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Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the state as secular and prohibits religious discrimination. The constitution requires the state to protect churches and religious groups as long as they comply with the law. The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, and worship, and it recognizes the right of religious groups to organize and carry out their activities as long as they adhere to the law. The constitution permits conscientious objection for religious reasons, prohibits questioning individuals about their religious beliefs for reasons other than anonymous statistical purposes, and specifies that religious rights may not be suspended even if the state declares a state of war, siege, or emergency. It recognizes the right of prisoners to receive visits from, and correspond with, religious counselors. The law establishes that conscientious objectors can perform civilian service as an alternative to military service.

The religious freedom law requires religious groups to register for legal recognition from the state. Legal recognition gives religious groups the ability to purchase property collectively and use their property to hold religious events, exempts them from paying certain property taxes, and authorizes a group to be treated as an incorporated entity in the court system. To apply for government recognition, a religious group must collect 100,000 member signatures from legal residents from 12 of the 18 provinces and submit them to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (MJHR). The law also requires religious groups to submit documents defining their organizational structure, methods of worship, leadership, and the amount of time the group has operated in the country, and that their doctrine be in accordance with principles and rights the constitution. In 2015 the MJHR issued a circular that provides for the establishment of ecumenical associations and the requirements for an unrecognized religious group to incorporate with the ecumenical association. While the MJHR is responsible for registration and recognition of religious groups, oversight of religious organizations is the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture through its National Institute for Religious Affairs (INAR).

Religious instruction is not a component of the public educational system. Private schools are allowed to teach religion.

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

Government Practices

On November 24, a court in Luanda sentenced four Muslims to three years’ imprisonment and fined them 70,000 kwanzas ($410) for allegedly forming a radical Islamic group and pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. Two other defendants were acquitted. The defendants maintained their innocence and said they were discriminated against because of their Muslim faith. They acknowledged they discussed religion over the internet through a Facebook page and stated they had discussed writings by a Brazilian Muslim who was detained in Brazil related to charges of participating in a terrorist cell. Lawyers for the defendants asserted their clients’ innocence and said that discussing religion on social media and sharing religious beliefs with others was not a crime and was a common practice among other religious communities. In a private meeting, a leader in the Muslim community said that he did not believe the individuals were persecuted for their religious beliefs, and he agreed that they should be tried and held accountable for any crimes they might have committed so as not to cast a negative light on the Muslim community in Angola.

Government officials at the highest levels continued to state concern about the proliferation of religious “sects,” some of which were alleged to have exploited vulnerable populations with limited financial means by requiring them to provide recurring payments or dues to worship or belong to these organizations. In President Lourenco’s first address to parliament on October 16, he expressed the desire to change the law on religious freedom in order to reinforce the lines separating religion from business. A few days after the president’s speech, the minister of culture started a dialogue with officially recognized churches to elicit input that would be taken into account as the government drafted a new religious freedom law. On November 11, the vice-governor of Luanda Province stated her wish to curtail the proliferation of religious sects that she said operated churches solely as profitable businesses rather than simply places of worship, or were detrimental to social order.

The government again recognized no new religious groups, and the number officially recognized remained at 81. The government has not recognized a new religious group since 2004 when it created the current application system. A large number of groups continued to await recognition despite having submitted several applications for registration. In 2015, the government estimated that approximately 1,300 religious groups were operating without government recognition, some of which were providing education and medical care to members despite having no legal authority to do so.

The government continued not to recognize any Muslim groups officially or issue any licenses to Muslim groups to practice their religion legally. The Muslim community requested official recognition of its groups but was unable to meet the requirements of the 2004 law, including having 100,000 citizen members and a religious doctrine aligned with the country’s constitution. In the past government officials had stated that some practices allowed by Islam, such as polygamy, contradicted the constitution.

The Muslim community was organized under the Islamic Foundation of Angola (FIA), which interacts with the government and organizes the mosques and adherents in the country. The FIA applied for recognition but did not receive an official response from the government as of year’s end. The Islamic Community of Angola (COIA) is a civil rights organization that applied for recognition in 2005 and also had not received a response from the government. According to the COIA leadership, the high threshold for obtaining legal status, combined with the fact that the majority of recognized religious organizations were Christian, indicated the government opposed recognizing non-Christian religious groups. The Bahai Faith and the Global Messianic Church remained the only two non-Christian organizations legally registered.

During the year the government continued to lead an effort to bring unrecognized Christian groups together in associations that would then receive de facto government recognition, requesting those groups to support actively government requests, such as calls to register for elections, and not to engage in illegal practices. The government approved the operation of four coalitions of Christian churches: the evangelical Christian Union of Churches of the Holy Spirit in Angola, the Protestant Christian Church Coalition of Angola, the National Convention of Angolan Christian Churches, and the Angolan Reviving Churches Council. The INAR stated that since 2016 dozens of groups had joined these associations to avoid closure.

Some religious leaders, civil society members, and media outlets continued to accuse the government of trying to coerce religious groups to align themselves with the ruling party in exchange for authorization to operate freely. In June and July the media reported several instances of national- and local-level politicians presenting the ruling party’s platform to religious leaders and requesting their support in getting congregation members to polling places and ensure an atmosphere of peace during the election period.

While religious groups were free to run radio stations and written press, the government did not approve a 2009 request from the Catholic radio station Ecclesia to extend its signal beyond Luanda.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, belief, and thought. These rights may be limited only when the president declares a state of emergency.

The law states that holders of broadcast licenses “shall not broadcast any material which is…offensive to the religious convictions of any section of the population.”

Religious groups, like nonprofit organizations, must register with the government to be recognized as legal entities. Registered groups, like other legal entities, may own property and open bank accounts in the group’s name. Groups must submit documentation detailing the structure and mission of their organization and pay a fee of 1,000 kwacha ($1). The government reviews the application for administrative compliance only. According to the government, registration does not constitute approval of religious beliefs, nor is it a prerequisite for religious activities, but allows a group to acquire land, rent property in its own name, and obtain utility services such as water and electricity. Religious groups may apply to the Ministry of Finance for tax exemptions regardless of registration status.

Detainees have a right to consult with a religious counselor of their choice.

Religious instruction is mandatory in public primary schools, with no opt-out provision, and is available as an elective in public secondary schools. According to the constitution, eliminating religious intolerance is a goal of education. In some schools, the religious curriculum is a Christian-oriented “Bible knowledge” course, while in others it is an interfaith “moral and religious education” course drawing from the Christian, Islamic, Hindu, and Bahai faiths. According to the law, local school management committees, elected at parent-teacher association meetings, decide on which religious curriculum to use. Private Christian and Islamic schools offer religious instruction in their respective faiths. Hybrid “grant-aided” schools are managed by private, usually religious, institutions, but their teaching staffs are paid by the government. In exchange for this financial support, the government chooses a significant portion of the students who attend. At grant-aided schools, a board appointed by the school’s operators decides whether the “Bible knowledge” or the “moral and religious education” curriculum will be used.

Foreign missionaries are required to have employment permits.

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

Government Practices

Several Muslim women reported that Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) photographers required they remove their hijab to take their driving license picture. Alerted by the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM), the DRTSS issued a statement in May reaffirming that Muslim women were free to wear a hijab when taking pictures for official documents as long as their faces and eyes were visible. However, MAM continued to receive reports every few months of DRTSS staff asking Muslim women to remove their hijab for identification photographs.

Representatives of the Rastafarian community reported children with dreadlocks continued to be prohibited from attending certain public schools. Children are usually required by school policy to shave their heads to attend. Most Rastafarian parents relented and shaved their children’s heads, but the children of several families continued to be denied access to public school, and at least one child dropped out of school because of her dreadlocks. In September a child who through a highly competitive process had been selected to attend Malindi Secondary School in Zomba was denied enrolment because of his hair. The Malawi Human Rights Commission continued to investigate the issue of Rastafarian children’s access to education. In January the solicitor general reaffirmed in writing Rastafarian children’s constitutional rights to education, but as of the end of the year, the Ministry of Education had taken no further measures to ensure access.

Some Muslim groups continued to request the education ministry to discontinue use of the “Bible knowledge” course and use only the broader-based “moral and religious education” curriculum in primary schools, particularly in predominantly Muslim areas. The issue arose most frequently in grant-aided, Catholic-operated schools.

Muslim organizations continued to express concern about the impact of operating schools in two shifts. Due to rapidly rising enrollment, certain schools in urban areas offered classes in two shifts – one in the morning and another in the afternoon, or staggered start and end times. Muslim groups stated the shifts complicated the delivery of religious education at madrassahs in the afternoon on government school premises.

Most government meetings and events began and ended with a prayer, usually Christian in nature. At larger events, government officials generally invited clergy of different faiths to participate.

During events marking the Catholic Church’s 51st Communications Sunday on August 2, Information Minister Nicholas Dausi praised the country’s Catholic media services for their evangelization work and expressed continued government encouragement of Catholic media organizations.

In November President Mutharika gave official comments at the opening of the annual Muslim gathering where Muslims shared experiences and challenges facing their religion. President Mutharika commended the Muslim community for its contributions to the development of the country and emphasized the freedom to worship and the peaceful co-existence of religions.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitutions of the union government and Zanzibar both provide for equality regardless of religion, prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, and stipulate freedom of conscience or faith and choice in matters of religion, including the freedom to change one’s faith. The union government constitution allows these rights to be limited by law for purposes such as protecting the rights of others; promoting the national interest; and defense, safety, peace, morality, and health. The Zanzibar constitution allows the rights to be limited by law if such a limitation is “necessary and agreeable in the democratic system” and does not limit the “foundation” of the right or bring “more harm” to society.

The law prohibits religious groups from registering as political parties. In order to register as a political party, an entity may not use religion as a basis to approve membership, nor may the promotion of religion be a policy of that entity.

The law prohibits any person from taking any action or making statements with the intent of insulting the religious beliefs of another person. Anyone committing such an offense is liable to a year’s imprisonment.

On the mainland, secular laws govern Christians and Muslims in both criminal and civil cases. In family-related cases involving inheritance, marriage, divorce, and the adoption of minors, the law also recognizes customary practices, which could include religious practices. In such cases, some Muslims choose to consult religious leaders in lieu of bringing a court case.

Zanzibar, while also subject to the union constitution, has its own president, court system, and legislature. Muslims in Zanzibar have the option of bringing cases to a civil or qadi (Islamic court or judge) court for matters of divorce, child custody, inheritance, and other issues covered by Islamic law. All cases tried in Zanzibar courts, except those involving Zanzibari constitutional matters and sharia, may be appealed to the Union Court of Appeals on the mainland. Decisions of Zanzibar’s qadi courts may be appealed to a special court consisting of the Zanzibar chief justice and five other sheikhs. The President of Zanzibar appoints the chief qadi, who oversees the qadicourts and is recognized as the senior Islamic scholar responsible for interpreting the Quran. There are no qadi courts on the mainland.

Religious groups must register with the registrar of societies at the Ministry of Home Affairs on the mainland and with the Office of the Registrar General on Zanzibar. Registration is required by law on both the mainland and in Zanzibar, but the penalties for failing to comply with this requirement are not stated in the law.

To register, religious groups must provide the names of at least 10 members, a written constitution, resumes of their leaders, and a letter of recommendation from the district commissioner. Such groups may then list individual congregations, which do not need separate registration. Muslim groups registering on the mainland must provide a letter of approval from the National Muslim Council of Tanzania (BAKWATA). Muslim groups registering in Zanzibar must provide a letter of approval from the mufti, the government’s official liaison to the Muslim community. Christian groups in Zanzibar may register directly with the registrar general.

On the mainland, BAKWATA elects the mufti. On Zanzibar, the President of Zanzibar appoints the mufti, who serves as a leader of the Muslim community and as a public servant assisting with local governmental affairs. The Mufti of Zanzibar nominally approves all Islamic activities and supervises all mosques on Zanzibar. The mufti also approves religious lectures by visiting Islamic clergy and supervises the importation of Islamic literature from outside Zanzibar.

Public schools may teach religion, but it is not a part of the official national curriculum. School administration or parent and teacher associations must approve such classes, which are taught on an occasional basis by parents or volunteers. Public school registration forms must specify a child’s religious affiliation so administrators can assign students to the appropriate religion class if one is offered. Students may also choose to opt out of religious studies. Private schools may teach religion, although it is not required, and these schools generally follow the national educational curriculum unless they receive a waiver from the Ministry of Education for a separate curriculum. In public schools, students are allowed to wear the hijab but not the niqab.

The government does not designate religious affiliation on passports or records of vital statistics. Police reports must state religious affiliation if an individual will be required to provide sworn testimony. Applications for medical care must specify religious affiliation so that any specific religious customs may be observed. The law requires the government to record the religious affiliation of every prisoner and provide facilities for worship for prisoners.

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

Government Practices

In June police detained former Prime Minister and opposition leader Edward Lowassa and questioned him regarding remarks he made at an iftar calling for the government to proceed with the case involving the leaders of the Association of Islamic Mobilization and Propagation, known as Uamsho (meaning “Awakening” in Swahili). The Uamsho leaders had been in custody since 2013 awaiting trial on terrorism charges. After questioning, Lowassa was released on bond.

In July Sheikh Khalifa Khamis, chairman of the Imam Bhukhary Islamic Organization, was arrested and interrogated after speaking in support of Lowassa’s call for the release of the Uamsho sheikhs. During a November 13 parliamentary session, the presiding officer ignored the request of Civic United Front parliamentarian Khatib Said Haji for an update on the Uamsho case.

In May members of the Uamsho prisoners group refused to exit their bus when brought to court in Dar es Salaam for pretrial hearings and complained to reporters about poor treatment in prison. According to local media reports in March, dozens of Muslim prisoners said that they would boycott their pretrial hearings on terrorism charges to protest the four years they had spent in custody without trial and with their families barred from visiting. The prisoners said they did not want to appear in court until the authorities had finished the investigation.

Morningstar News reported that in October a judge failed to appear at a hearing for a Christian pastor in Zanzibar who was accused of abusing a Muslim girl in 2014. The case was closed in 2015, with charges against the pastor twice dropped for lack of evidence. Church leaders stated that the case was reopened as a pretext for jailing the Christian pastor and that Christians found it difficult to obtain a fair court hearing in Zanzibar. In November a court date was set for December 13, but the judge again failed to appear. A new court date was set for January 2018.

In June Christian advocacy organizations reported that a district commissioner and police officers in Zanzibar arrested three Christians for cooking during the daytime in their home during Ramadan. According to Christian media, the police reportedly told the Christians, “Today you will learn how to fast.” The Christians were released after three days in custody.

In July a court ruled that the Pentecostal Assemblies of God in Zanzibar could not continue building on property the group purchased in 2004 on which it was trying to construct a church against opposition from the local Muslim community. After opponents to the construction demolished several temporary church structures between 2004 and 2007, the group had completed approximately half the construction of a stone building in 2009 when local Muslims filed suit. A lower court ruling in 2011 in favor of the church had allowed the construction to move forward. In the most recent ruling, the court decided that the party who sold the property to the church was not the rightful owner. According to Christian media, church leaders stated the court ruled due to religious bias and threatened the survival of the congregation on the island. They stated they planned to appeal to the High Court of Zanzibar.

In April President John Magufuli attended Easter services at the African Inland Church and St. Peter’s Church. In remarks he thanked Christians and members of other religious denominations for their prayers for him and urged all Tanzanians to preach and demonstrate peace, unity, hard work, and harmony in the country.

Also addressing an Easter event, held at a stadium and attended by thousands, Minister of Home Affairs Mwigulu Nchemba reaffirmed the government’s commitment to protect the freedom of worship and individual rights. He further said the constitution provides freedom of worship as long as one does not infringe on the rights of others, and stated that Tanzania would always be a nation of different religions, commending religious leaders for their role in protecting the country’s peace.

Speaking to Islamic worshippers celebrating Eid al-Adha, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa called on religious leaders to sensitize worshippers on the importance of maintaining peace and to preach against “evil acts.”


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares the country to be a Christian nation but upholds freedom of conscience, belief, and religion for all persons. It prohibits discrimination based on religion and provides for the right of individuals to manifest and propagate religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. It protects the freedom of individuals to change their religion or belief. It states no one shall be compelled to take an oath or perform acts contrary to his or her religious belief. The law prescribes legal recourse against, and penalties of fines and imprisonment for, violations of religious freedom.

The Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs, established in 2016, has a mandate that includes the implementation of the country’s declaration as a Christian nation, providing policy and legal framework on matters pertaining to Christian and religious affairs, and guidance on the promotion of national values, principles, and ethics. Ministry functions include preserving religious heritage sites and the coordination of public religious celebrations, such as the commemoration of the declaration as a Christian nation and the National Day of Prayer. The ministry’s mandate also includes ensuring that Christian values are reflected in government, education, family, media, arts and entertainment, and business. The ministry is also charged with promoting church-state, interdenominational, and interfaith dialogue.

Faith-based organizations and religious groups may register their organizations through the Chief Registrar’s Office in the Ministry of Home Affairs or through the Patent and Companies Registration Authority as a company. All are required to pay regular statutory fees of approximately 750 kwacha ($75) as stipulated by the law. If registered as a company, all faith-based organizations are required to seek clearance from the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs in addition to fulfilling other statutory requirements. To be registered, a group must have a unique name, possess a constitution consistent with the country’s laws, and adhere to laws pertaining to labor and employment practices and criminal conduct.

To be registered by the chief registrar under the Ministry of Home Affairs, the registrar’s office conducts a preliminary assessment to ascertain the authenticity of the applicants and a security check. Clearance for religious groups must also be obtained from the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs. To gain clearance, the religious group must provide documentation that includes the organization’s constitution and a recommendation letter from a recognized mother body to which it is aligned. Major church mother bodies include the Zambia Conference for Catholic Bishops (formerly Zambia Episcopal Conference-Catholic churches), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (evangelical Protestant churches), and the Council of Churches in Zambia (traditional Protestant churches). Based on its findings, the ministry provides recommendations to the chief registrar on any additional steps required to complete the registration.

Unlike for nonreligious organizations, under regulations put out by the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs, it is no longer sufficient for religious groups to inform law enforcement directly of their intent to hold a meeting or event outside of normal religious services. The regulations require clearance from the religious ministry first and for the religious group to belong to a mother body that has provided a validation letter. The religious group must submit the validation letter and documentation for the activity to the ministry. After granting approval, the ministry instructs law enforcement authorities under the Ministry of Home Affairs to allow the religious group to hold the event.

The Minister of Home Affairs has the legal authority to revoke the registration of religious groups. Grounds for revocation include failure to pay registration fees or a finding by the minister that the group has professed purposes or has taken or intends to take actions that run counter to the interests of “peace, welfare, or good order.” Groups may appeal this finding through the courts. The government has the authority to levy fines and prison sentences of up to seven years against unregistered religious groups and their members; there were no reported cases involving prison sentences or fines levied during the year.

The Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs may make a recommendation to the tax authority for consideration of a tax exemption for religious groups. The recommendation is based on a long-term record and profile of community social work. The law provides for privileged tax treatment for public benefit organizations, including religious groups, provided they are established for the promotion of religion, education, and relief of poverty or other distress.

The constitution allows religious groups the right to establish and maintain private schools and provide religious instruction to members of their religious communities. The government requires religious instruction in all schools from grades one through nine. Students may request education in their religion and may opt out of religious instruction only if the school is not able to accommodate their request. Religious education after grade nine is optional and is not offered at all schools. The religious curriculum focuses on Christian teachings but also incorporates comparative studies of Islam, Hinduism, and traditional beliefs.

Entry into the country of foreign missionaries or clergy is also scrutinized by the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs. The ministry, in collaboration with the Immigration Department, may approve or deny permits and visas for travelers coming into the country for religious activities.

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

Government Practices

By the end of the year, no legislation existed for the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs to specifically define its roles and responsibilities, leading to ambiguity regarding its mandate. According to religious groups, the administrative measures put in place by the ministry made the process of obtaining a permit to hold a religious gathering more bureaucratic. The Catholic and Protestant church mother bodies, along with leaders of numerous minority religious groups, continued to oppose the creation of the ministry, stating citizens were already able to practice their faith freely.

The Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs stated it instituted a new strategy in March aimed at curbing “false churches and prophets.” In her statement to Parliament, Minister of National Guidance and Religious Affairs Godfridah Sumaili announced requirements of affiliation to a church mother body for “accountability or supervision” and additional screening her ministry would perform for certain visa applications. Sumaili did not provide a clear definition of “false churches.” The minister stated the strategy intended to stop those “who are exploiting the favorable environment of religious freedom.”

Minority religious groups with no representative mother body expressed doubts about their ability to comply with regulations instituted during the year by the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs that require all religious groups to associate with a mother body. The ministry explained that foreign religious groups that did not belong to a mother body could work with their aligned embassy for validation by certifying the organization was registered in its country of origin.

On April 14, immigration authorities deported Nigerian Andrew Ejimadu (also known as “Seer 1”) on grounds of being a danger to peace and good order. On May 5, immigration authorities denied Zimbabwean Uebert Angel, founder of the Good News Church and Uebert Angel Ministries, entry into the country for a religious event. Angel allegedly insisted on holding a “Millionaire Academy” meeting for which he was charging a 1,995 kwacha ($200) entry fee. Officials from the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs stated they would not allow any clergy to take advantage of persons they described as desperate for spiritual attention.

Religion remained a dominant theme surrounding politics in the country. Religious groups said there was self-censorship by clergy members who commented on governance issues. According to religious leaders, any clergy member who expressed dissenting views on governance or human rights faced the possibility of being labeled as “aligned” with the political opposition.

On October 18, the government sponsored and organized the third National Day for Prayer and Fasting under the theme “Repentance, Promoting Peace and Reconciliation, Consolidating National Unity in Diversity.” Many church and political opposition leaders did not participate, stating the event blurred the line between church and state. Various religious groups announced a boycott of the event, which they stated was politically driven. During the event, authorities ordered all liquor traders to open after 6 p.m. instead of the prescribed 10 a.m. According to the government, the holiday was structured to enable the general public to commemorate it in a solemn and sober manner. During the event, President Lungu reaffirmed the country’s identification as a Christian nation. Major opposition political parties and several religious bodies stated the occasion was highly politicized by the ruling party and attracted mostly ruling party Patriotic Front supporters.

Prominent religious groups continued to state the government should not be involved in church affairs, such as the building of the proposed Interdenominational House of Prayer, which remained incomplete. The Council of Churches in Zambia and the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops continued to state the declaration of October 18 as a day of prayer and the building of the National House of Prayer should not be government driven. Several religious leaders outside the council agreed and expressed the same sentiment.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MPSE) sets curricula for public primary and secondary schools. Many public primary schools require a religious education course focusing on Christianity but covering other religious groups, emphasizing religious tolerance. There is no provision for opting out of religious instruction courses at the primary level. Students are able to opt out at the secondary level beginning at age 14, when they begin to choose their courses. The government does not regulate religious education in private schools but must approve employment of headmasters and teachers at those schools.

The law requires all international NGOs, including religiously affiliated NGOs, to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the government defining the NGO’s activities and zones of geographic activity. The law stipulates international NGOs “shall not digress into programs that are not specified in the MOU as agreed upon by line ministries and registered by the Registrar.” Local NGOs, including religious NGOs, are not required by law to sign an MOU with the government but “shall, prior to their registration, notify the local authorities of their intended operations.” The law gives the government the right to “deregister any private voluntary organization that fails to comply with its conditions of registration.”

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

Government Practices

There were reports the government used security laws to target public events and prayer rallies of religious groups, particularly those events and rallies that the government reportedly perceived as politically motivated. According to human rights groups and media reports, Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) arrested Evan Mawarire, pastor of His Generation Church, on June 26 while he participated in a prayer meeting with UZ students. According to religious leaders, UZ students invited Mawarire to participate in the prayer meeting after they conducted a protest against an increase in student fees. Police charged Mawarire with participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence and disorderly conduct as defined in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. On September 29, a magistrate acquitted Mawarire on all charges. In a separate case against Mawarire for subversion, a court found him not guilty on November 29. Presiding high court judge Priscilla Chigumba said, “He urged passive resistance, he urged prayers for peace. How can prayers for peace be considered an unconstitutional means of removing a constitutional government?”

In January local media reported that police arrested Pastor Patrick Mugadza, leader of the Remnant Pentecostal Church, for insulting persons of a certain race or religion after prophesizing that then-President Mugabe would die in October. The arrest came while Mugadza was making a court appearance in connection with a November 2016 charge of unlawfully and intentionally wearing or displaying the national flag over his shoulders without seeking permission from authorities. In October the Constitutional Court dismissed an application filed by Mugadza to stop his prosecution for making the prophecy, stating Mugadza insulted the Christian religion. There was no further action on the case by year’s end.

On October 21, the ZRP blocked a planned event organized by NGO Ibhetshu LikaZulu, an advocacy and protection group, in Matabeleland South. Police barricaded the road to a memorial service that included prayers to commemorate the victims of the 1980s Gukurahundi mass killings of mainly Ndebele civilians by government forces, which stopped civil society and opposition political leaders from attending.

There were reports from religious and civil society groups of government monitoring or harassment of church congregations and religiously affiliated NGOs and their members perceived to be critical of the government. Instances included surveillance by security officials and denial of police permission to hold public events. Christian aid organizations and local NGOs focused on memorializing victims of the 1980s Gukurahundi mass killings said security officials also monitored their activities with increased frequency, particularly in areas considered strongholds of the political opposition.

While religious activities and events continued to be exempt from POSA regulations, the government continued to categorize as political any public gathering, including religious gatherings, critical of the ruling party. The government reportedly became increasingly distrustful of all gatherings and activities by individuals or groups perceived as opponents of the government. In July the ZRP questioned Bishop Ancelimo Magaya, leader of the Zimbabwe Divine Destiny Church, over the launch of the “Christian Vote” campaign aimed at mobilizing Christians to participate in the 2018 general election. In June the Catholic Bishops Conference released a pastoral letter on Pentecost Sunday in advance of the 2018 elections. The letter appealed for tolerance, national unity, peace, and stability while calling on the government to uphold the constitution and protect citizens’ political rights.

Most official state and school gatherings and functions included nondenominational Christian prayers, as did political party gatherings. In courts and when government officials entered office, individuals often swore on the Bible.

In February a parent challenged the constitutionality of a national pledge to be recited daily by students that had been introduced in 2016 by the MPSE. Religious leaders complained the ministry did not properly consult with religious communities, demanding the government revoke the national pledge. Following the February court filing, the Constitutional Court reserved judgment on the case while directing the ministry to consult further with religious leaders. Religious leaders criticized the ministry when it failed to do so.

Some Christian leaders and parents of students reportedly criticized the MPSE’s decision to include the study of Islam in the country’s new educational curriculum that was introduced in January. MPSE Minister Lazarus Dokora defended the decision, noting that students had previously learned about Islam, as well as other religions, before the new curriculum’s implementation.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future