The constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits religious discrimination in the workplace. Other laws protect individual religious beliefs against abuses by government or private actors. The constitution states that such rights may be limited by the need to protect the rights of others or to preserve public order, national dignity, or state security. The labor code prohibits religious discrimination in labor unions and professional associations.
The law requires religious groups to register with the Ministry of the Interior. By registering, a religious group receives the legal status necessary to receive direct bequests and other donations. Once registered, the group may apply for a tax exemption each time it receives a gift from abroad. Registered religious groups also have the right to acquire land from individuals to build places of worship; however, the law states landowners should first cede the land back to the state, after which the state will then transfer it to the religious group. To qualify for registration, a group must have at least 100 members and an elected administrative council of no more than nine members, all of whom must be citizens.
Groups failing to meet registration requirements may instead register as “simple associations.” Simple associations may not receive donations or hold religious services, but the law allows them to conduct various types of community and social projects. Associations engaging in dangerous or destabilizing activities may be disbanded or have their registration withdrawn. Simple associations must apply for a tax exemption each time they receive a donation from abroad. If an association has foreign leadership and/or members, it may form an association “reputed to be foreign.” An association is reputed to be foreign only if the leader or members of the board include foreign nationals. Such foreign associations may receive only temporary authorizations, subject to periodic renewal and other conditions. The law does not prohibit national associations from having foreign nationals as members.
Public schools do not offer religious education. There is no law prohibiting or limiting religious education in public or private schools.
The government requires a permit for all public demonstrations, including religious events such as outdoor worship services.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
According to Muslim leaders, nationality determination issues continued to affect the Muslim community members, but to a lesser extent than in previous years. The code of nationality promulgated in 2017 did not address the problem of children born of two stateless parents. These individuals remained unable to obtain citizenship, even after several generations of residence in the country. Under the nationality code, children with unknown parentage are to be evaluated based on appearance, ethnicity, and other factors. The 2017 changes in the code, however, allow mothers to confer nationality on their children, which Muslim leaders said appeared to ease the nationality determination problem somewhat. Muslim leaders continued to state the law affected the Muslim community disproportionately, since many members are descendants of immigrants and are unable to acquire citizenship, despite generations of residence in the country. Children of ethnic Indian, Pakistani, and Comorian descent often had difficulty obtaining citizenship, leaving a disproportionate number of Muslims stateless. A 2014 study estimated that approximately 6 percent of individuals in the communities surveyed were stateless and of this number, more than 85 percent were born in the country.
The government issued a decree in February declaring Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as national holidays. In previous years, only Muslims were granted paid leave on these holidays. At the request of the Muslim community, the government changed the date of the Eid al-Fitr holiday from June 4 to June 5 to align with the sighting of the new moon.
In September Antananarivo city officials ordered the temporary closing of the Vahao ny Oloko (Release my People) evangelical Christian Church due to what it stated were complaints from neighbors of excessive noise throughout the day and at night. After a site visit in October, officials allowed the partial reopening of the church on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Church leaders said city officials restricted their freedom of religion by preventing them from supporting church members through constant prayer and that they had taken steps to reduce noise levels, such as improving sound proofing and ceasing night prayers. Church leaders stated the local government discriminated against their community, noting that officials did not restrict the activities of other religious groups whose worship activities also produced noise outside their premises, such as worship services accompanied by ringing bells.
The Ministry of the Interior registered 15 new religious groups during the year, a decrease from 49 new groups the previous year, bringing the total to a reported 373 officially registered groups. Religious groups stated the government did not always enforce registration requirements and did not deny requests for registration. In addition, the government acknowledged that some registered groups may have become inactive or had dissolved without informing the government.
Religious leaders continued to state that inadequate government enforcement of labor laws resulted in some employers requiring their employees to work during religious services. Faith-based social centers receiving vulnerable workers and labor unions continued to report that employers failed to respect the labor code provisions requiring a 24-hour break weekly, which affected factory workers’ ability to attend worship services.
The leadership of the Muslim Malagasy Association, which states it represents all Muslims in the country, reported some Muslims continued to encounter difficulty obtaining official documents, such as national identity cards and passports, because of their Arabic-sounding names.
State-run Malagasy National Television continued to provide free broadcasting to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and to Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Presbyterians on weekends, along with the Muslim community once a week. During Ramadan, the Muslim community was able to purchase additional broadcast time. The leader of a well-known local evangelical Protestant church again reported his church rarely received access to the state-run television and radio, even if it agreed to pay for the broadcast time.