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Eritrea

Executive Summary

The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit religiously motivated discrimination and provide for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief as well as the freedom to practice any religion. The government recognizes four officially registered religious groups: the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea. Unregistered groups lack the privileges of registered groups, and their members can be subjected to arrest and mistreatment and released on the condition that they formally renounce their faith, although some unregistered groups are allowed to operate, and the government tolerates their worship activities. International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media continued to report members of all religious groups were, to varying degrees, subjected to government abuses and restrictions. Members of unrecognized religious groups reported instances of imprisonment and deaths in custody due to mistreatment and harsh prison conditions and detention without explanation of individuals observing the recognized faiths. Haji Ibrahim Younus, arrested in 2018 for taking part in the funeral for Al Diaa Islamic School President Hajji Musa Mohammed Nur, reportedly died in prison in January following an extended period in detention during which, according to religious groups, he did not receive adequate medical care. Said Mohamed Ali, who also participated in the funeral, died in June after physical abuse in prison and delayed medical assistance. In successive waves between May and August, the government arrested approximately 300 members of unrecognized Christian groups. There was no information on the whereabouts of the detainees, the conditions under which they were being held, the charges against them, if any, or if they remained in detention. The government closed a number of Catholic and other religious-run secondary schools and health clinics, citing a 1995 law prohibiting religious institutions from providing social services. Authorities continued to confine former Eritrean Orthodox Church Patriarch Abune Antonios to house arrest, where he has remained since 2006; in July Church officials excommunicated him for “heresy,” although he was allowed to live in a Patriarchate residence. NGOs reported the government continued to detain 345 church leaders and officials without charge or trial, while estimates of detained laity ranged from 800 to more than 1,000. Authorities reportedly continued to detain 52 Jehovah’s Witnesses for conscientious objection and for refusing to participate in military service or renounce their faith. An unknown number of Muslim protesters remained in detention following protests in Asmara in October 2017 and March 2018, although many reportedly were released. The government continued to deny citizenship to Jehovah’s Witnesses after stripping them of citizenship in 1994 for refusing to participate in the referendum that created the independent state of Eritrea.

The government’s lack of transparency and intimidation of civil society and religious communities created difficulties for individuals who wanted to obtain information on the status of societal respect for religious freedom. Religious leaders of all denominations and the faithful regularly attended worship services and religious celebrations. Baptisms, weddings, and funerals organized by both the recognized and unrecognized religious groups were widely attended, including by senior government officials.

U.S. officials in Asmara and Washington continued to raise religious freedom concerns with government officials, including the imprisonment of Jehovah’s Witnesses, lack of alternative service for conscientious objectors to mandatory national service that includes military training, and the continued detention of Patriarch Antonios. Senior Department of State officials raised these concerns during bilateral meetings with senior Eritrean officials in Washington, New York, and Asmara. The government welcomed the September visit of a U.S. government delegation to open a new dialogue on these issues. U.S. embassy officials met with clergy and other members of religious groups, both registered and unregistered. Embassy officials further discussed religious freedom on a regular basis with a wide range of individuals, including visiting international delegations, members of the diplomatic corps based in Asmara and in other countries in the region, and UN officials. Embassy officials used social media and outreach programs to engage the public and highlight the commitment of the United States to religious freedom.

Since 2004, Eritrea has been designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On December 18, 2019, the Secretary of State redesignated Eritrea as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation: the existing arms embargo referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(a) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act. Restrictions on U.S. assistance resulting from the CPC designation remained in place.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at six million (midyear 2019 estimate). There are no reliable figures on religious affiliation. Some government, religious, and international sources estimate the population to be 49 percent Christian and 49 percent Sunni Muslim. The Pew Foundation in 2016 estimated the population to be 63 percent Christian and 37 percent Muslim. The Christian population is predominantly Eritrean Orthodox. Catholics, Protestants, and other Christian denominations, including Greek Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Pentecostals, constitute less than 5 percent of the Christian population. Some estimates suggest 2 percent of the population is traditionally animist. The Baha’i community reports approximately 200 members. Only one Jew remains in the country.

A majority of the population in the southern and central regions is Christian. A majority of the Tigrinya, the largest ethnic group, is Christian. The Tigre and the Rashaida, the largest minority ethnic groups, are predominantly Muslim and reside mainly in the northern regions of the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

Proclamation 73/1995 calls for separation of religion and state; outlines the parameters to which religious organizations must adhere, including concerning foreign relations and social activities; establishes an Office of Religious Affairs; and requires religious groups to register with the government or cease activities. Some members of religious groups that are unregistered or otherwise not in compliance with the law reportedly continue to be subject to a provisional penal code that officially was replaced four years ago; the code sets penalties for failure to register and noncompliance. The current provisional penal code does not directly address penalties for religious groups that fail to register or otherwise comply with the law but includes a punishment for “unlawful assembly” of between one and six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 5,001 to 20,000 nakfa ($330-$1,330).

The Office of Religious Affairs has authority to regulate religious activities and institutions, including approval of the applications of religious groups seeking official registration. Each application must include a description of the religious group’s history in the country; an explanation of the uniqueness or benefit the group offers compared with other religious groups; names and personal information of the group’s leaders; detailed information on assets; a description of the group’s conformity to local culture; and a declaration of all foreign sources of funding.

The Office of Religious Affairs has registered four religious groups: the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea (affiliated with the Lutheran World Federation). A 2002 decree requires all other religious groups to submit registration applications and to cease religious activities and services prior to approval. The government, which has not approved the registration of additional religious groups since 2002, states that it is willing to register new religious groups but has not received any applications.

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

While the law does not specifically address religious education in public schools, Proclamation 73/1995 outlines the parameters to which religious organizations must adhere, and education is not included as an approved activity. In practice, religious instruction is commonplace within worship communities.

By law, all citizens between 18 and 50 must perform 18 months of national service, with limited exceptions, including for health reasons such as physical disability or pregnancy. In times of emergency, the length of national service may be extended indefinitely, and the country officially has been in a state of emergency since the beginning of the 1998 war with Ethiopia. A compulsory citizen militia requires some persons not in the military, including many who had been demobilized, elderly, or otherwise exempted from military service in the past, to carry firearms and attend militia training. Failure to participate in the militia or national service could result in detention. Militia duties mostly involve security-related activities, such as airport or neighborhood patrolling. Militia training primarily involves occasional marches and listening to patriotic lectures. The law does not provide for conscientious objector status for religious reasons, nor are there alternative activities for persons willing to perform national service but unwilling to engage in military or militia activities.

The law prohibits any involvement in politics by religious groups.

The government requires all citizens to obtain an exit visa prior to departing the country. The application requests the applicant’s religious affiliation, but the law does not require that information. An exit visa or other travel documents are not required to cross the newly opened land border with Ethiopia, although the government has not yet established crossing procedures and closes the border at times.

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

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

Government Practices

Haji Ibrahim Younus, a Muslim elder arrested in 2018 for taking part in the funeral for Al Diaa Islamic School President Hajji Musa Mohammed Nur, reportedly died in prison in January following an extended period in detention during which, according to religious groups, he did not receive adequate medical care. Said Mohamed Ali, who also participated in the funeral, died in June after physical abuse in prison and delayed medical assistance.

In June security forces arrested five Orthodox priests from the Debre-Bizen Monastery, three of whom were older than 70, for protesting government interference in church affairs and for their support of Abune Antonios as the legitimate patriarch.

According to a report by Release International, the government imposed tight security throughout May in advance of Independence Day celebrations, and police raided several Protestant groups. The government reportedly arrested 141 Christians in Asmara, including 14 minors, on May 10, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), only 50 of whom were reportedly subsequently released. Another 30 Christians were arrested in early June, according to international media. On June 23, there were 70 more, including 10 children, arrested in Keren, followed by another 80 on August 18 in Godaif. No information was available as to the whereabouts of the detainees, the conditions under which they were being held, or the charges against them, if any.

CSW reported that authorities continued to imprison without charge or trial 345 church leaders, including some who had been imprisoned without charge for 23 years, while estimates of detained laity ranged from 800 to more than 1,000. Authorities reportedly continued to detain 52 Jehovah’s Witnesses, more than half of whom had been in prison for more than 20 years, for refusing to participate in military service and renounce their faith. There were unconfirmed reports that most of the Muslim detainees, arrested following protests in Asmara in 2017 and 2018, were released.

Eritrean Orthodox Church Patriarch Abune Antonios, who last appeared in public in July 2017, remained under house detention since 2006 for protesting the government’s interference in church affairs.

Determining the number of persons imprisoned for their religious beliefs was difficult due to lack of government transparency and reported intimidation of those who might come forward with such information.

The government did not recognize a right to conscientious objection to military service and continued to single out Jehovah’s Witnesses for particularly harsh treatment because of their blanket refusal to vote in the 1993 referendum on the country’s independence and subsequent refusal to participate in mandatory national service. The government continued to hold Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious prisoners for failure to follow the law or for national security reasons. Authorities prevented prisoners held for national security reasons, including religious prisoners, from having visitors. Former prisoners held for their religious beliefs continued to report harsh detention conditions, including solitary confinement, physical abuse, and inadequate food, water, and shelter.

Religious groups were able to print and distribute documents only with the authorization of the Office of Religious Affairs, which continued to approve requests only from the four officially registered religious groups.

The government continued to impose restrictions on proselytizing, accepting external funding from NGOs and international organizations, and groups selecting their own religious leaders. Unregistered religious groups also faced restrictions in gathering for worship, constructing places of worship, and teaching their religious beliefs to others.

In June the government closed at least seven Roman Catholic-run secondary schools and 22 Church-run health clinics, as well as some secondary schools run by other religious groups, citing a 1995 law prohibiting the provision of social services by religious groups. According to the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Daniela Kravetz, as well as international news organizations, the closures followed a call in April by the Catholic Church for the government to effect urgent reforms to reduce emigration and to open a dialogue on peace and reconciliation. Catholic bishops characterized the school closures as motivated by “hatred against the faith and against religion” in a September letter to the minister of education. The Catholic Church was forced to transfer operation and administrative authority of clinics to the Ministry of Health. According to Catholic Relief Services, authorities closed the last Catholic hospital on July 5. Police forcibly removed the nuns who ran the facility and sealed the doors, preventing the nuns from taking hospital equipment with them. In June the Eritrean Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva issued a press release responding to Kravetz’s comments that cited regulations limiting the activities of religious organizations specifically. According to the press release, Regulation 73/1995 does not allow religious institutions to “conduct developmental activities in areas of their choice” nor to solicit funds from external donors.

Jehovah’s Witnesses were largely unable to obtain official identification documents, which left many of them unable to study in government institutions and barred them from most forms of employment, government benefits, and travel.

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

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

Religious observers continued to report the government denied many exit visa applications for individuals seeking to travel to international religious conferences. According to a report by the European Asylum Support Office, the issuance of exit visas was inconsistent and did not adhere to any consistent policy; members of nonrecognized religious communities could be denied exit visas solely on the basis of their religious affiliation.

The government continued to allow only the practice of Sunni Islam and ban all other practice of Islam.

Official attitudes differed toward members of unregistered religious groups worshipping in homes or rented facilities. Some local authorities reportedly tolerated the presence and activities of unregistered groups, while others attempted to prevent them from meeting. Local authorities sometimes denied government ration coupons to Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of Pentecostal groups.

Diaspora groups reported authorities controlled directly or indirectly virtually all activities of the four formally recognized groups. The leaders of the four groups continued to state their officially registered members did not face impediments to religious practice, but individuals privately reported, among other obstacles, restrictions on import of religious items used for worship. Whether authorities used these restrictions to target religious groups was unclear, since import licenses remained generally restricted. Individuals also reported restrictions on clergy meeting with foreign diplomats.

Most places of worship unaffiliated with the four officially registered religious groups remained closed to worship, but many of those buildings remained physically intact and undamaged. Religious structures used by unregistered Jewish and Greek Orthodox groups continued to exist in Asmara. The government protected the historic Jewish synagogue building, which was maintained by the last remaining Jew. Other structures belonging to unregistered groups, such as Seventh-day Adventists and the Church of Christ, remained shuttered. The government allowed the Baha’i center to remain open, and the members of the center had access to the building. A Baha’i temple built outside of Asmara was allowed to operate. The Greek Orthodox Church remained open as a cultural building, but the government did not permit religious services on the site. The Anglican Church building held services but only under the auspices of the registered Evangelical Lutheran Church.

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

Government control of all mass media, as well as fear of imprisonment or other government actions, continued to restrict the ability of unregistered religious group members to bring attention to government repression against them, according to observers. Restrictions on public assembly and freedom of speech severely limited the ability of unregistered religious groups to assemble and conduct worship, according to group members. The government permitted church news services to videotape and publish interviews with foreign diplomats during the public celebration of the Eritrean Orthodox Meskel holiday.

Observers noted that the government exerted significant direct and indirect influence over the appointment of heads of recognized religious communities, including the Eritrean Orthodox Church and Sunni Islamic community, and some NGOs said that authorities directly controlled the appointments. The government continued to deny this, stating these decisions were made entirely by religious communities. The sole political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, led by President Isaias Afwerki, de facto appointed both the acting head of the Sunni Islamic community and the acting head of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, as well as some lower level officials for both communities. Observers said that since the 2017 death of the former mufti, Sheik Alamin Osman Alamin, the government-friendly executive director of the mufti office, Sheik Salim Ibrahim Al-Muktar, in effect was acting as head of the Islamic community.

The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church remained without a patriarch since the 2015 death of the fourth patriarch, Abune Dioskoros. In July the Holy Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church excommunicated the third patriarch, Abune Antonios, in home detention since 2006, for “heresy.” In July the BBC reported that some analysts believe he was expelled so the government could have full control of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Lay administrators appointed by the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice managed some Church operations, including disposition of donations and seminarian participation in national service.

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

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

While the overwhelming majority of high-level officials, both military and civilian, were Christian, three ministers, the Asmara mayor, and at least one senior military leader were Muslims. Foreign diplomats, however, reported that individuals in positions of power, both in government and outside, often expressed reluctance to share power with Muslim compatriots and distrusted foreign Muslims.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Government control of all media, expression, and public discourse limited information available concerning societal actions affecting religious freedom. Churches and mosques were located in close proximity to each other, and most citizens congratulated members of other religious groups on various religious holidays and other events. Senior Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran religious leaders sat as honored guests alongside the ranking Eritrean Orthodox officials during the high profile public celebration of Meskel on September 28.

Some Christian leaders continued to report Muslim leaders and communities were willing to collaborate on community projects. Ecumenical and interreligious committees did not exist, although local leaders met informally, and religious holidays featured public displays of interfaith cooperation. Representatives of each of the official religions attended the state dinners for several visiting foreign officials. Some Muslims expressed privately their feelings of stress and scrutiny in professional and educational settings because of their faith.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy representatives met with government officials to raise religious freedom concerns, including seeking a path forward for unregistered groups. They also advocated for the release of Jehovah’s Witnesses and an alternative service for conscientious objectors refusing to bear arms for religious reasons and expressed concern over the continued detention of Patriarch Abune Antonios. Senior Department of State officials raised these concerns during a series of bilateral meetings with senior country officials in Washington, New York, and Asmara on multiple occasions during the year. Embassy officials raised issues of religious freedom with a wide range of partners, including visiting international delegations, Asmara-based and regionally based diplomats accredited to the government, UN officials, and other international organization representatives. Embassy officials used social media to highlight the importance of religious tolerance and public diplomacy programs to engage the public and highlight the commitment of the United States to religious freedom.

Embassy staff met with clergy, leaders, and other members of some religious groups, including unregistered groups. During the year, however, some embassy requests via the government to meet with religious leaders went unanswered.

Since 2004, Eritrea has been designated as a CPC under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, section 402(b), for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On December 18, the Secretary of State redesignated Eritrea as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation: the existing ongoing arms embargo referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(a) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act. Restrictions on U.S. assistance resulting from the CPC designation remained in place.

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 again did not register any new religious organizations pending completion of revised Religious Societies Rules, which had not been finalized at year’s end, and approximately 4,400 religious group applications remained pending. In January the Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision that required a publicly funded school to allow Muslim students to wear the hijab, citing faults in the petition process but encouraging the parties to file a new suit using correct procedures so the court could rule on the merits of the case. The judgment directed the board of the school to provide exemptions for students to wear clothing in accordance with their religious beliefs, but some Muslims interpreted the ruling as permission for officials to ban the hijab. A court ruled in September that a secondary school broke the law by asking a student to shave her dreadlocks, stating that Rastafarianism is a religion.

The Somalia-based terrorist group Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (al-Shabaab) again carried out attacks in Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, and Lamu Counties in the northeastern part of the country and said the group had targeted non-Muslims because of their faith. On February 16, media reported that al-Shabaab killed three Christian teachers at a primary school in Wajir County, a predominantly Muslim region. 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. In February a group of men believed to be Somali Muslims reportedly beat and raped a Somali mother of four in Dadaab refugee camp because she converted to Christianity. In April a pastor in Garissa, who ministered to former Muslims in an underground church, was reportedly beaten unconscious by a group of Muslims and hospitalized. Muslim minority groups, particularly those of Somali descent, reported continued harassment by non-Muslims. Some religious and political leaders, however, stated tolerance improved during the year, citing extensive interfaith efforts to build peace between communities. Prominent religious leaders representing the main faiths in the country issued a joint statement condemning the January 15 attack at the Dusit D2 hotel in Nairobi by five al-Shabaab terrorists that killed 21 persons, including one U.S. citizen. Unlike the 2013 terrorist attack at Westgate Mall, there were few reports of reprisal attacks against Muslim communities. A survey by the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK), a national interfaith umbrella group, examined the extent of freedom of religion and belief in two coastal counties, Mombasa and Kwale. The study targeted youth, community members, teachers, women, religious leaders, government officials, and peace organizations. Findings indicated the perceived level of religious tolerance was 37.3 percent, and the perceived level of government intolerance to religions was 46.4 percent.

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 related to religion. In June embassy representatives participated in an interfaith iftar as part of an embassy-sponsored program to support efforts by IRCK to strengthen understanding, respect, and acceptance within multifaith communities in Nairobi and Mombasa Counties. In September the Ambassador hosted an interfaith roundtable to build relationships with religious leaders and discuss efforts to improve tolerance and inclusion. The embassy hosted roundtables and other events that brought individuals of diverse faiths together to discuss religious tolerance and build mutual understanding.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 49.1 million (midyear 2019 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. Nonevangelical 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. There are approximately 217,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the Dadaab refugee camps, mostly ethnic Somali Muslims. The Kakuma refugee camp has approximately 193,000 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, 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. Officiants must be appointed by a registered religious group to conduct marriages in order 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 impacted Muslims, especially ethnic Somalis and particularly in areas along the Somalia border. According to these groups, 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. The government denied directing such actions. The government took steps, described by human rights organizations as limited and uneven, to address cases of alleged unlawful killings by security force members. The governmental Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), established to provide civilian oversight of the work of police, continued to refer cases of police misconduct to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution for prosecution.

In August Kenya Defenses Forces personnel killed ethnic Somali Muslim Abdullahi Kasim Yusuf, allegedly after he entered a Garissa military camp. The death led to local protests, and human rights defenders in the area called for an investigation, alleging other abuses by security forces in the region and stating there had been little accountability. In September security officers shot and killed two Muslims in Mombasa and Kwale whom they alleged were connected to terrorism and criminal activities. The men’s relatives and the NGO Muslims for Human Rights said the men were victims of extrajudicial killings and called for IPOA to investigate.

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, and approximately 4,400 religious group applications remained pending.

In January the Supreme Court overturned on procedural grounds a lower court decision that required a publicly funded school in Isiolo County to allow Muslim students to wear the hijab, citing faults in the petition process. While the court’s decision included language recognizing the importance of accommodating religious dress in schools, some Muslims interpreted the ruling as permission for officials to ban the hijab. The court invited interested parties to file a new lawsuit following correct procedures so that it could rule on the merits of the case. The decision further directed the board of the school involved in the original petition to consult with parents and provide exemptions for students to wear clothing in accordance with their religious beliefs. The court also urged the secretary for education to establish new guidelines to better protect religious freedom in schools. In public statements, the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims highlighted what it called positive messages in the court’s ruling in what observers stated was an effort to defuse anger in the Muslim community.

The High Court ruled in September that a secondary school broke the law by asking a student to shave her dreadlocks, stating they were a manifestation of her religious beliefs as a member of the Rastafarian religion. The court ruling contained a permanent injunction restraining the school’s administration from interfering with the student’s education based on her religious beliefs, specifically mentioning her dreadlocks. The school had previously expelled the student for wearing her dreadlocks in a turban, after which her family sought redress and the court in January ordered the school to allow her to return pending a verdict in the case.

Christian televangelist Paul Makenzi of the Good News International Ministries, who was arrested in 2017 with his wife Joyce Mwikamba and charged with radicalizing children in Malindi, remained free on bail and resumed preaching while awaiting a court ruling on his case.

Muslim leaders continued to state that police often linked the whole Muslim community to al-Shabaab. IPOA 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.

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 and said the group had targeted non-Muslims because of their faith. Authorities received numerous reports of terrorist attacks in the northeast of the country bordering Somalia by al-Shabaab and its sympathizers that targeted non-Muslims. On February 16, media reported that al-Shabaab killed three Christian teachers at a primary school in Wajir County, a predominantly Muslim region. Al-Shabaab remained the focus of government antiterror and police efforts throughout the northeast and coastal region.

In April a group of men believed to be Somali Muslims, according to Christian media, reportedly beat unconscious a pastor in Garissa who ministered to former Muslims in an underground church. Following his hospitalization, media reported the pastor moved with his family to a safer location.

In August a group of Muslims reportedly prevented an attack against Christians in the northern part of the country. According to Christian media, individuals affiliated with al-Shabaab planned to attack Christians working at a construction site for a new hospital in Kutulo. Muslims who heard of the planned attack went to the site to warn Christian workers to flee and confronted the gunmen when they arrived. The attackers reportedly opened fire, but there were no injuries.

According to NGO sources, some Muslim community leaders and their families were threatened with violence or death, especially individuals who had converted from Islam to Christianity and those of Somali ethnic origin. In February, according to Christian media, Somali Muslims beat and raped a Somali mother of four in Dadaab refugee camp because she converted to Christianity. They reportedly threatened her for more than a year to return to Islam.

Some interreligious NGOs and political leaders said religious tensions were not as high as in previous years, citing extensive interfaith efforts to build peace between communities. For example, the national interfaith umbrella group IRCK implemented several programs to promote interfaith acceptance in diverse communities. In several instances, national religious leaders representing the IRCK used their influence to help resolve violent conflicts, particularly among youths. Other community-level religious leaders came together to learn about each other’s faiths. Following the January 15 al-Shabaab attack at the Dusit D2 hotel in Nairobi that left 21 persons dead, including one American, Muslim, Catholic, Anglican, Pentecostal, and other religious leaders condemned the attack in a joint press release that conveyed a united stance against terrorism and appealed for peace. Threats of reprisal against Muslim communities after the incident appeared largely on social media, in contrast to the widespread physical attacks against Muslims that occurred after the 2013 Westgate terrorist attack.

There were reports that, in general, non-Muslims continued to harass or treat with suspicion persons of Somali origin, who are predominantly Muslim. Police officers often did not serve in their home regions, and therefore officers in some Muslim majority areas were largely non-Muslim.

A survey by IRCK examined the extent of freedom of religion and belief in two coastal counties, Mombasa and Kwale. The study targeted youth, community members, teachers, women, religious leaders, government officials, and peace organizations. Findings indicated the perceived level of religious tolerance was 37.3 percent, and the perceived level of government intolerance to religions was 46.4 percent. Those surveyed cited extrajudicial killings of suspects of terror activities as a primary driver of marginalization and intolerance. Most respondents, 56.9 percent, believed attacks on other religions were responsible for hatred between religious groups. Less than half, 41.2 percent, believed the government “treated religions well.”

In February the National Council of Churches of Kenya proposed constitutional changes to limit the role of qadi courts, triggering claims of intolerance by some Muslim organizations and causing a significant rift for much of the year. IRCK leadership finally resolved the issue through discussions and mediation.

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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 stressing the role of interfaith dialogue in stemming religious intolerance and countering religiously based violent extremism. Embassy staff continued to engage senior officials to underscore the importance of addressing human rights abuses by security forces, including those limiting freedom of worship, and supported a number of programs to improve police accountability.

The Ambassador and embassy staff met frequently with religious leaders and groups, including the IRCK, 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 and seeking guidance from religious leaders on human rights issues.

The Ambassador hosted an interfaith roundtable in September to build relationships with national leaders from various faiths, including representatives of the Christian, Muslim, and Hindu faiths. Participants discussed building tolerance between and among faiths and the critical role religious leaders play in peacebuilding efforts. The Ambassador encouraged the religious leaders to counter the divisive and inflammatory rhetoric of politicians and focus on building bridges between ethnic and religious groups as the nation prepares for 2022 national elections.

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.

Sudan

Executive Summary Title

On August 17, following the April ouster of President Omar al-Bashir after months of popular protests and a military takeover, the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the opposition coalition, known as the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), signed an interim constitutional declaration that includes several provisions protecting the right to freedom of religious belief and worship “in accordance with the requirements of the law and public order.” It makes no reference to sharia as a source of law, as was the case under the former 2005 constitution. The FFC announced that laws promulgated under the former constitution would remain in effect while the civilian-led transitional government (CLTG) worked to amend or abolish those laws and pass new legislation within the framework of the interim constitutional declaration. Some of the laws and practices established by the Bashir administration were based on its government’s interpretation of a sharia system of jurisprudence, which human rights groups stated did not provide protections for some religious minorities, including minority Muslim groups. The law criminalizes apostasy, blasphemy, conversion from Islam to another religion, and questioning or criticizing the Quran, the Sahaba (the Companions of the Prophet), or the wives of the Prophet. The law does not specifically address proselytizing; however, the Bashir government criminally defined and prosecuted proselytizing as a form of apostasy. While the law does not prohibit the practice of Shia Islam, during the Bashir regime authorities took actions against Shia Muslims. Security services used tear gas, rubber bullets, and other means to disperse groups of worshippers at mosques who were participating in antigovernment protests in February the first half of the year, in response to what the government said was the political nature of their activity. In July the government re-opened a criminal case against the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) leadership, accusing it of criminal trespass and illegal possession of SCOC properties. In August a Coptic Christian was appointed to the Sovereign Council, one of two governing bodies established under the interim constitutional declaration. The final governing body, the Legislative Council, had not been established at year’s end. In September newly-appointed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said his administration would address “religious discrimination,” and the minister of religion invited Jews and Christians who had left the country to return. In July the rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N), active in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan Provinces and led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu, extended and signed a cessation of hostilities. Among other measures, al-Hilu called for a secular state with no role for religion in lawmaking. The CLTG declared December 25 to be a national holiday for the first time.

On December 28, unknown assailants burned a Sudan Interior church, Catholic church, and Orthodox church in Blue Nile State, according to international media. The government said a suspect was arrested and released due to lack of evidence. A Roman Catholic bishop said the country’s new leaders should do away with the requirement that churches register with the government as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). A Protestant pastor called for a change in laws governing religion. Press reported numerous instances in which religious leaders made political speeches during worship services at mosques, both in support of the government and against it. Media also reported instances in which Muslims and Christians shared in each other’s religious rites and customs while participating in government protests.

In high level discussions with the government and during a religious freedom workshop attended by foreign government officials in January, U.S. officials encouraged respect for religious freedom and the protection of minority religious groups. The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy officials urged the adoption of laws that not only permit, but actively promote, the ability of congregations and individuals of all faiths to practice their beliefs. In addition, they highlighted the need for greater representation of religious minorities in the government and urged the government to abstain from interfering in the internal affairs of religious groups. The embassy maintained close contact with religious leaders, faith-based groups, and NGOs, and embassy representatives monitored and attended many of the legal proceedings for those prosecuted in connection with their religious beliefs.

On December 18, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State placed Sudan on a Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom. Sudan was designated as a Country of Particular Concern from 1999-2018 and moved to a Special Watch List after the Secretary determined the government had made substantial progress in improving respect for religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 44.4 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the Sudanese government, approximately 91 percent of the population is Muslim. It is unclear whether government estimates include South Sudanese (predominantly Christian or animist) who did not leave after the 2011 separation of South Sudan or returned after conflict erupted in South Sudan in 2013, or other non-South Sudanese, non-Muslim groups. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports 1,056,536 refugees and asylum seekers in the country, including 810,155 South Sudanese refugees. Some religious advocacy groups estimate non-Muslims make up more than 13 percent of the population.

Almost all Muslims are Sunni, although there are significant distinctions among followers of different Sunni traditions, particularly among Sufi orders. Small Shia Muslim communities are based predominantly in Khartoum. At least one Jewish family remains in the Khartoum area.

The government reports the presence of 36 Christian denominations in the country. Christians reside throughout the country, primarily in major cities, such as Khartoum, Port Sudan, Kassala, Gedaref, El Obeid, and El Fasher. Christians also are concentrated in some parts of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State.

Relatively small but long-established groups of Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Christians are in Khartoum, El Obeid in North Kordofan, River Nile and Gezira States, and eastern parts of the country. Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox communities largely made up of refugees and migrants are in Khartoum and the eastern part of the country. Other larger Christian groups include the Catholic Church, Episcopal Anglican Church, Sudan Church of Christ, Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and Presbyterian Church of the Sudan. Smaller Christian groups include the Africa Inland Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Sudan Interior Church, Sudan Pentecostal Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Government statistics indicate less than 1 percent of the population, primarily in Blue Nile and South Kordofan States, adheres to traditional African religious beliefs. Some Christians and Muslims incorporate aspects of these traditional beliefs into their religious practice. A small Baha’i community primarily operates underground.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

On August 17, the TMC and the FFC, a coalition of civil society and political parties, signed a Constitutional Declaration providing for the formation of an elected civilian government by 2022 and including provisions regarding freedom of belief and worship. The August declaration followed a July power sharing agreement between military and civilian opposition leaders. The power sharing agreement was preceded by the April military ouster of President Omar al-Bashir following months of popular protests against his government, which had ruled the country for 30 years. At year’s end, existing laws and institutions governing religion remained in effect while the new government worked to amend and restructure them. While the previous constitution stated all national legislation should be based on sharia, the Constitutional Declaration makes no reference to sharia although the clause restricting the death penalty permits its imposition as punishment of hudud and qasas crimes.

The Constitutional Declaration repeals the transitional constitution of 2005 while keeping existing laws in effect “unless repealed or amended” by the CLTG. Existing state institutions and organs remained intact unless dissolved by the CLTG.

The Constitutional Declaration provides for the freedom of religious belief and worship and for the free exercise of religious expression “in accordance with the requirements of the law and public order.” The document prohibits involuntary conversion to another faith, discrimination based on religion, and media incitement of religious hatred.

The Constitutional Declaration also has provisions providing for access to education regardless of religion, requiring that political parties be open to citizens of all religions, and ensuring all “ethnic and cultural” groups have the right to “exercise their beliefs” and “observe their religions or customs.” The Interim National Constitution that was in effect until August 17 provided for freedom of religious creed and worship and granted individuals the right to declare their religious beliefs and manifest them through worship, education, practice, or performance, subject to requirements of laws and public order. The constitution prohibited the coercion of individuals to adopt a faith they did not believe in or to engage in rites or services without consent. The previous constitution also stated that nationally enacted legislation should be based on sharia.

The law does not permit Shia Muslims to hold worship services; however, they are allowed to enter Sunni mosques to pray.

Constitutional abuses of freedom of religion may be pursued in the Constitutional Court; however, cases of discrimination often originate and are addressed in lower courts.

National laws concerning personal and family affairs of Muslims adopted during the Bashir administration largely remain in effect and are based on a sharia system of jurisprudence. The criminal code states the law, including at state and local levels, shall be based on sharia sources and include hudood, qasas, and diyah principles (specific serious crimes and related restitution and punishment). The criminal code takes into consideration multiple sharia schools of jurisprudence (madhahib). The Islamic Panel of Scholars and Preachers (Fiqh Council) determines under which conditions a school of thought will apply. Other criminal and civil laws, including public order laws, are determined at the state and local level.

Former president Bashir appointed the Fiqh Council, an official body of 50 Muslim religious scholars responsible for explaining and interpreting Islamic jurisprudence, to four-year renewable terms. The council advised the government and issued fatwas on religious matters in the past, including levying customs duties on the importation of religious materials, payment of interest on loans for public infrastructure, and determination of government-allotted annual leave for Islamic holidays. The council’s opinions are not legally binding. Muslim religious scholars may present differing religious and political viewpoints in public. The Fiqh Council mandate remains the same under the CLTG.

The criminal code does not explicitly mention proselytizing, but it criminalizes both conversion from Islam to any other faith (apostasy) and acts that encourage conversion from Islam. Those who convert from Islam to another religion as well as any Muslim who questions or criticizes the teachings of the Quran, the Sahaba (the Companions of the Prophet), or the wives of the Prophet Muhammad may also be considered guilty of apostasy and sentenced to death. Those charged with apostasy are allowed to repent within a period decided by the court, but they may still face up to five years in prison. The law does not prohibit individuals from converting to Islam from another religion.

The criminal code’s section on “religious offenses” criminalizes various acts committed against any religion. These include insulting religion, blasphemy, disturbing places of worship, and trespassing upon places of burial. The criminal code states, “whoever insults any religion, their rights or beliefs or sanctifications or seeks to excite feelings of contempt and disrespect against the believers thereof” shall be punished with up to six months in prison, flogging of up to 40 lashes, and/or a fine. The article includes provisions that prescribe penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and 40 lashes for anyone who curses the Prophet Muhammad, his wives, or members of his respective households.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments (MRA) is responsible for regulating Islamic religious practice, supervising churches, and guaranteeing equal treatment for all religious groups. The MRA also provides recommendations to relevant ministries regarding religious issues government ministries encounter.

The state-mandated education curriculum requires that all students receive religious instruction. The curriculum further mandates that all schools, including international schools and private schools operated by Christian groups, provide Islamic education classes to Muslim students, from preschool through the second year of university. The law does not require non-Muslims to attend Islamic education classes, and it mandates that public schools provide Christian students with other religious instruction if there are at least 15 Christian students in a class. According to the Ministry of Education, following the separation of South Sudan, this number was not reached in most schools. Non-Muslim students therefore normally attend religious study classes of their own religion outside of regular school hours to fulfill the religious instruction requirement.

The Ministry of Education is responsible for determining the religious education curriculum. According to the ministry, the Islamic curriculum must follow the Sunni tradition.

The MRA determines, along with the state-level entities responsible for land grants and planning, whether to provide authorization or permits to build new houses of worship, taking into account zoning concerns, such as the distance between religious institutions and population density (the allocation of land to religious entities is determined at the state level). The HCGE under the previous government was mandated to assist both mosques and churches in obtaining tax exemptions and duty-free permits to import items, such as furniture and religious items for houses of worship; the HCGE also assisted visitors attending meetings sponsored by religious groups and activities to obtain tourist visas through the Ministry of Interior. The HCGE also coordinates travel for the Hajj and Umra.

Public order laws, based largely on the previous government’s interpretation of sharia, resulted in strict enforcement by public order authorities. The criminal law under which individuals are arrested prohibits “indecent” dress and other “offenses of honor, reputation, and public morality.” Authorities primarily enforced such laws in large cities and enforced laws governing indecent dress against both Muslims and non-Muslims. The criminal code states that an act is contrary to public decency if it violates another person’s modesty. In practice, the special Public Order Police and courts, which derived their authority from the Ministry of Interior, had wide latitude in interpreting what dress or behaviors were indecent and in arresting and passing sentence on accused offenders. As of November, the CLTG abolished public order laws and public order police; however, the criminal laws remain in effect.

Some aspects of the criminal code specify punishments for Muslims based on government interpretation of sharia punishment principles. For example, the criminal code stipulates 40 lashes for a Muslim who drinks, possesses, or sells alcohol; no punishment is prescribed for a non-Muslim who drinks or possesses alcohol in private. The criminal code stipulates if a non-Muslim is arrested for public drinking, or possessing or selling alcohol, he or she is subject to trial, but the punishment will not be based on hudood principles. The penalty for adultery with a married person is hanging and for an unmarried person100 lashes. An unmarried man may additionally be punished with expatriation for up to one year. These penalties apply to both Muslims and non-Muslims. Adultery is defined as sexual activity outside of marriage, prior to marriage, or in a marriage that is determined to be void.

Under the law, the justice minister may release any prisoner who memorizes the Quran during his or her prison term. The release requires a recommendation for parole from the prison’s director general, a religious committee composed of the Sudan Scholars Organization, and members of the Fiqh Council, which consults with the MRA to ensure decisions comply with Islamic legal regulations.

Under the law, a Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim woman. In practice, Muslim men follow sharia schools of thought, which advise they marry “non-Muslim women of the book,” i.e., either Christian or Jewish women. A Muslim woman, however, legally may marry only a Muslim man. A Muslim woman marrying a non-Muslim man could be charged with adultery.

There are separate family courts for Muslims and non-Muslims to address personal status issues such as marriage, divorce, and child custody, according to their religion. By law, in custody dispute cases where one parent is Muslim and the other is Christian, courts grant custody to the Muslim parent if there is any concern that the non-Muslim parent would raise the child in a religion other than Islam.

According to Islamic personal status laws, Christians (including children) may not inherit assets from a Muslim.

Government offices and businesses are closed on Friday for prayers and follow an Islamic workweek of Sunday to Thursday. In November Prime Minister Hamdok issued a decree that adjusted work hours to accommodate non-Muslims. The decree ordered academic institutions to stop giving exams on Sunday and authorized Christians to leave work at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday for religious activities. Leave from work was also granted to celebrate Orthodox Christmas, an official state holiday, along with several key Islamic holidays.

An interministerial committee, which includes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Intelligence and Security Services (renamed the General Intelligence Service [GIS] in July), and in some cases Military Intelligence, must approve foreign clergy and other foreigners seeking a residency permit.

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

Government Practices

During antigovernment protests, starting in December 2018 and continuing until the arrest of former President Bashir on April 11, government forces attacked protesters wherever they congregated, including outside mosques, hospitals, and schools. Observers reported that security services used tear gas, rubber bullets, and in some cases live ammunition to disperse groups of worshippers at mosques during widespread antigovernment protests in the first half of the year. On January 4, in Omdurman, media reported security services used tear gas and arrested some participants in an antigovernment march that began at the Wad Nubawi Mosque, which is associated with the opposition National Umma Party. On January 11, security services used tear gas to disperse a group of 500-1000 worshippers from the same mosque after Friday prayers and did so again in late February.

On January 12, security forces entered the home of Badreldin Yousif Elsimat, the founder of a minority Muslim organization, while members practiced their faith. The members and founder were arrested and detained without charges. Security forces questioned them about their beliefs and protests against the government. All were later released; the founder was the last to be released in March.

On February 8, in Khartoum, according to a statement from the Umma Party, security forces fired tear gas into the courtyard of a mosque as worshippers began a protest march and fired at the vehicle of Sadiq al-Mahdi, a former prime minister of the country. Security forces beat worshippers and threatened them with guns, according to the statement.

On February 14, the commissioner of El Nahud, West Kordofan issued a decree barring Sheikh El Tayeb Abboud from preaching at the town’s mosque after the sheikh criticized the beating and arrest of demonstrators by unidentified masked men the week before.

On April 5 following a sermon at a Khartoum mosque calling on then-president al-Bashir to step down, observers said security forces fired rubber bullets at a large group of demonstrators as they left the mosque, injuring several. Also in April, media reported men in civilian clothes thought to be members of a ruling party militia attacked demonstrators in front of a mosque in the Khartoum neighborhood of Al-Jerif West, hitting them with bottles and rocks.

Shia Muslims reported they were arrested during antigovernment protests for civil disobedience, and they were asked about their faith during questioning by security services.

Media reported that during political protests in the first half of the year, security forces strictly enforced the criminal code. They arrested female demonstrators under legal provisions that broadly prohibit “indecent and immoral acts.” In March the Court of Appeal in Khartoum overturned the decision by the El Imtidad Emergency Court to sentence nine women to one month each of imprisonment and 20 lashes for demonstrating against the government in the Burri District of Khartoum.

In July the rebel group SPLM-N, active in Blue Nile and South Kordofan Provinces and led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu, extended and signed a cessation of hostilities. Al-Hilu called for a secular state with no role for religion in lawmaking. He had previously made repeated statements that sharia was incompatible with basic freedom for the people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile States, and was his primary rationale for armed struggle against the Bashir government.

In December the minister of religious affairs and endowment announced an investigation of allegations of corrupt practices regarding endowments and the Hajj and Omra pilgrimages to Mecca. He stated there was corruption in the contracts of as many as 117 endowments.

In early November the CLTG abolished the public order law that granted police authority to arrest individuals, in particular women, for a wide range of infractions related to behavior and dress. Prior to the repeal of the law, the Public Order Police frequently charged women with “indecent dress” and “indecent behavior.” Police officers arrested and fined or lashed women for wearing pants and other dress police considered indecent, according to religious leaders. Activists urged the CLTG to repeal other criminal laws under which women may still be arrested.

Minority religious groups, including Muslim minorities and especially Shia Muslims, expressed concern they could be convicted of apostasy if they expressed beliefs or discussed religious practices that differed from those of the Sunni majority. Some Shia reported they remained prohibited from writing articles about their beliefs, and religious issues remained a redline for news media to address.

In October the government confirmed criminal charges against the SCOC leadership, accusing it of criminal trespass and illegal possession of SCOC properties. The government reopened the case in July despite a September 2018 court ruling that the SCOC national leadership committee led by Moderator Ayoub Tilliano had ownership of the SCOC headquarters in Omdurman. The leadership committee was engaged in a legal case over ownership of the property following a 2015 raid by security forces on the SCOC headquarters, after which the security forces confiscated all of the group’s legal documents and brought charges against the leadership council for trespassing.

In previous years, government security services reportedly monitored mosques and imams’ sermons closely, and provided talking points and required imams to use them in their sermons. If an imam’s sermon diverged from the government-provided talking points, the imam could be removed from his position. It was unclear whether this practice continued under the CLTG.

During political protests that led to the dissolution of the Bashir government, Muslim clerics, including Sufi leaders, participated in sit-ins and protest activities. Sheik Mahran Mahir Osman led many Friday prayers at the sit-ins.

Prisons provided prayer spaces for Muslims, but sources said authorities did not allow Shia prayers. Shia prisoners were permitted to join prayer services led by Sunni imams. Some prisons, such as the Women’s Prison in Omdurman, had dedicated areas for Christian observance. Christian clergy held services in prisons, but access was irregular.

The Bashir government continued to state it did not have non-Muslim teachers available to teach courses on Christianity in public schools. Some public schools excused non-Muslims from Islamic education classes. Some private schools, including Christian schools, received government-provided teachers to teach Islamic subjects, but non-Muslim students were not required to attend those classes. Most Christian students attended religious education classes at their churches based on the availability of volunteer teachers from their own church communities. Their families reported that the children’s schools did not usually recognize the classes, and students in those cases did not receive credit.

Local parishioners reported that compared to Islamic institutions, Christian places of worship continued to be disproportionately affected by zoning changes, closures, and demolitions. The government said places of worship that were demolished or closed lacked proper land permits or institutional registration and that mosques, churches, schools, hospitals, and residences were all affected equally by the urban planning projects. Observers estimated that the government “systematically closed,” demolished, or confiscated at least 24 churches, Christian schools, libraries, and culture centers between 2011 and 2017. In 2018 observers reported one church demolition.

In April the government issued a decree allowing Christian schools to close on Sundays. Since 2017 all schools except Coptic Christian schools were required to operate from Sunday to Thursday.

Before his removal from office, President Bashir and other senior figures frequently emphasized the country’s Islamic foundation. His government denied Christian churches or their humanitarian institutions tax-exempt status, although the government granted this status to Islamic relief agencies. Christian churches reported authorities required them to pay or negotiate taxes on items such as vehicles.

On August 21, a Coptic Christian woman, Raja Nicola Eissa Abdel-Masih, was appointed to the Sovereign Council as the 11th member and only non-Muslim. The council’s five military and five FFC representatives agreed to appoint Abdel-Masih, who served as a judge in the Ministry of Justice several years ago, as the sixth civilian member. Before the TMC’s abolition of the National Assembly, a small number of Christian politicians, the majority of whom were members of the Coptic Church, held seats in the Bashir-era government.

Prime Minister Hamdok, who along with the new cabinet took office in September, said in a speech at the United Nations on September 27 that his county would address the “root causes of its civil wars” including “ethnic, cultural, and religious discrimination.”

In September, shortly after taking office, Minister of Religious Affairs Nasreddine Mufreh in a press interview appealed to Jews and Christians who had left the country to return. The minister said the country was “pluralistic in thought, culture, ideology, and religion.” He also stated the government would return confiscated properties to Christian churches and said Christians experienced “persecution” and “very bad practices” during the previous administration. The minister told international press he would fight terrorism, extremism and “takfiri” ideology that calls for those who leave Islam to be punished.

On October 6, the prime minister called for an end to hate speech and religious extremism following accusations of apostasy against Minister of Youth and Sports Walaa al-Boushi by Muslim cleric Imam Abdul Hai Yousuf, who accused al-Boushi of apostasy for introducing a women’s soccer program in the country. On October 9, the minister of information told reporters the cabinet had directed the Ministry of Justice to take legal action against the imam and stated the attack on the sports minister was an attack on the entire government.

On December 18, the Sovereign Council announced the recognition of Christmas (December 25) and Orthodox Christmas (January 7) as public holidays. On Christmas Eve, Minister of Religious Affairs Mufreh issued a statement apologizing to Christians for the “oppression and harm” they suffered under the previous government.

On November 11, Prime Minister Hamdok ordered a ban on holding examinations in academic institutions on December 25 and January 7. The Prime Minister also instructed public institutions to allow Christians to leave work at 10 a.m. on Sundays to attend church.

On November 26-27, the MRA hosted a workshop in Wad Medani on the role of the Council of Churches to promote peace and development and the spirit of coexistence. Minister Mufreh spoke about the values of tolerance, combating what fuels religious conflicts, and promoting the values of tolerance brought by the Abrahamic faiths.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On December 28, unknown assailants burned a Sudan Interior Church, Catholic Church, and Orthodox Church in Blue Nile State, according to international media. The government said a suspect was arrested and released due to lack of evidence.

During the civil unrest leading to the ouster of the president and the subsequent three months of military rule, observers said demonstrators displayed mutual respect for each other’s religions and rites. Media reported Muslims joined in singing Christian hymns during Christian services organized by protestors while Christians held protective tarps over Muslims as they prayed during the day.

The press reported numerous instances in which religious leaders made political speeches during worship services at mosques, both in support of the government and against it. On April 5, opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi gave a sermon in which he called for then-president al-Bashir to step down. During an April 28 sermon at the El Rahma Mosque in Khartoum North, al-Mahdi urged the TMC to arrest officials of the previous administration and called for a rapid handover of power to a civilian government.

In January worshippers at the Anas Ibn Malik Mosque in Khartoum forced a member of the Popular Congress Party (PCP) to leave the mosque after he gave a speech denouncing the protests after Friday prayers, according to press reports. The imam of the Kafouri Mosque in Khartoum North reportedly was forced to leave the mosque after criticizing the protestors during his sermon.

In April the Catholic Bishop of el-Obeid, the capital of North Kurdufan State, said the church played an important role in the popular protests that toppled former President al-Bashir and called on the new government to abolish the system requiring non-Muslim religious groups to register with the government as NGOs.

On April 14, during a prayer service outside army headquarters, the head of the Evangelical Synod in Sudan, Pastor Rafaat Sameer Masaad, said “the state treats us as a bunch of foreign spies working to destroy our homeland” and called for a change in the laws restricting religious freedom, according to press reports. He added that the protests were a chance for individuals to overcome religious divisions to build an “inclusive” national identity. The prayer service was attended by leaders of several Protestant churches, including Presbyterians, Baptists, and followers of the Sudan Church of Christ.

At the Khartoum International Book Fair in Khartoum on October 21, a stand containing books from and about Mahmoud Mohamed Taha was vandalized by a man who also shouted religious slogans against the display. Taha was a religious scholar hanged for apostasy in 1985. The Minister of Culture and Information expressed his concern about the attack and offered protection for the Taha stand and other stands at the fair.

Individual Muslims and Christians reported generally good relationships at the societal level and stated that instances of intolerance or discrimination by individuals or nongovernmental entities were generally isolated.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

On January 29, the Charge d’Affaires delivered a keynote address at the government’s religious freedom workshop and urged the adoption of laws that not only permit, but actively promote, the ability of congregations and individuals of all faiths to practice their beliefs. He emphasized the need for greater representation of religious minorities in the government and urged the government to abstain from interfering in the internal affairs of religious groups. In attendance were senior officials of the Foreign Ministry, representatives of the country’s Christian population, the Anglican Bishop of Leeds, and a representative of the Catholic-affiliated Sant‘Egidio community.

Embassy officials attended a service and met with Christian leaders on Christmas to celebrate the new public holiday.

Throughout the year, embassy officials met regularly with imams and Sufi clerics, and clergy and parishioners of Catholic and Protestant churches to hear their views on the religious freedom situation. Embassy officials attended religious ceremonies of different groups and underscored in regular meetings with leaders of Muslim and Christian groups the importance of religious tolerance. U.S. government representatives closely monitored the legal proceedings concerning religious organizations and religious leaders.

The embassy regularly utilized its social media outlets to share articles and messaging related to religious tolerance and freedom, including messages on tolerance from the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.

On December 18, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State placed Sudan on a Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom. Sudan was designated as a Country of Particular Concern from 1999-2018 and moved to a Special Watch List after the Secretary determined the government had made substantial progress in improving respect for religious freedom.

Uganda

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and stipulates there shall be no state religion. It provides for freedom of belief, the right to practice and promote any religion, and to belong to and participate in the practices of any religious organization in a manner consistent with the constitution. The law also prohibits radio and television stations from broadcasting advertisements that “promote psychic practices or practices related to the occult,” material that encourages persons to change their faith, and content that uses or contains blasphemy. The government requires religious groups to register. On July 24, the military intelligence agency, Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), raided the Agapeo International Pentecostal Church in the Kibuye suburb of Kampala and arrested 40 Rwandan citizens attending a church service. The CMI continued to hold the Rwandans at year’s end without charge. The government restricted activities of religious groups it defined as “illegal” and arrested some individuals it accused of running churches that prevented followers from following a “normal” life. On January 30, local media reported the Uganda Police Force (UPF) banned Bishop Bataringaya Okumu, an evangelical Christian minister, from operating his church, Jesus the Living Stone Ministries, for participating in “illegal activities.” The UPF noted Okumu blocked his followers from seeking health care, promising he would heal them through prayer. The government stated in September that it was still holding consultations before introducing a policy to regulate religious groups; the draft policy received strong opposition from some evangelical Christian churches. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media reported that the government disproportionately and unfairly arrested and imprisoned Muslims. The Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) stated the government continued to discriminate against Muslims when hiring for public positions.

A Christian man filed a lawsuit against all Muslims to prevent them from calling God by the name Allah.

U.S embassy representatives regularly discussed human rights issues, including religious freedom, with government officials at every level. The embassy organized an interfaith conference at which a U.S. Muslim cleric promoted interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance. During Ramadan, the embassy hosted an iftar, inviting political and religious leaders from all faiths to attend. During the event, the Charge d’Affaires urged political and religious leaders to embrace religious diversity. The embassy also used its social media platforms to encourage respect for religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 42.2 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the most recent census, conducted in 2014, 82 percent of the population is Christian. The largest Christian group is Roman Catholic with 39 percent; 32 percent is Anglican, and 11 percent Pentecostal Christian. According to official government estimates, Muslims constitute 14 percent of the population. The UMSC estimates Muslims (primarily Sunni) are closer to 20 percent of the population. Other religious groups, which collectively constitute less than 5 percent of the population, include Seventh-day Adventists, adherents of indigenous beliefs, Baptists, Orthodox Christians, Hindus, Jews, and those with no religious affiliation.

According to the Indian Association in Uganda, the largest non-African ethnic population is of Indian origin or descent, most of whom are Hindu. The Jewish community of approximately 2,000 members is mainly concentrated in Mbale Town, in the eastern region of the country. Generally, religious groups are dispersed evenly across the country, although there are concentrations of Muslims in eastern and northern parts of the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

The law prohibits secular broadcasters from stating opinions on religious doctrine or faith. The law also prohibits radio and television stations from broadcasting advertisements that “promote psychic practices or practices related to the occult,” material that encourages persons to change their faith, and content that uses or contains blasphemy. The government, however, seldom enforces these provisions of the law.

The government requires religious groups to register to obtain legal entity status. According to the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), the government requires faith-based organizations to register as nonprofit organizations with the bureau and then to secure a five-year operating license from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The URSB requires faith-based organizations to provide a copy of a land title or proof of ownership of premises, a copy of the board resolution to start a faith-based organization, a copy of the memorandum and articles of association spelling out what the organization intends to do, allotment of shareholding, and national identity cards of the directors. Although there is no formal mechanism to request an exemption from the requirement to obtain an operating license, in practice larger religious groups, including the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and Seventh-day Adventist Churches, and the UMSC are de facto exempt, and the government does not require them to obtain an operating license.

Religious instruction in public schools is optional at the post-primary level. Primary schools must teach either Christianity, Islam, or both in their social studies classes. Many schools teach both and let students select which one to attend. Secondary schools may choose which, if any, religious studies to incorporate into their curricula, and students who choose to attend that school must take the course offered. Primary school students may choose to answer either questions about Islam or Christianity during the religion portion of the national social studies exams. The state has separate curricula for a number of world religions, including Christianity and Islam, and all schools must adhere to the state-approved curriculum for each religion they choose to teach.

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

Government Practices

On July 24, local media reported the CMI raided the Agapeo International Pentecostal Church in the Kibuye suburb of Kampala and arrested 40 Rwandan citizens attending a church service. The Uganda People’s Defense Forces and the UPF confirmed the arrests but declined to comment, saying that would jeopardize investigations. Local media speculated that the army raided the church suspecting its members to be Rwandan intelligence operatives. The CMI continued to hold the 40 Rwandans at year’s end without charge.

On January 30, local media reported the UPF in Gulu District banned Bishop Bataringaya Okumu, an evangelical Christian minister, from operating his church, Jesus the Living Stone Ministries, for participating in “illegal activities.” The UPF stated Okumu “practiced a doctrine that barred his followers from living a normal life.” The UPF said Okumu blocked his followers from seeking health care, promising he would heal them through prayer, including a patient with HIV who died at Okumu’s church after stopping his medication. Local media reported that a week after the UPF ban, Okumu’s followers returned and resumed operations at his church, which the reports said led the nearby community to set the church premises on fire. The UPF put out the fire, arrested Okumu for “disobeying lawful authority,” and later released him.

The UMSC stated in October the government continued to discriminate against Muslims in appointments to public positions and in the deployment of social programs. NGOs reported sections of the Muslim population believed the government singled out Muslims as potential perpetrators of high-profile crimes and often arrested them with no evidence. The NGOs reported prolonged detention without trial, torture, and inhumane treatment of Muslim suspects in the mideastern districts of Iganga and Mayuge continued. On September 12, according to local media, military intelligence officers beat and rearrested four Muslim suspects charged with terrorism and murder outside a courtroom immediately after the court had released them on bail. The military officers justified the action saying the four were “peace violators” and said they had new secret intelligence justifying their arrest.

A group of evangelical Christian ministers throughout the year repeatedly said they would resist a draft government policy that would require religious groups to submit information about their followers’ “social-economic transformation” to the government, submit annual financial reports, and impose minimum academic qualifications for religious leaders (although the specific educational requirements remained undefined). President Yoweri Museveni met evangelical Christian ministers on September 23 and stated the government would not enact a new policy, which had been under discussion for six years, until it had consulted all religious leaders.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On October 23, media reported Ivan Samuel Ssebadduka, who referred to himself as a monotheistic Christian, petitioned the Constitutional Court seeking to prevent all Muslims from using the name Allah when referring to God. The case was ongoing at year’s end.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy representatives regularly discussed human rights issues, including religious freedom, with government officials at every level. In May the embassy sponsored the Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation to host the Better Understanding for a Better World interfaith conference, where the organization’s head, a U.S. imam, engaged faith leaders, youth, and women to promote intercultural and interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance. During a May 14 iftar hosted by the embassy, the Charge d’Affaires urged religious and political leaders to embrace religious diversity. In July the embassy used its social media platforms to highlight the U.S.-sponsored Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom and to call for greater respect of religious freedom for all.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future