The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and the right to worship subject to “compliance with the law, public order, public morality, and the rights of others.” It stipulates the right to religious freedom may not be abrogated even when the government declares a state of emergency or siege.
The law regulates the establishment and operation of religious groups. According to law, the government may legally recognize, suspend recognition of, or dissolve religious groups. The government grants tax-exempt status to recognized religious groups. Nonprofit organizations, including foreign and domestic religious groups, must register with the government to obtain official recognition by submitting a copy of their bylaws and constitution. Religious groups must register only once for the group as a whole, but nonprofit organizations affiliated with a religious group must register separately. Upon receiving a submission, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) issues a provisional approval and, within six months, a permanent approval or rejection. Unless the MOJ specifically rejects the application, the group is considered approved and registered after six months even if the ministry has not issued a final determination. Applications from international headquarters of religious organizations must be approved by the presidency after submission through the MOJ. The law requires officially recognized religious groups to operate as nonprofits and respect the general public order. It also permits religious groups to establish places of worship and train clergy. The law prescribes penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment, a fine of 200,000 Congolese francs ($130), or both for groups that are not properly registered but receive gifts and donations on behalf of a church or other religious organization.
The constitution permits public schools to work with religious authorities to provide religious education to students in accordance with students’ religious beliefs if parents request it. Public schools with religious institution guardianship may provide religious instruction, but government-owned schools may not mandate religious instruction.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
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.