The constitution provides that no person shall be hindered in exercising freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and religion, freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in a community, in public or in private, to manifest and propagate one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. These rights may be subject to limitations in the interests of defense or public safety, order, morality, or health, or to protect the rights and freedoms of other persons. Although the country does not have an explicit law regarding hate speech, the Public Order Act describes as seditious libel spoken or written words that “encourage or promote feelings of ill will and hostility between different tribes or nationalities or between persons of different religious faith in Sierra Leone.”
The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs is responsible for religious matters. Religious groups seeking recognition by the ministry must complete registration forms and provide police clearance attesting that they do not have a criminal record, proof of funding, and annual work plans to receive tax concessions. There is no penalty for organizations that choose not to file for recognition, but registration is required in order to obtain tax exemptions and waiver benefits.
The constitution provides that “except with his own consent” (or if a minor the consent of the parent or guardian), no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or to attend any religious ceremony or observance if that instruction, ceremony, or observance relates to a religion other than the person’s own. The mandatory course, Religious and Moral Education, provides an introduction to Christianity, Islam, African traditional beliefs, and other religious traditions around the world, as well as teachings about morals and ethics, and is required in all public schools through high school, without the choice to opt out. Instruction in a specific religion is permissible only in schools organized by religious groups.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On January 8, the country has constitutionally mandated political parties monitor, the PPRC, ordered CDP leader Musa Tarawally to remove his campaign posters and billboards stating, “Allah is One” as its election campaign slogan across the country. The PPRC cited the constitutional prohibition against political parties using any motto that has exclusive or significant connotation to members of any particular tribal or ethnic group or religious faith. The president of the IRC, which includes Muslim groups, publicly supported the action of the PPRC, stating, “People must not use the name of Allah to gain cheap popularity in politics” and “Religion is religion and politics is politics.” According to the PPRC, this was the first time since independence in 1961 that a party positioned itself as an Islamic party using Quranic verses as its campaign slogan.
The government continued to enforce a law prohibiting the production, sale, and consumption of marijuana. Rastafarians continued to state they viewed this prohibition as an infringement on their religious freedom to access cannabis, as it is a core component of their religious practices. One Rastafarian high priest was arrested in August, his marijuana was seized, and he was detained at a correctional facility for five days. Another community member was apprehended by police in September for possession of cannabis and was released on bail.
The Office of National Security (ONS) held several meetings with the IRC and the Council of Imams as part of its counterterrorism strategy but did not organize a formal event, reportedly due to lack of funding. The ONS continued to express concerns regarding the possible emergence of what it referred to as Muslim extremism. The ONS also reported concerns by Christian and Muslim leaders and civil society groups relating to susceptible unemployed and uneducated youth from the Muslim community joining the Tabligh movement, a revivalist Sunni Muslim movement originating in India preaching a fundamentalist form of Islam.