The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship, and prohibits political parties based on religious affiliation. The law states there is no national religion and individuals are free to change religions. Christians converting to Islam are permitted to add Muslim names to their Christian names on their official documents.
Neither the Catholic Church nor the Reformed Church of Equatorial Guinea is required to register with the MJRAPI. The only religious group to receive state funding for operating educational institutions is the Catholic Church.
Some long-standing religious groups such as Methodists, Muslims, and Baha’is hold permanent authorizations and are not required to renew their registrations with the MJRAPI. Newer groups and denominations may be required to renew their registration annually. To register, religious groups at the congregational level must submit a written application to the MJRAPI director general of religious affairs. Those seeking to register must supply detailed information about the leadership (e.g., curriculum vitae) and members of the group; construction plans of religious buildings; property ownership documents, accreditations, and religious mandate; and a fee of 100,000 Central African francs (CFA) ($170). The director general of religious affairs adjudicates these applications and may order an inspection by the MJRAPI before processing. The government may fine or shut down unregistered groups. The law requires a permit for door-to-door proselytism.
An MJRAPI decree specifies that any religious activities taking place outside the hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. or outside of registered places of worship require preauthorization from the MJRAPI. The decree prohibits religious acts or preaching within private residences if those acts involve persons who do not live there. Foreign religious representatives or authorities must obtain advance permission from the MJRAPI to participate in religious activities. The decree exempts the Catholic Church.
The government recognizes official documents issued by authorized religious groups, such as birth certificates and marriage certificates.
The constitution states individuals are free to study religion in schools and may not be forced to study a faith other than their own. Catholic religious classes are part of the public school curriculum, but such study may be replaced by non-Catholic religious study or by a recess with a note from a leader of another religious group.
Protestant groups, including the Reformed Church, Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God, Methodists, Baptists, and other Christians, operate primary and secondary schools. These schools must be registered with the government and fulfill standard curriculum requirements.
All foreigners, including foreign evangelical missionaries, are required to obtain residency permits to remain in the country.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
While the government continued routinely to grant permission for religious groups to hold activities outside of places of worship, except in private homes, it usually denied permits to hold activities outside of the prescribed hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., according to religious leaders. All religious groups, including a small number of Baha’i and Jewish groups, were allowed to hold services as long as they finished before 9 p.m. and did not disturb the peace. Evangelical Christian groups continued to hold activities outside the prescribed period with no repercussions.
Evangelical Christians reported residency permits were prohibitively expensive at 400,000 CFA francs ($660) for a two-year period, leading some missionaries to risk the consequences of not obtaining or renewing such permits. The local police reportedly enforced the requirement with threatened deportation and requested a small bribe as an alternative. There were no deportations reported. The residency permit fee for foreign missionaries was the same as for all other foreigners; however, if the missionary coordinated with the MJRAPI, the residency permit could be obtained for free, provided missionary status could be proven and the requisite security checks were passed. The residency permits were not required for Catholic missionaries.
Catholic masses remained a normal part of all major ceremonial functions, such as National Day on October 12 and the President’s Birthday on June 5. Catholic leaders were the only religious leaders to regularly meet publicly with the highest-level government officials. Catholic and Reformed Church leaders were often seated in preferred locations at official functions.
Some non-Catholics who worked for the government continued to report that their supervisors strongly encouraged participation in religious activities related to their government positions, including attending Catholic masses. Government officials stated it was expected that they attend the President’s Birthday Mass at the Catholic Church.
The government again allowed the Muslim community to celebrate Eid al-Adha in Malabo Stadium. Hundreds of Muslims participated.
In accordance with the parliament’s approval of a law in September 2017 making the National Day of Prayer an annual event to be celebrated on the first Sunday in April, religious groups again marked the event. In contrast with the previous year, there was no official government representation.
In early December an inspector from the Ministry of Education observed Jehovah’s Witnesses children at a public school in the remote district of Nsok Nsomo, Ebibeyin Province, who refused to sing the national anthem, in accordance with their religious beliefs. The Department of Religious Affairs under the Ministry of Justice then requested a meeting with representatives of every principal religious group. The invitation letter asked the representatives to bring their holy writings and a summary of their beliefs. After the religious groups submitted their documentation to the director general of religious affairs at the December 17 meeting, the attorney general informed the religious groups that the government planned to reassess the entire religious group authorization process. He stated the Department of Religious Affairs was considering drafting new regulations so it could properly monitor and assess religious groups’ needs in order to be a better resource. The attorney general did not refer to the incident with the Jehovah’s Witnesses children.