The constitution defines the state as secular and establishes separation of religion and state. It prohibits religious discrimination and holds all citizens equal before the law regardless of religion. The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, the free practice of religion, and the right to form religious communities that may govern and manage their affairs independently, “consistent with public order.” The constitution stipulates that religious communities whose activities are contrary to law or promote conflict among ethnic groups may be banned.
The law does not require religious groups to register, but those that do are eligible for exemptions from fees for land use and construction permits. To register, a group must present to the Ministry of Interior (MOI) copies of its founding statutes and internal rules, a letter attesting to publication of these documents in the applicable local administrative bulletin, a formal letter of request for registration addressed to the minister of interior, a property lease, the police records of the group’s leaders, and the group’s bank statements. Registered religious groups must also provide the MOI with proof of nonprofit status to receive exemptions from local taxes and customs duties on imports. The MOI maintains an official registry of religious groups.
The constitution states parents have the right to choose their children’s religious education. The state provides for public education based on “religious neutrality” but permits religious instruction in public schools if the parents request it. Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups operate primary and secondary schools. These schools must register with the Ministry of Education, which ensures they meet the same standards as public schools.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The MOI reported it generally processed registration requests from religious groups within one month. The government denied some applications for registration during the year; the MOI estimated that it rejected over 30 such applications in the past two years. 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. Whether registered or not, ministry officials stated these groups were allowed to operate freely if they obeyed the law and did not harm their neighbors.
Muslim leaders reported the MOI did not request they discourage Muslim women from wearing the full-face veil in public as they had requested in previous years. Muslim leaders and the MOI reportedly remained cooperative and in agreement on this issue.