The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and worship. The constitution declares Islam to be the state religion and prohibits state institutions from behaving in a manner incompatible with Islam. The law grants all individuals the right to practice their religion if they respect public order and regulations. Offending or insulting any religion is a criminal offense. Proselytizing Muslims by non-Muslims is a crime. On May 28, prominent Mozabite (from the M’zah valley region) Ibadi Muslim human rights activist Kamel Eddine Fekhar died following a nearly 60-day hunger strike. Fekhar was in pretrial detention following his March 31 arrest for “incitement of racial hatred” for a Facebook post in which he accused local officials in Ghardaia of discriminatory practices towards Ibadis. According to media reports, a court in Akbou, Bejaia fined an unnamed Christian for the “exercise of non-Muslim worship without authorization.” Two separate courts upheld acquittals of two individuals charged with “inciting a Muslim to change his/her religion” in March and “undermining Islam” in April. There were 286 cases pertaining to Ahmadi Muslims pending with the Supreme Court at year’s end. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious leaders said the government continued to be unresponsive to religious groups’ requests to register or reregister. During the year, the government closed nine Christian churches. A video posted on Facebook by the Protestant Full Gospel Church in Tizi Ouzou, described by Human Rights Watch as the country’s largest church, showed police pulling congregants from their chairs during services and forcing them outside. The then-minister of interior, after speaking of churches he ordered closed in disparaging terms, stated that the churches were unlicensed to hold Christian services. On March 17, the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA) informed clerics they would no longer be required to submit texts of their sermons to authorities for approval; however, MRA officials said the government sometimes monitored sermons delivered in mosques for inappropriate content, such as advocating violent extremism. The government continued to regulate the importation of all books, including religious materials. Senior government officials continued to oppose calls by extremist groups for violence in the name of Islam. They also continued to criticize the spread of what they characterized as “foreign” religious influences, such as Salafism, Wahhabism, Shia Islam, and Ahmadi Islam. Catholic foreign religious workers faced visa delays and refusals that hindered the Church’s work and caused the Catholic Church to cancel a bishops’ conference scheduled for September 20 in Algiers.
Some Christian leaders and congregants spoke of family members abusing Muslims who converted to or expressed an interest in Christianity. Individuals engaged in religious practice other than Sunni Islam reported they had experienced threats and intolerance, including in the media. On July 18, unknown individuals knocked over the headstone for Mozabite Ibadi Muslim human rights activist Kamel Eddine Fekhar’s grave. Media sometimes criticized Ahmadi Islam and Shia Islam as “sects” or “deviations” from Islam or as “foreign.” Private news outlets, including El Khabar and Ennaha, referred to Ahmadis as “sects” of Islam in reporting in June and July, respectively.
The Ambassador and other embassy officers frequently encouraged senior government officials in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Religious Affairs, Justice, and Interior to promote religious tolerance and discussed the difficulties Ahmadis, Christians, and other religious minority groups faced in registering as associations, importing religious materials, and obtaining visas. Embassy officers in meetings and programs with religious leaders from both Sunni Muslim and minority religious groups, as well as with other members of the public, focused on pluralism and religious moderation. The embassy used special events, social media, and speakers’ programs to emphasize a message of religious tolerance.
Central African Republic
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and equal protection under the law regardless of religion. It prohibits all forms of religious intolerance and “religious fundamentalism.” The law also requires the head of state to take an oath of office that includes a promise to fulfill the duties of the office without any consideration of religion. The government continued to exercise limited or no control or influence in most of the country. Police and the gendarmerie (military police) continued to fail to stop or punish abuses committed by armed groups, such as killings, physical abuse, and gender-based violence, including those based on religious affiliation, according to human rights organizations. In February the government and 14 of the country’s armed groups signed a peace agreement that included commitments to safeguard places of worship from violent attacks. In June the Special Criminal Court (SCC), established in 2018 to investigate serious human rights violations and alleged war crimes, announced that three of the 29 investigations launched since its inception could lead to trials. In July the government signed a tripartite agreement with Cameroon and the United Nations to facilitate voluntary repatriation of 250,000 predominantly Muslim citizens living as refugees in Cameroon. In September the International Criminal Court (ICC) began pretrial hearings in the case of an anti-Balaka commander and member of parliament accused of war crimes, as well as a second anti-Balaka leader.
The predominantly Christian anti-Balaka and the predominantly Muslim ex-Seleka militia forces continued to occupy territories in the western and northern parts of the country, respectively, and sectarian clashes between them and Christian and Muslim populations continued. Government forces usually did not intervene to curtail the violence. In May members of the armed group 3R attacked villages in the northwest of the country, killing more than 50 civilians allegedly in retaliation for the death of a member of a Muslim ethnic minority group. The government called on the leader of the armed group, appointed to a government advisor position following the signing of the February peace accord, to hand over those responsible. On May 16, the 3R handed over to the government three commanders accused of the killings. At year’s end, they were detained in Bangui and awaiting trial. Also in May, an unknown assailant killed a 77-year-old nun. The motive for the killing remained unclear.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) stated that religion continued to be a primary feature dividing the population. Many Muslim communities remained displaced in the western part of the country, where according to media reports, they were not allowed to practice their religion freely, either due to lack of protection from the government or because of intimidation by anti-Balaka units. During the year, the country’s top religious leaders remained united in their view that the violence in the country caused by the armed groups was based primarily on the desire to control territory for their economic gain. In May at the start of Ramadan, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, President of the Islamic Community in the country, called for the strengthening of social cohesion and peaceful coexistence of religious communities.
In meetings with President Faustin Touadera and other government officials, U.S. embassy representatives raised concerns about the government’s failure to safeguard religious freedom and advocated the safe voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their home communities. They encouraged the government representatives to implement outreach activities aimed at religious communities and publicly condemn attacks on religious structures and against religious groups. Embassy officials regularly engaged with religious leaders to listen to their concerns and issues, including Roman Catholic Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga and other Christian leaders, imams, and members of the Coordinating Committee for Central African Muslim Organizations. In March the Ambassador hosted a roundtable for religious leaders designed to bridge gaps, strengthen relationships, and encourage freedom of religious choice and practice.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religious belief. Relations between the government and religious organizations markedly improved in 2019, following the inauguration of President Felix Tshisekedi in January, according to media reports. In contrast to the previous year, there were no reports of government repression or intimidation of religious organizations engaged in political activities.
Antigovernment militia members targeted churches and church property in the North Kivu and Ituri Provinces, where armed groups remain active. Local media reported that on June 5, armed militia members kidnapped Father Luc Adelar Alecho, a Catholic priest in Ituri Province. The militants allegedly reproached him for his homilies urging his congregation to reject armed groups before letting him go. Local leaders in the northern part of the country expressed concern over the presence of the nomadic Muslim Mbororo cattle herder communities. Some leaders described their migration as an “Islamic invasion.” Clashes between Mbororo and local populations resulted in several deaths in Upper and Lower Uele Provinces throughout the year. In addition to religious differences, observers stated there were also economic and political concerns linked to the conflict, and for that reason it was difficult to categorize these acts as solely based on religious belief.
U.S. embassy officers met with officials in the Ministries of Justice, Human Rights, and Interior to discuss religious freedom issues, including government relations with religious organizations. Embassy officials also met regularly with religious leaders and human rights organizations and discussed relations with the government, their concerns about abuses of civil liberties, and the safety of religious leaders in the country’s conflict-affected areas.
The constitution states “freedom of belief is absolute” and “the freedom of practicing religious rituals and establishing worship places for the followers of divine (i.e. Abrahamic) religions is a right regulated by law.” The constitution states citizens “are equal before the Law,” and criminalizes discrimination and “incitement to hatred” based upon “religion, belief, sex, origin, race…or any other reason.” The constitution also states, “Islam is the religion of the state…and the principles of Islamic sharia are the main sources of legislation.” The government officially recognizes Sunni Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, and allows only their adherents to publicly practice their religion and build houses of worship. In December the Prisons Authority carried out the death sentence of Ibrahim Ismail who was convicted in April of killing eight Christians and a policeman in 2017. In May the Supreme Court of Military Appeals upheld 17 of 36 death sentences that an Alexandria military court issued for church bombings between 2016 and 2017 in Cairo, Alexandria, and Tanta. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. In May the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced two defendants to death, two to life imprisonment, and six others to prisons terms ranging from three to six years for killing 11 persons in December 2017, in an attack on a Coptic church and Christian-owned shop in a suburb south of Cairo. On February 9, authorities arrested Muslim students at Al-Azhar for posting video footage mocking Christian religious practices. Under a 2016 law issued to legalize unlicensed churches and facilitate the construction of new churches, the government reported having issued 814 licenses to existing but previously unlicensed churches and related support buildings, bringing the cumulative total to 1412 of 5,415 applications for licensure. In April the NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) condemned the involvement of the security services in the closure of the Anba Karas Church and called for the reopening of churches closed since the implementation of the 2016 church construction law. Local authorities continued to periodically rely on customary reconciliation sessions instead of the official judicial system to resolve sectarian disputes. In April security officials closed a church in the Upper Egyptian village of Nagib in response to threats of an attack by Muslim villagers. In November Christians in the Upper Egyptian village of Hgara were directed to rebuild their church three kilometers (1.9 miles) outside the village following a customary reconciliation session related to a dispute with the local Muslim population. According to an international NGO, there were no Shia congregational halls (husseiniyahs) or houses of worship in the country. The Ministry of Awqaf (Islamic Endowments) continued to issue required certifications for Sunni imams and to register and license all mosques. On February 4, Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayyeb and Pope Francis signed the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together during their visit to Abu Dhabi.
On January 3, ISIS released a video statement threatening “bloody attacks during the upcoming (Orthodox) Christmas celebrations,” and to “take revenge on Egypt’s Christians.” The statement included a threat to the life of Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II. According to press reports, unidentified men suspected to be members of ISIS abducted a Christian based on his religious affiliation at a checkpoint near Al-Arish in Northern Sinai on January 17. His fate was unknown at year’s end. In January a religious sheikh at a mosque alerted security at the Church of the Virgin Mary in Nasr City, Cairo, to possible explosives in the vicinity of the church, where police later discovered an improvised explosive device (IED). One police officer died and two others were injured as they attempted to defuse the bomb. Esshad, a website that records sectarian attacks, documented a 29 percent reduction in intercommunal violence between 2018 and 2019. According to human rights groups and religious communities, discrimination in private sector hiring continued, including in professional sports. Of the 540 players in the top-tier professional soccer clubs, only one was Christian. Some religious leaders and media personalities continued to employ discriminatory language against Christians.
U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, Ambassador, and former Charge d’Affaires, as well as visiting senior-level delegations from Washington and embassy representatives and officials of the former consulate general in Alexandria met with government officials to underscore the importance of religious freedom and equal protection of all citizens before the law. In meetings with high-level officials at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Education, Justice, Awqaf, and Interior, embassy officers emphasized the U.S. commitment to religious freedom and raised a number of key issues, including attacks on Christians, recognition of Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the rights of Shia Muslims to perform religious rituals publicly, and the discrimination and religious freedom abuses resulting from official religious designations on national identity and other official documents.
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.
The constitution codifies the separation of religion and the state, establishes freedom of religious choice, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the government shall not interfere in the practice of any religion, nor shall any religion interfere in the affairs of the state. On July 18, violence broke out in Sidama Zone, Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP) Region, in connection with demands for regional statehood. According to media affiliated with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church (EOTC), attackers killed a priest and two followers of the Church, burned three churches to the ground, and partially destroyed four churches in the violence. On February 3, youth members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Mekane Yesus, Amhara Region, burned mosques and vandalized Muslim-owned businesses. The Addis Ababa Diocese of the EOTC reported that security forces detained 55 followers of the Church on September 27 during processions for the eve of the Meskel holiday (finding of the true cross). In March the government lifted restrictions on charities and societies, including faith-based organizations, from engaging in rights-based advocacy and accepting foreign funding. In May the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE) revised a directive that had limited the formation of fully fledged Islamic (interest-free) banks.
In December attackers burned down four mosques and one church in Mota Town, Amhara Region, prompting condemnation by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and sparking protests by several thousand Muslims across the country. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report some Protestants and Orthodox Christians accused one another of heresy and of actively working to convert adherents from one faith to the other, increasing tension between the two groups. EOTC followers in several towns of Amhara Region staged peaceful protests on September 15 and 22 to condemn attacks against the Church, religious leaders, and followers in Sidama Zone in the SNNP Region.
U.S. embassy and Department of State officials met officials from the Ministry of Peace throughout the year for continued discussions on religious tolerance and radicalization. Embassy representatives met with prominent members of the Protestant Christian community and with NGOs to discuss the government’s role in religious affairs and their assessment about the growing influence of Protestantism in the country.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, stipulates that individuals are free to profess and practice their religion, and does not designate a state religion. Registration is required for religious groups to have legal status. There was debate among religious organizations and lawmakers over the utility of legislating to control the activities of “self-styled” pastors and the effect on religious freedom; the Christian Council of Ghana instead called for self-regulation. At year’s end, no consensus had developed and no legislation was drafted. The Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit against President Nana Akufo-Addo’s plans for an interdenominational national Christian cathedral, but opposition to the proposal for the new cathedral – due largely to concerns about the management of public resources – continued. Administration officials called for the public’s robust support.
Muslim and Christian leaders continued to emphasize the importance of religious freedom and tolerance, and reported ongoing communication among themselves on religious matters and ways to address issues of concern. For the first time, in April National Chief Imam Sheikh Osman Sharubutu attended a Catholic Easter service, an act the 100-year-old cleric said was intended to encourage interfaith engagement.
U.S. embassy officers on several occasions discussed with religious communities concerns over religious accommodations in publicly funded schools affiliated with religious groups. Embassy officers discussed religious freedom and tolerance with religious leaders and hosted a roundtable with faith-based and other civil society organizations about the role of religious figures and institutions in advancing religious freedom and countering violent extremism. In May the Ambassador hosted an interfaith iftar, noting that such gatherings provided an opportunity to recognize common values. In November the Ambassador spoke about religious freedom and interfaith harmony at a gathering National Chief Imam Sharubutu hosted to encourage interaction between interfaith leaders.
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.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, belief, and thought. In October a standoff between an Anglican parish and Muslim communities in Balaka District over the wearing of hijabs by Muslim female students led to four government-funded schools being closed for eight weeks. The standoff also led to violence between the groups in November. On November 5, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology clarified its stand on wearing the hijab as being a “nondiscrimination approach” that allows religious dress in schools. A court case involving a Rastafarian child’s ability to attend school with dreadlocks remained pending, and by court order, the child was able to attend school with his hair intact pending conclusion of the litigation.
In May the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), a multidenominational civil society governance organization, and the government held interfaith national prayers for peaceful general elections. In December PAC again held national prayers to promote religious tolerance ahead of the anticipated Constitutional Court verdict on a presidential election challenge case.
A U.S. embassy official discussed interfaith coexistence and faith leaders’ relationship with the government with the general secretary of the Malawi Council of Churches and with officers of the Quadria Muslim Association of Malawi (QMAM), the second largest Muslim association in the country. U.S. embassy officials, along with U.S. Africa Command military chaplains, also engaged Malawi Defense Force chaplains and PAC to discuss religious issues in the country. U.S. embassy officials regularly met with leaders of religious groups on issues of religious freedom and tolerance.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and grants individuals freedom of religion in conformity with the law. The law criminalizes abuses against religious freedom. Notwithstanding these legal protections for religious freedom, widespread insecurity stifled full implementation of laws protecting religious freedom. The presence of groups identified by the government as violent extremist organizations and armed groups in the northern and central areas of the country limited government capacity to govern and bring perpetrators of abuses to justice, especially outside the main cities. In February the government issued a decree creating a national secretariat for the implementation of a new national strategy to counter violent extremism (CVE). The strategy, launched in 2018 under the authority of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship, includes interfaith efforts and promotion of religious tolerance. Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) said they experienced difficulties while attempting to register as an official religious institution, however in January the government granted the church official status.
Individuals affiliated with groups identified by authorities as extremist used violence and launched attacks on civilians, security forces, peacekeepers, and others they reportedly perceived as not adhering to their interpretation of Islam. In the center of the country, affiliates of Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), a U.S.-designated terrorist alliance, attacked multiple towns in Mopti Region, threatening Christian, Muslim, and traditional religious communities, reportedly for heresy. Groups identified by authorities as extremist organizations targeted and closed government schools for their perceived “Western” curriculum, replacing them with Quranic schools. The United Nations estimated such groups had opened approximately 600 Quranic schools in the center of the country.
Muslim religious leaders condemned what they termed “extremist” interpretations of sharia, and non-Muslim religious leaders condemned extremism related to religion. Some Christian missionaries expressed concern about the increased influence in remote areas of organizations they characterized as violent and extremist. Muslim, Protestant, and Roman Catholic religious leaders jointly called for peace and solidarity among all faiths at celebrations marking Christmas, the New Year, and Eid al-Fitr. In September, while addressing a meeting on the role of religious leaders in the stabilization of the country, President of the High Islamic Council of Mali (HCIM) Cherif Ousmane Madani Haidara called on attendees to take an active role and to serve as brokers of peace.
The U.S. embassy supported programs to counter violent extremism related to religion and to promote tolerance, peace, and reconciliation. The Ambassador and other officials discussed the importance of religious leaders helping bring peace to the country with former president of the HCIM Imam Mahmoud Dicko and other religious leaders, as well as with human rights organizations. The embassy sponsored the participation of an imam and owner of a medersa (Islamic religious school, a variant of madrassah) in a U.S. government exchange program aimed at empowering youth to counter violence and highlighted the importance of tolerance and respect for religious diversity on its social media accounts throughout the year.
The constitution provides for the right to practice or not to practice religion freely and prohibits discrimination based on religion. These and other rights may temporarily be suspended or restricted only in the event of a declaration of a state of war, siege, or emergency. The constitution prohibits faith-based political parties and bans the use of religious symbols in politics. Religious groups have the right to organize, worship, and operate schools. In the northern province of Cabo Delgado, the government responded to escalating violent attacks by groups possibly linked to Islamist groups by deploying security forces and arresting hundreds of individuals. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and news media outlets continued to characterize these operations as sometimes heavy-handed, potentially exacerbating existing grievances of what they termed to be already marginalized populations. Members of the Islamic Council (CISLAMO) said that those who dressed in traditional Islamic clothing or wore beards risked detention on suspicion of involvement with what the government termed violent extremists. In May the government proposed a draft law that that would create a code of conduct for religious leaders and would require religious groups to have a minimum of 500 followers in order to register with the Ministry of Justice.
Religious leaders at the national and provincial level continued to call for religious tolerance and condemned the use of religion to promote violence. For example, Muslim leaders continued to condemn the violence in Cabo Delgado, characterizing it as inconsistent with the tenets of Islam. Interfaith leaders as well as government officials welcomed Pope Francis’ August visit.
The Ambassador discussed the escalating attacks in the northern region with the Minister of Justice and other high-level officials, noting the challenge this situation posed to religious tolerance. The Ambassador hosted an iftar during which religious tolerance was discussed with members of Islamic civil society organizations and religious leaders. U.S. embassy representatives discussed the importance of peace and reconciliation at an interfaith conference organized by the Council of Religions in Mozambique (COREM).
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and worship consistent with public order, social peace, and national unity. It provides for the separation of state and religion and prohibits religiously affiliated political parties. The government continued to prohibit full-face veils in the Diffa Region under state of emergency provisions to prevent concealment of bombs and weapons. The government also continued to prohibit open-air, public proselytization events due to stated safety concerns. In June the National Assembly passed a new law on the “organization of the practice of religion,” which the president ratified in July. The new law reinforces the protection of freedom of religion as long as the religion is exercised in a manner that respects “public order and moral good.” The law, in line with previous regulations, grants the government the right to regulate and approve private construction and the use of places of worship as well as to oversee financial contributions for the construction of religious venues.
Protesters reacting to the arrest in June of an imam who criticized the draft law burned down one Christian church and attacked another in the southern city of Maradi. In May in Dolbel, near the borders with Burkina Faso and Mali, assailants reportedly attacked a Catholic church and injured a priest. In June members of the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped a Christian woman and threatened Christians in her village in the Diffa Region, according to international observers.
The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy representatives continued to advocate for religious freedom and tolerance through meetings with government leaders, including the interior and foreign ministers. Embassy representatives conveyed messages of religious tolerance in meetings with Muslim and Christian representatives, including an interfaith iftar the embassy hosted during Ramadan and a meeting with the imam of the Grand Mosque of Niamey during Eid al-Adha. The Ambassador discussed the need for interfaith dialogue with the Catholic community in Tahoua in February, attended and spoke at an event at an Assembly of God church in Niamey in September, and met twice during the year with the Catholic archbishop. The embassy sponsored programs with religious leaders nationwide focused on countering violent extremism related to religion and amplifying voices of religious tolerance.
The constitution bars the federal and state governments from adopting a state religion, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for individuals’ freedom to choose, practice, propagate, or change their religion. Throughout the year, Shia Muslims, under the auspices of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), conducted a series of demonstrations – including several in July against the ongoing detention of IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky – resulting in violent confrontations between protesters and security forces, which left as many as 30 dead, including protesters and police. Security forces fired on Shia religious processions for Ashura in September, killing 12, according to the IMN. Following the July violence, the government banned the IMN and declared the group a terrorist organization. The IMN stated it planned to legally contest the ban. In July the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, criticized the government’s action banning the IMN as a threat to religious freedom for all believers, according to local and Catholic media. The government continued its detention of El-Zakzaky despite a December 2016 court ruling that he be released by January 2017. The government launched new security operations in the North West states and continued ongoing operations in the North Central states that it stated were meant to stem insecurity created by armed criminal gangs and violent conflict over land and water resources, which frequently involved predominantly Muslim Fulani herders and settled farmers, who were both Muslim and Christian. There were several incidents of violence involving these groups in the North Central and North West. In July local communities reacted to news of a government plan to resettle the predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen in southern parts of the country by threatening violence against Fulani communities in South West and South East states; the plan was later annulled. Members of both Christian and Muslim groups continued to report some state and local government laws discriminated against them, including by limiting their rights to freedom of expression and assembly and in obtaining government employment.
Terrorist groups including Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) attacked population centers and religious targets and maintained a growing ability to stage forces in rural areas and launch attacks against civilian and military targets across the North East, according to observers. The groups continued to carry out person-borne improvised explosive device (IED) bombings – many by young women and girls drugged and forced into doing so – targeting the local civilian population, including churches and mosques. In July ISIS-WA abducted six Action Against Hunger (AAH) aid workers from a convoy heading to deliver food in Borno State. In July 65 people returning from a funeral in a predominantly Muslim community in Borno State were killed by Boko Haram. In September ISIS-WA released a video depicting the beheading of two Christian aid workers; in the video one of the killers vowed to kill every Christian the group captured in “revenge” for Muslims killed in past conflicts. In October ISIS-WA filmed and publicly released its killing of one of the six abducted AAH aid workers, who was Muslim. On December 24, Boko Haram killed seven people and abducted a teenage girl in a raid on a Christian village in Borno State. On December 26, ISIS-WA released a video of the execution of 10 Christians and one Muslim to avenge the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Conflicts between predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen and predominantly Christian farmers in the North Central states continued throughout the year, although the violence was lower than during the 2017-2018 spike, reportedly due to government intervention and efforts of civil society to resolve conflicts. Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern that this conflict took on increasingly religious undertones. In addition to religious differences, local authorities, scholars, and regional experts pointed to ethnicity, politics, lack of accountability and access to justice, and increasing competition over dwindling land resources among the key drivers of the violence. Attacks and killings by Fulani herdsman continued during the year, although according to the publicly available Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), the number of civilian victims fell dramatically, from over 1,500 in 2018 to approximately 350 in 2019. According to international media, in February 131 Fulani and 11 Adara were killed in Kaduna State. On April 14, Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed 17 Christians who had gathered after a baby dedication at a Baptist church in the central part of the country, including the mother of the child, sources said. Some domestic and international Christian groups stated that Fulani were targeting Christians on account of their religion. Local and international NGOs and religious organizations criticized the government’s perceived inability to prevent or mitigate violence between Christian and Muslim communities.
U.S. embassy, consulate general, and visiting U.S. government officials regularly promoted principles of religious freedom and religious coexistence in discussions throughout the year with government officials, religious leaders, and civil society organizations. The Ambassador, Consul General, and other senior U.S. officials hosted interfaith dinners, participated in interfaith conferences, and conducted press interviews to promote interfaith dialogue. The embassy sponsored training sessions for journalists who report on ethnoreligious conflicts to help reduce bias in their reporting and prevent tensions from becoming further inflamed. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator visited Abuja, Bwari Local Government Area, and Lagos to highlight U.S. government support for interfaith cooperation and conflict mitigation efforts.
On December 18, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State placed Nigeria on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.
The provisional federal constitution (PFC) provides for the right of individuals to practice their religion, makes Islam the state religion, prohibits the propagation of any religion other than Islam, and stipulates all laws must comply with the general principles of sharia. Most areas of the country beyond greater Mogadishu remained outside federal government control. Federal Member State (FMS) administrations, including Puntland, Jubaland, South West State, Hirshabelle, Galmudug, and self-declared independent Somaliland, governed their respective jurisdictions through local legislation but did not fully control them. The constitutions of Somaliland and Puntland State declare Islam as the state religion, prohibit Muslims from converting to another religion, bar the propagation of any religion other than Islam, and require all laws to comply with the general principles of sharia. In August the government began issuing approximately two million textbooks that reflect the new curriculum to students countrywide, according to the Ministry of Higher Education and Culture. Ministry officials declared that religious education was important in order to counter efforts by al-Shabaab to impose a strict version of Islamic law.
According to media reports, by October the year was one of the deadliest years on record for fatalities from attacks by terrorist group al-Shabaab, with numbers already more than 1,200. Al-Shabaab killed, maimed, or harassed persons suspected of converting from Islam or those who failed to adhere to the group’s religious edicts. During the year, al-Shabaab was responsible for the killings of civilians, government officials, members of parliament, Somali national armed forces, police, and troops from contributing countries of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Al-Shabaab continued its campaign to characterize the AMISOM peacekeeping forces as “Christians” intent on invading and occupying the country. In July al-Shabaab killed an aid worker from the humanitarian nongovernmental organization (NGO) Lifeline in Buulo Cadey, in the Gedo Region of Jubaland State. In January al-Shabaab reportedly kidnapped 100 civilians who refused to pay the group zakat (tax). In July the group publicly executed 10 civilians in Hagar and Salagle, towns located in the Middle Juba Region of Jubaland State, for “spying” for foreign and Somali security forces. Al-Shabaab, which launched a primary and secondary education curriculum in 2017, continued to threaten parents, teachers, and communities who failed to adhere to al-Shabaab’s precepts.
Strong societal pressure to adhere to Sunni Islamic traditions continued. Conversion from Islam to another religion remained illegal in some areas and socially unacceptable in all. Those suspected of conversion faced harassment by members of their community. In June Christian media reported a woman in Burao, Somaliland, was reportedly beaten by her brothers, divorced by her husband, and separated from her two children after her husband found a Bible in a drawer in their home. Externally funded madrassahs throughout the country provided inexpensive basic education, and many taught Salafist ideology, especially in al-Shabaab-controlled areas, according to observers.
Following the reestablishment of a permanent diplomatic presence in December 2018, travel by U.S. government officials remained limited to select areas when security conditions permitted. U.S. government engagement to promote religious freedom remained focused on supporting efforts to bring stability and reestablish rule of law, in addition to advocating for freedom of speech and assembly.
The transitional constitution stipulates separation of religion and state, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides religious groups freedom to worship and assemble, organize themselves, teach, own property, receive financial contributions, communicate and issue publications on religious matters, and establish charitable institutions. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reported incidents of government forces targeting religious communities.
As noted in a recent report by the U.S. Institute for Peace, the country’s network of religious groups remained a crucial source of stability in an otherwise unstable country. Religious leaders stated that a diverse network of Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim domestic and international organizations provided shelter from the fighting. Sources said that at times religious workers’ generally outspoken attitude toward what they stated were the forces driving the conflict made them targets.
The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy representatives promoted religious freedom through discussions and outreach with religious leaders and civil society organizations.
The constitutions of the union government and of the semiautonomous government in Zanzibar both prohibit religious discrimination and provide for freedom of religious choice. Since independence, the country has been governed by alternating Christian and Muslim presidents. Twenty-two members of the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation (UAMSHO), an Islamist group advocating for Zanzibar’s full autonomy, remained in custody without a trial since their arrest in 2013 on terrorism charges. In May the Office of the Registrar of Societies, an entity within the Ministry of Home Affairs charged with overseeing religious organizations, issued a public notice requiring all religious institutions and community faith-based organizations registered under the ministry to verify their registration status with supporting documentation. This countrywide process began in May in Dar es Salaam and the coastal regions and continued in June and July in the Dodoma, Morogoro, Singida, and Manyara Regions. In June a court in Bukoba convicted and sentenced three Muslim men to death for killings committed in 2015 during conflicts between Pentecostal Christians and Muslims. In February police arrested the Itigi town council executive and two game rangers on charges they shot and killed a Seventh-day Adventist Church member during church services. In September press reported the minister of home affairs ordered the arrest of a Pentecostal preacher for noise pollution; the government later clarified that noise pollution laws did not restrict use of church bells or the Islamic call to prayer. In July a local government official closed 13 unregistered churches in the Bukoba Region after reports preachers were charging fees to pray for sick persons.
Witchcraft-related killings continued in the country. According to the Legal and Human Rights Centre midyear report, there were incidents of witchcraft-related killings of children in Njombe and other killings in Mbeya, Dar es Salaam, Iringa, and Simiyu. These killings involved both persons suspected of practicing witchcraft and victims whose body parts were used to make potions.
The embassy organized an interfaith iftar in May for senior Muslim and Christian religious leaders, government representatives, Dar es Salaam interfaith committee members, and journalists. The Charge d’Affaires hosted iftars and interfaith roundtables with religious leaders to promote and highlight the country’s religious diversity. The embassy brought together youth leaders and religious and community leaders to discuss local concerns around violent extremism related to religion and conflict.
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.
The constitution declares the country a Christian nation but also has provisions that guarantee religious freedom and uphold the country’s multireligious composition. It also prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of conscience and belief. In June the government introduced legislation to amend the constitution that included provisions emphasizing the role of Christianity in the country. Prominent religious groups and civil society organizations continued to state the government should not be involved in religious affairs. On October 18, the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs (MNGRA), which is mandated to provide oversight on religious affairs and promote Christian values, coordinated the fifth annual National Day of Prayer and Fasting. Various religious groups continued to raise concerns over the government-managed event, stating it blurred the line between church and state. The government continued to take administrative measures to regulate religious affairs, such as approving a new regulatory framework for religious groups and churches that it said will be implemented beginning in 2020. The new framework requires religious groups to register, mandates formal theological training for clergy, and stipulates that only religious organizations affiliated with recognized umbrella bodies may be registered to operate in the country. Religious groups expressed concern that the regulatory framework will interfere with their internal governance. Religious leaders at times took stances critical of the government for alleged human rights violations and civil liberties restrictions. The government imposed a moratorium on the registration of new churches and religious groups pending implementation of the new regulatory requirements for religious organizations.
There were again incidents of mob attacks and killings of individuals suspected of practicing witchcraft throughout the country. Victims were often elderly persons reportedly associated with witchcraft. Numerous examples were reported by media during the year, and incidents occurred at rates similar to those reported in previous years, according to local media sources. Attacks based on suspicions of witchcraft activities included the following: in March unknown assailants reportedly killed a 58-year-old man; in August police intervened to prevent protesters from burning a 70-year-old woman alive; and in September police reported that a man killed his 75-year-old uncle he suspected of practicing witchcraft. Religious leaders continued to hold regular meetings to promote mutual understanding of and joint advocacy on religious and other social issues. Among these were joint approaches in support of limiting government involvement in oversight of worship and religious practice.
U.S. embassy representatives met with government officials to discuss topics related to religious freedom, such as enforcement of registration laws and the regulation of new and existing religious groups. Embassy representatives also met with religious leaders to discuss issues of religious freedom, interfaith relations, and proposed constitutional amendments emphasizing the country’s declaration as a Christian nation and downplaying its multireligious character.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom to practice, propagate, and give expression to one’s religion, in public or in private and alone or with others. Religious and civil society groups reported the government occasionally monitored public events, prayer rallies, church congregations, and religiously affiliated nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) perceived to be critical of the government. NGOs reported that some religious officials who engaged in political discourse perceived as negative toward the ZANU-PF government became targets of the security services. In June Talent Farai (T.F.) Chiwenga, founder of Apostle T.F. Chiwenga Ministries, stated state security agents attempted to kill him for insulting Vice President and then minister of defense Constantino Chiwenga. In November the government dropped subversion charges against Pastor Evan Mawarire of His Generation Church for urging citizens via social media to protest the country’s deteriorating economy in January. In September the government allowed the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association to hold a series of prayer vigils for its president, Dr. Peter Magombeyi, who had gone missing, but attendees reported a heavy presence of state security personnel at the services. Multiple church organizations released public letters appealing for tolerance, national unity, peace, reconciliation, healing, and stability while calling on the government to uphold the constitution and protect citizens’ political rights. In October Deputy Information Minister Energy Mutodi made remarks on social media about Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) General Secretary Kenneth Mtata, calling him a fool, a false prophet, and a demon possessed in response to Mtata’s call for the government to engage with the opposition in a national dialogue.
As in previous years, some groups criticized Christian groups with indigenous beliefs, particularly the Apostolic community, for encouraging child marriage and prohibiting immunizations.
The U.S. embassy raised freedom of speech and human rights with government officials. The Ambassador repeatedly urged the president and cabinet ministers to allow the political opposition party Movement for Democratic Change to conduct peaceful demonstrations, including holding a national week of prayer in July. Embassy representatives met with religious leaders and faith-based organizations to discuss the role of faith communities in supporting political reconciliation and national healing. The Ambassador met with leaders from the country’s main Apostolic coalitions to encourage them to promote women’s empowerment and access to health and education among their followers.