Executive Summary

The constitution establishes separation of religion and state and the responsibility of the state to respect and protect legally recognized religious groups. There were no reports of significant government action affecting religious freedom.

Some Muslim community members reported concerns about foreign imams teaching what they termed radical Islamic practices to the local Muslim population.

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. U.S. embassy personnel from Dakar met with high-level government officials as well as leaders of various religious communities to promote religious freedom and tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.8 million (July 2016 estimate). Estimates of the religious composition of the population vary widely, but according to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center, approximately 45 percent is Muslim, 31 percent follows indigenous religious practices, and 22 percent is Christian. There are small communities of Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews, many of whom are foreign nationals.

The Fula (Peuhl or Fulani) and Mandinka (Malinke) ethnic groups are the most numerous followers of Islam. Muslims generally live in the north and northeast, and most Muslims are Sunni. Adherents of indigenous religious beliefs generally live in all but the northern parts of the country. The Christian population, including Roman Catholics and Protestants, are primarily from the Pepel, Manjaco, and Balanta ethnic groups and are concentrated in Bissau and along the coast. Large numbers of Muslims and Christians hold indigenous beliefs as well.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates the state shall be separate from religious institutions and shall respect and protect legally recognized religious groups, whose activities shall be subject to the law. It holds freedom of conscience and religion as inviolable, even if the state declares a state of siege, and provides for freedom of worship as long as it does not violate the fundamental principles cited in the constitution. It establishes that all citizens are equal under the law with the same rights and obligations, irrespective of their religion. Political parties and labor unions are barred from affiliating with a particular religious group. The constitution recognizes the freedom of religious groups to teach their faith.

The government requires religious groups to obtain licenses. The formal process, which is not often followed, entails providing information on the name, location, type, and size of the organization to the Ministry of Justice.

According to the constitution, there is no religious instruction in public schools. The Ministry of Education regulates and enforces the decree against religious teaching in public schools. There are some private schools operated by religious groups.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

There were no reports of significant government action affecting religious freedom.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Some Muslim community members reported concerns about foreign imams teaching what they termed radical Islamic practices to the local Muslim population.

Religious group representatives reported there was positive societal respect among religious groups, in line with a tradition of religious moderation and tolerance.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. Representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal, discussed religious freedom, including the presence of foreign Christian and Muslim missionaries in the country, with government officials and representatives of religious groups. These included the minister of justice and the attorney general. Embassy representatives from Dakar also met with and discussed religious activity and religious freedom with representatives of an Islamic women’s organization, members of the Islamic Council, U.S. and Brazilian Protestant missionaries, the Bishop of Bissau (the country’s leading Roman Catholic official), and various Catholic priests.

2016 Report on International Religious Freedom: Guinea-Bissau
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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future