The constitution defines the state as secular and prohibits religious discrimination. The constitution requires the state to protect churches and religious groups as long as they comply with the law. The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, and worship, and it recognizes the right of religious groups to organize and carry out their activities as long as they adhere to the law. The constitution permits conscientious objection for religious reasons, prohibits questioning individuals about their religious beliefs for reasons other than anonymous statistical purposes, and specifies religious rights may not be suspended even if the state declares a state of war, siege, or emergency. It recognizes the right of prisoners to receive visits from, and correspond with, religious counselors. The law establishes that conscientious objectors may perform civilian service as an alternative to military service.
In May a new religious freedom law came into force. The new law, which updates a 2004 law, continues to require religious groups to register to receive government recognition and allows the government to close down unregistered groups. Legal recognition gives religious groups the ability to purchase property collectively and use their property to hold religious events, exempts them from paying certain property and import taxes, and authorizes a group to be treated as an incorporated entity in the court system. The new law requires 60,000 member signatures from legal residents to apply for registration, a decrease from the previous requirement of 100,000 signatures, and adds a requirement that at least 1,000 signatures originate from members residing in each of the country’s 18 provinces. Each signature and resident declaration must be notarized separately. The law requires religious groups to submit documents defining their organizational structure, location, methods and schedule of worship, financial resources, and planned construction projects. The law also establishes qualification requirements for clergy and requires religious doctrine to conform with the principles and rights outlined in the constitution.
The Ministry of Culture through its National Institute for Religious Affairs (INAR) is the adjudication authority for the registration process and has an oversight role of religious activities. INAR, which is led by a religious minister, assists religious groups through the registration process and analyzes religious doctrine to ensure that it is consistent with the constitution. Prior to May, when the new law came into force, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, rather than INAR, adjudicated the registration process.
Religious instruction is not a component of the public educational system. Private schools are allowed to teach religion.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On May 31, media reported that the government had closed 2,308 places of worship since November 2018 as part of the nationwide Operation Rescue law enforcement campaign to combat criminality. Government officials acknowledged the closures but disputed the figures reported in the state-owned newspaper. They stated that regulation was necessary to prevent “religious fraud” and practices that violate human rights or cultural norms. Some of the places of worship, including two mosques, received authorization to reopen. The government provided no further data on places of worship that reopened. The government stated that many of the churches were closed for hosting criminal activity and not complying with zoning laws meant to protect the health and safety of citizens. Separately, the Islamic Community of Angola (COIA) confirmed that 46 mosques had been closed, mainly in Lunda Norte Province.
Activity conducted under Operation Rescue included the closure of several unlicensed religious groups that failed to comply with an October 2018 mandate that all unregistered religious groups submit initial registration documents within 30 days or cease operations. Ninety-four unregistered religious groups applied for recognition in 2018 in compliance with the October 2018 registration mandate.
Following the entry into force of the new religious freedom law in May, the government gave religious groups that had submitted their registration files six months (May to November) to finalize the registration process and gather 60,000 signatures. Unregistered religious groups complained that the period was too short and that the notary and residential declaration requirements, which they estimated to cost approximately $7.50 per signature, were too costly and burdensome for their congregations. In addition to the signature requirement, the large number of undocumented residents and an unreliable residential registry system also presented obstacles to registration, according the religious group leaders. While the law states the government may shut down religious groups that do not meet the requirements, government officials informed religious leaders they would delay enforcement until the presidency published additional implementing regulations.
Religious leaders continued to criticize the 2018 decree that led to the closure of more than 2,000 places of worship and the registration requirements under the new religion law. Several also complained that the government did not recognize theology training completed abroad.
The INAR director and Ministry of Culture officials continued to state concern about the proliferation of religious “sects,” some of which were alleged to have exploited vulnerable populations with limited financial means by requiring them to provide recurring payments or dues to worship or belong to these organizations. In a May speech, former minister of culture Carolina Cerqueira explained that the government must closely monitor religious congregations to protect its citizens from “predatory religious groups.”
The government continued not to recognize any Muslim groups officially or issue any licenses to Muslim groups to practice their religion legally. Two Muslim organizations, CISA (Islamic Community of Angola) and COIA (also translated as the Islamic Community of Angola), submitted initial documentation requesting official recognition of their mosques following the October 2018 mandate and the new religious freedom law. In the past, government officials stated that some practices allowed by Islam, such as polygamy, contradicted the constitution. According to COIA, there were 69 unregistered mosques in the country.
The Baha’i Faith and the Church of World Messianity remained the only two non-Christian organizations legally registered prior to the 2004 law. Jewish and Ismaili Muslim religious minorities, mostly concentrated in the business sector, reported no issues concerning religious freedom and stated they had good relations with high-level government officials.
On January 28, the government released on probation four local Muslims convicted in 2017 for attempting to establish a terrorist cell after serving half of their three-year sentences. Journalists and human rights organizations welcomed the court decision to release the four young Muslims but continued to criticize the 2016 murder conviction of Jose Kalupeteka, leader of the Light of the World religious group. They argued that both cases were politically motivated and marred by religious bias. Some activist groups urged the government to reopen the Kalupeteka case in order to have an independent review, and others demanded his unconditional release.
During the year, Catholic radio station Ecclesia expanded its broadcast area to 14 provinces following a January 2018 presidential announcement that the government would allow the radio station to extend its signal beyond Luanda Province.
A bilateral framework agreement between the Holy See and the government was signed during Minister of External Relations Manuel Augusto’s visit to the Vatican on September 12-14. The agreement recognized the Catholic Church’s activities in the country, its real property, including schools and health centers, as well the expansion of Radio Ecclesia’s signal to all the country.