The constitution stipulates there shall be no state religion and prohibits religious discrimination. It provides for freedom of religion and belief individually or in communities, including the freedom to manifest any religion through worship, practice, teaching, or observance. The constitution also states individuals shall not be compelled to act or engage in any act contrary to their belief or religion. These rights shall not be limited except by law, and then only to the extent that the limitation is “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society.”
The constitution requires parliament to enact legislation recognizing a system of personal and family law adhered to by persons professing a particular religion. It specifically provides for qadi courts to adjudicate certain types of civil cases based on Islamic law, including questions relating to personal status, marriage, divorce, or inheritance in cases in which “all the parties profess the Muslim religion.” The country’s secular High Court has jurisdiction over civil or criminal proceedings, including those in the qadi courts, and accepts appeals of any qadi court decision.
According to the law, new religious groups, institutions or places of worship, and faith-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must register with the Registrar of Societies, which reports to the attorney general’s office. Indigenous and traditional religious groups are not required to register, and many do not. In order to register, registrants must have valid national identification documents and pay a fee. Registered religious institutions and places of worship may apply for tax-exempt status, including exemption from paying duty on imported goods. The law also requires that organizations dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, or the promotion of charity or research to register with the NGO Coordination Board.
A 2013 law formally transferred to the government control of public schools formerly run by religious groups. All public schools have religious education classes taught by government-funded teachers. The national curriculum mandates religious classes, and students may not opt out. Some public schools offer religious education options, usually Christian or Islamic studies, but they are not required to offer both.
The Ministry of Information, Communications, and Technology must approve regional radio and television broadcast licenses, including for religious organizations.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
There were reports by human rights groups of extrajudicial killings of members of Muslim groups by the government. Muslim groups said that the government linked the entire Muslim community with the terrorist group al-Shabaab, and discouraged, through intimidation, Muslim community members from reporting police misconduct. Muslim community leaders also stated they faced difficulties obtaining official identification documents, which they needed for voting and access to government and financial services. As religion and ethnicity are closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.
Human rights groups and prominent Muslim leaders stated the government targeted Muslims for extrajudicial killing, torture and forced interrogation, arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, and denial of freedom of assembly and worship. A July report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported 34 persons last seen in the custody of government security forces had disappeared over the past two years, and 11 bodies of people previously arrested were recovered. The victims were predominantly ethnic Somalis. The HRW report stated that some of the victims were either imams or Islamic education teachers, Islamic education students, or other Muslims with responsibilities in their local mosques. Imams in mosques or Islamic schools where youths had previously been arrested for alleged links with al-Shabaab told HRW they and their colleagues were frequently targeted for questioning, arbitrary arrests and, in some cases, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. The domestic NGO Independent Medico Legal Unit (IMLU) stated in early October that it had documented more than 100 civilian deaths because of police action in the prior eight months. Cabinet Secretary for the Interior Joseph Ole Nkaissery stated on October 5, “There is no policy whatsoever within the National Police Service to engage in extrajudicial killings,” and called the NGO statistics unsubstantiated.
The attorney general on May 1 suspended the registration of the Atheists in Kenya Society (AIK) following complaints by some religious leaders led by the Kenya National Congress of Pentecostal Churches (KNCPC) regarding AIK’s February 17 registration. The complaints said AIK was not consistent with the constitution, stating the constitution “recognizes Kenya as a country that believes in God.” The AIK appealed the decision in November.
According to media reports, a reported attack on September 11 by three Muslim women on a Mombasa police station prompted the Mombasa County commissioner to direct on September 16 that women in hijabs would be asked to remove their veils to undergo security checks when accessing public facilities. According to human rights organizations, the commissioner promptly clarified thereafter that only face veils needed to be removed for purposes of identification.
The Court of Appeal ruled in September that Muslim female students be allowed to wear a hijab as part of their school uniforms, overturning a March 2015 High Court verdict that said hijabs were discriminatory because they created disparity among students. The legal case arose from a 2014 lawsuit filed by the Methodist Church seeking to ban female students at St. Paul Kiwanjani High School in Isiolo from wearing the hijab and trousers, arguing the Methodist Church, as the school’s principal funder, should have the final say over student dress. The Court of Appeal decision stated that banning the hijab prevented female Muslim students from practicing their religion and therefore discriminated against them. Prior to the September ruling, government schools sometimes prevented girls from attending classes if they wore headscarves or other religious dress, stating such garments violated school uniform policies. It was unclear if the ruling also affected 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. Members of 47 Akorino churches verbally protested in March over perceived discrimination in public offices and institutions. The church leaders said the government discriminated against their members in hiring and that public schools occasionally ordered their children to remove their headgear or face suspension.
Although the government formally controls public schools run by religious groups, in practice, however, religious groups still have some say in their management and sometimes contest land ownership. For example, Precious Blood Secondary School in Nairobi County is a public school co-located with a Catholic convent and the teaching staff includes Catholic nuns of the order of Precious Blood Sisters.
Muslim leaders stated the police often linked the whole Muslim community to al-Shabaab. The Independent Policing Oversight Authority, a civilian government body that investigates police misconduct, said that intimidation by police often prevented members of the Muslim community from filing complaints about these incidents.
Muslim leaders reported Muslim citizens often faced particular difficulties acquiring national identification from the National Registration Bureau. Identification cards are required by law and are a prerequisite for voting and access to certain government and financial services. Failure to register is a crime. Muslim communities – including ethnic Somali communities, coastal Muslim communities, the Nubian community in Nairobi, and the Galjeel community around the Tana River – reported they were often subjected to more requirements than other groups in order to register. These included presentation of birth certificates and citizenship documents of their fathers and grandfathers. They stated they were also required to make special appearances at specified police stations. The government stated the additional scrutiny was necessary to deter illegal immigration and to fight terrorism and that such scrutiny was not intended to discriminate against certain ethnic or religious groups.
In January the government withdrew proposed Religious Societies Rules in response to religious leaders’ objections. The attorney general proposed the rules in December 2014 to regulate religious organizations and keep their leaders accountable. The Religion News Service reported in January that the Rules came from concerns that some pastors were “fleecing” followers and that some mosques were becoming “centers of radicalization.” Christian and Muslim leaders stated the Rules would “trample” on religious freedom and turn religious institutions into businesses and political entities. The government withdrew the proposed rules after President Uhuru Kenyatta met with religious leaders. They agreed that religious leaders and the public would be consulted and allowed to provide input for a new draft. The draft had not been finalized at year’s end. In the interim, new religious organizations were not able to register with the Registrar of Societies. According to the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya, more than 3,000 registration applications for religious groups were pending as of November.
The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, a government body established in 2013 to determine policies related to the national public education curriculum, began developing a new school curriculum that includes religious education material.
Abuses by Rebel or Foreign Forces or Terrorist Organizations
During terrorist attacks in northeast Kenya, multiple reports stated attackers targeted non-Muslims. On October 6, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an attack that killed six people in a residential compound in Mandera County, and stated it had targeted and killed Christians. On October 25, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a similar attack that killed 12 people at a hotel in Mandera. A similar attack resulting in the death of four people occurred on January 31 in Lamu County. Overall, there were fewer attacks on civilians by al-Shabaab and fewer resulting civilian casualties than in the previous two years.