The constitutions of the union government and Zanzibar both provide for equality regardless of religion, prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, and stipulate freedom of conscience or faith and choice in matters of religion, including the freedom to change one’s faith. The union government constitution allows these rights to be limited by law for purposes such as protecting the rights of others; promoting the national interest; and defense, safety, peace, morality, and health. The Zanzibar constitution allows the rights to be limited by law if such a limitation is “necessary and agreeable in the democratic system” and does not limit the “foundation” of the right or bring “more harm” to society.
The law prohibits religious groups from registering as political parties. In order to register as a political party, an entity cannot use religion as a basis to approve membership, nor can the promotion of religion be a policy of that entity.
The law prohibits any person from taking any action or making statements with the intent of insulting the religious beliefs of another person. Anyone committing such an offense is liable to a year’s imprisonment.
On the mainland, secular laws govern Christians and Muslims in both criminal and civil cases. In family-related cases involving inheritance, marriage, divorce, and the adoption of minors, the law also recognizes customary practices, which could include religious practices. In such cases, some Muslims choose to consult religious leaders in lieu of bringing a court case.
Zanzibar, while also subject to the union constitution, has its own president, court system, and legislature. Muslims in Zanzibar have the option of bringing cases to a civil or qadi (Islamic court or judge) court for matters of divorce, child custody, inheritance, and other issues covered by Islamic law. All cases tried in Zanzibar courts, except those involving Zanzibari constitutional matters and sharia, may be appealed to the Union Court of Appeals on the mainland. Decisions of Zanzibar’s qadi courts may be appealed to a special court consisting of the Zanzibar chief justice and five other sheikhs. The President of Zanzibar appoints the chief qadi, who oversees the qadicourts and is recognized as the senior Islamic scholar responsible for interpreting the Quran. There are no qadi courts on the mainland.
Religious groups must register with the registrar of societies at the Ministry of Home Affairs on the mainland and with the Office of the Registrar General on Zanzibar. Registration is required by law on both the mainland and in Zanzibar, but the penalties for failing to comply with this requirement are not stated in the law.
To register, religious groups must provide the names of at least 10 members, a written constitution, resumes of their leaders, and a letter of recommendation from the district commissioner. Such groups can then list individual congregations, which do not need separate registration. In addition, Muslim groups registering on the mainland must provide a letter of approval from the National Muslim Council of Tanzania (BAKWATA), a government body. Muslim groups registering in Zanzibar must provide a letter of approval from the mufti, the government’s official liaison to the Muslim community. Christian groups in Zanzibar may register directly with the registrar general.
On the mainland, BAKWATA elects the mufti. On Zanzibar, the President of Zanzibar appoints the mufti, who serves as a leader of the Muslim community and as a public servant assisting with local governmental affairs. The Mufti of Zanzibar nominally approves all Islamic activities and supervises all mosques on Zanzibar. The mufti also approves religious lectures by visiting Islamic clergy and supervises the importation of Islamic literature from outside Zanzibar.
Public schools may teach religion, but it is not a part of the official national curriculum. School administration or parent and teacher associations must approve such classes, which are taught on an occasional basis by parents or volunteers. Public school registration forms must specify a child’s religious affiliation so administrators can assign students to the appropriate religion class if one is offered. Students may also choose to opt out of religious studies. Private schools may teach religion, though it is not required, and these schools generally follow the national educational curriculum unless they receive a waiver from the Ministry of Education for a separate curriculum. In public schools, students are allowed to wear the hijab but not the niqab.
The government does not designate religious affiliation on passports or records of vital statistics. Police reports must state religious affiliation if an individual will have to give sworn testimony. Applications for medical care must specify religious affiliation so that any specific religious customs may be observed. The law requires the government to record the religious affiliation of every prisoner and provide facilities for worship for prisoners.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In September three suspects were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for arson in the case of the 2015 burning of an Evangelical Lutheran Church in the western Kagera Region. Little progress was made in several other cases of arson in the region.
In July Bishop Gwajima of the Pentecostal Glory of Christ Tanzania Church in Dar es Salaam was arrested on the basis of sedition and questioned by the police. The police reportedly arrested Gwajima after he spoke from the pulpit on political issues involving the leadership of Tanzania’s ruling party in June. Police released the bishop after four hours, but his church’s license was suspended until the end of the investigation. Bishop’s Gwajima’s followers (approximately 10,000 people) operated under the licenses of other churches. The Pentecostal Pastor Fellowship of Tanzania clerics revoked his membership and urged the Ministry of Home Affairs to deregister the bishop. As of the end of the year, the investigation was ongoing.
By year’s end, there had not been a hearing on the 2013 case of the leaders of the Association of Islamic Mobilization and Propagation (known as Uamsho, meaning “Awakening” in Swahili), a Muslim community development organization. Twenty-two of the group’s leaders were arrested in 2013 and charged with terrorism in connection with a number of incidents around the country, including at least two attacks on religious leaders. The authorities subsequently charged additional suspects in the case. No suspects received bail and all remained in custody. The government’s appeal of a 2014 High Court ruling that the Kisutu Magistrates’ Court had jurisdiction to hear the case was still pending. Some of the accused appeared in court during the year, but there were no new developments in the case.
There were no new developments in the case of a suspect arrested in 2013 for alleged involvement in a clash between Muslims and Christians near Mwanza that led to the death of a pastor, injuries of multiple persons, and property damage. Similarly there were no new developments in the case of a 2013 acid attack against a Catholic priest in Zanzibar.
Between July 2015 and March 2016, the registrar of societies on the mainland received 102 registration requests from religious groups. The registrar approved 26, rejected 13, and 55 were pending at year’s end. Most of the rejections were reportedly because of missing information, according to the official record. Determinations on complete applications were often made in a matter of months, but if the registrar required further information, the follow-up process could take years. There were reports that some religious organizations operated for more than four years without full registration. Registrations in Zanzibar were generally quick, often taking no more than a week.
Over the course of the year, media sources reported President John Magufuli attended services at four different churches and one mosque. During these visits, he asked for religious leaders to preach peace in the country. He also called for peace and religious tolerance at an iftar he hosted. Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa addressed an interfaith iftar program in July, noting his appreciation for religious leaders using their places of worship to preach tolerance, peace, and harmony.
In August the Regional Commissioner of the Shinyanga Region assembled religious leaders in the area to discuss peace and security. Leaders represented Christian and Muslim congregations and stated they would like the government to conduct a dialogue with religious leaders.