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Angola

Executive Summary

The constitution defines the state as secular, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for freedom of religion. The law requires religious groups to seek government recognition by meeting rigorous criteria. On November 24, a court in Luanda sentenced four Muslims to three years’ imprisonment and a fine for allegedly forming a radical Islamic group and pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. Two others were acquitted of similar charges. The government continued to state its concern about the proliferation of religious “sects,” some of which the government said exploited vulnerable populations. In his first State of the Nation speech to the parliament in October, newly elected President Joao Lourenco called for changes to the 2004 law on religious freedom and measures to reinforce the separation of religion from business. Subsequently, the Ministry of Culture launched a dialogue with officially recognized churches to obtain input for the drafting of a new law on religious freedom. There are 81 religious groups and four ecumenical associations recognized and more than 1,000 unrecognized religious groups. The government has not recognized any new religious groups since passage in 2004 of the law that requires religious groups to have at least 100,000 citizens as members. The government did not respond to Muslim community groups’ requests for government recognition submitted in 2005. Many unregistered religious groups continued to operate with what they described as tacit acceptance. The government encouraged these groups to join associations to serve as interlocutors with the state and exert control over their respective members. During the year the four associations that interacted with the government oversaw approximately 1,000 unrecognized religious groups.

Police arrested three suspects who were involved in an August 26 gas attack on the annual congress of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Luanda, which killed two persons and injured 400. As of year’s end, four other suspects remained at large. While the motivation behind the attack remained unclear, one media source claimed that two of the alleged perpetrators belonged to an opposition political party that wanted to punish the Jehovah’s Witnesses for not voting in the recently concluded national elections. Some leaders of legally recognized religious organizations continued to criticize the proliferation of smaller, unrecognized religious groups, while they also acknowledged the need for greater religious understanding and interfaith dialogue.

Throughout the year, the embassy raised religious freedom issues, including long-pending registration applications and the drafting of the new religious freedom law with government officials. Embassy officials met with representatives of religious groups and civil society organizations and discussed their views regarding the government’s concern with the proliferation of churches and also discussed efforts to promote interfaith dialogue.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Benin

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes a secular state and provides for freedom of religious thought, expression, and practice. All religious groups must register with the government. Five followers of the Baname Church died on January 28 from asphyxiation in the Department of Oueme after the church leadership advised them to seal themselves in prayer rooms and burn incense and charcoal. The prosecutor at the Court of Porto-Novo ordered the detention of four leaders of the church in connection with the incident and in February brought manslaughter charges against them.

On June 8, two persons died and several were injured during a violent clash between followers of the Baname Church and local residents of the Djime neighborhood in Abomey due to church followers’ statements that local residents deemed offensive to the historic King of Abomey. On August 20, members of the Zangbeto brotherhood prevented members of the Church of the Assemblies of God from attending Sunday services in Doukonta, in the southwest, after the church pastor accused them of stealing a chicken from him for a ritual purpose. Interfaith dialogue occurred regularly throughout the country.

Embassy officials toured three predominantly Muslim cities in the northern part of the country to meet with Muslim leaders, Muslim women’s associations, and Quranic teachers. Discussions focused on religious freedom issues, interfaith dialogue, and the rejection of religious intolerance and violence. The Ambassador participated in interreligious events, where she advocated interreligious dialogue in support of peace.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Colombia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the right to profess one’s religious beliefs. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) is responsible for formally recognizing churches, religious denominations, religious federations and confederations, and associations of religious ministers, among other responsibilities. The MOI established in June the National Table of the Religious Sector, which, along with corresponding entities at the regional level, offers religious organizations direct participation in policy formulation related to religious freedom. The Mennonite Association for Justice, Peace, and Nonviolent Action (Justapaz), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) monitoring human rights and religious freedom regardless of religious affiliation, expressed concern over a new law requiring interagency commissions to evaluate requests for conscientious objector status. Justapaz representatives said that because of the disproportionate staffing of these commissions by members of the armed forces, the commissions were not independent and impartial.

NGOs continued to report that in many areas of the country, illegal armed groups threatened leaders and members of religious organizations. The Episcopal Conference of Colombia (ECC) stated that on July 27, unknown assailants killed Father Diomer Eliver Chavarria Perez in the Santa Rosa de Osos diocese in Antioquia Department. On October 3, unknown attackers robbed and killed Father Abelardo Antonio Munoz Sanchez in Rionegro. The Jewish community reported continued comments promoting anti-Semitism on some social media sites, including aggressive actions by Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Colombia, an anti-Israel protest movement. During the year, the Catholic Church, Mennonite Church, and other religious groups continued to conduct programs focused on religious tolerance, land rights, peace, and reconciliation, including a series of talks in Bogota in October and November with former guerrilla combatants.

U.S. embassy officials raised issues of religious freedom, including conscientious objection to military service and the effect of illegal armed actors on religious practice, with government officials. Embassy officials met with the Human Rights Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the International Affairs Directorate of the Attorney General’s Office, and the Religious Affairs Directorate of the MOI. Embassy officials also met with representatives from a wide range of religious groups, including the Jewish and Muslim communities, Catholics, and evangelical Protestants, Baptists, and Mennonites. In these meetings, embassy officials discussed issues related to eliminating institutionalized discrimination and the importance of promoting freedom of religion and association, conscientious objection, peace, and tolerance.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

International Religious Freedom Reports
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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future