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Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

On October 16, a joint executive decree revoked the 2015 MJHR circular, thereby abolishing the ecumenical associations and mandating all unregistered religious groups to submit within 30 days individual requests for recognition or cease operations.  The government began closing churches in November after the 30-day period came to an end.  At year’s end, the government reported it had closed more than 900 houses of worship, including eight mosques.  By year’s end, 94 unregistered religious groups submitted their files for recognition.  The number of officially recognized religious groups remained at 81.  At year’s end, the government had not recognized any new religious groups.

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 address to parliament on October 15, he reaffirmed the government’s commitment to respect freedom of religion, but stressed the government would not tolerate churches that operate solely as for-profit businesses and prey on poor and vulnerable segments of the population.

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 legal members and a religious doctrine aligned with the country’s constitution.  In the past, government officials had stated some practices allowed by Islam, such as polygamy, contradicted the constitution.  The Islamic Community of Angola (COIA) as well the Islamic Foundation of Angola (FIA) requested official recognition following the October 16 joint executive decree.  According to COIA, there were 69 unregistered mosques in the country.

The Baha’i Faith and the Global Messianic Church remained the only two non-Christian organizations legally registered prior to the 2004 law.

On November 6, the government launched the nationwide Operation Rescue law enforcement campaign to combat criminality, including the operation of unlicensed religious groups.

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.

On December 1, there was a protest in Luanda against the closing of churches under Operation Rescue organized by the Order of Evangelical Pastors of Angola (OPEA).  OPEA stated the government’s closure of churches violated freedom of religion and involved the use of excessive force and coercive power.  OPEA also said police engaged in violence against pastors, some of whom police arbitrarily detained, and violated the sanctity of their churches.  The leader of COIA said Operation Rescue violated the exercise of freedom of religion because eight mosques were closed despite the fact that COIA submitted registration documentation by November 4, in accordance with the new joint executive decree.  Pastors in Lubango from the Church of the Christian Coalition in Angola and Christian Vision Church criticized the government’s failure to consult religious leaders before abolishing the ecumenical associations.

On July 24, the Huambo Provincial Court tried and convicted 32-year-old Justino Tchipango, deputy leader of the Light of the World religious group, and sentenced him to 18 years in prison for the killing of nine police officers during clashes in 2015 between law enforcement and followers of the religious group in Mount Sumi, Huambo Province.

The leader of the Light of the World religious group, Jose Kalupeteka, sentenced to 28 years in prison in 2016 by the Huambo Provincial Court for the killing of nine police officers, appealed to the Supreme Court, but there was no decision on the appeal at year’s end.  On December 18, authorities transferred Kalupeteka from prison in Benguela to his native province of Huambo at the request of his family, which along with civil society had requested the transfer since his sentencing.  Civil society groups maintained Kalupeteka’s trial and conviction were politically motivated and called on the government to open an independent investigation during the year.

On July 30, the Supreme Court invalidated a 2015 decree issued by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights recognizing the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the World as the only legitimate Tocoist church in the country.  The court ruled it is not the role of the MJHR to unify the different religious denominations in the country, but rather only to ensure religious groups obey the law.

On January 8, President Lourenco announced the government would allow Catholic radio station Ecclesia to extend its signal beyond Luanda Province to other provinces.  Radio Ecclesia submitted a request to operate nationwide in 2009, but the previous government never approved the request.  During the year, Radio Ecclesia began to operate in several additional provinces.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Observers stated that religious groups continued to hold political influence and their influence extended into other aspects of society.  Local politicians regularly sought the support of religious leaders in addressing social issues.  President Talon met with leaders of the Catholic Church on February 7, the Protestant Methodist Church of Benin (EPMB) on February 14, the Islamic Union of Benin (UIB) on February 22, and the Group of the Evangelical Church Association of Benin (CAEEB) on March 1.  During these meetings, the leaders discussed government reforms and ways to defuse social discord triggered by a labor dispute involving the health, justice, and education sectors.  Each religious group proposed solutions for defusing the social crisis.

Authorities released on bail four detained priests of the Baname Church charged with manslaughter.  The priests were charged and jailed following a 2017 incident in which five followers of the Baname Church died from asphyxiation and several were hospitalized after church leaders told followers to shut themselves in their prayer rooms and burn incense and charcoal.  Bail for the detainees ranged from 10 to 20 million CFA francs ($17,600 to $35,200) and the case remained pending at year’s end.

Government officials continued to attend inductions, funerals, and other religious ceremonies organized by various groups.  State-owned television often broadcast these events.  Police continued to provide security for any religious event upon request.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Members of the evangelical Protestant community again said several smaller religious communities forming congregations that observe prayer at unofficial worship locations continued to refuse to register their organizations because they preferred not to provide the government with access to internal personal information.  Sources stated that these unregistered groups still could neither own property nor have bank accounts in their name; however, the sources said the government did not interfere with these organizations for their refusal to comply with the law.

According to the MFA’s Office of Religion and Nongovernmental Organizations, there were approximately 440 registered religious groups, an increase from 434 in 2017.  Many religious groups continued to state that the complexity of the registration procedure, including registering the legal name of the organization, required them to seek legal assistance in order to comply.  This process generally took four to six months to complete.

Leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ and evangelical Protestant churches continued to work with the government on a legislative proposal exempting churches from the registration requirements for the next five years.

The Bolivian National Association of Evangelicals sent a letter to the foreign minister on September 27, raising what it said was governmental preferential treatment of indigenous groups and citing the fee structure difference to obtain operating licenses for spiritual and religious groups as an example.  The government did not respond to the letter during the year.

On December 24, after a meeting between evangelical Protestant leaders and President Evo Morales, Foreign Minister Diego Pary, and the previous president of congress, Jose Gonzalez, the government announced the congress would introduce a draft Religious Freedom law in February 2019.  In January the congress abrogated the revised penal code, which had included an article criminalizing recruitment into “religious organizations or cults.”  The action was reportedly in response to civil society protests of the revision, including from members of the evangelical Protestant community.

According to media reports and religious leaders, government leaders continued to criticize religious leaders who publicly commented on political issues.  Catholic representatives said the longstanding and public tensions between the Catholic community and the government continued.  According to media reports, in June the Bolivian Episcopal Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CEB) deputy general secretary, Father Jose Fuentes, stated that President Evo Morales’ politics excluded portions of the country’s population.  In response to these comments, President Morales accused the CEB of racism.  In November Archbishop of Sucre Jesus Juarez stated that the CEB backed the outcome of the 2016 referendum reaffirming term limits for the president and vice president.  On November 5, the CEB officially invited President Morales to the Assembly of Bishops.  The minister of the Presidency, Alfredo Rada, publicly released a letter rejecting the CEB’s invitation.  The letter, signed by Rada, stated that the Office of the President was surprised to receive the invitation because some bishops “attack” the current administration and “persist in using hard and false concepts” such as the accusation that the country’s democracy was at risk.

On December 2, the CEB commented on the November 2017 Plurinational Constitutional Court of Bolivia (TCP) ruling, which invalidated the referendum’s outcome by removing term limits for elected officials, thus allowing President Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term.  The CEB stated that the TCP decision “constitutes a serious damage to democracy, and ignores the popular will expressed in the referendum of February 21, 2016.”  Father Fuentes of the CEB further stated, “This precedent may undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the authorities and institutions called to preserve the democratic health of our country.  It could put us in a situation of violation of the constitutional order of unforeseeable consequences.”  President Morales responded to the CEB’s comments by stating that some bishops and other members of the Catholic Church were “inclined to support the powerful” and were “betraying Jesus” by supporting the opposition.

A representative from the Jewish community stated the Jewish community still had no contact with the president or any other kind of relationship with the Morales administration.

Evangelical Protestant leaders again said the government violated the constitution’s separation of religion and state by favoring an Andean spiritual philosophy, especially the philosophy of the ethnic Aymara community, over other religious beliefs, in public statements and ceremonies.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Optional religious education remained part of the curriculum in public schools; this curriculum continued to emphasize Christianity but also discussed other religious groups in the country.  Government regulation of private schools did not distinguish among Christian, Muslim, or secular schools.

In general religious groups reported little difficulty or delay in the registration process.

In July President Masisi said he would permit yearlong visas for missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ, who previously were permitted only short-term visits.  The Church president stated four missionaries were granted one-year stays in September.  The government reportedly remained concerned about unregulated churches (sometimes called “fire churches”) coming into the country to take advantage of local citizens by demanding tithes and donations for routine services or special prayers.  There were reports by some pastors from countries that normally allowed visa-free travel that the government required them to apply for visas to enter.  For example, the government reportedly put Shepherd Bushiri, the Malawian founder of the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG), on a visa-required list in April 2017.  That same year, on December 6, the Registrar of Societies notified the ECG it had canceled its registration effective the same day.  ECG subsequently appealed the decision and at year’s end awaited the determination of the Court of Appeal.  The church has 14 branches around the country.

Although it was common for government meetings to begin with a Christian prayer, members of non-Christian groups occasionally led prayers as well.

Burkina Faso

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The government allocated 75 million CFA francs ($132,000) each to the Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and traditional animistic communities.  Sources stated that this funding was meant to demonstrate equitable government support to all religious groups in the country.  The government also provided funding to registered Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim (commonly referred to as “Franco-Arabic”) schools through subsidies for teacher salaries, which were typically less than those of public school teachers.

In July the government allocated approximately one billion CFA francs ($1.76 million) to subsidize the costs of 8,100 Muslims for the Hajj.  The government continued to routinely approve applications from religious groups for registration, according to religious group leaders.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Human Rights Watch reported the March 14 death of Simon Bizimana following his arrest and alleged physical mistreatment during a month-long detention in prison in Cankuzo Province for refusing to register as a voter, which is not a crime under federal law, ahead of the country’s May constitutional referendum.  A video of a local official questioning Bizimana prior to his arrest, during which he stated he would not participate in elections due to reasons of religious conscience, circulated widely on social media.  Bizimana was a member of a small Christian fellowship group.  A hospital certificate stated the cause of death was malaria, but witness accounts alleged his condition had been worsened by beatings with iron rods inflicted by police.

The Ministry of the Interior sometimes denied requests for registration from religious groups but did not make information available on the applicants who were refused or the reasons for refusal.  In May the minister of interior held a meeting with the leaders of religious groups to remind them that any group that did not comply with the law’s provisions for registration could be subject to suspension.

In April approximately 2,500 followers of Eusebie Ngendakumana, aka Zebiya, returned to the country after seeking asylum first in the DRC and later in Rwanda.  The members of the group departed the country in 2013 and 2014 following violent clashes with government security services and prosecutions of some members.  Representatives of the group stated they had not sought accreditation as a religious denomination because they viewed themselves as members of the Catholic Church, leading to scrutiny from the government and the closure of the group’s shrine in Kayanza Province.  The group primarily took refuge in the DRC but traveled from the DRC to Rwanda in March after refusing to comply with the requirements of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for biometric registration, which they stated they considered contrary to their beliefs.  They similarly objected to registration requirements, vaccination requirements, and processed food rations in Rwanda, leading to the arrest of approximately 30 members and their subsequent decision to return to the country in April.  Once back in the country, the government provided the group transportation to their home communes.  There were subsequent reports that some members of the group faced scrutiny from government and ruling party officials.  There were no reports of arrests or harassment as of the end of the year; a representative of the group stated that members had faced no significant harassment since their return, while articulating concern that the group continued to have no access to the Kayanza shrine.  Ngendakumana reportedly remained in exile as of the end of the year.

President Pierre Nkurunziza routinely employed religious rhetoric in the context of political speeches and invoked divine guidance for political decisions.  The government continued a campaign launched in 2017 promoting the “moralization of [Burundian] society.”  The president conducted events in provinces around the country attended by invited groups including government officials, ruling party members, religious leaders, and other local notables.  During the events, which were not recorded or open to media and during which participants were not allowed to take notes, he gave lengthy addresses highlighting a mix of religious, historical, and cultural themes.  The president also continued efforts begun in 2017, and connected rhetorically to the “moralization” campaign and invoking religious appeals, to require unmarried cohabitating couples to formalize their relationships as marriages.

National Assembly President Pascal Nyabenda participated in a ceremony in September to welcome 60 Muslim pilgrims returning from Mecca.  First Lady Denise Nkurunziza, herself pastor of a church, organized a workshop with religious leaders to increase their involvement in fighting against mother-to-child HIV transmission.  In August she organized a Christian prayer crusade in Kayanza Province, which government officials, ruling party members, and religious leaders attended.

During the year, the Ministry of the Interior appointed 11 members of a new religious monitoring body, of whom eight were religious leaders, including the president and vice president of the committee.  The committee included one Muslim representative, six representatives from Protestant denominations, and one Catholic representative, who resigned and was not replaced during the year.  The ministry announced the establishment of the new religious monitoring body in 2017, stating its purpose was to “monitor, regulate, and settle” inter- and intradenominational disputes and to ensure that religious organizations operated according to law.  The committee was also charged with tracking what were termed subversive or inflammatory teachings.  The committee reported extensive efforts to promote dialogue among and within religious denominations during the year.

The government continued to grant benefits, such as tax waivers, to religious groups for the acquisition of materials to manage development projects.  According to the Burundi Revenue Authority, the government also granted tax waivers to religious denominations for the import of religious materials such as printed materials, wines for masses, and equipment to produce communion wafers.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The Catholic Bishop of Mamfe Diocese, Andrew Nkea, stated that on November 21, soldiers of the National Gendarmerie killed Reverend Cosmas Omboto Ondari, the parochial vicar of the St. Martin’s of Tours Parish, Kembong, Southwest Region, in front of the church building.  The bishop stated that, according to eyewitness reports, gendarmes fired at random from their passing vehicle, killing Ondari as he tried to escape the gunfire.  Nkea said that when he visited the parish the next day, he counted 21 bullet holes in the church door and saw the blood of the dead priest at the entrance.  The Minister of Communication at the time, Issa Tchiroma Barkary, said the killing was not done by the military, and Minister of Defense Joseph Beti Assomo accused Anglophone separatists of killing the priest and trying to discredit the defense forces.

According to the Catholic Archbishop of Bamenda, Cornelius Fontem Esua, on October 4, unidentified soldiers shot and killed 19-year-old Catholic seminarian Akiata Gerard Anjiangwe in front of St. Therese Church in Bamessing, Northwest Region.  In an October 5 press statement, Archbishop Esua accused the country’s military of killing the seminarian while he made preparations for worship services the next day.  According to Archbishop Esua, a military truck drove up to the church and soldiers immediately began shooting.  Worshippers on the premises ran into the rectory and blocked the door while Anjiangwe knelt in front of the church and began praying the rosary.  Esua said the soldiers shot the seminarian three times.

The family of Ghanaian pastor Isaac Attoh of Destiny Impact Ministry, Accra, stated government security forces shot and killed Attoh on June 14 in Batibo, Northwest Region, where the army and Anglophone secessionists repeatedly clashed during the year.  According to his family, Attoh had travelled from Ghana to Cameroon, where he headed one of the branches of Destiny Impact Ministry.  Attoh’s family accused the government of trying to cover up the killing by rapidly burying his body without their consent.

In September the trial of Prisca Abomo, a self-proclaimed prophet, and Marie Madjou began.  The two were accused of murder and detained in 2016 after a child died during a faith healing session they conducted in Douala, Littoral Region.  Sources stated the lengthy pretrial period was due to administrative delays and the frequent absences of the judges and accusers.  In December the courts declared Abomo and Madjou innocent.

Residents of the village of Kwa-Kwa, Southwest Region, said that following intense clashes with Anglophone separatists on January 18, security forces occupying Kwa-Kwa burned down the rectory of St. Paul’s Catholic Church.  The army blamed the act on “Anglophone terrorists.”

Parishioners of Saint Kizito’s Catholic Church, Bamenda, Northwest Region, stated soldiers entered the church on October 7 and compelled 26 Christians preparing for Sunday worship to return to their homes.  They also confronted the priest who came to celebrate Mass and ordered him off the church premises.  On the same day, soldiers turned back worshippers on their way to St. Paul’s Church in Nkwen neighborhood, Bamenda.  The soldiers said they were enforcing a ban ordered by the governor of the Northwest Region on all assemblies of more than four persons during a 48-hour period before and after the October 7 presidential election.

The courts intervened on several occasions in protracted leadership crises within Christian groups, such as the Cameroonian Evangelical Church (CEC) and the Cameroonian Presbyterian Church (CPC).  On June 6, the Littoral Regional Court of Appeal confirmed a 2017 court ruling that suspended the CEC’s national leadership council elected in April 2017.  On June 20, a group of Christians blocked the entrance to a CEC church in Douala and demanded the termination of the activities of the national leadership council.  In April 2017, CEC members had elected Reverend Jean Samuel Hendje Toya as president, but a faction of CEC members protested and filed a lawsuit in May 2017, saying the election had been rigged.  Demonstrations and interruptions of church service ensued, and in July 2017, the Court of First Instance in Wouri, Littoral Region, suspended the installation of those elected in April 2017.  Toya’s supporters criticized interference by the courts in the CEC’s internal disputes and appealed the decision, which the Littoral Region’s appellate court upheld in June 2018.  Toya’s faction appealed the decision at the Supreme Court.

Dissenting groups within the CPC failed to reach consensus in January when the CPC’s General Assembly reaffirmed a controversial decision the previous year to split the Ntem consistory (administrative unit) in Ebolowa, South Region, into three separate consistories, without consulting parishioners.  The two sides went to court, and the CPC’s General Assembly asked the court to seal the churches under the authority of the disputed Ntem consistory until a verdict was reached.  The courts subsequently shut down several CPC churches in March.  Worshipers who could no longer access the shuttered churches organized religious services in makeshift tents or in the open.  In 2017 the government had placed the disputed parishes under the temporary administration of the CPC General Assembly.

The government again took no action to adjudicate applications for authorization by a number of religious groups whose applications had been pending for years.  The government approved only one new religious group in the last 18 years and none since 2010.  The MINAT again stated that incomplete application submissions and lengthy background investigations contributed to delays.  Although by law groups must register, the government continued to allow hundreds of unauthorized small religious groups to operate freely under its policy of “administrative tolerance.”  Unauthorized churches often circumvented administrative delays by associating with registered religious groups, under whose umbrella they operated.  Such churches, however, technically remained unregistered.  Some religious leaders said the government deliberately withheld legal status in order to maintain significant leverage over unregistered groups, which it could threaten to ban at any time.  Forty-seven religious groups continued to be legally authorized at year’s end.

The government continued to grant broad legal authority to traditional leaders to manage their districts.  As part of this authority, traditional leaders continued to exercise control over local mosques with the right to appoint or dismiss imams.

The state-sponsored television station and radio stations regularly broadcast Christian and Islamic religious services and ceremonies on national holidays and during national events.  Government ministers and other officials often attended these ceremonies.

The government provided an annual subsidy to all private primary and secondary education institutions, including those operated by religious denominations.  The size of each subsidy was proportional to the size of the student body.

Central African Republic

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The government continued to exercise limited control or influence in most of the country, and police and the gendarmerie failed to stop or punish abuses committed by militias, including killings, physical abuse, religious and gender-based violence, according to human rights organizations.  The United National Multidimensional Stabilization Mission for Central Africa (MINUSCA) remained the only force capable of maintaining security in much of the country, but remained hampered in its ability to protect civilians due to limited resources and personnel.

According to religious leaders, government authorities continued to discriminate systematically against Muslims by denying them access to education and identity documents.  In August the Ministry of Humanitarian Action and National Reconciliation launched public service announcements via nationwide radio stations, reaffirming the government’s commitment to treat all citizens equally.  Observers and Muslim leaders, however, stated Muslims continued to experience ongoing discrimination by government agencies and unequal access to public services.  NGOs stated there was an increase in harassment and exclusion of Muslims from national decision-making processes.

In January the Bangui Criminal Court convicted former anti-Balaka Commander Rodrigue Ngaibona, known as General Andjilo, on charges of murder, criminal conspiracy, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, and illegal arms possession, and sentenced him to life in prison.  He had been in pretrial detention since his capture by MINUSCA troops in 2015.  According to media reports, Ngaibona could face additional charges from the Special Criminal Court (SCC), established to prosecute war crimes and serious human rights violations, on grounds of having orchestrated a massacre of Muslims in Bangui in 2013.

In November government officials transported Alfred “Rambo” Yekatom, an anti-Balaka commander and Member of Parliament accused of war crimes, including killings, deportation, and torture of Muslims, to The Hague and turned him over to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.

The government continued to observe Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as official but unpaid holidays.  President Faustin Touadera hosted an iftar with Muslim leaders at the Presidential Palace.  During the dinner, President Touadera asked for tolerance and acceptance among all religious faiths.

The SCC held its inaugural session in October.  It launched several formal investigations.  At year’s end the investigations continued and no cases had come to trial.

MINUSCA supported government-led local peace and reconciliation initiatives that aimed to improve relationships between Christians and Muslims.  The efforts included public outreach and sensitization workshops.  MINUSCA assisted the government in its efforts to promote reconciliation through the media.  Observers stated that in April the initiative helped counter inflammatory rhetoric and dispel rumors, and public meetings held under the auspices of the initiative helped to reassure vulnerable communities of their safety.

In June, following an educational workshop organized by the High Council of Communication, the national regulator, and MINUSCA, journalists from local media outlets worked to improve relationships between religious groups.  They pledged to discontinue contributing to messages that incited hate based on religious differences and to improve the quality of their reporting with sensitivity toward their religious listeners and readers.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The government maintained its ban on the leading Wahhabi group, Ansar-al Suna; however, enforcement was difficult and adherents continued to meet and worship in their own mosques.  They also continued to receive revenue through their leaders or from individuals.

In April the Episcopal Bishops Conference of Chad, representing Catholic bishops in the country, publicly criticized the constitutional revision process, calling for additional consultation and a referendum in place of the parliamentary adoption vote.  The bishops expressed their concern that the process had the potential to create “serious division” among citizens.  They further stated that the oath of office directly contradicts both the first article of the new constitution, which affirms the country as a secular state, and Article 14, which assures “equality before the law without distinction as to origin, race, gender, religion, public opinion, or social position.”

During the May 10 investiture ceremony for the new cabinet, ministers were required to take an oath of office for the first time since the country gained independence in 1960.  The oath of office used at the investiture ceremony included the phrase “in the name of Allah the Almighty.”  During the ceremony, two new ministers who were Christian refused to swear the oath of office.  Madeleine Alingue, the incoming Minister of Postal Services, refused to swear in the name of “Allah” and substituted the word “God.”  After initially balking at this formulation, President of the Supreme Court Samir Adam Annour accepted this oath, by some reports after intervention by President Deby.  Rosine Amane Djibergui, a Protestant Christian and the incoming minister of civil aviation, refused to take the oath at all, saying her Christian faith prohibited her from making oaths or swearing on the Bible.  President Deby fired her on the spot and announced her replacement.

Civil society and religious groups continued to express concern about the new oath of office, some on grounds it was contrary to the secular nature of the state and others because they said it excluded Christians.  During the July 16 meeting organized by the EEMET, pastors unanimously opposed the oath of office along confessional lines on the principle that the country is a secular state, specifying that the oath should not include any religious connotation.  They stated that the oath of office directly contradicted the first article of the new constitution, which affirms the country as a secular state, and Article 14, which assures “equality before the law without distinction as to origin, race, gender, religion, public opinion, or social position.”

Due to economic and financial constraints, the government discontinued its long-running public education campaign in the national media to inform individuals of the burqa ban.

The government continued to deploy security forces around both Islamic and Christian places of worship, in particular on Fridays around mosques and Sundays around churches, as well as other occasions for religious events.

Côte d’Ivoire

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Local authorities in Abidjan arrested Imam Aguib Toure, a Muslim preacher, on July 4 for two videos he had published on a popular social media site.  In the first one, he discouraged Muslim parents from enrolling their children in Christian schools.  In the second video, he criticized the increase in the cost of the Hajj since President Alassane Ouattara took office in 2010, as well as evictions of destitute persons in Abidjan.  He was charged on July 9 with xenophobia, discrimination, inciting hatred, and issuing an apology for terrorism.  The Higher Council of Imams of Cote d’Ivoire (COSIM), the principal organization of imams in the country, requested a diligent investigation and fair trial on July 18.  On August 6, the court granted the imam provisional release.

Authorities in Abidjan arrested evangelical preacher Israel N’Goran on August 1 while he was live on a social media site delivering what the authorities stated were xenophobic and tribalistic messages targeting the Dioula ethnic group and foreigners including Lebanese and Moroccans.  N’Goran said he considered them to be dangerous to society, and compared the Dioula to gangrene.  He was released from detention after receiving amnesty from the president on August 6.

Minister of Defense Hamed Bakayoko, who is Muslim, attended a Catholic church service in an impoverished neighborhood of Abidjan where he was seeking an electoral seat during the campaign for municipal elections on September 30.  He spoke about interreligious dialogue, his plan for the district, and his actions.  A significant number of Catholics stated they did not believe the church was the proper location for electoral discourse.  Archbishop of Abidjan Cardinal Jean Pierre Kutwa later apologized to the congregants.

The government continued to supervise and organize Hajj pilgrimages for Muslims and fund pilgrimages to Israel, Portugal, Spain, and France for Christians, as well as fund local pilgrimages for members of independent African Christian churches.  The government organized and transported 6,800 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj compared to 4,200 the previous year and funded pilgrimages for 942 Christians to Europe and Israel.  The government also assisted 2,155 Christians and adherents of traditional religions in their pilgrimages in the country and elsewhere in Africa.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Catholic Church leaders reported acts of violence and intimidation against Church officials in response to Church support for implementation of the December 2016 agreement and for supporting peaceful protest marches in January and February.  Because religious and political issues overlap, however, it was difficult to categorize some incidents as being solely based on religious identity.  On January 21, security forces forcibly disrupted protests led by the CLC and some Protestant church leaders in support of elections and implementation of the December 2016 agreement.  UN observers and others stated they witnessed members of the Republican Guard and other security force members fire directly at protesters, killing at least six persons and injuring as many as 50.  In some cases, government security forces fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition into church compounds.  Among those killed was Therese Kapangala, a 24-year-old woman preparing to take vows as a nun.  She was shot and killed outside her church in Kinshasa.  The United Nations reported that 121 persons were arbitrarily arrested across the country for participation in the demonstrations.  During another round of CLC-organized protests on February 25, state security forces killed two individuals, including Rossy Mukendi Tshimanga, who was shot by a rubber bullet inside a church compound.  Another person died in the town of Mbandaka from wounds sustained during a confrontation with an off-duty police officer.  The United Nations reported that 194 persons were arbitrarily arrested.

CLC leaders were reportedly subjected to threats and harassment due to their support for implementation of the December 2016 agreement, credible elections, and peaceful protests.  Catholic leaders and institutions were also threatened after Church leaders expressed concern over violence they attributed to government security forces and the Kamuina Nsapu antigovernment militia in Kasai.  Church leaders in Kasai Province said local armed groups associated with Kamuina Nsapu forced them to accept armed group control of their communities.  In 2017, members of Kamuina Nsapu vandalized and burned numerous Catholic churches, schools, and buildings.

The MOJ again did not issue any final registration permits for religious groups and had not done so since 2014, reportedly due to an internal investigation into fraudulent registration practices.  The government, however, continued its practice that groups presumed to have been approved were permitted to organize.  Unregistered domestic religious groups reported they continued to operate unhindered.  The MOJ previously estimated that more than 2,000 registration applications for both religious and nonreligious NGOs remained pending and that more than 3,500 associations with no legal authorization continued to operate.  Foreign-based religious groups reported they operated without restriction after applying for legal status.  Under existing law, which was under review, nonprofit organizations could operate as legal entities by default if a government ministry gave a favorable opinion of their application and the government did not object to their application for status.  According to 2015 registration statistics, the latest year for which the MOJ had statistics, there were 14,568 legally registered nonprofit organizations, 11,119 legal religious nonprofit organizations, and 1,073 foreign nonprofit organizations.  Religious nonprofits that were legally operating and registered included 404 Catholic, 93 Protestant, 54 Muslim, and 1,322 evangelical nonprofits, the latter including those belonging to the Kimbangu Church.

The government continued to rely on religious organizations to provide public services such as education and health care throughout the country.  According to the Ministry of Education, approximately 72 percent of primary school students and 65 percent of secondary school students attended government-funded schools administered by religious organizations.  The government paid teacher salaries at some schools run by religious groups depending on the needs of the schools and whether they were registered as schools eligible to receive government funding.

Muslim community leaders again said the government did not afford them some of the same privileges as larger religious groups.  The government continued to deny Muslims the opportunity to provide chaplains for Muslims in the military, police force, and hospitals, despite a complaint filed in 2015 with the president and his cabinet.

In July the MOJ responded with an acknowledgement of receipt to a letter from the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal representative asking that the state protect its members against the Kimbilikit cult’s insistence that all community members, regardless of religion, participate in their rituals.

Equatorial Guinea

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

While the government continued routinely to grant permission for religious groups to hold activities outside of places of worship, except in private homes, it usually denied permits to hold activities outside of the prescribed hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., according to religious leaders.  All religious groups, including a small number of Baha’i and Jewish groups, were allowed to hold services as long as they finished before 9 p.m. and did not disturb the peace.  Evangelical Christian groups continued to hold activities outside the prescribed period with no repercussions.

Evangelical Christians reported residency permits were prohibitively expensive at 400,000 CFA francs ($660) for a two-year period, leading some missionaries to risk the consequences of not obtaining or renewing such permits.  The local police reportedly enforced the requirement with threatened deportation and requested a small bribe as an alternative.  There were no deportations reported.  The residency permit fee for foreign missionaries was the same as for all other foreigners; however, if the missionary coordinated with the MJRAPI, the residency permit could be obtained for free, provided missionary status could be proven and the requisite security checks were passed.  The residency permits were not required for Catholic missionaries.

Catholic masses remained a normal part of all major ceremonial functions, such as National Day on October 12 and the President’s Birthday on June 5.  Catholic leaders were the only religious leaders to regularly meet publicly with the highest-level government officials.  Catholic and Reformed Church leaders were often seated in preferred locations at official functions.

Some non-Catholics who worked for the government continued to report that their supervisors strongly encouraged participation in religious activities related to their government positions, including attending Catholic masses.  Government officials stated it was expected that they attend the President’s Birthday Mass at the Catholic Church.

The government again allowed the Muslim community to celebrate Eid al-Adha in Malabo Stadium.  Hundreds of Muslims participated.

In accordance with the parliament’s approval of a law in September 2017 making the National Day of Prayer an annual event to be celebrated on the first Sunday in April, religious groups again marked the event.  In contrast with the previous year, there was no official government representation.

In early December an inspector from the Ministry of Education observed Jehovah’s Witnesses children at a public school in the remote district of Nsok Nsomo, Ebibeyin Province, who refused to sing the national anthem, in accordance with their religious beliefs.  The Department of Religious Affairs under the Ministry of Justice then requested a meeting with representatives of every principal religious group.  The invitation letter asked the representatives to bring their holy writings and a summary of their beliefs.  After the religious groups submitted their documentation to the director general of religious affairs at the December 17 meeting, the attorney general informed the religious groups that the government planned to reassess the entire religious group authorization process.  He stated the Department of Religious Affairs was considering drafting new regulations so it could properly monitor and assess religious groups’ needs in order to be a better resource.  The attorney general did not refer to the incident with the Jehovah’s Witnesses children.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The UK-based religious freedom advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses news service reported two elderly Jehovah’s Witnesses died early in the year in Mai Serwa Prison outside Asmara.  Both had been in detention since 2008 without charge.  The organizations stated that 76-year-old Habtemichael Tesfamariam died on January 3, and Habtemichael Mekonen, age 77, died on March 6.

In March Al Diaa Islamic School President Hajji Musa Mohammed Nur died of unknown causes while in police custody.  He was reportedly in his late 80s or early 90s when he died.  He had been in custody since October 2017.  NGO and international media reports indicated police arrested hundreds of protesters (including minors) at his funeral.  It was not clear how many protesters remained in detention at year’s end, although sources indicated authorities released many of them.

CSW reported in October that authorities continued to imprison without charge or trial 345 church leaders, including three men who had been imprisoned without charge for 22 years, while estimates of detained laity ranged from 800 to more than 1,000.  Authorities reportedly continued to detain 53 Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing to participate in military service and renounce their faith.  An unknown number of Muslim detainees remained in detention following protests in Asmara in October 2017 and in March.

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

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

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

In July and August international media and NGOs reported the release from detention of more than 30 Christians from unregistered groups.  Reports stated the government released 35 Christians after they renounced their religion four years earlier.  Another individual reported that one Jehovah’s Witness was transferred from prison to house detention but was still surveilled by security authorities.

Christian advocacy organizations reported the detention of 19 members of the Full Gospel Church in Godaif, Asmara, in July, and of 21 Christians at a gathering in Asmara in August.  The status of the members was unknown at year’s end.

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

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

The government permitted the Al Diaa Islamic secondary school, which the government had closed in 2017, to reopen in September.  Al Mahad, another school originally founded as an Islamic-based primary and secondary school, remained closed since 2017.  Al Mahad reportedly faced increasing government pressure, including to deemphasize the religious aspects of its curriculum; in recent years, the government permitted the school to teach only elementary school-age children.

Jehovah’s Witnesses were largely unable to obtain official identification documents, which left many of them unable to study in government institutions and barred them from most forms of employment, government benefits, and travel.  The government also required all customers to present a national identification card to use computers at private internet cafes, where most individuals accessed the internet.  This identification requirement rendered Jehovah’s Witnesses generally unable to use the internet.

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

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

When the government opened the land border with Ethiopia in September, the government did not require exit visas or other travel documents for Eritreans crossing into Ethiopia.  How long this procedure would remain in effect was unclear.  The government continued to require all citizens to obtain an exit visa prior to airport departure.  The application requests the applicant’s religious affiliation, but the law does not require that information.  Religious observers continued to report the government denied many exit visa applications for individuals seeking to travel to international religious conferences.

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

Official attitudes toward members of unregistered religious groups worshipping in homes or rented facilities differed.  Some local authorities reportedly tolerated the presence and activities of unregistered groups, while others attempted to prevent them from meeting.  Local authorities sometimes denied government coupons (which allowed shoppers to make purchases at discounted prices at certain stores) to Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of Pentecostal groups.

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

The government permitted church news services to videotape and publish interviews with foreign diplomats during the public celebration of the Eritrean Orthodox holiday Meskel.

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

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

Government control of all mass media continued to restrict the ability of unregistered religious group members to bring attention to government repression against them, according to observers.  Restrictions on public assembly and freedom of speech severely limited the ability of unregistered religious groups to assemble and conduct worship, according to group members.

The sole political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, led by President Isaias Afwerki, de facto appointed both the mufti of the Sunni Islamic community and the patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, as well as some lower-level officials for both communities.  Lay administrators appointed by the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice managed some Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church operations, including disposition of donations and seminarian participation in national service.

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

The government granted entry to the prominent Ethiopian Pentecostal Christian television evangelist Suraphel Demissie in June.  Onlookers filmed him preaching on the streets of Asmara.

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

Three ministers, the Asmara mayor, and at least one senior military leader were Muslims.  Foreign diplomats, however, reported that individuals in positions of power, both in government and outside, often expressed reluctance to share power with Muslim compatriots and distrusted foreign Muslims.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The 2017 directive declaring Christianity the only religion in the public school curriculum and banning the teaching of other religions remained in effect.  According to religious leaders and civil society organizations, school administrations permitted only Christian religious youth clubs to operate in public schools.  Christian clubs sometimes conducted daily prayer services in public schools and were permitted to raise funds on campus.  Christian clubs’ activities were normally conducted during lunch breaks, weekends, and school holidays.

In contrast with prior years, there were no reports of security officials monitoring prayer sessions in mosques.  Muslims reported incidents of not receiving prompt services from government officials, such as obtaining identity documents or processing immigration and customs paperwork at border posts.

Religious leaders said the government continued to protect the right of Muslim workers to close businesses in order to attend Friday afternoon prayer sessions at mosques despite government-mandated business operating hours.  Businesses owned by members of the Baha’i community were allowed to close shops in observance of Baha’i religious holidays.  Public schools, however, did not allow early departure for Muslim students to attend Friday prayers or excuse Baha’i or Muslim students from attendance on their respective religious holidays.

Non-Christian groups reported the government continued to provide some preferential benefits to Christians, such as free transportation to religious activities and free time on state television and radio.  Government-owned television and radio stations broadcast daily morning and evening Christian programming.  The government continued to provide each of the three Christian umbrella religious bodies and their affiliates with free airtime to broadcast daily religious services on the state-run radio station.  Non-Christian religious groups stated they had stopped requesting free radio and television airtime following years of government denial of such access.

The monarchy, and by extension the government, aligned itself with Christian faith-based groups and supported many Christian activities.  Official government programs often opened with a Christian prayer, and several government ministers held Christian prayer vigils (which civil servants were expected to attend).


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The MOI reported it generally processed registration requests from religious groups within one month and estimated it rejected more than 100 such applications during the year, compared with more than 40 in the 2016-17 period.  Ministry officials described the religious groups it rejected as often “one-man operations,” practicing a mixture of Christianity and traditional animist beliefs.  Their difficulty with registration usually concerned gathering the appropriate documents, according to ministry officials.  In addition, there was anecdotal evidence of an increase in “fake pastors” seeking to defraud their followers.  The MOI emphasized the necessity for all groups to register and no longer allowed unregistered groups to operate freely.  Unregistered groups charged with fraud or other illegal activity were most likely to be sanctioned.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Muslim leaders continued to report that some publicly funded Christian mission schools required female Muslim students to remove their hijabs and Muslim students to participate in Christian worship services, despite a Ministry of Education policy prohibiting these practices.  For example, Muslim leaders reported three examples of schools that required Muslim students to participate in church services, saying they were compulsory school gatherings.  Similarly, there were continued reports that some publicly funded Muslim mission schools required female Christian students to wear the hijab.

Government officials leading meetings, receptions, and state funerals offered Christian and Muslim prayers and, occasionally, traditional invocations.  President Nana Akufo-Addo, a Christian, and Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, a Muslim, continued to emphasize the importance of peaceful religious coexistence in public remarks.  For example, in June President Akufo-Addo spoke at an Eid al-Fitr celebration and declared, “Our country stands unique in West Africa, both in terms of inter- and intra-religious cooperation… We ought to guard this tradition of cooperation and tolerance jealously.”  He also cautioned his fellow citizens to be wary of “troublemakers and hate preachers” who might sow disunity.

In March the president unveiled design plans for an interdenominational Christian cathedral, to be built in Accra.  Several groups, including Christian ones, spoke against the proposal, citing reasons such as wasting public lands, the relocation of judges residing on the plot, and undue government involvement in the affairs of religious groups.  The Coalition of Muslim Organizations issued a statement saying it did not object to the construction of a cathedral but government should not play a role.  National Chief Imam spokesperson Sheikh Shaibu Aremeyaw said an interfaith edifice would have been more appropriate.  The president defended the plan as “a priority among priorities,” saying the country needed “a symbol that the Ghanaian nation can rally behind.”  The president’s liaison for the cathedral denied the government was playing favorites, citing the government’s donation of land for the construction of the national mosque, financed by international donors.  An opposition political party member filed a lawsuit in August to block construction of the cathedral on constitutional grounds.

During the year, the president emphasized the importance he placed on government representatives meeting with religious leaders on matters of mutual interest.  In August he convened a closed-door session with religious leaders to explore ways (such as establishing a regulatory body) to ensure all religious institutions pay statutory taxes required of them on their commercial activities.  The Ghana Revenue Authority planned to tax income churches receive from business activities, but not from offerings and donations.  The former head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference backed the plan, cautioning, however, against a “blanket” tax on churches.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The SRA continued to issue mandatory weekly themes for inclusion in Friday sermons at mosques and Sunday sermons in churches.  The stated purpose of the weekly guidance was to harmonize religious views in order to prevent radical or political messages in sermons.  Although the SRA did not monitor sermons at every mosque and church, its inspectors were present in every region and responsible for ensuring that mosque and church sermons were consistent with SRA directives.  Clerics whom the SRA judged to be noncompliant were subject to disciplinary action.  Deviations from approved guidance were often reported in various sermons at mosques and other Islamic events, but the SRA said it had difficulty imposing disciplinary sanctions.  To address the issue, in January the SRA convened the leading imams in Conakry and Islamic organizations to call for increased sensitivity regarding the messages coming from religious institutions.

In partnership with the UN Population Fund, the government launched a project to prevent radicalization and extreme violence in the country’s at-risk areas, with a focus on Quranic schools and Franco-Arabic schools.  The project began in September and included training for teachers and religious workers.  The training focused on sensitizing populations to the signs and dangers of radicalization and violent extremism, and to religious tolerance and community development.

Saudi Arabian’s quota of Hajj pilgrims from the country remained at 9,000 for the year.  The SRA organized the logistics and facilitated the travel of 7,500 pilgrims and fixed the year’s individual pilgrimage fare at 40.9 million Guinean francs ($4,500).

The government continued to subsidize the travel of Christians to pilgrimages in the Holy Land, Greece, and Italy.

According to the SRA, several unregistered religious groups operated freely.  The small Jehovah’s Witnesses community reportedly proselytized from house to house without interference, although neither it nor the Baha’i community requested official recognition.  Some groups stated they preferred not to have a formal relationship with the SRA.

Islamic schools were prevalent throughout the country and remained the traditional forum for religious education.  Some Islamic schools were wholly private, while others received local government support.  Islamic schools, particularly common in the Fouta Djallon region, taught the compulsory government curriculum along with additional Quranic studies.  Private Christian schools, which accepted students of all religious groups, existed in Conakry and most other large cities.  They taught the compulsory curriculum but did not receive government support, and they held Christian prayers before school.

In May the Higher Authority of Communication, the regulatory body for the communications sector, banned three private radio stations from operating.  The media regulators stated they considered these stations to have a “denominational” character.

In August the government called for a temporary moratorium on public protests against an increase in fuel prices in what it said was an attempt to ensure that Muslim and Christian pilgrims would be able to complete administrative tasks in the capital ahead of their overseas trips.  The government stated roadblocks erected by protesters during repeated demonstrations impeded movement around the city and restricted access to the airport and government services.  The Governor of Conakry called for all protests to cease while pilgrims prepared to travel.

The government allocated free broadcast time on state-owned national television for Islamic and Christian programming, including Islamic religious instruction, Friday prayers from the central mosque, and church services.  The government permitted religious broadcasting on privately owned commercial radio and encouraged equal time for Christian and Muslim groups.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

In October the governor of Gabu Region expressed concern about “increased signs of stricter Islamic practices” in that region, influenced by immigrants from the Republic of Guinea.  The governor recommended the intervention of the central government to increase vigilance over activities associated with Islam.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Human rights groups and prominent Muslim leaders and religious organizations stated the government’s antiterrorism activities disproportionately impacted Muslims, especially ethnic Somalis and particularly in areas along the Somalia border.  The government’s actions reportedly included extrajudicial killing, torture and forced interrogation, arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, and denial of freedom of assembly and worship.

Prosecution was pending at year’s end of Christian televangelist Paul Makenzi of the Good News International Ministries and his wife Joyce Mwikamba, whom, in October 2017 in the coastal city of Malindi in Kilifi County, authorities charged with radicalizing children by teaching them to reject medical care, enticing them to drop out of school, and teaching them formal education is evil.  According to multiple press reports, police raided Makenzi’s church and rescued children who had abandoned their homes and schools to follow Makenzi’s ministry.

The Registrar of Societies continued not to register any new religious organizations pending completion of revised Religious Societies Rules, which had not been finalized at year’s end.  According to the Alliance of Registered Churches & Ministries Founders, more than 4,400 religious group applications were pending as of the start of the year.  In 2016 the government withdrew proposed Religious Societies Rules in response to religious leaders’ objections after a meeting between President Uhuru Kenyatta and religious leaders.  Religious leaders reported the attorney general proposed the rules to make leaders of religious organizations more accountable for financial dealings and radical or violent teachings.  The government agreed to consult religious leaders and the public and allow them to provide input on a new draft.

In January the High Court in Nairobi overturned the registration suspension of the AIK imposed after court hearings in 2017.  The attorney general suspended AIK’s registration due to questions surrounding the issue of the group’s constitutional rights.  Opponents of AIK’s registration argued AIK’s beliefs were not consistent with the constitution, stating the constitution “recognizes Kenya as a country that believes in God.”

In July the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) reinstated three priests who had been dismissed in 2015 on suspicion of homosexual acts.  Shortly after their dismissal, an Employment and Labor Relations judge ordered the Church to reinstate the priests, citing a lack of any evidentiary findings against them.  The ACK reinstated the priests after a court ordered the Church provide back pay and held the presiding bishop in contempt for having failed to adhere to the 2015 ruling.  Protesters, however, prevented the priests from returning to work at their parishes.

An appeal by the Methodist Church was still pending at year’s end regarding a 2016 ruling by the Court of Appeal that Muslim female students be allowed to wear a hijab as part of their school uniforms.  The ruling overturned a 2015 High Court verdict that declared hijabs were discriminatory because they created disparity among students.  In filings to the Supreme Court in September, the attorney general and Teachers Service Commission continued to support the right to wear the hijab in schools.  Religious leaders reported public schools complied with the Court of Appeals’ ruling, while some private schools – particularly religious ones – continued to insist students remove the hijab.  Schools applied the ruling to members of the Akorino religious group, which combines Christian and African styles of worship and requires adherents to cover their heads with turbans for men (referred to as headgear) and veils for women.

Muslim leaders continued to state that police often linked the whole Muslim community to al-Shabaab.  The Independent Policing Oversight Authority, a civilian government body that investigates police misconduct, reported numerous complaints from predominantly Muslim communities, particularly in the Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi, regarding intimidation, arbitrary arrest, and extortion by police.  Some complainants stated police accused them of being members of al-Shabaab.

Religious leaders reported the government sought to circumvent a legal prohibition on taxing religious organizations by applying certain regulations to both religious and secular institutions, such as requiring licensing fees for marriage officiants and venues for large social meetings.  Religious leaders stated the fee regulations were unevenly enforced, although not in a discriminatory manner.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Churches owned and operated 83 percent of all primary and 66 percent of secondary schools.  The Roman Catholic Church, Lesotho Evangelical Church, Anglican Church, and, to a lesser extent, Methodist Church were the primary operators of religious schools, which were publicly funded.  In practice, in any school offering religious education – including all religious schools and some secular schools – the subject was mandatory.  Despite the constitution granting the ability for students to opt out, there were no reports of students electing to do so.

The government continued to permit families to send their children to schools run by a religious group other than their own, and some families chose this option.  Others went to public schools or secular private schools.

The government declared June 1 a National Day of Prayer on Reforms and Reconciliation; in a ceremony at Setsoto Stadium in Maseru, King Letsie III asked citizens to “hold the kind of peace they are renowned of” and advised them to “forget and forgive each other.”  The CCL chairman, Catholic Archbishop Tlali Lerotholi, in his address called on God to make the country “a peace driven and focused nation.”  The government continued to invite the CCL regularly to open government ceremonies and meetings.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

A number of religious organizations, Christian and Muslim, cited the government’s perceived indifference to the interests of the Muslim community as having the potential to fuel long-term grievance and instability.

A number of Muslim organizations continued to express concern over the government’s reluctance to recognize or observe major Islamic religious holidays, while continuing to recognize Christmas as a public holiday and the second Friday in April as Fast and Prayer Day, the latter sometimes coinciding with Good Friday.  Muslim organizations credited the administration of President George Weah, which took office in January, with granting one day of leave to government employees celebrating Eid al-Fitr in June but continued to advocate making Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha national holidays.  Muslim organizations have requested to make Eid al-Fitr a national holiday since 1995.  The Baha’i community also submitted a petition before the 1999-2003 civil war to recognize its religious holidays, and their organization’s leadership reaffirmed interest in the matter but did not resubmit the petition.

The government, through city ordinances and presidential proclamations, required businesses and markets, including those owned or operated by Muslims, to close on Sundays and Christmas for municipal street cleaning.  Some Muslim business owners said they viewed the regular street cleaning as an excuse for the government to close all businesses in honor of the Christian Sabbath.

Members of the Muslim and Baha’i communities working in government or public positions said government agencies continued to be reluctant to grant time off to observe religious holidays.

The inauguration of President Weah and the July 26 Independence Day celebration included opening and closing prayers from Christian clergy; representatives from the Muslim community were invited to attend as guests but not to participate in the official ceremony.

According to Muslim religious leaders, the government employed a disproportionate number of Christian chaplains in comparison to Muslim chaplains to serve in government institutions when compared to the religious demographics of the country.  The government reportedly employed only two Muslim chaplains – one in the armed forces and one in the Supreme Court.  The legislature and many other government institutions exclusively employed Christian chaplains, who frequently read Christian prayers before starting official business.

In May the inspector general of the Liberia National Police met with the country’s chief imam and Muslim communities and assured the Muslim community of his administration’s commitment to their safety during Ramadan.

In March President Weah appointed two religious advisors, both Christians, as part of the new administration.  Representatives of Muslim organizations said they viewed them as gatekeepers rather than intermediaries, controlling access to the president rather than facilitating outreach.  Representatives of Muslim religious organizations said they hoped to see a Muslim religious advisor or a more direct link between the Office of the President and the Muslim community.

The government continued to subsidize private schools, most of which were affiliated with Christian and Muslim organizations.  The government provided subsidies proportionally, based on the number of students, but Muslim leaders said the subsidies disproportionately favored Christian schools.

Before leaving office in January, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed an executive order on domestic violence banning the practice of female genital mutilation.  The order would remain in force for one year unless extended.  Some observers saw the order as a repudiation of traditional secret societies, which combine religious and cultural practices, and engaged in the practice as part of their indoctrination ceremonies.  Others complained the order was not enforced, leading to an increase in reported cases.  In December the National Traditional Council promised to halt Poro and Sande society activities during the academic year, so as not to prevent young inductees from attending school.  The council also undertook an inventory of all existing chapters of the secret societies, also called “bushes” or “groves,” and the head of the council requested local chiefs to refrain from opening new chapters.

In October a news report noted that the head of a traditional council of chiefs in Nimba County called upon the government to intervene in cases of persons injured through practices described as witchcraft, and it accused police and prosecutors of failing to intervene.  The report, and others, reported an increase in cases of trial by ordeal, also known as “sassywood,” in which those accused of witchcraft undergo painful or dangerous experiences in an attempt to prove their innocence.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

As of July media reported an increase in requests for nationality certificates following promulgation in 2017 of a new law enabling a woman to transmit her nationality regardless of her marital status.  The legal specialist from the NGO Focus Development reported the court in Antananarivo alone had delivered more than 1,500 certificates since this legal reform.  She did not indicate the number of Muslims among those beneficiaries.  The new code of nationality did not address the problem of children born of two stateless parents; these individuals remained unable to obtain citizenship, even after several generations of residence in the country.  Under the nationality code, children with unknown parentage were to be evaluated based on appearance, ethnicity, and other factors.  Muslim leaders continued to state the nationality code affected the Muslim community disproportionately, as many members were descendants of immigrants and were unable to acquire the country’s nationality, despite generations of residence in the country.  Children of ethnic Indian, Pakistani, and Comorian descent often had difficulty obtaining citizenship, leaving a disproportionate number of Muslims stateless.  A 2014 study by Focus Development and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that approximately 6 percent of individuals in the communities surveyed were stateless and of this number, more than 85 percent were born in the country.

The Ministry of the Interior registered 49 new religious groups during the year, an increase from 17 registrations in the previous year, bringing the total to a reported 345 officially registered groups.  Religious groups stated the government did not always enforce registration requirements and did not deny requests for registration.  In addition, the government acknowledged that some registered groups may have become inactive or have dissolved without informing the government.

Religious leaders continued to state that inadequate government enforcement of labor laws resulted in some employers requiring their employees to work during religious services.  Faith-based social centers receiving vulnerable workers and labor unions continued to report that employers failed to respect the labor code provisions requiring a 24-hour break weekly, which affected factory workers’ ability to attend worship services.

The leadership of the Muslim Malagasy Association, which states it represents all Muslims in the country, reported some Muslims continued to report difficulty obtaining official documents such as national identity cards and passports because of their Arabic-sounding names.

State-run Malagasy National Television continued to provide free broadcasting to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and to Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Presbyterians on weekends, along with the Muslim community once a week.  During Ramadan, the Muslim community was able to purchase additional airtime.  The leader of a well-known local evangelical Christian church reported his church rarely received access to the state-run television and radio, even if it agreed to pay for the broadcast time.

Because religion and politics are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.  The media stated that politicians sought to use religion and religious events to increase their visibility ahead of the presidential elections scheduled to occur by the end of the year.  Several prospective candidates appeared in larger religious events such as the 50th anniversary of the FJKM Church, the eighth annual Catholic youth assembly, and other smaller religious events and gatherings.  Several media outlets criticized what they called an obvious intent to use religious occasions as a tool to target and attract potential voters through their religious affiliation.

In August the central committee of the church council FFKM (composed of the four biggest Christian churches of the country) released a communique urging citizens of voting age to make the best choice during the upcoming presidential elections.  The communique described the ideal candidate as a person who believes in God as defined by Christianity.  Many observers viewed the communique as referring to traditional or mainstream Christianity and as aiming to denigrate and exclude a specific candidate who was the founder and leader of a local evangelical Christian church with what observers described as nontraditional views.  In October, however, Catholic bishops announced during the official closing of a youth general gathering in Mahajanga that the Catholic Church (part of the FFKM) deliberately avoided endorsing any presidential candidate.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Despite guidance from the Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS), the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) continued to report that some DRTSS photographers required Muslim women to remove their hijabs to take their driving license picture.

MAM reported that some teachers asked female students to remove their headscarf in order to attend class.  Muslim leaders also continued to express concern about staggered school shifts that complicated the organization of after-school religious education.

Muslim organizations also 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.

Representatives of the Rastafarian community continued to report that public school principals prohibited children with dreadlocks from attending certain public schools.  Although in January 2017 the solicitor general reaffirmed in writing Rastafarian children’s constitutional rights to education, school policy usually requires children to shave their heads to attend.  By year’s end, the Ministry of Education had taken no further measures to ensure access.  Most Rastafarian parents relented and shaved their children’s heads, but the children of several families continued to be denied access to public school by principals.  A child who was selected through a highly competitive process to attend Malindi Secondary School in Zomba was denied enrollment in September 2017 because of his hair.  He was allowed to attend school with dreadlocks after a December 2017 Zomba High Court ordered that he be enrolled pending the conclusion of litigation initiated by the Malawi Women Lawyer Association on his behalf.  The Malawi Human Rights Commission officially joined the case as a plaintiff filing an amicus brief.  As of the end of the year, the case remained pending.  Several families whose children were also denied education or were forced to shave their heads to enroll were in the process of joining the suit.

Rastafarians continued to object to the laws making use and possession of cannabis a criminal offense in country, noting that it is a part of their religious doctrine.

Religious organizations and leaders regularly expressed their opinions on political issues, and their statements received coverage in the media.  In April and June the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (Catholics) and the Evangelical Association of Malawi released pastoral letters denouncing poor governance, corruption, and political violence.

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.

On October 28, at a government-convened national prayer for good rains, President Peter Mutharika hailed religious organizations’ role in service delivery but warned them not to get involved in politics and “stick to their mandate.”


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

On January 31, the government adopted a new national strategy to counter violent extremism.  The strategy was based on five pillars:  Prevention, Protection, Pursuit, Response, and Social Cohesion.  Specific objectives outlined in the national strategy include:  eliminating conditions conducive to the development of terrorism and violent extremism, including but not limited to religious outreach and interfaith efforts; prosecuting all perpetrators and accomplices of crimes of violent extremism and terrorism; providing fair and diligent responses in the event of a terrorist attack or acts of violent extremism perpetrated on national territory, with respect for human rights and the rule of law; contributing to the regeneration of a collective identity, including religious tolerance and coexistence, to strengthen the bonds of national solidarity.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship was responsible for administering the national CVE strategy, in addition to promoting religious tolerance and coordinating national religious activities such as pilgrimages and religious holidays for followers of all religions.  On November 17-18, the ministry organized, in coordination with the archbishop, the annual Catholic pilgrimage in Kita Cercle and called for religious tolerance among faiths, a sentiment echoed by President Keita in an official statement on November 18.  The ministry also continued supporting a training program for moderate Sufi imams in Morocco, one objective of which was to improve interfaith tolerance.

The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission continued operating through the year.  In December it opened its field office in Kidal Region.  By year’s end, the commission heard 10,102 testimonies, including cases of religious freedom violations.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Violent attacks by Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamaah continued throughout the year in northern Cabo Delgado Province.  The group, which claimed ties to the al-Shabaab terrorist group and was characterized by the government and the media as jihadist, was composed primarily of Muslims who followed what observers said was a strict version of Islam.  The attacks, which began in October 2017, included killings of security force members and beheading of civilians.  Significant security force operations to counter these attacks were at times heavy-handed, according to NGOs and news media, which said they focused primarily on Muslims following a strict interpretation of Islam and contributed to a “growing cycle of grievance and revenge” between militant Islamists and security forces.  Several organizations reported men, women, and children being arbitrarily detained based on appearing to be Muslim.  The government charged the detainees with crimes including first-degree murder, use of banned weapons, membership in a criminal association, and instigating collective disobedience against public order.  The government continued to state publicly that security forces had the situation under control.

In response to the attacks, government officials stated they arrested more than 280 attackers, whom they termed suspected jihadists, and at year’s end were prosecuting 189 of those individuals, including 152 Mozambicans, 26 Tanzanians, and three Somali nationals.  Among the individuals arrested were Muslim religious leaders.  Representatives of international organizations with access to the region stated they believed the number of individuals arrested was higher than that reported by the government.

Human rights organizations stated that the government also responded by implementing policies that they said inhibited reliable reporting in the northern region.  Reporting on the attacks remained limited and was often characterized as unreliable due to a strong security force presence and what journalists termed a government-imposed media blackout in the region.

In May the government reported reopening all of the seven mosques it ordered closed in 2017 after repeated attacks on police stations and hospital units by armed men who had alleged links to persons termed Islamists.  According to Provincial Director of Justice Alvaro Junior, the government decided to destroy seven other mosques due to their links to radicalism.

The Ministry of Justice registered 32 new religious groups and six new religious organizations during the year.  There were a total of 913 religious groups and 232 religious organizations registered.  There were no reports of difficulty with religious groups registering.

The Greek Orthodox Church continued to report no progress in its efforts to obtain the return of the Ateneu (Athenaeum), a church property in central Maputo seized by the government after independence and renamed the Palacio dos Casamentos (Wedding Palace).


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The government Ombudsman’s Office received one religiously related complaint during the year from a religious group regarding visas for a foreign religious organization.

The government periodically included religious leaders in discussions regarding issues affecting the country and in national events.  President Hage Geingob held consultations with leaders from major religious groups in the country, including from the Council of Churches that represented Christian denominations, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Dutch Reformed Church, and Roman Catholic Church, and from the Muslim community, to discuss opportunities for collaboration in fighting poverty.

Religious leaders said the only issues they occasionally faced with the government were regarding visas.  The director of the Windhoek Islamic Centre stated that during the year a Saudi investor who was attempting to visit to assess a mosque site had difficulty obtaining a visa.  The center director and other religious leaders stated nonreligious organizations also had difficulty obtaining visas and did not believe they were targeted by the government based on religion.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The government continued its efforts to reduce radicalization or the risk of radicalization through an Islamic Forum, a national forum representing more than 50 organizations, with the stated goal of standardizing the practice of Islam in the country.  The Directorate of Religious Affairs, within the MOI, initiated the forum in October 2017.  In meetings throughout the year, the forum discussed means to control mosque construction, regulate Quranic instruction, and monitor the content of sermons.  With the input of the forum, the MOI drafted a law during the year that would provide a framework for government control of these aspects of religious practice.  At year’s end, the law remained under ministerial review and, according to the MOI’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, was expected to be submitted to the National Assembly for possible passage in 2019.

Government officials expressed concern about funding from Iran, Turkey, and other countries for the construction of mosques and training of imams, but according to observers, the government had only limited resources to track the extent of the funding and fully understand its consequences.

Pilgrims complained, as in past years, about difficulties associated with performing the Hajj.  Complaints included high costs, cancelled flights, lost luggage, poor hotels, bad food, and unfair business practices leaving some travelers unattended in Saudi Arabia despite having paid for a package tour.  The government’s Commission for the Organization of the Hajj and Umrah came under criticism again, as in past years.  The commission oversaw Hajj participation of 15,000 pilgrims during the year.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

As in previous years, international and domestic media reported significant violence against the IMN, the country’s largest Shia organization, by security forces.  According to media, on October 27, members of the armed forces fired on Shia Muslims participating in the Arba’een Symbolic Trek organized by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) on October 27, killing at least three persons.  IMN members marched from Suleja to Abuja for the Arba’een Symbolic Trek, marking the Shia Muslim commemoration of the end of the 40-day period following Ashura.  The army released a statement saying the IMN had set up illegal roadblocks in Abuja, blocking the path of an army convoy transporting missiles.  The army also said it met “resistance” from IMN members who attempted to steal missiles and threw stones and other objects.  The army stated it opened fire in response, killing three civilians, while the IMN said 10 of its members died in the incident.  On October 29, with IMN marchers confirmed by the press to be approaching the city along at least three major feeder thoroughfares, an additional clash occurred at a military checkpoint at the border between Nasarawa State and the Federal Capital Territory near Abuja, in which the army used live rounds to break up the crowd.  Amnesty International Nigeria reported at least 39 deaths and numerous injuries among the marchers.  The government reported it opened an internal investigation of this incident but did not publish its findings, and no military or police were held accountable.  On December 17, the New York Times reported that video footage appeared to show armed forces members beating and shooting unarmed protesters.  The video contained no evidence the soldiers were provoked.

The federal government continued to detain IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky despite a December 2016 court ruling the government should release him.  Hundreds of IMN members regularly protested in Abuja against Zakzaky’s continued detention.  In April the Kaduna State government charged Zakzaky in state court with multiple felonies stemming from the death of the soldier in Zaria.  The charges include culpable homicide, which can carry the death penalty.  At year’s end, the case was pending.

There were no reports of accountability for soldiers implicated in the December 2015 clash between the army and IMN members that, according to a Kaduna State government report, left at least 348 IMN members and one soldier dead, with IMN members buried in a mass grave.  In July a Kaduna High Court dismissed charges of aiding and abetting culpable homicide against more than 80 IMN members.  The Kaduna State government appealed the ruling, and at year’s end the case remained pending.  Approximately 100 additional IMN members remained in detention.

According to international media reports, on December 25, unidentified gunmen abducted two Catholic priests from St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Umueze Anam, Anambra State, as they were returning from an official function.  Haruna Mohammed, the state’s Police Public Relations Officer, said police secured their release on December 27.

Both Muslim and Christian groups again said there was a lack of just handling of their mutual disputes and inadequate protection by federal, state, and local authorities, especially in central regions, where there were longstanding, often violent, disputes among ethnic groups.  In disputes between primarily Christian farmers and Muslim herders, herders stated they did not receive justice when their members were killed or their cattle stolen by farming communities, which they said caused them to carry out retaliatory attacks.  Farmers stated security forces did not intervene when herdsmen attacked their villages.

In June the High Court in Yola, Adamawa State sentenced five men to death for killing a Fulani herdsman.  Christian groups, including the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and the Christian Association of Nigeria, criticized the ruling.  They said the sentences highlighted the government’s bias in dealing with communal violence, noting the five men convicted were Christians who killed a Muslim, but there were no similar convictions when Fulani herdsmen killed Christians.

In July the Nigeria Body of Benchers, a body that regulates legal practice in the country, admitted Firdaus Amasa to the Nigerian Bar Association.  Amasa was denied participation in the call to the bar ceremony in December 2017 for refusing to remove her hijab, according to media reports.  After nationwide criticism from Muslim associations, including the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), the body reversed its earlier decision.

According to international media, on November 13, the Lagos State government ordered the tutor-general and permanent secretaries and principals to permit use of the hijab in public schools immediately.  According to the government, since the case of wearing hijabs was still pending in the Supreme Court, schools should revert to the status quo, allowing the use of hijabs with school uniforms.

In February the federal government launched Exercise Ayem Apatuma (Cat Race) to combat armed ethnoreligious conflict in Benue, Taraba, and Kogi States.  In March the federal government sent security forces to halt the increasing rural violence occurring in several Middle Belt states, where several conflicts occurred between Muslim and Christian groups.  In May the military launched Operation Whirl Stroke to increase security in Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, and Zamfara States, where some of the ethnoreligious violence took place.

In July the Plateau Peacebuilding Agency organized a three-day peace and security summit, which included participation from religious leaders, traditional youth leaders, and female leaders, along with state government ministries and heads of the security agencies operating within the state.  The summit’s mission was to address ethnoreligious tensions and conflicts in the state and find a path towards sustainable peace.  In August the Kaduna State Peace Commission inaugurated its committees in all 23 LGAs of the state.  The committees in each LGA were to be comprised of traditional, religious, and youth leaders, who would cooperate on peacebuilding among ethnic and religious groups.

In August the Office of the Vice President (OVP) collaborated with the U.S. Institute for Peace, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) to organize a two-day Justice and Security National Dialogue (JSD).  The event included government, military, paramilitary, traditional, and religious leaders, along with civil society organizations and representatives from farming and herding communities.  The participants agreed to set up state-level JSD models developed during the event to manage ethnoreligious conflicts, as well as criminal activities, which sources stated often exacerbated conflicts.  State-level stakeholders began preparing to set up the models, and as of the end of the year, the state-level police commands had nominated officers to attend training in 2019 that is expected to be designed and conducted by the OVP, NHRC, and IPCR.

A pending bill in Kaduna State that would require all preachers to obtain preaching licenses or risk fines and/or imprisonment for up to two years was deferred indefinitely after widespread opposition from Muslim and Christian religious leaders.

Christian groups reported authorities in some northern states refused to respond to requests for building permits for minority religious communities for construction of new places of worship, expansion and renovation of existing facilities, or reconstruction of buildings that had been demolished.  A Christian religious leader in Kano noted Christians could build churches freely in Sabon Gari, a part of town reserved for Christians, but only very old churches had valid permits; he added new permits had not been granted in decades.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Zamfara noted a case where a Christian businessman sold land and the certificate of occupancy to a Christian church during the year.  The church attempted to register the sale with the state government, but the sale was not approved because, according to the church, the government was concerned it would build a church.  CAN also said Christians in local communities in Zamfara occasionally did not inform the government when building a church because they feared the government would have it demolished.  He noted some Muslim traditional rulers have also had difficulty getting the sales approved when they have sold land to Christian churches.

Muslim students at Rivers State University of Science and Technology continued to complain they were unable to construct a place of worship.  In 2012 the university prevented Muslim students from constructing a mosque, leaving them with no place of worship.  The Muslim students filed a suit against the university, and the court ruled in their favor, but the university had not granted them a license to build the mosque by year’s end.

The Hisbah continued to arrest street beggars and prostitutes, and destroy confiscated bottles of alcohol.  There were no reports of Christians being forced to use sharia courts.  In January the Kano State Hisbah arrested 94 individuals who violated the law banning street begging, and in April the Hisbah received 36 cases of prostitution.  In May Zamfara State signed a bill conferring more powers on the state Hisbah commission to interrogate and arrest individuals and to undertake searches for evidence of anti-sharia activities or substances banned by sharia.  In September the Kano State Hisbah stated it confiscated 12 million bottles of beer within the past seven years, including more than 17,000 confiscated in September.  In April the Jigawa State Hisbah Board announced it had “saved” 4,000 marriages in the past two years by settling marriage disputes.  According to international media, in December Hisbah arrested 11 women for planning a lesbian wedding in Kano.  Director-General Abba Sufi stated “We can’t allow such despicable acts to find roots in our society.  Both Islam and Nigerian laws prohibit same-sex relationships.”

Christian and Muslim groups continued to report that individual administrators of government-run universities and technical schools in several states refused to admit certain individuals or delayed the issuance of their degrees and licenses because of religion or ethnicity.  A Christian pastor in Yobe said while Christians could gain entry into universities dominated by Muslims, they were relegated to the “lower” subjects and found it difficult to study for degrees in more desirable areas such as engineering, medicine, finance, and law.  A Muslim leader in southern Kaduna stated all government positions in the region were reserved for Christians.  He said Hausa and Fulani Muslims earned livelihoods predominantly in the private sector because there was no alternative.  According to Christian and Muslim groups and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, the issue was connected to the country’s indigene-settler conflict, whereby state governments granted benefits, such as access to government services, to ethnic groups considered to be indigenous to a particular state, and distinguished them from ethnic groups considered to be settlers, even if their families had lived in the state for generations.  In certain states, especially in the Middle Belt, the divide between Christian indigenes and Muslim settlers was religious as well as ethnic and economic.

According to international reporting, on May 10, the Southern Kaduna Peace and Reconciliation Committee brought together security agencies in the state including police, army, civil defense, Department of State Security, and civil society, including religious leaders.  In the previous two years, southern Kaduna had experienced large-scale ethnoreligious violence, and the event was organized to foster trust through dialogue between the religious communities and security agencies.  Participants discussed the importance of resolving issues peacefully, how to focus on things the communities have in common instead of what divides them, and how security services could serve as assets in conflict mitigation.

Republic of the Congo

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

As in previous years, the government granted Christians and Muslims access to public facilities for special religious events.  For example, on September 12, the country’s Muslim community celebrated Eid al-Adha in Saint-Denis at a stadium located on the grounds of the presidential residence.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Following a February meeting between government officials, including the RGB and Ministry of Local Government, and religious leaders, the government closed more than 6,000 places of worship across the country that it deemed in violation of health and safety standards and/or noise pollution ordinances.  The head of the RGB publicly stated authorities targeted churches that were conducting services in shoddy and unclean structures, which was detrimental to the health of worshippers.  Kigali local authorities reported cases of noise pollution, a lack of required permits, and a proliferation of churches operating inside tents and unsanitary facilities.  Leaders of major religious groups made statements supporting the closures, describing them as needed and timely.  Some observers, however, expressed skepticism regarding the government’s motivation for closing the churches.  A large number of the closed places of worship were evangelical Christian churches, although mosques, Catholic churches, and other Christian churches were also affected.  Some were later allowed to reopen after making the required infrastructure improvements.  The head of the RGB told the press that 14 percent of the buildings had reopened as of July.  In many cases, those congregations whose buildings remained closed opted to hold worship services in hotels, private residences, or buildings belonging to other congregations; the RGB clarified that while some places of worship had been closed, religious organizations had not been closed.  Following the church closures, police arrested six clergymen in March for organizing to defy implementation of the order.  All six were released later that month.

On February 21, the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) ordered Amazing Grace, a Christian radio station, to suspend operations for one month following a live broadcast on January 29 of a sermon by local pastor Nicolas Niyibikora in which he said women were “dangerous creatures of evil, going against God’s plans.”  Women’s groups and journalists filed complaints with the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), stating the language of the broadcast constituted discrimination and incitement to hate.  Following the station owner’s refusal to comply with RURA’s sanctions, in April RURA revoked the station’s broadcasting license.  The station’s owner filed suit against RURA and RMC for violating his right to opinion and conscience.  The case was pending at year’s end.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported in some cases they could negotiate alternatives to participating in compulsory community night patrols.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report local officials’ retaliation against members who refused to sing the national anthem in school or take an oath while holding the national flag.

Jehovah’s Witnesses students were reportedly punished and dismissed from school for not attending religious services at school or not participating in military and patriotic activities at school.

Unregistered religious groups received a significant degree of government scrutiny of their leadership, activities, and registration application until they obtained FBO registration under the law.  Small religious congregations sometimes temporarily affiliated with larger registered organizations in order to operate.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to pursue judicial remedies for civil servants and teachers dismissed for refusing to swear an oath on the flag.  Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that authorities included the names of those dismissed over the issue of oath-taking on an online list of persons considered unsuitable for public service, making it difficult for these individuals to obtain employment in the private sector as well.  Jehovah’s Witnesses leadership also reported difficulties in securing appointments with authorities to discuss a range of legal requirements imposing certain limitations on their religious practices and beliefs.

Both Christian and Islamic places of worship were affected by noise ordinance restrictions and were required to decrease the volume on their sound equipment.

Some places of worship were also required to install soundproofing materials.  In March local authorities in Kigali issued a directive prohibiting mosques from using loudspeakers to call worshippers to prayer.  Authorities reversed the ban after Muslim leaders engaged them and reached a compromise allowing for the continued use of loudspeakers at an acceptable volume.

Government officials presiding over wedding ceremonies generally required couples to take a pledge while touching the national flag, a legal requirement that Jehovah’s Witnesses rejected on religious grounds.  Jehovah’s Witnesses said the requirement made it difficult for them to marry legally because few officials were willing to perform the ceremony without the flag oath.  For some Jehovah’s Witnesses, placing their hands on a Bible on top of the flag was an acceptable alternative.  Jehovah’s Witnesses were not able to obtain a waiver and reported difficulties in getting an appointment with relevant authorities.

Muslim community leaders reported working collaboratively with the Rwanda National Police (RNP) in combating extremism and radicalization in the Muslim community.  For example, on December 2, the RNP launched a campaign to educate young Muslims about the dangers of extremism in five of the country’s 30 districts with the collaboration of Muslim leaders.  In public remarks, the RNP commissioner for counterterrorism commended the role of Muslim leaders in educating the Islamic community on “the true meaning” of their faith.  The Imam of Kigali, in turn, reiterated the community’s commitment to working with security organs to fight radicalization and promote security.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

In March the government restarted a 2016 campaign to implement a 2005 law forbidding forced child begging, an abuse encountered at some Quranic schools or daaras.  The government worked closely with Muslim religious leaders to gain support for the campaign and for other initiatives, such as a draft law regulating traditional Islamic schools.

The government continued to provide direct financial and material assistance to religious groups, for use primarily in maintaining or rehabilitating places of worship or for underwriting special events.  There continued to be no formal procedure for applying for assistance.  All religious groups continued to have access to these funds and competed on an ad hoc basis to obtain them.  President Macky Sall occasionally visited and supported beneficiaries of these funds.  For example, every year members of the Mouride religious brotherhood travel to the seat of the brotherhood in Touba for the annual Magal pilgrimage.  Under President Sall, the government constructed a new highway to connect Touba with the city of Thies to the west in order to ease travel for the pilgrimage.  Although the highway was not complete in time for the Magal pilgrimage in October, the president opened up the nearly complete highway, free of charge, for all Magal pilgrims.  The highway was subsequently completed and inaugurated by President Sall on December 20.

The government continued to assist Muslim participation in the Hajj and again provided imams with hundreds of free airplane tickets for the pilgrimage for distribution among citizens.  In addition, the government organized Hajj trips for approximately 2,000 additional individuals.  The government also continued to provide assistance for an annual Roman Catholic pilgrimage to the Vatican, the Palestinian territories, and Israel.  The Catholic Church reported the government provided 380 million CFA francs ($668,000) for travel to the Vatican, compared with 370 million CFA francs ($651,000) in 2017.

The Ministry of Education continued to provide partial funding to schools operated by religious groups that met national education standards.  It provided the largest share of this funding to established Christian schools, which in general maintained strong academic reputations.  The majority of students attending Christian schools continued to be Muslim.  The Ministry of Education reported approximately 50 percent of primary school students again participated in religious education through the public elementary school system during the year.  The government also continued to fund a number of Islamic schools, which enrolled approximately 60,000 students.

The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender continued to monitor domestic associations, including religious groups and NGOs affiliated with them, to ensure they operated according to the terms of their registration.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to do the same with foreign-based NGOs, including those affiliated with religious groups.  Each association submitted an annual report, including a financial report, which the ministries used in their effort to track potential funding of terrorist groups.

Sierra Leone

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

On January 8, the country has constitutionally mandated political parties monitor, the PPRC, ordered CDP leader Musa Tarawally to remove his campaign posters and billboards stating, “Allah is One” as its election campaign slogan across the country.  The PPRC cited the constitutional prohibition against political parties using any motto that has exclusive or significant connotation to members of any particular tribal or ethnic group or religious faith.  The president of the IRC, which includes Muslim groups, publicly supported the action of the PPRC, stating, “People must not use the name of Allah to gain cheap popularity in politics” and “Religion is religion and politics is politics.”  According to the PPRC, this was the first time since independence in 1961 that a party positioned itself as an Islamic party using Quranic verses as its campaign slogan.

The government continued to enforce a law prohibiting the production, sale, and consumption of marijuana.  Rastafarians continued to state they viewed this prohibition as an infringement on their religious freedom to access cannabis, as it is a core component of their religious practices.  One Rastafarian high priest was arrested in August, his marijuana was seized, and he was detained at a correctional facility for five days.  Another community member was apprehended by police in September for possession of cannabis and was released on bail.

The Office of National Security (ONS) held several meetings with the IRC and the Council of Imams as part of its counterterrorism strategy but did not organize a formal event, reportedly due to lack of funding.  The ONS continued to express concerns regarding the possible emergence of what it referred to as Muslim extremism.  The ONS also reported concerns by Christian and Muslim leaders and civil society groups relating to susceptible unemployed and uneducated youth from the Muslim community joining the Tabligh movement, a revivalist Sunni Muslim movement originating in India preaching a fundamentalist form of Islam.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

In August Somaliland officials arrested a U.S. citizen employed by a Catholic relief organization in Burao, Somaliland, and accused her of proselytizing.  Somaliland authorities eventually released her and she departed the country.

In April the South West State Ministry of Internal Security, transferred 11 children ages nine to 17 attending an al-Shabaab madrassa in Baidoa District to a rehabilitation center in the town of Baidoa.

Federal and FMS governments maintained bans on the propagation of religions other than Islam, and there was one report of enforcement in Somaliland.

The federal government reportedly continued not to strictly enforce the registration requirement for religious groups opening schools for lay or religious instruction.

The Puntland state government neither banned nor imposed financial penalties on any religious groups.

The federal Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education launched a new national curriculum framework, announced in 2017, and new legislation for public and private primary and secondary schools to implement the curriculum framework.  The initiative mandates Somali as the language of instruction for primary school, Islamic religious instruction at all levels, and Arabic-language Islamic religion courses at the secondary level.

The federal minister of endowments and religious affairs noted the ministry’s ambitious efforts to promote religious tolerance and messaging to counter al-Shabaab ideology but stated such efforts were underresourced.

South Africa

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

In September the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court, declared unconstitutional a ban on marijuana cultivation and personal consumption by adults in private homes.  The court upheld a lower court ruling from 2017.  Since 2002, the Rastafarians had called for the drug, colloquially known as dagga, to be declared lawful on religious grounds.  Jeremy Acton, the head of the Dagga Party of South Africa, brought the court case.

Several groups, including the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the nonprofit Christian organization Freedom of Religion South Africa (FORSA), and the International Institute for Religious Freedom, stated their continued opposition to a 2016 CRL legislative proposal requiring religious groups to register, stating it would restrict their religious freedom.  The proposal would require religious groups to register formally with the government and would create a peer review council, consisting of representatives from various religious groups, which would grant organizations and individual religious leaders’ permission to operate.  Accredited umbrella organizations for each religious group would recommend the licensing of institutions and individual members of the clergy.  Another recognized umbrella organization would then either approve or decline licensing the institutions.  The groups in opposition stated the proposal’s intent to regulate all religious organizations was unconstitutional and unnecessary because existing laws could be used to address governmental concerns of improper religious activities, such as feeding congregant’s snakes and dangerous substances.  In January the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs announced that every comment it had received from the religious community opposed the CRL proposal.  The committee recommended a national consultative conference, where a full discussion could take place on the issues in the CRL proposal.  The committee also suggested a code of ethics.  No member of the committee recommended that the CRL proposal be forwarded for adoption by parliament.

According to the media, the legislative proposal was prompted by the CRL’s 2016 investigation that revealed some independent church leaders instructed their congregations to eat live snakes, expose their faces to insect repellant, drink gasoline, and pay large sums of money to receive blessings and miracles.  The CRL also found that some religious organizations failed to adhere to tax rules and demonstrated a lack of financial transparency.  Opponents of the proposal stated the CRL based its investigation and subsequent report that justified the recommendation for legislation on generalizations about alleged abuses.  Opponents further stated that the supporting evidence upon which the CRL based its investigation consisted of an inadequate number of interviews with religious groups.  The Council for the Protection and Promotion of Religious Rights and Freedoms – established to oversee the process drawn up by religious and civil organizations that define religious freedoms, rights, and responsibilities of citizens – described the report’s proposals as “the fruit of a poisonous tree.”  The proposal remained with the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs at year’s end.

In May the Department of Justice introduced to parliament a hate crimes and hate speech bill that would criminalize any action or statement motivated by bias or hatred towards an individual based upon a number of categories, including his or her ethnic, national, religious, or sexual identity; health status; employment status or type; or physical ability.  The bill would provide law enforcement officials and courts increased authority to arrest, punish offenders, and would mandate prison sentences of up to three years for first-time offenses.  The Department of Justice invited public commentary on the draft bill in 2017 and received more than 77,000 responses from individuals, religious groups, and other organizations.  Opponents to the bill, including religious figures, media representatives, and civil society and NGOs, argued the bill’s definition of hate crimes and speech was too vague and could potentially restrict freedom of religion and speech.  FORSA expressed concern that the bill’s provisions were “over-broad and unconstitutional” and could punish churches and Christians who spoke out against homosexuality; sexual identity is among the categories covered in the legislation.  The Hate Crimes Working Group, a network of civil society groups, stated that existing laws adequately addressed hate speech and the bill, if passed, could have unintended consequences.  The draft legislation was expected to be debated in parliament in early 2019, according to media reports.

Twin brothers Brandon Lee Thulsie and Tony Lee Thulsie continued to await trial on charges of contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terror and Related Activities.  The brothers, along with two others who were alleged to have links to ISIS, were arrested in 2016 for allegedly planning to set off explosives at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria and Jewish institutions in the country.  The case continued at year’s end.

In August the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town ordered the state to pass legislation that recognizes Islamic marriages.  The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) successfully argued that the failure of legislation to recognize Islamic marriages degraded Muslim women’s rights.  The Association of Muslim Women of South Africa and the United Ulama Council of South Africa opposed the WLC case, stating it violated freedom of religion by singling out Islam.  The court found that marriage was given “a seal of constitutional significance” and that the only reasonable way the state could fulfill its constitutional obligations would be by enacting legislation that recognized Islamic marriages.  The court gave the government 24 months to pass the legislation; otherwise, all marriages validly concluded under sharia would be dissolved according to the existing legislation.

In September several Muslim pupils at Jeppe Girls School in Johannesburg were charged with “misconduct for repeated dress code infringements” for wearing hijabs without formally asking permission.  The Gauteng Education Department launched an investigation into the matter.  School officials agreed in principle to amend the school’s code of conduct to allow for religious headwear.  The girls’ families retained counsel, who said that if the school attempted to hold a planned hearing on the “defiance and disregard” the school officials said the pupils had shown, they would sue for religious discrimination.

Some prominent individuals and politicians were quoted throughout the year making anti-Semitic statements.  Economic Freedom Fighters political party leader Julius Malema stated at a media briefing in August, “There’s a group of white right wingers who are being trained by Jews in Pretoria to be snipers.”

In February African National Congress Western Cape legislator Sharon Davids accused the Democratic Alliance party of fabricating the Cape Town water crisis in order to obtain desalination contract kickbacks from what she referred to as the “Jewish mafia.”

In February the Democratic Alliance party instructed deputy provincial chair nominee and Women’s Network provincial leader Shehana Kajee to apologize for a 2013 online post in which she called for the Muslim community to “go on the attack” against non-Muslims in the name of Islam.

South Sudan

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

There were continued reports that in connection with the civil conflict, security forces, opposition forces, and armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition committed killings and other abuses of civilians, including religious aid workers and churchgoers.  On May 16, at least 10 persons were killed when government forces attacked Emmanuel Christian College in Yei; the motive for the attack remained unclear.

Both a Christian representative and a Muslim representative read prayers at most official events, with the government often providing translation from English to Arabic.

Several religious groups were represented in government positions.  President Kiir Mayardit, a Catholic, employed a high-level advisor on religious affairs, Sheikh Juma Saaed Ali, a leader of the Islamic community in the country.  Additional Muslim representation in government included at least one governor and 14 members of the 400-member Transitional National Legislative Assembly.  All principal religious groups were represented in the assembly.

Although not mandated by the government, religious education was generally included in public secondary school and university curricula.  Theoretically, students could attend either a Christian or an Islamic course, and those with no religious affiliation could choose between the two courses.  Because of resource constraints, however, some schools offered only one course.  Christian and Muslim private religious schools set their own religious curriculum without government interference.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

According to international reports, on October 13, a group of security agents raided the private home of Tajedin Yousifa, a Christian pastor, in South Darfur and arrested 13 Christian men who were there for a series of prayer meetings.  Of those arrested, reports stated 10 were of Darfuri origin and converts from Islam.  NISS was reportedly monitoring the home and had two pickup trucks parked outside the home.  NISS agents reportedly took the individuals to an unknown NISS facility in Nyala, where they were interrogated.  NISS then transferred the detainees to a Nyala police station on October 18.  Authorities initially charged the men with disturbing public peace but released 12 of the detainees on October 21 with no charges.  All detainees were reportedly in poor health upon release and required medical attention for injuries sustained in police detention.  Authorities kept the pastor in detention for additional questioning.  Initial reports indicated that authorities also charged him with apostasy and crimes against the state, which carry a death sentence if convicted.  Authorities released the pastor on October 23 and dropped all charges.  Authorities stated they also considered the group to be supporters of the leader of an armed Darfuri rebel movement.

In August the Omdurman Criminal Court convicted Samson Hamad Al-Haras, a member of the government-backed Presbyterian Evangelical Community Committee (ECC), of murder in the killing of SPEC elder Yonan Abdullah during an April 2017 altercation between ECC supporters and opponents within SPEC over control of the SPEC-operated Omdurman Evangelical Church School.  Al-Haras was sentenced to death.  The other 60 or more SPEC leaders arrested in opposition to the ECC’s efforts to sell the school remained in various stages of prosecution.

On December 28, government security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades at a group of 300-400 worshippers leaving a mosque associated with the opposition National Umma Party in Omdurman following Friday prayers.  The incident occurred on the 10th day of antigovernment demonstrations and protests of rising food prices, and activists had urged protesters to gather in large numbers following Friday prayers.

According to reports, the Public Order Police frequently charged women with “indecent dress” and “indecent behavior,” and there were numerous court convictions.  Religious leaders and government officials again reported the Public Order Police fined and lashed Muslim and Christian women on a daily basis in Khartoum for wearing pants and other dress the police considered indecent.  In November the Public Order Police arrested a Coptic singer after she performed at a concert for which the organizer had not received the proper permit.  The police searched the singer’s private phone while she was in custody and charged her with indecent behavior because of photographs they found on her phone.  A judge convicted her and sentenced her to 10 lashes and a fine of 5,000 Sudanese pounds ($110).  Authorities lashed her immediately following the conviction.

Minority religious groups, including Muslim minority groups and especially Shia Muslims, expressed concern they could be convicted of apostasy if they expressed beliefs or discussed religious practices that differed from those of the Sunni majority group.  Some Shia reported they remained prohibited from writing articles about their beliefs and religious issues remained a redline for news media to address.  Many individuals from Muslim minorities, such as Shia or Quranist groups, reported that their places of worship had remained closed since 2014.  According to lawyers working on the Quranists’ issues, the Constitutional Court dismissed the court case against them due to mounting international pressure and ordered that the group not gather again.  The lawyers also stated the Quranists needed to keep a low profile regarding their places of worship, as well as religious events and gatherings.

SPEC leaders continued to face lengthy and prolonged trials for charges including “criminal mischief” and “trespassing,” after they continued to use properties belonging to the SPEC.

In early July, the Pentecostal Cultural Centre, located in downtown Khartoum opposite Unity Catholic School, reopened.  The government had closed the center in 2014 and temporarily turned it into a NISS office after the government claimed the church did not have legal documentation proving ownership of the building.

In September an Omdurman court ruled the SCOC national leadership committee led by Moderator Ayoub Tilliano had ownership of the SCOC headquarters in Omdurman.  The leadership committee was engaged in a legal case over ownership of the property following a 2015 raid by security forces on SCOC headquarters, after which the security forces confiscated all their legal documents and brought charges against the leadership council for trespassing.  The committee received the legal documents back from security services on September 24.

Government security services were reported to continue to monitor mosques closely for Friday sermon content.  Multiple sources stated authorities provided talking points and required imams to use them in their sermons.  If an imam’s sermon diverged from the government-provided talking points, the imam would be removed from his position.  Some individuals from minority religious groups expressed concern that the Friday sermons encouraged discriminatory or hateful beliefs against the minority groups.

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

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

On February 11, authorities demolished the SPEC church in the Haj Youssef neighborhood of Khartoum North.  Police arrived at the scene following Sunday worship services and ordered congregants to vacate the premises immediately.  Police then confiscated the property inside the church, including the pews and Bibles, and razed the building with a bulldozer.  Church leaders said they had no advance warning of the demolition.  The church had already been seized by a local businessman, who claimed ownership of the church despite ownership deeds in the name of the church dating back to 1989.  At year’s end, the church was engaged in an appeal of the decision and the confiscation of the church’s property, but authorities repeatedly postponed court sessions.  At year’s end, church leaders had yet to receive compensation for damages or been given an alternative site for worship.

In May a Muslim human rights lawyer fled the country after he was arrested and interrogated by security services for his work advocating for minority religious groups.  He had already faced repeated incidents of harassment and intimidation from NISS, including two break-ins of his home the previous year.  Human rights activists expressed concern about the departure of the lawyer from their community, as he was a vocal proponent of religious freedom and worked to defend the rights of religious minorities.

According to various church representatives, the government continued to favor mosques over churches in the issuance of permits for houses of worship.  Some churches reported they were less willing to apply for land permits or to construct churches given the government’s previous repeated denials.  The government attributed its denial of permits to the churches not meeting government population density parameters and zoning plans.

Local parishioners reported that, compared to Islamic institutions, Christian places of worship continued to be disproportionately affected by zoning changes, closures, and demolitions.  The government said places of worship that were demolished or closed lacked proper land permits or institutional registration and that mosques, churches, schools, hospitals, and residences were all affected equally by the urban planning projects.  Sources estimated at least 24 churches, Christian schools, libraries, and cultural centers were “systematically closed,” demolished or confiscated by the government between 2011 and 2017.  During the year, only one church demolition was reported.  Government authorities also stated that mosques were affected and provided photographs of mosque demolitions; however, lack of detailed information on the alleged demolitions made it difficult to verify the information, according to observers.

The NISS noted the locations of churches and mosques it was tracking that were located on what the government referred to as “unplanned areas” in Khartoum State.  Christian leaders and lawyers said that gaining outright land titles remained very difficult given that the government legally owned all land, and thus the legal status of churches remained unclear.

During the year, 22 churches filed complaints with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) following an outreach campaign to Christian religious communities in the Khartoum area by the NHRC.  Most of the complaints related to land and administrative issues.  At year’s end, the commission was following up with the complaints and established a working group to investigate systematic issues related to the registration of and land permits for Christian places of worship.

Following a July 2017 order from the Ministry of Education for Khartoum State mandating that schools (except for Coptic schools) operate from Sunday to Thursday, non-Coptic Christian schools either continued to operate on Sundays to adhere to the national general education guidelines, or they increased instruction hours on other school days to avoid operating on Sundays.  Multiple members of the government, including the foreign affairs minister and the minister of education for Khartoum State, continued to publicly express concern that the order would damage the country’s international reputation and unnecessarily impeded individuals’ religious freedom.  Government officials stated, however, that they were unaware of how to overturn the order because its origins were unclear.

The government continued to restrict some religiously based political parties, including the Republican Brothers Party, which opposes the government’s use of sharia as a source of law.  The Political Parties Affairs Council, which oversees the registration of political parties, refused to register the party in 2014, and the party’s leader filed an appeal of the decision to the Constitutional Court in 2015, but the court refused the appeal.  A local community center and library associated with the party in Omdurman remained closed due to government restrictions on its operation.

Government officials continued to state Islamic principles should inform official policies and often pointed to sharia as the basis for the country’s legal framework.  President Bashir and other senior figures frequently emphasized the country’s Islamic foundation.  In a February speech responding to public opposition to subsidy cuts and a currency devaluation, Bashir said that anyone who protested the economic situation or his administration’s policies was an enemy of Islam and working against the Islamic faith.

The government denied Christian churches or their humanitarian institutions tax-exempt status, although the government granted this status to Muslim relief agencies.  Christian churches reported authorities required them to pay or negotiate taxes on items such as vehicles.

The government continued to restrict non-Muslim religious groups from operating or entering the country and continued to monitor activities and censor material published by religious institutions.  The MGE and the HCGE again said they had granted a limited number of Christian missionary groups permission to engage in humanitarian activities and promote Muslim-Christian cooperation.

Many officials from various churches reported the government refused to grant, or delayed renewing, work and residency visas to church employees of foreign origin, including missionaries and clergy, or to individuals the government believed would proselytize in public places.  Local members of the Catholic Church said these denials had a particularly negative impact on the Catholic Church, whose clergy are mostly of foreign origin, while most clergy of other Christian denominations are ethnically Sudanese or South Sudanese.  The government only granted residence permits with less than a year’s validity.  The government required clergy to pay a fine of 70 Sudanese pounds ($1) for every day they were not in residency status.

The government reportedly closely scrutinized those suspected of proselytizing and used administrative rationales, or other aspects of the law such as immigration status, to either deport or exert financial pressure on such individuals.

Some religious groups reported the government barred the import of unapproved religious texts and said most Christian denominations were unable to import teaching materials and religious texts as guaranteed by the constitution.  According to international reports, in September authorities released two shipping containers with Arabic-language Bibles destined for the Bible Society in Khartoum after they had been detained in Port Sudan for three years.

A small number of Christian politicians, the majority of whom were members of the Coptic Church, continued to hold seats in the government.

During the year, Christian groups called for a Christian director of the MGE Office of Church Affairs.  MGE officials said they agreed to appoint a Christian but had yet to do so because Christian communities could not agree on a representative.  Christian groups said the government never expressed a willingness to appoint a Christian, although government officials publicly stated such willingness on multiple occasions.  After the government dissolved the MGE and established the HCGE, the opportunities for non-Muslim representation were not clear.

In January the government convened a group of representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former MGE, Inter-Religious Council, Ministry of Education, and others to discuss the state of religious coexistence.  The group identified several areas of concern, including religious education inequities, and resolved to establish an intragovernmental working group on religious coexistence.  In October the government formed a new higher-level interministerial group chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the same structure and mandate.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Sixty-one members of Uamsho, an Islamist group advocating for Zanzibar’s full autonomy, remained in custody following their arrest in 2013 on terrorism charges.  The cases were not brought to trial during the year, and the investigation continued.  Those charged remained imprisoned on mainland Tanzania.  They were initially arrested and detained in Zanzibar, which has an independent court system.  In January 24 of the Uamsho members were separately sentenced to six months in prison for public indecency after they protested their detention and poor prison conditions by undressing before entering a court chamber.  This charge was separate from and in addition to their original terrorism charge.

In January unknown persons kidnapped five members of the Uamsho movement in Zanzibar and held them for seven days before releasing the captives.  One kidnapping victim alleged they were abducted by state police in retaliation for their support for families of the imprisoned Uamsho leaders.

In May the Ministry of Home Affairs sent a letter to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania and the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (which represents the Catholic bishops) threatening legal action after the churches issued statements that criticized the government’s perceived repression of basic freedoms.  The letter gave a 10-day ultimatum to denounce the criticism of the government.  The government letter was leaked on social media and went viral.  After strong public backlash against perceived government interference in religious affairs, the government disowned the letter and suspended the registrar of religious communities and societies, who had signed the letter.

In September the Department of Immigration deported seven Islamic clerics from Pakistan who had arrived two weeks earlier in Kilwa, a Muslim-majority region on the southeast coast.  Department officials stated the clerics did not have permission to enter the country from the head Mufti of BAKWATA, although a Kilwa legislator, Suleiman Bungara, said the clerics had a letter from BAKWATA.  The English-language daily newspaper The Citizen reported that Bungara’s efforts to resolve the issue with Minister of Home Affairs Kangi Lugola were unsuccessful and Bungara questioned whether BAKWATA or the Immigration Department had the authority to approve international religious visitors.

In August a court in Mwana Kwerekwe acquitted and freed a Pentecostal pastor in Zanzibar accused of abusing a Muslim girl in 2014, ending a protracted court case.  The court originally closed the case in 2015, with charges against the pastor twice dropped for lack of evidence.  Christian leaders in Zanzibar stated that the government later reopened the case as a pretext for jailing the pastor, and that Christians found it difficult to obtain a fair court hearing in Zanzibar.

In March the Zanzibar Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources confiscated and destroyed a church being built on property which the Pentecostal Assemblies of God stated it owned, but the High Court of Zanzibar ruled the church was built on government property.  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, arguing the church was being built illegally.  A lower court ruling in 2011 in favor of the church had allowed the construction to move forward, although the court later decided the party who originally 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.

During the year, the Tanzanian Revenue Authority (TRA) announced religious organizations would no longer receive automatic tax exemptions for charitable in-kind donations.  Religious groups must hereafter submit individual requests to the TRA to receive tax exemptions on donations.

The government used various public forums to emphasize that religious organizations should be self-funded and not rely on international donors.

The Gambia

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Local media reported a large portion of the Christian community felt alienated when during a stop on President Barrow’s Meet the People Tour in July, the president announced plans for the new Barrow Youth Movement for Development to build 60 mosques throughout the country at the request of various communities.  The Barrow Youth Movement for Development is a registered nonprofit organization that publicly promotes the president’s development agenda and has been publicly endorsed by the president.  Many observers criticized this announcement and argued that it blurred the separation of state and religion and showed a preference of one religion over the others.  Critics also questioned the source of funding for the construction.  Prominent members of the Christian community spoke against the 60-mosque plan, stating that despite initial optimism regarding the Barrow administration’s actions to treat religious groups impartially, especially its reversal of the previous administration’s declaration of the country as an Islamic state, they stated they felt increasingly alienated by these more recent actions.  They also highlighted the fact that only three members of the 19-person cabinet were Christians.  Although this constituted overrepresentation in terms of their percentage of the population, observers stated that to some in the Christian community it represented an ongoing decline in influence from the early 1990s.

On December 6, the Office of the President issued a press release announcing the portfolio of Religious Affairs was transferred to the Ministry of Lands and Regional Affairs.  No official reason was stated.

President Barrow continued to reiterate his administration’s commitment to preserving the country’s religious freedom and tolerance.  Speaking in Bwiam after being criticized for the 60-mosque announcement, the president said, “We have different kinds of faith groups in this country.  We do not discriminate against any one religion because they are all part of my family, the Gambian family.  All religions are equal in this country, and I treat everyone equally.”  In meetings with religious leaders, Special Advisor to the President on Religious Matters Dembo Bojang urged them to be strong advocates of tolerance and to continue to preach peace.

In August President Barrow met with the Ahmadiyya International Association of Architects and Engineers to discuss the group’s plans to expand its humanitarian work in the country.  The group informed the president that it intended to “build an international center of excellence for vocational and technical training to help build a noticeable skills gap in the areas of architecture, artistry, and technical skills.”  The president thanked the Ahmadis for their continued investment in the country.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Unknown assailants vandalized four mosques in July and August in different neighborhoods in Lome.  The minister of security immediately denounced the attacks and called on the public to help find the perpetrators.  The government subsequently posted security forces to guard mosques throughout the country and promised to conduct investigations to find the perpetrators and prosecute them in accordance with the country’s laws.  There were no further attacks after August; by year’s end, the authorities had not identified the attackers.

Similar to previous years, the MTA stated it did not approve any pending applications nor accept new applications for registration from religious groups because the government was still considering new legislation regarding religious freedom.  The government amended a previous draft religious freedom bill during the year and submitted it to the Council of Ministers for review.  The new bill details the processes for opening places of worship and regulates the hours of operation and levels of noise allowed during worship in neighborhoods.  The MTA continued to organize meetings with religious leaders and communities to discuss the draft legislation, with the last meeting held in August.  As of year’s end, there were approximately 900 applications pending at the MTA.

Although unregistered religious groups continued to be able to conduct religious activities while awaiting registration, the MTA reported that religious groups faced obstacles in obtaining building permits to construct new places of worship.  The ministry continued to state, however, this was not because they were religious groups but because applying for a building permit required at least a six-month waiting period for any applicant.  NGOs reported that officials routinely granted religious groups’ requests for permission to conduct nighttime celebrations.

The government invited only Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim religious leaders to government events and observed as national holidays only religious holidays of these groups.  The government invited the three groups to conduct worship at important national events, such as the independence celebration on April 27.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

On October 4, local media reported the UPF arrested eight persons it accused of conducting an illegal meeting after it reportedly found them holding a nude prayer service.  The UPF accused the group’s leader, Aggrey Elias Mubangizi, of operating an illegal church.  The UPF released the eight without charge.

On September 26, local media reported the UPF arrested Alex Okello after he declared himself to be Jesus Christ and led 14 persons in Lira Town to drop out of school, cease work, and sell off their property in anticipation of the end of time, which Okello indicated would occur in October.  The UPF also arrested Okello’s 14 followers.  The UPF released Okello and the group a week later without charge.

On June 4, local media reported that the UPF cancelled an open-air prayer service organized by evangelical Christians in Iganga Town after Muslims in the area complained the event organizers ridiculed Islamic teachings.  The UPF said it cancelled the service to prevent violence, saying it had received intelligence that some Muslims planned to disrupt it.

Local media, Islamic civil society organizations, and the UMSC regularly stated that the government maintained a policy of discrimination against and persecution of Muslims, and that it continued to discriminate against Muslims when hiring senior and lower-level officials.  On May 21, local media reported that former Minister of Security Henry Tumukunde accused the UPF of victimizing Muslims in its quest to solve a spate of unresolved killings.  Local media reported that since 2010, the UPF had arrested at least 116 individuals, of whom 106 were Muslim, in relation to high-profile killings.  Local media reported the state had secured convictions of only 13 Muslim suspects since 2010 and no convictions in 2018.  The UMSC said authorities did not accord Muslim detainees the same rights to bail and access to visitors as to other detainees.

The inspector general of police in May denied the UPF victimized Muslims but added that once the UPF had credible evidence of a crime committed or plans to commit crime, it would not shy away from arresting Muslim suspects for fear of offending Muslims.

A group of evangelical Christian ministers said they would resist a draft government policy to regulate religious groups once it came into force, saying it was a violation of their religious freedom.  The government announced in December that the cabinet would in the same month vote on a draft policy that sought to introduce academic qualifications for religious leaders.  Evangelical ministers, however, said the government’s intent was to “turn every church pulpit into an NRM (National Resistance Movement) campaign platform by 2021,” and warned it would “definitely have a backlash, and it will not be pretty.”


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Catholic and Protestant church mother bodies, along with leaders of numerous minority religious groups, continued to oppose the existence of the MNGRA and what they said was its unclear mandate, stating it was not the role of politicians to guide religious groups.  There were no new legislative actions during the year that specified the ministry’s role and responsibilities.

According to religious groups, administrative regulations and requirements continued to impede the process of obtaining a permit to hold a religious gathering.  These requirements included obtaining a recommendation letter from the mother body and clearance from the MNGRA and Ministry of Home Affairs.

Minority religious groups with no representative mother body stated they continued to have difficulty complying with regulations instituted by the MNGRA requiring all religious groups to associate with a mother body.  While minority groups generally welcomed the idea of having their own umbrella groups, some said they felt pressured to identify themselves with larger groups whose faith may not align well with theirs.  The ministry held consultative meetings with a range of Christian and other minority religious groups on this issue during the year.

Other subjects discussed in the ministry’s consultations with religious groups included the commemoration of the constitutional amendment establishing Zambia as a Christian nation, the National Day of Prayer, the ministry’s strategic plan, and legislation to support ministry policies such as the self-regulatory framework.

For any foreign clergy entering the country, religious groups needed to provide proof of legal registration as a religious group, a recommendation letter from their aligned umbrella body, and clearance from clergy in the country of origin.  This documentation was presented to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration Department, and the MNGRA.  Religious leaders stated the clearance procedures remained laborious and bureaucratic and posed a challenge to some activities of the religious groups.

Religious leaders reported feeling pressure to minimize commentary on political topics or face discrimination from politicians with different views.  Religious groups said some clergy members practiced self-censorship of comments on governance issues.  According to religious leaders, clergy members 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 fourth National Day of Prayer and Fasting under the theme “Facing the Future as a Reconciled, United, and Prosperous Nation under God’s Guidance.”  Some churches and political opposition leaders did not take part in the event, which they stated was politically driven by the ruling party.  The day was declared a national holiday, and businesses were encouraged to allow employees to attend prayer events.  During the event, authorities banned liquor sales until 6 p.m.; sales are normally legal at 10 a.m.  Some institutions, including government ministries, conducted roll calls of their employees at government-sponsored events, a practice criticized by opposition political parties and some civil servants.

Prominent religious groups continued to state the government should not be involved in religious affairs, such as organizing the national prayer days and building a proposed Interdenominational House of Prayer, which remained incomplete.  The Council of Churches in Zambia, Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops, Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, and other religious groups continued to state that building an Interdenominational House of Prayer should not be government driven.

In early November three key church mother bodies – the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops, Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, and Council of Churches in Zambia – agreed to chair a national dialogue process, co-organized by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Zambia Centre for Interparty Dialogue (ZCID); the churches became involved due to their standing in society and the perception that they were nonpartisan actors.  Sources stated that the process sought to reduce tensions that simmered since the contested 2016 elections and to prepare the country for peaceful national elections in 2021.  Negotiations between the church mother bodies and ZCID on the structure and content of the dialogue process were ongoing at year’s end.

Some minority religious groups said that public statements by government officials during the year were detrimental to the promotion of religious tolerance.  In September Minister of National Guidance and Religious Affairs Godfridah Sumaili declared that inviting Hindus and Muslims to join the MNGRA-hosted National Day of Prayer event would cause “confusion,” adding, “It’s an arrangement that we want to worship God in the way that we are accustomed to.”  A Muslim group reported a significant decline in the number of non-Muslim participants in events commemorating Islamic holidays during the year, which they attributed to statements such as that made by Sumaili and other government leaders.

Religious groups noted groups – mainly “cadres” (groups of political supporters, often paid by a political party) – encroached on church-owned land.  For instance, a religious group said that in February political supporters of the ruling party trespassed on church-owned land in Chongwe District in an attempt to take ownership.  According to the religious group reporting the incident, the cadres accused the group of practicing “Satanism” and incited the community to support the land encroachment.  Law enforcement officials were investigating the matter at year’s end.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Civil society organizations reported the government used security laws to monitor public events and prayer rallies of religious groups, but there were no reports of specific incidents or disruptions.  In June Pastor Evan Mawarire of His Generation Church filed a $65,000 lawsuit against the ZRP for unlawful arrest and detention at the height of his 2017 antigovernment protests.  In 2017, ZRP officers arrested Mawarire during a prayer meeting he led with University of Zimbabwe students; however, in September 2017, a magistrate judge acquitted him of charges of intending to promote public violence and disorderly conduct.

In May a magistrate judge acquitted Pastor Patrick Mugadza of insulting persons of a certain race or religion, finding the state failed to prove the case against him beyond a reasonable doubt.  In January 2017, police arrested Mugadza, the leader of the Remnant Pentecostal Church, after he prophesized that then-President Mugabe would die in October of that year.  In October 2017, the Constitutional Court dismissed Mugadza’s application to stop his prosecution for making the prophecy, stating Mugadza “insulted the Christian religion.”

Christian aid organizations and local NGOs focused on memorializing victims of the 1980s Gukurahundi mass killings of mainly Ndebele civilians said security officials monitored their activities with increased frequency in the lead-up to the July general elections, particularly in areas considered strongholds of the political opposition.

In August NGO Ibhetshu LikaZulu Secretary General Mbolu Fuzwayo reported receiving anonymous threatening telephone calls for publicly condemning the government forces’ 1980s Gukurahundi mass killings.  Ibhetshu LikaZulu is an NGO advocacy and protection group in Matabeleland South that organizes memorial and prayer services to commemorate the victims.  Security forces did not interfere with Ibhetshu LikaZulu activities.

Religious activities and events remained free from POSA restrictions, but the government continued to categorize as political some public gatherings, including religious gatherings such as prayer vigils and memorial services, perceived to be critical of the ruling party.  Multiple church organizations, including the Churches Convergence on Peace, Zimbabwe Council of Churches, and Catholic Bishops’ Conference, released 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 prior to and following the July elections.

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 January media reported the government was considering revising the national pledge to make it applicable to every citizen, rather than limiting it to schools.  The pledge begins with “Almighty God in whose hands our future lies, I salute the national flag, I commit to honesty and dignity of hard work.”  Some educators objected to the pledge, saying it was actually a prayer, and some Christian groups objected saying they feared the government intended to replace the Lord’s Prayer in schools with the national pledge.

In April the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe banned all radio and state-run television stations from programs advertising prophets and traditional healing.  Authorities said the ban was a response to increases in fraud, such as Pastor Tito Watts, whom authorities arrested for selling tickets to heaven.  Government officials stated the constitution protected freedom of worship, but the regulatory authority retained the right to protect believers from abuse.  Media reports stated some church leaders welcomed the ban because false prophets sometimes use their status to rape or defraud congregants.

Churches reported working with Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services to help improve living conditions in prison facilities.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future