies.”  The Ministry of Education continued an ongoing review of the religion curriculum used in primary and secondary education and continued to make reforms based on universal values of liberty, empathy, solidarity, and honesty.  Since the review began in 2016, 29 textbooks had been rewritten, and additional modifications to textbooks continued during the year.

Jewish and Christian citizens continued to state that elementary and high school curricula did not include mention of the historical legacy and current presence of their groups in the country.  The government continued to fund the study of Jewish culture and heritage at state-run universities.  In October, the Ministry of National Education, Vocational Training, Higher Education, and Scientific Research announced a change to the public school curriculum to include Jewish heritage and history in both Arabic and French, starting in the fourth year of primary school.

The government continued to disseminate information about Islam and Judaism over dedicated state-funded television and radio channels.  Television channel Assadissa (Six) programming was strictly religious, consisting primarily of Quran and hadith (sayings or customs of Muhammad and his companions) readings and exegesis, highlighting the government’s interpretation of Islam.

On October 9, the group Coordination of Moroccan Christians launched a campaign advocating for revision of existing laws restricting the ability to conduct and attend services in official churches and the right to ecclesiastical or civil marriage.  The group also called on the government to allow Moroccan Christians to be buried in Christian cemeteries and to hold Christian names.

According to observers, the government permitted social and charitable activities consistent with Sunni Islam.  For example, the Unity and Reform Movement, the country’s largest registered Islamic social organization, continued its close relationship with the Party of Justice and Development, the largest party in the governing coalition, and continued to operate without restriction, according to media reports.

From April to September, the Baha’i community invited followers of its Facebook page from different faiths to pray for relief from COVID-19 and organized several online conferences.

The monarchy continued to support the restoration of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries throughout the country, efforts it stated were necessary to preserve the country’s religious and cultural heritage and to serve as a symbol of tolerance.  On December 14, King Mohammed VI introduced an initiative to renovate Jewish heritage sites in the country, including hundreds of synagogues, cemeteries, and other sites in several cities.  The Israeli Israel Hayom publication said the Jewish cemetery in Fes, which includes 13,000 graves, was included in the initiative, and that the King had decided to reinstate the original names of some of the country’s Jewish neighborhoods.

The Prison Administration authorized religious observances and services provided by religious leaders for all prisoners, including religious minorities.

On August 12, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited the Beth-El Synagogue in Casablanca.  Secretary General Serge Berdugo of the Council of Jewish Communities in Morocco presented Lapid with a book documenting the restoration of Jewish cemeteries and holy places in the country.  A Moroccan delegation, including government officials, also met Lapid at the synagogue where Lapid said a prayer.

MOI and MEIA authorization continued to be a requirement for the renovation or construction of churches, synagogues, and mosques.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Representatives of minority religious groups said fear of societal harassment, including ostracism by converts’ families, social ridicule, employment discrimination, and potential violence against them by “extremists,” were the main reasons leading them to practice their faiths privately and away from the public eye.

According to the 2018-2019 AMDH report, societal harassment of Shia for manifesting Shia beliefs continued to occur in the press and at Friday sermons.  Shia sources reported they observed Ashura in private to avoid societal harassment.  Shia Muslims said that many avoided disclosing their religious affiliation in areas where their numbers were smaller.

There were reports from media, activists, community leaders, and Christian converts that Christian citizens faced social pressure from non-Christian family and friends to convert to Islam or renounce their Christian faith.  Some young Christian converts who still lived with their Muslim families reportedly did not reveal their faith because they believed they might be expelled from their homes unless they renounced Christianity.

Jewish citizens continued to state that they lived and attended services at synagogues in safety.  They said they were able to visit religious sites regularly and to hold annual commemorations.

On May 27, the Wali (Governor) of Tangier, Mohammed M’hidia, held a working session with Serge Berdugo, Secretary General of the Council of Jewish Communities in Morocco, and a delegation from one of the Council’s regional chapters, the Jewish Community Committee of Tangier, composed of Aron Abikzer, Vice President; and Sonia Zagury, in charge of Cultural Heritage.  Participants reviewed projects launched by the Jewish Community of Tangier as part of a national initiative, the Rehabilitation of Jewish Heritage, approved by King Mohammed VI.

In June, the Assayage Synagogue in Tangier announced plans for creation of the Jewish Museum of Tangier, to be located in the synagogue.  Establishment of the museum is in accordance with royal directives requiring preservation and safeguarding of the country’s Jewish heritage and includes government funding.

The Eias Hazan Synagogue remained open for worship and in active use as a national heritage site after being designated as such in 2020.

Members of the Baha’i Faith said they were open about their faith with family, friends, and neighbors.

Muslim citizen children and youths continued to study at private Christian and Jewish elementary and high schools, reportedly because these schools maintained a reputation for offering a high quality education.  According to school administrators, Muslim students constituted a significant portion of the students enrolled at Jewish schools in Casablanca.

The UAE research and consulting firm PSB took a June poll of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 in 17 Arab states and reported 39 percent of Moroccan respondents said that their religion was the most important factor in their personal identity, which was higher than the regionwide result of 34 percent.  Other choices offered by the poll as possible responses included family/tribe, nationality, Arabic heritage, political beliefs, language, and gender.



Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

The criminal code prohibits statements that are “insulting” or “grossly provocative” and that cause offense to persons of a particular race, tribe, place of origin, color, creed, or religion, or intend to cause such offense.  Individuals convicted under this law are subject to a fine, imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, or both.

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

The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education sets curricula for public primary and secondary schools.  Many public primary schools require a religious education course focusing on Christianity and including other religious groups, with an emphasis on religious tolerance.  Respect for ethical humanism, agnosticism, and atheism is not part of the curriculum.  There is no provision for opting out of religious instruction courses at the primary level.  Students may opt out at the secondary level beginning at age 14, when they begin to choose their courses.  The government does not regulate religious education in private schools but must approve the employment of headmasters and teachers at those schools.  Private schools run by religious organizations may take religious affiliation into account in their admission decisions and may mandate that students participate in religious rites.

Some vaccinations are required for public school enrollment, but not for private schools.

According to a 2020 Constitutional Court decision, it is unconstitutional to recite the national pledge in schools on the grounds that that would be a violation of students’ right to freedom of conscience.  The pledge includes the phrase “Almighty God.”

The law requires all international NGOs registered as PVOs, including religiously affiliated NGOs, to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the government defining the NGO’s activities and zones of geographic coverage.  The law stipulates international NGOs “shall not digress into programs that are not specified in the MOU as agreed upon by line ministries and registered by the Registrar.”  Local NGOs, including those that are faith-based, have no legal requirements to sign an MOU with the government but “shall, prior to their registration, notify the local authorities of their intended operations.”  The law gives the government the right to “deregister any private voluntary organization that fails to comply with its conditions of registration.”

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

Government Practices

Religious and civil society groups reported the government continued to selectively monitor public events, prayer rallies, church congregations, and religiously affiliated NGOs perceived to be critical of the government.  NGOs and religious leaders continued to report that security services targeted some religious officials who engaged in political discourse perceived as negative toward the government.  Talent Farai Chiwenga, the founder of Apostle T.F. Chiwenga Ministries, remained in hiding since 2019 after accusing state security agents of attempting to kill him in car crashes in 2018 and 2019, one of which killed his wife and two church members.  He said state security agents targeted him for addressing in his sermons what he said was the country’s culture of impunity for government officials who committed human rights abuses, including his cousin, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga.  He further stated government employees who attended his church services were subjected to surveillance.

According to one faith leader, security services targeted religious officials who publicly objected to COVID-19 vaccines, as well as officials who criticized what they described as the government’s politicized distribution of food aid.  Human rights groups said the government selectively enforced COVID-19 regulations to silence those who wished to organize public protests against the government, while allowing progovernment and religious groups seen as loyal to the ruling party to gather in the thousands.  For example, the government allowed thousands to attend the Johane Marange Apostolic Church’s July Passover celebration, while keeping other churches closed and banning public religious gatherings.  As public events and commentary moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic, presidential spokesperson George Charamba tracked and commented on views perceived as critical of the state’s enforcement of pandemic-related restrictions.

Officials published proposed amendments to the existing PVO Act in the government Gazette on November 5, with the goal, according to its memorandum, of addressing recommendations from the Financial Action Task Force to improve the government’s anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing regime, streamlining administrative procedures to allow for efficient regulation and administration of PVOs, and preventing PVOs from undertaking political lobbying.  If passed, members of civil society stated, the amendments would extend the definition of PVO to more NGOs, including faith-based organizations if their charitable activities extended beyond religious work.  Faith-based organizations are currently exempt from PVO Act requirements as trusts, but under the proposed amendments, the Minister of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare could designate organizations that were exempt during the year.  In addition, the Registrar of PVOs, who was also the Director of Social Welfare acting in an interim capacity until an appointment was made, could serve trusts with a notice requiring them to swear they would not collect contributions from the public or outside the country, or to register as PVOs.  According to civil society representatives, the amendments would also increase reporting requirements for PVOs, impose vague and potentially arbitrary registration requirements that could limit legitimate human rights work, criminalize work perceived to support or work against any political party or candidate, set civil and criminal penalties for lack of compliance, and allow the government to suspend board members and replace them with government-appointed trustees who could control a PVO’s funding and operations, with few limitations.  Civil society representatives and the religious community criticized the bill for limiting rights of assembly and expression and potentially limiting or eliminating groups’ – including religious groups’ – ability to provide much needed assistance to citizens.  In December, four UN special rapporteurs issued an open letter to President Mnangagwa expressing concern that the amendments would “have grave consequences for the exercise of civil and political rights,” including the freedom of religion or belief.  By year’s end, public parliamentary debate on the bill had not begun.

According to press reports, the High Court ruled in November that the private Pentecostal Zimbabwe Ezekiel Guti University could not violate the country’s constitution to discriminate against student Modester Zinhanga.  The university had blocked her candidacy to run in student elections because she was not a member of the church that runs the university, the Zimbabwe Assemblies of God in Africa, and was not being able to speak in tongues.

In September, the Humanist Society of Zimbabwe (HAZ) reported that the government denied its application to register as a nonprofit company without a stated reason for its action.  Representatives said bias against nonreligious individuals likely contributed to the government’s decision.  The HAZ was formed in 2017 to advocate for the interests of humanists and nonreligious individuals.

According to ZCBC members, its August 2020 pastoral letter calling on the government to build peace, eradicate corruption, and strive for stability and good governance continued to shape the religious landscape.  Despite government officials’ negative reaction to the letter in 2020, ZCBC members reported in October that it had ultimately resulted in improved ZCBC coordination, cooperation, and communication with the government, the security sector, and independent commissions supporting democracy, and that it had encouraged parliamentarians to consult citizens, including the religious community, more widely on proposed legislation.

The Zimbabwe Gender Commission investigated the death of 15-year-old Anna Machaya, a member of the Johanne Marange Church, who died during childbirth after suffering prolonged birth complications without being taken to a hospital for care.  Many commentators attributed her death to the Church’s child marriage practices, which violated the constitution.  Proposed legislation from 2019 to remove the current legal ambiguity between the age of marriage in the constitution (18) and current marriage law (“under the age of 16” for females and “under the age of 18” for males with consent of the Minister of Justice, 16 for females with parental consent, and 18 for males) remained pending in parliament, despite several calls to expedite its passage.  On October 4, private citizen Sharon Moffat, the Legal Resources Foundation, and the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe asked the High Court to order the Johanne Marange Church and independent African Apostolic churches under the Apostolic Churches Council to publish messages that child marriage was not an essential article of faith and was illegal.  They also asked the court to order government departments to take steps to bring an end to child marriage.  The court had not issued a decision by year’s end.

Most official state and school gatherings and functions continued to include nondenominational Christian prayers, as did political party gatherings, Zimbabwe Broadcast Corporation board meetings, and parastatal meetings.  Members of the judiciary and government officials, upon assuming office, often swore on the Bible, but this was not required.

The government continued to enforce a 2018 ban on all radio and state-run television programs advertising prophets and traditional healing, for example selling “tickets to heaven” or a traditional cure for HIV/AIDS.  Pastor Walter Magaya, however, continued to use his online platform to promote traditional and faith healing.

According to media, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) did not approve licensing applications pending for more than two decades from the Jesuits (Society of Jesus) and Catholic dioceses.  No church-based broadcasters were included among the 17 radio broadcast licenses awarded since December 2020, although church leaders indicated they participated in some new community and university radio stations’ shows.  ZCBC representatives said that in the past two years, its members had shifted from requesting national licenses to community-based licenses.  The BAZ stated no legal provision existed allowing it to award licenses to communities of interest, such as religious groups.

In the absence of radio licenses, many faith-based communities broadcast on social media platforms.  These platforms include the Shona-language Catholic Radio Chiedza and FEBA Radio, both on Facebook.  The country’s most popular social media personality, Harare-based Mufti Menk, had 7.9 million Twitter followers, most of whom resided outside of the country.  Religious leaders, however, said traditional radio would reach greater numbers at lower costs.  Some religious communities also provided internet to rural communities to expand the reach of their ministry, provide access to services, and support early warning systems for disaster-prone locales.

Churches reported working with the Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services to help improve living conditions in prison facilities; fund prisoner examinations for continuing education; provide masks, clothes, and food to inmates; and deliver humanitarian, pastoral, and psycho-social counseling services to inmates and ex-inmates within COVID-19 prevention protocols.  As part of COVID-19 lockdown measures, the government limited services that churches could provide.

Faith leaders said it would be inappropriate for them to join the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF)-led Political Actors Dialogue platform, since they were nonpolitical.  They declined participation in what they described as an attempt to expand the political platform to include faith and civil society leaders.  They urged President Emmerson Mnangagwa to create a more suitable multistakeholder platform for a more comprehensive national dialogue.

As part of its #IprayIvote campaign and efforts to promote national dialogue, the ZCC hosted the Zambian Council of Churches to learn about the role churches played in promoting what it viewed as Zambia’s smooth elections and peaceful transition.

During the year, churches distributed copies of the constitution and led dialogues on citizen rights.  Some church leaders expressed their communities’ concerns that new legislation such as the Data Protection Act and proposed legislation such as the PVO Amendment Bill and the Patriotic Bill would limit freedom of assembly and expression.  Further concerns included early political and electoral violence ahead of byelections and general elections, the slow alignment of existing laws with the constitution, and constitutional amendments that strengthened executive control over other branches of government.

According to local newspaper NewsDay, the Apostolic Johane Masowe WechiShanu WeAfrica group reportedly offered to help rally voters for the ZANU-PF party in exchange for official affiliate status.  The newspaper said ZANU-PF’s acting commissar indicated the group would have to oppose homosexuality and same-sex marriage as necessary preconditions to gain official affiliate status.

The government engaged religious leaders to address COVID-19 misinformation and promote vaccination.  While generally supportive of government COVID-19 lockdown measures, faith leaders also said the measures curtailed the freedom of religion and assembly, particularly by keeping churches closed when schools, tourist services, and restaurants were opened.  Some religious leaders also criticized the perceived inequitable enforcement of these measures by religious institutions.  According to NewsDay, the Johane Marange Apostolic Church’s annual Passover conference, held July 3 to July 17 at the Mafararikwa shrine in Manicaland, drew thousands of attendees, despite COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.  The government, however, barred other churches from holding in-person services, banned public religious gatherings, and limited funeral attendance to 30 persons to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  Widespread discussion of the Passover conference on social media led the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights to submit a formal letter demanding police shut down the meeting, in accordance with lockdown measures.  Home Affairs Minister Kazembe Kazembe, however, told the press that only a few individuals who resided permanently at the site had attended the event.

On August 11, for the first time during the year, the government announced churches could begin in-person services, but only for fully vaccinated attendees.  After wide consultations, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) issued a statement cautiously welcoming resumption of services, but also expressing concerns about the practical and religious implementation of the guidance.  The statement urged ZHOCD member churches to follow World Health Organization protocols when they opened, but it also stated it respected churches that continued to conduct online services.  It recommended the government consult churches on decisions that impact them in the future, include churches on the COVID-19 National Task Force, and clarify ambiguities about how churches should treat members who were not able to gain access to a vaccine and the more than 90 percent of the population that had not yet been vaccinated.  On August 13, presidential spokesperson George Charamba criticized the head of the ZCC, Reverend Kenneth Mtata, for his “monumental lapse of both intellect and leadership” in response to the ZHOCD consensus statement, which Charamba viewed as a critique of the government.

The state-controlled Herald reported police arrested a Christ Embassy Ministries pastor on August 15 and fined him 2,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($19) for leading a gathering of 50 unvaccinated congregants, in violation of COVID-19 regulations.  Faith leaders who met with President Mnangagwa soon after the incident quoted the President as saying no directive had been given to arrest unvaccinated churchgoers or pastors.  A High Court decision in September ruled unvaccinated worshipers could attend church, and it barred police from arresting unvaccinated attendees.  On September 14, however, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said, “Whilst all other gatherings shall not exceed 100 persons, with regards to churches, [the] Cabinet has resolved that only vaccinated congregants can attend and should be limited to 50 percent of the holding capacity of the church.”  In October, the government relaxed enforcement of all COVID-19 preventive measures, but it reapplied curfew measures again in December when COVID-19 cases spiked.  Church leaders and the press reported there were no further arrests of faith leaders or unvaccinated attendees of religious services nor official attempts to verify vaccination status within religious communities or in schools run by religious groups.

Some religious leaders said the initial delivery of COVID-19 messages through ZANU-PF party channels, rather than through the government, sowed distrust.  Others said they perceived government outreach to faith leaders as an attempt to overcome this mistrust.  In May, the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust and UNICEF hosted an interfaith dialogue with Christian, Muslim, and African traditional religious leaders from across the country to support the COVID-19 vaccine distribution.  Sheikh Ishmael Duwa, President of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Zimbabwe, said he decided to receive the vaccine publicly to demonstrate its safety and to encourage vaccination among Muslims and the wider population.  He said he was the first Muslim leader in the country to do so.

President Mnangagwa and the National Council of Chiefs announced on August 21 that each traditional chief in Matabeleland North and South would lead efforts to resolve, on a case-by-case basis, grievances associated with 1980s-era Gukurahundi massacres that involved mass killings of mainly Ndebele civilians by government forces.  Church and civic organizations met and supported traditional chiefs and faith leaders to implement this effort in affected communities through training and dialogue.  Churches also led several efforts to support local communities as the national government transferred power to them.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Members of the Apostolic community varied greatly in their approach to general vaccinations.  A 2017 study noted the percentage of Apostolic children vaccinated ranged from 14 to 100, depending on the vaccine in question.  In the past, the government threatened to arrest some Apostolic community members for failure to vaccinate their children, but no arrests were reported during the year.

NewsDay reported in May that some Apostolic members from Manicaland withdrew their children from school, citing concerns they would be vaccinated against COVID-19 in violation of their religious doctrine.  The government, however, did not initiate any vaccination campaigns at schools.

While some religious leaders with large followings warned against COVID-19 vaccines and associated them with the devil, other faith leaders publicly supported vaccine drives, addressed vaccine hesitancy, and worked to build acceptance of prevention protocols among their members.  On one occasion, an evangelical preacher with ties to the government initially told his followers that the vaccine was “the mark of the beast” before clarifying that only vaccines that used mRNA technology were the mark of the beast.  He said that vaccines produced through traditional technology (such as the ones made in China promoted by the government) were not.

According to observers, child marriage increased across faith communities during the year due in part to increased economic pressures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.  The July death during childbirth of 15-year-old Anna Machaya at the Johane Marange Apostolic Church shrine drew widespread condemnation of child marriage and its religious supporters among national leaders, including religious leaders and government officials such as ZHOCD, which includes the Union of the Development of Apostolic and Zionist Churches of Zimbabwe (UDACIZA) and Women Affairs Minister Sithembiso Nyoni.  Some Christian groups, such as the Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust and Johane the Fifth of Africa International Apostolic Church, continued to engage in ecumenical dialogue with other Apostolic religious groups to end child marriages and overcome immunization prohibitions.  A May report by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights stated members of some Apostolic churches reportedly encouraged girls as young as 10 to marry older men for spiritual guidance.  A ZHOCD statement called for churches to stop protecting perpetrators of child marriage and to report abuse against girls and women.  The statement also urged police to investigate the Machaya case and called for an independent national inquiry into the sexual abuse of girls and women generally, and abuse in churches in particular.  Police who initially told an Apostolic leader they had no jurisdiction in the case later arrested Machaya’s 26-year-old “husband” and her parents.

A spokesperson for the Johanne Marange Apostolic Church said the Church did not allow children to marry under the age of 18 years and denied its members abused minors.  The founder and leader of the separate Johane the Fifth of Africa Apostolic Church, Andby Makururu, sought to meet one-on-one with the Bishop of the Johanne Marange Church, Noah Taguta, saying Taguta was the only person who could change the church’s doctrine on child marriage.  By year’s end, the meeting had not taken place, although Makururu engaged Taguta and other senior Apostolic clergy through an Apostolic Bishops’ Dialogue, according to Apostolic leaders.

To improve the inclusion of persons with disabilities in places of worship and across the country, in June, the ZCC published the “Zimbabwe Disability Inclusion Survey Report,” which assessed disability inclusion (infrastructure, services, representation, and participation) by key sectors and issued policy recommendations.  The report stated the country’s laws and policies were sensitive in theory to the aspirations and needs of those with disabilities, but obstacles included stigmatization, discrimination, and low levels of representation of affected individuals among decision-making bodies.

Although some HAZ members maintained a public profile by participating in radio programs, and its founder, Shingai Rukwata Ndoro, wrote a column in the state-controlled Sunday Mail for two years, some humanists reported they feared employers, family, and friends would learn of their beliefs and would discriminate against them.

The Zimbabwe Interreligious Council (ZIRC) interfaith platform, which convened Christians and Muslims “to promote peace, reconciliation, good governance and holistic human development through interfaith action and collaboration,” officially launched in November after meeting informally for two years.


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