The constitution defines the state as secular, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship. The law requires religious groups to seek government recognition by meeting legally established criteria and allows the government to shutter the premises of unregistered groups. There are 81 recognized religious groups and more than 1,100 unrecognized religious groups. The government has not recognized any new religious groups since 2004. In March, the government detained more than two dozen religious leaders and worshippers in several towns for violating a ban prohibiting all large gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, religious organizations formed an ecumenical task force to advise the government’s effort to combat COVID-19. In September, the government issued a decree stating that only legally recognized religious groups could hold services on a limited basis under continued COVID restrictions. In September, leaders from the Islamic community responded by saying these restrictions violated their constitutional rights. Subsequently, the government liberalized religious restrictions to better accommodate Islamic Friday prayers.
In June, leaders of the local branch of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD) split from the Brazilian church leadership, leading to competing lawsuits and the seizure by the government of seven temples for tax fraud and other fiscal crimes, according to international media.
Throughout the year, officials from the U.S. embassy raised religious freedom issues, including the 2019 closure of places of worship, COVID-19 restrictions, long-pending registration applications, and implementation of religious freedom legislation, with government officials. Embassy officials spoke with representatives of religious groups and civil society organizations throughout the country to discuss the continuing issue of recognition of religious groups, the public split of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, and the effect of COVID-19 restrictions on the ability to worship freely.
The constitution establishes a secular state and provides for freedom of religious thought, expression, and practice. All religious groups must register with the government. Government officials at the department and municipal levels have the authority to issue orders suspending certain types of religious practice to maintain peace, although they rarely used it in practice, according to religious groups. Police only interfered in religious practices when there was a “disruption of public order,” according to the Ministry of Interior, which cited two examples of internal disputes in which authorities intervened. Central and local government officials generally included religious leaders in decision-making involving civil society leaders. On March 21, government officials met with religious leaders to discuss the closure of places of worship to limit the spread of COVID-19. In May, Archbishop of Cotonou Roger Houngbedji expressed disappointment that places of worship were grouped with bars and restaurants as leisure services, rather than with markets as essential services which remained open.
There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.
U.S. embassy representatives regularly spoke with leaders of religious groups in cities throughout the country to address religious freedom and tolerance. Throughout the year, the embassy also engaged with religious leaders in conducting its development activities and as part of its ongoing outreach to civil society organizations.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, with certain exceptions, and protection against governmental discrimination based on creed. An antidiscrimination policy in schools adopted by the government allows students to wear religion-based clothing with their uniforms, including hijabs.
Representatives of religious organizations said the country continued to have a high degree of religious tolerance and robust interfaith relations.
U.S. embassy officials met with representatives of faith groups to discuss religious freedom, interreligious relations, and community engagement.
The constitution states the country is a secular state, and both it and other laws provide for the right of individuals to choose and change their religion and to practice the religion of their choice. International media reported that terrorist groups, armed insurgents, and jihadists continued their campaign of violence and sometimes targeted places of worship or religious leaders in an attempt to divide the country along sectarian lines. On October 21, at a government forum on “national cohesion,” Speaker of the National Assembly Allassane Bala Sakande stated, “In this war against terrorism, we are not engaged against an ethnic group or against a religion, but we are engaged against those who hate Burkina Faso and the Burkinabe.” In July, Minister of Interior and Territorial Administration Simeon Sawadogo joined the Catholic Archbishop of Ouagadougou during Eid al-Fitr prayers led by the Grand Imam of Ouagadougou and called on the population to “cultivate religious tolerance.” The government issued a decree integrating traditional religions into the Office of National Religious Affairs (ONAFAR), a government office whose main mission is to promote interreligious dialogue, and prevent and manage conflicts of a religious nature.
Domestic and transnational terrorist groups operated throughout the year, resulting in numerous targeted killings based on religious identity, according to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Attackers killed imams, other clergy, and worshippers while attacking and destroying mosques and churches. Reports stated that they also forced communities in the northern part of the country to dress in specific “Islamic” garb. Terrorists attacked schools and killed teachers for teaching a secular curriculum and for teaching in French rather than Arabic, according to media reports. As of August, terrorist violence forced more than 2,500 schools to close, depriving more than 330,000 children of education, according to UNICEF. Expanding their targeted killings, terrorist groups increasingly attacked Christian religious leaders and worshippers and destroyed churches.
Human rights organizations and religious groups continued to express concern that religiously targeted violence threatened what they termed the traditional peaceful coexistence of religious groups in the country. Academic and other observers stated that the “stigmatization” of the mostly Muslim ethnic-Fulani community because of their perceived sympathy for Islamists aggravated existing societal tensions and posed a threat to stability.
U.S. embassy officials discussed the continued increase in religiously motivated attacks, particularly in the Sahel and Est Regions, with the government, including the Ministries of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Security, and the Office of the President. In addition, embassy staff met religious leaders to promote religious freedom, interfaith tolerance, and civil dialogue. Throughout the year, the Ambassador or Charge d’Affaires met with imams and Catholic and Protestant leaders to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom and tolerance. During the year, the embassy conducted regular outreach with imams, Catholic priests, and Protestant leaders to understand the current threat to religious freedom and tolerance in the country as a result of the unprecedented violence against both Christian and Muslim worshippers.
The constitution defines the state as secular, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for freedom of conscience and religion. It prohibits political parties from preaching religious violence or hate. Laws regulating religious groups require them to register with the Ministry of Interior, and religious groups must meet certain standards, including a minimum number of adherents, in order to seek registration. In September, the Minister of Interior met with a delegation of the East-Central Africa Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to address the continued imprisonment of Church president Lameck Barishinga and other matters related to leadership issues within the Church, including approving a transitional leadership team chaired by David Bavugubusa. In February and May, police briefly detained the leader of Vivante Church, Pastor Artemon Nzambimana, and other pastors from the Church. In October, the government closed two Free Methodist churches in Cibitoke Province following clashes between the churches’ leadership and congregations. In July, the government announced the suspension of requests to register new religious groups until further notice, citing the need to design new registration procedures. In May, the Conference of Catholic Bishops, citing the reports of their 2,716 observers during the May 20 general election, released a report concluding numerous election-related irregularities could affect the transparency and fairness of the elections results. On June 5, their public statement “rejoiced with the electorate” and congratulated then President-elect Ndayishimiye.
Religious leaders from different denominations took measures to promote peace and reconciliation. In January, members of the Interfaith Council organized a workshop with religious leaders to discuss the causes and consequences of conflicts in the country and to develop strategies that contributed toward sustainable peace and reconciliation. Media reported instances in which residents complained about noisy churches in their neighborhoods and sometimes clashed with church members.
The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy representatives encouraged community leaders, including representatives of major faith groups, to support religious tolerance and promote interfaith discussion of the collaborative role religious groups could play in disseminating a message of peace and reconciliation.
The constitution and other laws protect the right of individuals to choose, practice, profess, and change their religion. The law provides for freedom of religion and worship and provides for equal rights in accordance with the constitution and international law. The law requires religious groups to prove they have 500 members before they may register formally as such and accords them certain rights and privileges. Under a concordat with the Holy See, the government recognizes the legal status of the Catholic Church and Catholic marriages under civil law.
There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.
Embassy representatives discussed interfaith relations with members of civil society, including religious leaders, around the country and promoted respect for religious freedom.
The constitution establishes the state as secular, prohibits religious harassment, and provides for freedom of religion and worship. According to media and religious leaders, most abuses involving religious freedom occurred in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest Regions, where a violent separatist conflict continued. In July, security officers killed a timekeeper at a Protestant church in Bangem as he rang the bell for morning prayers. In August, soldiers looking for separatists arrested and killed a Protestant pastor and several of his followers in the village of Mautu. In October, security forces arrested a Catholic priest one day after he began a protest march to raise awareness about violence in the Anglophone region and call for the release of political detainees. Also in October, gendarmes in the town of Ndop arrested the pastor of the Cameroon Baptist Convention, stating that he supported separatists spiritually and financially. Religious leaders in the Anglophone regions repeatedly accused security forces of burning churches, forcing residents to quarter soldiers, and desecrating religious spaces and objects. On several occasions, Christians in the Northwest and Southwest Regions said security forces interrupted church services and prevented them from accessing places of worship. In August, the government shut down a Yaounde church whose leaders preached that COVID-19 was a hoax and refused to comply with official public health mandates on crowd sizes. Religious leaders expressed frustration with the government’s failure to register any new religious groups for the 10th consecutive year and said many requests remained pending.
According to multiple media outlets and civil society organizations, Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued to carry out violent attacks against civilians and military forces. Insurgents attacked places of worship and private homes. According to religious and civil society organizations, in more than 20 separate attacks in the Far North Region in January, presumed Islamist terrorists killed more than a dozen Christians, burned at least three churches, and destroyed nearly 200 homes. In August, suspected Islamist terrorists killed 14 community leaders in Bulgaram in the Far North Region during preparations for evening prayers in the local mosque, reportedly because community leaders cited the Quran while criticizing terrorism.
Media reported that Anglophone separatists in the Northwest Region killed a religious leader in Batibo who criticized their actions. In a separate incident, religious leaders in the Northwest Region accused separatists of killing a pastor in Batibo and of vandalizing churches and destroying worship articles in the village of Nwa. Religious leaders and civil society expressed concern over worsening relations between largely progovernment Muslim Mbororo herders and Anglophone, predominantly Christian, communities. In October, suspected separatists abducted parishioners in Kumbo during a pilgrimage to pray for peace in the Anglophone regions. Throughout the year, Muslim and Christian leaders initiated interfaith activities aimed at facilitating interreligious dialogue, promoting peaceful coexistence of different faiths, and seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, where Anglophone separatists were seeking secession. In March, Christian and Muslim leaders collaborated with UNICEF, sharing ideas on appropriate messaging by religious groups within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Embassy officials discussed with government officials the failure to register faith-based organizations. They also underlined the effect of the sociopolitical crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions on freedom of worship as well as the importance of interfaith dialogue with government officials, including regional delegations from the Ministry of Social Affairs and the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms. In discussions with leading figures from the main religious groups, U.S. embassy officers stressed the importance of interfaith dialogue, the necessity of assuring religious freedom within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need for a peaceful solution to the continuing crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. In August, the embassy issued a press release condemning the killing of a religious leader in Batibo and called for those responsible to be brought to justice.
Central African Republic
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and equal protection under the law regardless of religion. It prohibits all forms of religious intolerance and “religious fundamentalism.” The law also requires the head of state to take an oath of office that includes a promise to fulfill the duties of the office without any consideration of religion. The government continued to exercise limited or no control or influence in most of the country. Police and the gendarmerie (military police) continued to fail to stop or punish abuses committed by armed groups, such as killings, physical abuse, and gender-based violence, including those based on religious affiliation, according to human rights organizations. The government and the country’s armed groups continued their efforts to implement the 2019 Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation (APPR), including an agreement to safeguard places of worship from violent attacks. Civilians, however, were still plagued by atrocities and crimes by nonstate actors. In January, after public consultations, the National Assembly passed a law that created a Truth, Justice, Reparations, and Reconciliation Commission in support of the APPR. As of September, the Special Criminal Court (SCC), established in 2018 in Bangui to investigate serious human rights violations, some of which were related to religious identity, announced that it had received 122 complaints and had opened a preliminary investigation on one case. During the year the Bangui Criminal Court for the first time convicted militia leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The case involved leaders of five predominantly Christian militias who perpetrated an attack against Muslims in Bangassou in 2017 in which dozens of persons were killed. Registering for the December general election process posed challenges for religious minorities, according to international observers. Clashes between armed groups continued to threaten the safety of religious groups.
Many Muslims, the principal religious minority in the country, remained displaced in the western part of the country, where according to media reports, they were not allowed to practice their religion freely. In September, Bishop Nestor Nongo-Aziagbia, president of the country’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said the armed groups were rearming, despite their commitments to the APPR. He stated the country’s religious leaders were united for peace. Muslims continued to report social discrimination and marginalization, including difficulties acquiring identification documents, and security concerns. According to Al Jazeera, individuals accused of sorcery or witchcraft, many of them elderly Christians, experienced social exclusion and were unable to attend houses of worship. Traditional and social media outlets continued to feature hate speech, which in many cases negatively portrayed Muslims.
In meetings with President Faustin-Archange Touadera and other government officials, embassy representatives raised concerns about religious freedom and the safe, voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their home communities. The Ambassador advocated for the government to add a provision allowing refugees, the majority of whom are Muslim, to vote in the December election. Embassy officials regularly engaged with religious leaders on issues related to religious freedom and reconciliation. The Ambassador visited the local school of the first two embassy-sponsored student participants in the Pan Africa Youth Leadership Program from the marginalized PK5 Muslim community in Bangui. Embassy officials monitored religious and ethnic-based hate speech in local media and expressed concern about hate speech to local media and government contacts on a regular basis. The embassy gave equal attention to all principal religious holidays on social media. During the year, the embassy sponsored the travel of a female Muslim community leader to the United States for a program to mentor women leaders on promoting peace and security.
The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and worship, consistent with law and order, and prohibits religious discrimination. It emphasizes that religious tolerance is fundamental to the nation’s unity, national reconciliation, and social cohesion. It forbids speech that encourages religious hatred. In late August, following sometimes violent protests against President Alassane Ouattara’s candidacy for a third term in office, Catholic Archbishop of Abidjan Cardinal Jean-Pierre Kutwa, acting in what he said was his personal capacity, gave a press conference in which he said the President’s candidacy was “not necessary.” The Cardinal stated there was “increasing radicalization” across the political spectrum and “unacceptable violence” during the protests. He called for peace and reconciliation in the lead-up to the October presidential election. Following the Cardinal’s statement, members of the ruling coalition, including Catholic cabinet ministers, held a press conference at the Catholic cathedral in Abidjan and said the Cardinal’s words did not help calm “rising societal tensions” in the country. Some commentators, both supportive and critical of the administration, suggested Kutwa’s statement showed he supported the opposition, although Kutwa repeatedly denied having any political affiliation. Posters on social media self-identifying as Muslim accused the Cardinal of opposing the President, also a Muslim, because of the President’s religion. In March, as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government met with religious leaders of a wide spectrum of faiths to ask them to encourage their followers to respect government decrees related to COVID-19, in particular, a 15-day ban on meetings of more than 50 persons. Many religious groups then cancelled religious services and closed places of worship temporarily.
The director of the nationwide Islamic radio station and television network Al-Bayane, an imam, stated that he had a strong relationship with Christian leaders, including the Archbishop of Abidjan, and stressed the similarities between the monotheistic religions practiced in the country. A Catholic priest serving as spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Abidjan said relations between religious communities of different faiths were generally “warm,” particularly between Christian and Muslim leaders. Religious leaders and civil society representatives stated that leaders across the religious spectrum were broadly united in their desire to work toward peace and reconciliation, particularly in the context of the presidential election.
U.S. embassy representatives met with government officials to discuss the state of religious freedom and tolerance in the country. The Ambassador and other embassy representatives met with religious leaders throughout the year. Embassy representatives hosted virtual roundtable discussions with religious community leaders and met with the director of the nationwide Islamic radio network and television station, Al-Bayane, several times. Some discussions focused on the role of religious media outlets in promoting peace, social cohesion, and religious freedom, particularly in the context of the October presidential election.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religious belief. Relations between the government and religious organizations continued to improve, according to religious leaders and media reports. In April, NGOs and media reported 55 members of a “separatist religious movement” died in clashes with police after the group’s leader called on his followers to be “ruthless” in “chasing out” members of different ethnic groups.
Illegal armed group members targeted churches and church property in North Kivu and Ituri Provinces. Local leaders in the northern part of the country expressed concern over the presence of the nomadic Muslim Mbororo cattle-herder communities. Some leaders in the Christian-dominated northern provinces continued to describe this migration as an “Islamic invasion.” Clashes between Mbororo and local populations resulted in several deaths in Upper and Lower Uele Provinces throughout the year. In addition to religious differences, observers stated there were also economic and political concerns linked to the conflict, and it was difficult to categorize the clashes as solely based on religious belief.
U.S. embassy officers met with officials in the Ministries of Justice, Human Rights, and Interior to discuss religious freedom issues, including government relations with religious organizations. Embassy officials also met regularly with religious leaders and human rights organizations and discussed relations with the government, their concerns about abuses of civil liberties, and the safety of religious leaders in the country’s conflict-affected areas.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and prohibits political parties based on religious affiliation. The law states that the country has no national religion, but by decree and practice, the government gives preference to the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed Church of Equatorial Guinea, which are the only religious groups not required to register their organization or activities with the Ministry of Justice, Religious Affairs, and Penitentiary Institutions (MJRAPI). On April 5, the government disbanded two religious groups for “noncompliance” with restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In January, the government led efforts to raise funds to restore a Catholic cathedral damaged in a fire.
There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom during the year.
U.S. embassy representatives met with government officials, including the MJRAPI minister, to discuss the importance of religious freedom and respect for human rights. Embassy staff members met with the Catholic Archbishop of Malabo and also with the respective presidents of the evangelical Christian and Pentecostal communities and members of the Jewish and Baha’i communities to discuss their experiences as minority religious groups and religious tolerance in the country.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the right to worship, alone or in community with others, and to change religion or belief. Although the law requires new religious groups to register, unregistered groups were able to operate freely. In April, the University of Eswatini published results of a study of the effects of the 2017 directive requiring public schools to teach only Christianity, and recommended the government review the curriculum. The policy of excluding the teaching of other religions remained in effect. The government reportedly provided favorable treatment to Christian beliefs and organizations in various circumstances, such as access to free radio and television time.
Muslim leaders continued to report negative and/or suspicious views of Islam in society. Faith groups and civil society organizations held interfaith dialogues, and different faith groups sometimes collaborated on community service or development initiatives, which Muslim leaders said helped increase societal respect and tolerance for Islam.
The Ambassador and other U.S. government officials engaged with government officials on issues such as the directive banning the teaching of non-Christian religions in public schools. They engaged with religious leaders on the importance of developing and maintaining interfaith dialogue in the country.
The constitution requires the separation of religion and the state, establishes freedom of religious choice and practice, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the government shall not interfere in the practice of any religion, nor shall any religion interfere in the affairs of the state. Despite international attention to an alleged attack on the Orthodox Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in November in Axum, in Tigray Region, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) stated that there was no evidence this event occurred, while local human rights groups could not confirm the allegation without on-the-ground verification. The EHRC based its findings on a rapid investigative mission sent to the area. The EOTC deployed a task force to provide humanitarian assistance in Tigray, and one of its senior representatives said reports of the Axum attack were unfounded and false. In August, there were reports that government security forces killed two imams (one with his wife and infant) and injured a third in Assasa and Shashemene towns in Oromia Region in the wake of August 17 and 18 protests demanding the release of Oromo opposition politicians. The Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC) released a statement condemning the acts. Government security forces also broke into mosques in Shashemene and Kofele in Oromia Region, injuring a religious leader and his student in one incident and opening fire on a mosque in another; no one was injured in the second incident.
A number of human rights groups stated that societal violence was on the rise. However, because ethnicity and religion are closely linked, and because criminality also played a role, it was difficult to characterize many incidents as solely based on religious identity. On September 6, 7, and 13, an unidentified armed group attacked several villages in the Bulen, Guba, and Wembera woredas (county equivalent) in the Metekel Zone of Benishangul Gumuz Region. The armed group stole livestock, ambushed travelers on roads, robbed communities, attacked churches, and killed approximately 160 civilians. Following the attacks, EOTC followers closed churches, fled the affected areas, and hid public signs and displays of their faith. On August 26, the EOTC released a statement saying that 67 of its followers were killed in Oromia Region during violence that followed the killing of the popular nationalist singer Hachalu Hundessa. The EOTC sent teams to investigate the affected areas where they concluded EOTC members were specifically targeted. According to a Christian aid organization, between Hachalu’s killing on June 29 and the beginning of September, groups of Oromo youth belonging to a nationalist youth movement called “Qeerroo” targeted and killed a number of Christians in Oromia Region. Human rights organizations and others, however, stated that it was unclear if the attacks in Oromia Region were religiously motivated. A local nongovernmental organization (NGO) that also conducted an assessment stated that the perpetrators used ethnic slurs when killing their victims, some of whom were Christian. On January 19 to 20, clashes between youths led to several deaths and destruction of property during the EOTC’s Epiphany celebrations in Dire Dawa, Harar, and Abomssa in the Arsi Zone of Oromia Region. The region’s police commissioner reported that 19 individuals, including 15 security personnel, suffered minor injuries and public and private property was destroyed.
The U.S. Secretary of State met with the Interreligious Council of Ethiopia (IRCE) in February to discuss the important role religious leaders play in social cohesion and to understand how the IRCE was engaging communities to decrease tensions before the national elections. U.S. embassy officials also engaged religious leaders at senior levels and during times of crisis to advocate for peaceful conflict resolution. The embassy reached out to key religious leaders in July during the violence surrounding the killing of Hachalu and called for calm. The embassy also reached out to religious leaders in Beninshangul Gumuz in September to understand the nature and targets of the attacks. The embassy funded a program to build religious cohesion with more than 25 influential community and religious leaders in Harar, Dire Dawa, and Jijiga. The project’s goal was to identify and mitigate violent conflict, create strategies for preventing electoral violence and developing community peacebuilding coalitions, and promote religious tolerance.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and worship and equality for all, irrespective of religious belief. It grants religious groups autonomy and the right to provide religious instruction. The government continued to report a trend of local actors using religious cover to defraud individuals. The Ministry of Interior rejected some applications to register religious groups for lack of documentation and “authenticity.” Tensions developed between the government and religious groups when religious leaders objected to government measures to mitigate the COVID pandemic that affected reopening of churches. While minor clashes occurred and two priests were arrested, there were no widespread protests.
Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim leaders met irregularly because of the COVID pandemic and government restrictions imposed since March on the number of people allowed to assemble. They worked together to promote religious tolerance, defend freedom of religion, and advocate for the freedom to assemble while encouraging compliance with COVID-related mitigation measures.
U.S. embassy staff met with senior ministry officials, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and local religious leaders to encourage continued respect for religious freedom and to discuss the government’s response to the pandemic as it related to religious freedom.
The constitution provides for the freedom of religious choice, as long as doing so does not impinge on the rights of others or the national interest. It prohibits religious discrimination, establishment of a state religion, and formation of political parties based on religious affiliation. Two years of drafting a new constitution and a parliamentary debate described by media as polarized and acrimonious came to an end when the legislature in September rejected the new constitution. Although not the main issue of contention, the omission of the word “secular” in the draft generated debate during the ratification process. Some members of the Christian community had advocated the inclusion of the word “secular” in the description of the republic, stating that the omission of the specific reference to the secular nature of the state left open the possibility of minority persecution and the unilateral formation of an Islamic government, although other provisions of the draft constitution guaranteed religious freedom and nonestablishment of a state religion. Some Muslim commentators said the country “should remain a nonsecular state” in recognition not only of its 95-percent Muslim majority and interpretations of Quranic law, but also of the overwhelming importance of religious faith in the country to both Muslims and Christians. In televised statements during religious holidays, President Adama Barrow stressed the need for continued religious freedom and tolerance.
There continued to be tension between the majority Sunni Muslim and the minority Ahmadiyya Muslim communities. The Supreme Islamic Council (SIC), a religious body tasked with providing Islamic religious guidance, continued to state the Ahmadiyya community did not belong to Islam, and the council did not include members of the community in its events and activities.
While the global COVID-19 pandemic impacted the nature of U.S. embassy engagement, the Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly met with government officials to discuss religious freedom and tolerance. Embassy representatives held meetings with religious leaders of different faith groups to emphasize the importance of continued religious tolerance. The embassy shared messages on social media to celebrate religious holidays and the importance of religious freedom.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, stipulates that individuals are free to profess and practice their religion, and does not designate a state religion. Registration is required for religious groups to have legal status. On March 15, the government restricted public gatherings, including for in-person worship, as a measure to combat COVID-19. While most Christian and Muslim leaders advised their communities to follow the directive, a minority, primarily composed of small, independent churches, complained that the ban on large gatherings infringed upon religious liberties, and some defied the decrees by gathering for worship. President Nana Akufo-Addo lifted the ban on July 31. The President moved forward with plans for an interdenominational national Christian cathedral, but opposition to the proposal for the new cathedral continued.
Muslim and Christian leaders continued to emphasize the importance of religious freedom and tolerance and reported communication and coordination among themselves on a wide array of matters. Religious institutions played a key role in providing vulnerable citizens a social safety net, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. Religious leaders generally praised the government for consulting with religious institutions on those measures.
U.S. embassy representatives discussed with government officials the importance of mutual understanding, religious tolerance, and respect for all religious groups. Embassy officers discussed religious freedom and tolerance with religious leaders, including engagement with the National Peace Council and Regional Peace Councils, whose governing councils include prominent religious leaders. In April, the Ambassador published a Ramadan message recognizing interfaith engagement, cooperation, and partnership.
The constitution states the state is secular, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for the right of individuals to choose and profess their religion. The Secretariat General of Religious Affairs (SRA) continued to issue weekly themes for inclusion in Friday sermons at mosques and Sunday sermons in churches. Although the SRA did not control sermons at every mosque and church, its inspectors were present in every region and were responsible for ensuring that mosque and church sermons were consistent with SRA directives. On July 11, SRA authorities in Kankan, Upper Guinea summoned Imam Nanfo Ismael Diaby for continuing to lead prayers in a local language. Diaby and 10 of his followers were handed over to the police by SRA authorities. After the governor of Kankan intervened, Diaby was released on July 13 with no formal charges filed. The same day unidentified youths reportedly vandalized his mosque and home. The government closed all places of worship on March 26 in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19, and during the month of Ramadan, media reported instances of mosques in Kamsar and Dubreka refusing to obey the government order by remaining open for prayers. The government announced on September 3 the full reopening of places of worship after religious leaders publicly called for a lifting of restrictions.
In mid-March, at least 30 individuals died and nearly 70 were injured in Nzerekore in the southeast of the country during several days of violence following a constitutional referendum. According to media and nongovernmental organization (NGO) reports, largely Muslim government supporters and mostly Christian and Animist opposition groups clashed, with more than 80 buildings, including churches and mosques, damaged or destroyed. Archbishop of Conakry Vincent Coulibaly on September 20 issued a statement denouncing the attempted seizure by local villagers of land belonging to Catholic institutions near Coyah. The case remained pending at year’s end.
On multiple occasions, the U.S. Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy officials met with the Secretary General of Religious Affairs and other religious leaders to discuss religious tolerance, reconciliation, and social cohesion among religious groups. The Charge met with the Grand Imam to discuss the importance of interfaith dialogue, particularly in the aftermath of the October 18 presidential election. The embassy used social media to share messages and stories of religious tolerance.
The constitution establishes the separation of religion and state and the responsibility of the state to respect and protect legally recognized religious groups. In September, during a press conference, Attorney General Fernando Gomes expressed concern regarding what he said was an increase of verbal attacks in media from citizens encouraging hatred and ethnic and religious divisions. He exhorted citizens and media to respect a diversity of opinions and repudiate any form of inappropriate language. Various groups criticized the government’s August 27 announcement that it would introduce the teaching of the Arabic language in schools, stating that it favored Islam over other religions and would “reinforce the country’s Islamization.” In September, President Umaro Sissoco quashed the proposal, stating, “We are a secular country. In our society, in our system, Arabic is not part of our teaching. Here it is Portuguese, French, and English.”
Some Muslims reported continuing concerns regarding what they termed “stricter” Islamic practices taught by foreign imams to the local Muslim population.
There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. The United States directs its engagement in the country from the U.S. embassy in Dakar, Senegal. In January, the Ambassador held a meeting with the Bishop of Bissau to promote peace and democracy for the country.
The constitution and other laws and policies prohibit religious discrimination and protect religious freedom, including the freedom to practice any religion or belief through worship, teaching, or observance, and to debate religious questions. The constitution provides for special qadi courts to adjudicate certain types of civil cases based on Islamic law. Human rights and Muslim religious organizations stated that certain Muslim communities, especially ethnic Somalis, continued to be the target of government-directed extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest, and detention. The government denied directing such actions. The Registrar of Societies has not registered any new religious organizations since 2014, and at year’s end, the government had still not finalized revised regulations required to resume registrations. Thousands of religious group applications reportedly remained pending. In May, the government implemented a month-long cessation-of-movement order into and out of Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood and Mombasa’s Old Town, both areas with predominately Muslim populations, following an increase in COVID-19 cases. Some residents and Muslim human rights groups depicted the lockdowns as discriminatory, while other Muslim leaders expressed support for the public health measures. In June, the government appointed an Inter-faith Council on the National Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic to develop guidelines for the phased reopening of places of worship and holding of religious ceremonies. Council members said government officials largely adopted the council’s recommendations, and the government permitted places of worship to resume in-person services in July. Many religious leaders criticized politicians for holding political gatherings that did not adhere to the government’s restrictions on public events.
The Somalia-based terrorist group Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (al-Shabaab) again carried out attacks in the northeastern part of the country and said it had targeted non-Muslims because of their faith. In January, media reported that al-Shabaab killed three Christian teachers at a primary school in Garissa County, an area with a predominantly Muslim population. In February, suspected al-Shabaab militants attacked a passenger bus traveling from Mandera County, in the north of the country, to Nairobi. Christian media reported the attackers separated the passengers by faith, killing two Christians and one Muslim who attempted to protect the Christians. There were again reports of religiously motivated threats of societal violence and intolerance, such as members of Muslim communities threatening individuals who converted from Islam to Christianity. In June, Christian media reported a group of men believed to be ethnic Somali Muslims beat an ethnic Somali Christian woman unconscious in Isiolo and seriously injured her two younger siblings. Muslim minority groups, particularly those of Somali descent, reported continued harassment by non-Muslims. Some religious and political leaders, however, stated tolerance and cooperation improved during the year. They cited extensive interfaith efforts to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and to build peace between communities, such as county forums organized by the interfaith Dialogue Reference Group to increase collaboration on key challenges facing local communities.
U.S. embassy officials emphasized the importance of respecting religious freedom in meetings with government officials, especially underscoring the role of interfaith dialogue in stemming religious intolerance and addressing the grievances of marginalized religious groups. The embassy supported efforts to strengthen understanding, respect, and acceptance within multifaith communities, particularly in Nairobi and Mombasa Counties. In January and October, the Ambassador hosted interfaith roundtables to build relationships with religious leaders and discuss efforts to improve tolerance and inclusion. The embassy hosted other roundtables and events that brought individuals of diverse faiths together to discuss religious tolerance and build mutual understanding.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, including the freedom to change religion or belief and to manifest and propagate one’s religion. On January 10, the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL), an umbrella organization of seven Christian churches, said in a statement that there was a risk that the government and security agencies would not respect the rule of law during a period of political change leading to the May 11 collapse of the ruling coalition. The government did not publicly respond to the statement. On August 10, in response to the continued ban on in-person religious services as part of the government’s efforts to combat COVID-19, the Council of Pentecostal Churches of Lesotho publicly stated “the church is not a super spreader” like shopping malls and other businesses, which had been allowed to reopen, and the government should permit religious services to resume. On August 30, the government announced churches could hold services in groups of no more than 50 persons indoors and 100 persons outdoors. The government continued to provide extensive support for schools operated by religious groups, including paying and certifying all teachers.
While religious leaders said in general there was broad religious tolerance and respect in the country, some government and private sector representatives occasionally expressed distrust of business owners of South Asian origin, many of whom were Muslim. Some government and security-sector officials said they were concerned about the growth of Islamic religious practices in urban areas. Some colleagues of these officials, however, dismissed such concerns as fearmongering.
The U.S. embassy continued to maintain regular contact with religious leaders to discuss religious tolerance and the need to prevent discrimination against adherents of the country’s growing minority religions, particularly Islam.
The constitution provides for the separation of religion and state and stipulates all persons are entitled to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, except as required by law to protect public safety, order, health, morals, or the rights of others. It also provides for equal protection under the law and prohibits religious tests for office and the establishment of a state religion. Religious leaders urged the government to engage religious communities in proactive dialogue on social issues, rather than calling upon religious organizations as mediators as a last resort after problems develop. Religious leaders continued to express willingness to mediate in conflict situations as an extension of their proactive dialogue on social issues. In March, following consultation with the Liberian Council of Churches (LCC), the Minister of Health closed churches and mosques along with schools and businesses in two counties under a national health emergency as part of the country’s COVID-19 response. In April, the President expanded the closures nationwide after declaring a three-week renewable national state of emergency. Some Christian religious groups initially resisted the closure. Police were called in to enforce the order to close houses of worship and arrested some Christian worshippers before the closure measures were later eased in May. Muslim groups continued to call on the legislature to pass a law recognizing Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as national holidays.
In February, police in Kakata, Margibi County, arrested and charged a Christian “prayer woman,” Yamah Yango, with manslaughter for allegedly beating to death her eight-year-old nephew, Tom Yango, following his refusal to continue with three days of fasting and prayer “to cleanse him of evil spirits.” At the request of local residents, in August, in Picnicess District of Grand Kru County, County Superintendent Doris N. Ylatun invited traditional herbalist Tamba Bundoo to “cleanse” Chenakaleh of witchcraft believed to have caused the death or disappearance of approximately 50 individuals over two years. His activities were halted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in early September following complaints. More than a hundred local citizens then staged a peaceful demonstration on September 3 seeking the resumption of Bundoo’s activities by marching to the administration building in Barclayville to present their petition to the local authority of Grand Kru County.
U.S. embassy officials engaged with government officials, including the President’s religious advisors and members of the legislature, to promote interfaith dialogue and to stress U.S. government support of religious freedom and tolerance in connection with issues relating to historical accountability, land disputes, and ethnic tensions. Embassy officials additionally promoted religious freedom and tolerance across society through outreach to religious leaders and communities.
The 2011 Constitutional Declaration functions as the interim constitution and states that Islam is the state religion and sharia the principal source of legislation. The activities of non-Muslims remained curtailed by legal prohibitions on the distribution or publication of information aimed at changing the country’s “social structure,” which were used to ban circulation of non-Islamic religious materials, missionary activity, or speech considered “offensive to Muslims.” The criminal code effectively prohibits conversion from Islam, according to scholars and human rights advocates. According to one press report, the Rada Special Deterrence Forces (SDF), a militia nominally aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, engaged in Islamic religious policing in the capital. According to human rights activists, the SDF continued to be involved in a number of arrests and detentions of individuals whom it accused of violating Islamic law. Human rights activists said freedom of conscience for converts to Christianity, atheists, and Sunni Muslims who deviated from Salafist interpretations of Islam was not respected. Multiple authorities and armed groups vied for influence and territorial control, with little effective exercise of government authority in practice, according to international observers. The GNA did not exercise control over large parts of the country, including in the south and east, where non-GNA entities competed for control over territory and governance by setting up parallel government institutions. Armed groups provided security and administered some detention centers for migrants and refugees in the country, where, according to multiple international human rights organizations, Christians said they faced a higher risk of physical assault, including sexual assault and rape, than other migrants and refugees. Some of these detainees reported they were tortured and otherwise abused.
Some areas of the country, including the eastern part, operated under the influence of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) and LNA-affiliated armed groups. Nonstate actors and militias continued to operate and control territory throughout the country, including in parts of Tripoli and in Benghazi, where there were numerous reports of armed groups restricting religious practices, enforcing compliance with sharia according to their interpretation, and targeting those viewed as violating their standards. According to media reports, elements of the Madkhali Salafist movement affiliated with the LNA continued to crack down on activities not sanctioned by their strict interpretation of Islam including the sale of books deemed un-Islamic and events where men and women mixed. According to the Christian rights advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC), Islamic militant groups and organized crime groups targeted religious minorities, including Christian migrants, converts to Christianity, and foreign residents for physical attacks, sexual assaults, detentions, kidnappings, and killings. Salafist and Islamist groups, some nominally aligned with the GNA, assumed law enforcement functions. One press report stated that in the western part of the country, these elements replaced imams, preachers, and the heads of Awqaf offices with individuals with a more Salafist orientation. U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations that included al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and ISIS continued to operate within the country.
According to international media, former Muslims faced intense social and economic pressure to renounce their faith and return to Islam. Sources also reported converts to other religions, as well as atheists and agnostics, faced threats of violence or dismissal from employment and hostility from their families and communities because of their beliefs.
The U.S. Embassy to Libya operated from Tunis, Tunisia; its officials made periodic trips into the country when security conditions permitted. In September, the Ambassador met virtually with members of the country’s Jewish diaspora. The embassy used its social media platforms to draw attention to this exchange and to call for inclusion of and respect for religious minority communities. Other embassy representatives discussed religious freedom on a number of occasions with a variety of local and national leaders. The U.S. government supported international efforts to end the conflict and establish a unified, stable, democratic, and tolerant Libyan state, and continued to raise issues of religious freedom in conversations with authorities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), academics, and other human rights advocates.
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 government continued implementation of the nationality law passed in 2017. Muslims born in the country continued to report that despite generations of residence, some members of their community were unable to acquire Malagasy nationality. In particular, the nationality law failed to provide a mechanism to naturalize children born in the country of two stateless parents.
Members of some evangelical Protestant churches reported they experienced discrimination in employment practices due to their religious affiliation, especially those who observed a Saturday Sabbath.
U.S. embassy officials engaged with Ministry of the Interior officials responsible for registration of religious groups. Embassy officials engaged with religious leaders throughout the year and organized an online roundtable on the status of religious freedom in October with representatives of religious minority groups and civil society.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, belief, and thought. A court case involving a Rastafarian child’s ability to attend school with dreadlocks remained pending, and by court order, the child was able to attend school with his hair intact pending conclusion of the litigation. Seven other Rastafarian students who had been denied enrollment registered complaints, and on January 4, the High Court in Zomba granted an injunction compelling the Ministry of Education to allow all Rastafarian children to be admitted and enrolled in government schools. Upon the reopening of schools following the COVID-19 shutdown, the Rastafarian students’ attorney received complaints from seven additional Rastafarian students who had been denied enrollment. In July, the city council in Blantyre removed a billboard urging persons to read the Quran after having read the Old Testament and New Testament, stating it was a “recipe for religious conflict.” Following mediation by an interfaith civil society organization, the two sides agree to a reworked billboard message that highlighted reading the Quran only. Muslim organizations continued to request the Ministry of Education to discontinue use of the “Bible knowledge” course and use only the broader based “moral and religious education” curriculum in primary schools, particularly in areas inhabited predominantly by Muslims.
According to media reports, religious conflicts often arose related to locally promulgated school dress codes. On September 18, a Joint Technical Team was established under the guidance of the Public Affairs Committee comprising seven Muslims and seven Christians to engage in dialogue on general dress codes in schools. On October 28, a group of Muslim individuals set fire to the office of the head teacher of a primary school in a majority-Muslim district after he turned away a female student wearing the hijab.
U.S. embassy officials engaged with religious leaders from Christian, Muslim, and other faiths to discuss religious freedom, interreligious relations, and community engagement. The Ambassador hosted an interfaith event in commemoration of U.S. National Religious Freedom Day, and the embassy facilitated discussions between the country’s Christian and Muslim communities and the visiting nonresident Israeli Ambassador.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and grants individuals freedom of religion in conformity with the law. In September, the transition government formed after an August military coup adopted the Transition Charter, which recognized the continued validity of the 1992 constitution that defined the country as secular and prohibited religious discrimination under the law. The law criminalizes abuses against religious freedom. The presence of groups identified by the government as violent extremist organizations and armed groups in the northern and central areas of the country limited government capacity to govern and bring perpetrators of abuses to justice, especially outside the main cities.
In October, kidnappers from Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), a U.S.-designated terrorist alliance, killed Swiss hostage Beatrice Stoeckli, a Christian missionary who had been held since 2016, according to the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs. An Italian priest was released by the group in October, along with three other hostages, in exchange for the release by the transition government of scores of suspected extremist prisoners. As of year’s end, Colombian nun Sister Gloria Cecilia Argoti remained a captive of the group. Individuals affiliated with groups identified by authorities as extremist used violence and launched attacks on civilians, security forces, peacekeepers, and others they perceived as not adhering to their interpretation of Islam. According to a report published on August 6 by the Human Rights and Protection Division of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, from April to June, extremist groups required women in the regions of Mopti and Timbuktu to wear veils. In the center of the country, JNIM continued to attack multiple towns in Mopti Region, and to threaten Christian, Muslim, and traditional religious communities. Groups identified by authorities as extremist organizations continued to target and close government schools for their perceived “Western” curriculum, replacing them with Quranic schools. In the region of Mopti, especially in Koro, groups identified as extremists and local populations reportedly entered into verbal “peace” agreements, such as one prohibiting the sale of alcohol and pork to individuals of all religions, in exchange for security.
Muslim religious leaders continued to condemn what they termed extremist interpretations of sharia, and non-Muslim religious leaders condemned what they characterized as extremism related to religion. Some Christian missionaries again expressed concern regarding the increased influence in remote areas of organizations they characterized as violent and extremist, with Caritas representatives citing a ban on alcohol and pork in some parts of the region of Mopti as signs of the growing influence of Islam in these parts of the country and a threat to the Christian community. They also raised concerns regarding the October prisoner release. Muslim, Protestant, and Roman Catholic religious leaders jointly called for peace and solidarity among all faiths at celebrations marking Christmas, the New Year, and Eid al-Fitr.
The U.S. embassy supported programs to counter violent extremism related to religion and to promote tolerance, peace, and reconciliation. The Ambassador and other officials discussed the importance of religious leaders helping bring peace to the country with religious leaders, as well as with human rights organizations. In March, the embassy released a video Ramadan greeting by the Ambassador on social media and sent letters to more than 40 mosques throughout the country highlighting the role of religious leaders in confronting challenges such as insecurity fueled by religious intolerance.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on creed and provides for the right of individuals to change, manifest, and propagate their religious beliefs. The government recognizes six groups as religions: Hindus, Roman Catholics, Muslims, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Seventh-day Adventists. Other religious groups must register as associations. As such they may obtain tax-exempt status but may not receive subsidies like the six recognized religions. The government failed to act during the year on the Assemblies of God request to be recognized as a religion rather than an association.
Police said low level tensions between Hindus and Muslims continued. The Council of Religions, a local organization composed of representatives from 18 religious groups, has traditionally hosted regular interfaith religious ceremonies and celebrations to foster mutual understanding and enhance interfaith collaboration among faith communities, but COVID-19 restrictions postponed most events.
U.S. embassy officers posted articles on social media that discussed religious freedom and engaged with religious organizations.
The constitution provides for the right to practice or not to practice religion freely and prohibits discrimination based on religion. These and other rights may temporarily be suspended or restricted only in the event of a declaration of a state of war, siege, or emergency. The constitution prohibits political parties from using names or symbols associated with religious groups. Religious groups have the right to organize, worship, and operate schools. According to local organizations, as an Islamic State-affiliated group intensified attacks in Cabo Delgado Province, residents in the province who appeared to be Muslim continued to face risk of detention by police and armed forces. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), news media outlets, and human rights organizations strongly criticized what they termed the government’s sometimes heavy-handed response as exacerbating existing grievances among historically marginalized majority-Muslim populations. In August, after the Bishop of Pemba in northern Mozambique faced social media threats for criticizing the government’s failure to protect civilians in Cabo Delgado, President Filipe Nyusi met with him and expressed appreciation for his efforts to assist displaced civilians. The draft religious freedom law that the government proposed in 2019 remained pending in parliament at year’s end. If approved, it would require religious groups to have a minimum of 500 followers in order to register with the Ministry of Justice.
Religious leaders at the national and provincial level continued to call for religious tolerance and condemned the use of religion to promote violence. As in previous years, as the conflict in Cabo Delgado worsened, Muslim and Christian leaders continued to condemn violence as a means of political change, and Muslim leaders emphasized that religious-based violence that invoked Islam was inconsistent with tenets of the faith.
The Ambassador discussed the escalating attacks in Cabo Delgado with President Nyusi, the Minister of Justice, and other high-level officials. Among other messages, he noted the continued need to engage partners from the religious community to address effectively the ongoing violence. The U.S. government continued to implement activities in Cabo Delgado to improve faith-based community resilience and work with religious leaders to counter extremist messaging.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of belief and the right to practice, profess, and promote any religion. Islamic leaders stated that prison officials continued to prevent some newly converted Muslim inmates from updating their religious affiliation in prison records and from meeting with Muslim clergy.
A nongovernmental interfaith council consisting of members of various Christian and Muslim groups, as well as representatives of the Jewish and Baha’i faiths, met on a regular basis and advocated for the shared needs of their congregations.
U.S. embassy representatives engaged with the government-run Office of the Ombudsman and the Namibian Correctional Services about complaints regarding religious freedom. Embassy officials engaged with religious leaders and the interfaith council to discuss religious freedom.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and worship consistent with public order, social peace, and national unity. It provides for the separation of state and religion and prohibits religiously affiliated political parties. Implementation of the 2019 National Worship Strategy was hindered by COVID-19 restrictions, civil unrest, and the government focus on the December general election. The government continued to prohibit full-face veils in the Diffa Region under state of emergency provisions intended to prevent concealment of bombs and weapons. The government also continued to prohibit open air, public proselytization events due to stated safety concerns. The government said it faced a series of persistent and growing security threats from the group alternatively known as the “Islamic State in West Africa” or “the Islamic State’s West Africa Province,” formerly known as Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad, and commonly known as Boko Haram, a jihadist terrorist organization active in the region. In Mirriah Commune, 11 miles east of Zinder, numerous young people armed with stones and clubs demonstrated publicly to denounce the government’s ban on religious gatherings under COVID-19 restrictions and the arrest of a local imam who refused to comply.
Following the announcement of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19, the Islamic Council and the Coalition of Nigerien Churches called for a ban on collective prayers and other religious gatherings in the country’s mosques and churches. Many individuals did not comply with these decrees and large numbers of Muslims prayed at mosques the day after the High Islamic Council’s announcement. The council issued a statement urging Muslims to abide by government’s COVID-19 prevention measures during Ramadan, and also urged Muslim leaders and preachers to conduct COVID-19 awareness campaigns.
The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy representatives continued to advocate for religious freedom and tolerance through meetings with government leaders, including the Interior and Foreign Ministers. Embassy representatives conveyed messages of religious tolerance in meetings with Muslim and Christian representatives, including during the Ambassador’s meeting with the imam of the Grand Mosque of Niamey on the eve of Eid al-Adha. The embassy continued to sponsor nationwide programs with religious leaders focused on countering violent extremism related to religion and amplifying voices of religious tolerance. The embassy provided assistance in the design of new education programming, in consultation with traditional and religious leaders, including scrutinizing school curriculum and texts for content contrary to the principles of religious freedom and tolerance.
The constitution and other laws prohibit religious discrimination and provide for freedom of religion and worship. The law requires religious groups and faith-based organizations (FBOs) to obtain legal status before beginning operations. It also calls for legal representatives of FBOs and preachers with supervisory responsibilities to hold academic degrees. During the year, the government allowed a small number of the more than 6,000 churches, mosques, and other places of worship that had remained closed since 2018 for violating health and safety standards or noise pollution ordinances to reopen after they made required infrastructure improvements. Government officials stated that time and resource constraints prevented many religious groups from bringing their places of worship into compliance with government requirements during the year. Civil society and religious leaders noted that the required improvements were often prohibitively expensive for religious groups of modest means (which constituted the majority), and that the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic had depleted their financial resources. Following engagement with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the government amended the law and eliminated a requirement that civil servants and teachers swear an oath of allegiance to the country as a condition of employment. Jehovah’s Witnesses had long sought this change on the grounds that the oath requirement violated their religious beliefs.
Religious leaders stated numerous faith-based groups and associations contributed to greater understanding and tolerance by participating in interfaith meetings, organizing activities under the auspices of an interfaith religious leaders’ forum, and collaborating on community development projects.
The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy representatives engaged the government to discuss the FBO law and its implementation. Embassy representatives consulted with religious groups and FBOs on continued challenges in meeting government requirements for reopening places of worship. Embassy representatives also urged the government to communicate clearly to religious groups the infrastructure improvements that were required and allow flexibility in working to reopen places of worship. The Ambassador and embassy representatives also discussed with religious organizations the impact of COVID-19 on their communities and how they could help communities deal with challenges posed by the pandemic. The embassy engaged religious groups virtually and emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue and mutual support, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
São Tomé and Príncipe
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and equality for all, irrespective of religious belief. It grants religious groups autonomy and the right to teach their religion. Religious groups must register with the government. In contrast with the previous year, there were no incidents reported involving the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. The group resumed services and repaired houses of worship that were vandalized in 2019.
Religious leaders, especially Catholic and Seventh-day Adventist leaders, joined government COVID-19 awareness campaigns and developed television and radio messages in support of prevention measures.
U.S. embassy staff based in Sao Tome met virtually with key government officials in the Ministry of Justice, Public Administration, and Human Rights and with religious leaders to encourage continued respect for religious freedom.
The constitution provides for the free practice of religious beliefs and self-governance by religious groups without government interference. By law, all faith-based organizations must register with the government to acquire legal status as an association. The government continued a campaign to combat forced child begging, which often takes place at some Islamic schools. The government did not ban the October Magal Muslim pilgrimage to the religious city of Touba. The leader of the Mourides Sufi brotherhood, Serigne Mountakha Mbacke, issued a call for pilgrims to travel to attend with the full support of the government, despite the pandemic. As part of the government’s strategy to contain COVID-19, President Macky Sall in mid-March ordered houses of worship to close, prompting at least one protest by hundreds of worshippers at a mosque in a Dakar neighborhood. The restrictions were eased in mid-May and houses of worship were allowed to reopen. The government continued to assist religious groups to maintain places of worship, to permit four hours of voluntary religious education at public and private schools, and to fund schools operated by religious groups. The government also continued to monitor religious groups to ensure they operated according to the terms of their registration.
In September, a group of Christians lodged a complaint in court against Imam Galadio Ka for defamatory and offensive speech at a public religious conference in 2018. In his remarks, which circulated widely, Ka said, “The Christian minority in the country was responsible for legalizing alcohol, adultery, homosexuality, and usury.” In explaining the decision to seek justice in court, the Christian group said, “Ka’s words, beyond insulting our faith, [are seen] as an unbearable attack on the society of tolerance and cordial coexistence for which our country is famous.” Local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued efforts to focus attention on the abuse of children, including forced child begging, at some traditional Islamic schools (known locally as daaras). These organizations continued to urge the government to address the problem through more effective regulation and prosecution of offending teachers.
The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officers met with federal and local government officials in Dakar to discuss conditions daara students faced, as well as the government’s efforts to combat forced child begging. The meetings also included discussion on the resilience of religious communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ambassador and embassy officers also discussed these issues with religious leaders and civil society representatives in Ziguinchor, Touba, and Tivaouane. The embassy sponsored two webinars with the Timbuktu Institute on combating violent religious extremism and promoting understanding and tolerance among youth in the Casamance region and Dakar. In meetings with civil society and religious leaders, embassy officers continued to emphasize the importance of maintaining religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue.
The constitution prohibits discrimination on any grounds as well as laws establishing any religion. It provides for freedom of religion, including the right of individuals to change, manifest, and propagate their religion. Although the constitution prohibits compulsory religious education, some non-Catholic students in public schools providing Catholic instruction did not have access to alternative activities during those classes. The government regularly consulted with the Seychelles Interfaith Council (SIFCO), an interfaith group composed of Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, and other religious groups present in the country, on issues directly affecting religious groups, such as a possible amendment to the Registration Act that would impose new criteria for registering heads of religious groups and establish mechanisms to detect financial fraud and terrorism financing through religious groups. SIFCO met with newly-elected President Wavel Ramkalawan and called for greater consultation of religious organizations in the lawmaking process. The new President called on religious leaders to help rehabilitate moral values and morality in the country. SIFCO organized at least three religious services prior to and after the elections for the candidates and the general public. SIFCO also organized a conference on the Truth, Reconciliation, and National Unity Commission (TRNUC), an independent, nonpartisan government body investigating alleged human rights abuses related the 1977 government takeover and subsequent presidency of France-Albert Rene, to communicate various religious groups’ perspectives on forgiveness and to reinforce the commission’s national unity objective.
There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.
The U.S. Embassy in Mauritius monitored religious freedom in Seychelles and engaged with SIFCO to promote freedom of religious expression.
The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, which includes freedom of thought and religion, subject to the interests of defense, public safety, order, morality, and health, and to the protection of other persons’ rights and freedoms. The law prohibits religious discrimination and allows all persons to observe their own religious practices and to change religions without interference from the government or members of other religious groups. Government registration is not mandatory for religious groups but is necessary to obtain tax and other benefits. The government continued to enforce a law prohibiting the production, sale, and consumption of marijuana, which Rastafarians said infringed on their freedom to access cannabis for religious practices. The president of the Interreligious Council (IRC) and other religious leaders stated that dialogue with the government was limited and that engagement with government organizations responsible for religious affairs was lacking. In March, Muslim and Christian leaders publicly announced their support of the government’s prohibition of social gatherings, including congregation in mosques and churches, as preventive measures responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Religious leaders reported recurrent disagreements between Muslims and Christians concerning noise produced by drums and music played during Christian ceremonies held during Islamic prayer times; most such conflicts, however, were resolved quickly by authorities. A representative of a religious organization reported growing tensions between local Muslims and some charismatic churches and their followers, including evangelical Christians, over the noise issue.
The U.S. embassy engaged with the government as well as with religious nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as the IRC and the United Council of Imams (UCI), and supported activities to advance free, peaceful, and pluralistic expression among all parts of society, including religious communities.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. The government does not require religious groups to register; however, registered groups receive tax-exempt status. The government’s strict lockdown, imposed in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, included bans on religious gatherings. Police stringently enforced the lockdown, which lasted through Easter and Ramadan, prompting complaints from some religious groups. In May, the President eased restrictions on houses of worship following consultation with the South African Council of Churches. Police broke up several Ramadan gatherings and made arrests, during which they were filmed making disrespectful remarks to worshippers. Authorities addressed several cases regarding the Muslim call to prayer. In August, a Durban man who publicly acknowledged he opposes Islam won a court case restricting the call to prayer from being heard inside his house. In another case, city authorities in Pretoria issued a notice ordering a mosque to stop broadcasting the call to prayer through loudspeakers. In December, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the nonrecognition of Muslim marriages was inconsistent with the constitution. The court gave the President and Cabinet 24 months to amend or pass new legislation to ensure recognition of Muslim marriages as valid.
In July, attackers killed five persons and held men, women, and children hostage at the International Pentecostal Holiness Church in Zuurbekom before police and military rescued the hostages, arrested 40 of the attackers, and seized dozens of weapons. The church has been the scene of sporadic violence between factions since the death of its leader in 2016. Police said the attack “may have been motivated by a feud” or power struggle between factions. Media reported a number of incidents of anti-Semitism online. In November, the Randberg magistrate’s court issued an interim order of protection against Jan Lamprecht, described in the press as a white supremacist, vocal Holocaust denier, and staunch neo-Nazi advocate, for online threats against South African Board of Jewish Deputies (SAJBD) vice-chairperson Karen Milner. The SAJBD recorded 69 anti-Semitic incidents during the year. Numerous individuals made anti-Semitic comments verbally, by mail, and across social media throughout the year.
U.S. embassy officials met with religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, and humanist representatives, to gauge and discuss issues of religious freedom, including cases of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, and pending draft legislation that remained stalled in committees at year’s end: the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, the Muslim Marriages Bill, and a proposed draft bill that would require religious institutions to register with the government to operate.
The constitutions of the union government and of the semiautonomous government in Zanzibar both prohibit religious discrimination and provide for freedom of religious choice. Since independence and by tradition, the country has been governed by alternating Christian and Muslim presidents. Some Muslims said they believe the government used the 2002 Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTW) to unjustly attack, kill, or imprison Muslims. Twenty-two members of the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation (UAMSHO), an Islamist group advocating for Zanzibar’s full autonomy, remained in custody without trial since their arrest in 2013 on terrorism charges. Some religious leaders said that they were under increased pressure to support the President and that they were told to stay out of politics or their religious organizations would face deregistration by the Registrar of Societies. According to civil society organizations, the government used a 2019 process requiring all previously registered religious institutions and community faith-based organizations to verify their registration status to intimidate religious leaders. Under this process, the Registrar of Societies verified the registration of 213 societies. According to civil society organizations, religious organizations that usually were accredited to observe elections were denied accreditation by the National Electoral Commission to observe October 28 national elections.
Following an attack on a village on October 28, the Islamic State issued a statement claiming its fighters had burned three villages in Mtwara “inhabited by Christians.” Witchcraft-related killings continued in the country. In January in Kasulu, community members killed four persons from the same family for allegedly practicing witchcraft.
The U.S. embassy met with prominent religious leaders to discuss religious freedom and freedom of speech. The embassy brought together youth leaders and religious and community leaders to discuss local concerns around violent extremism related to religion and conflict.
The constitution specifies the state is secular and protects the rights of all citizens to exercise their religious beliefs, consistent with the nation’s laws. Religious groups other than Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims must register with the government. The government did not pass draft legislation pending since 2018 that detailed regulations regarding religious groups and did not authorize new religious groups; approximately 900 registration applications from religious groups remained pending at year’s end, the same as in previous years, and the government continued not to accept new applications. According to the Directorate of Religious Affairs (DRA) in the Ministry of Territorial Affairs (MTA), however, the government did not prevent these groups from opening new religious institutions and carrying out their activities informally.
Members of different religious groups attended each other’s ceremonies, and interfaith marriage remained common.
U.S. embassy officials discussed religious tolerance with government officials in meetings conducted virtually and met with religious leaders throughout the year to discuss their efforts to reduce tensions in communities and support peace and social cohesion, specifically regarding countering violent extremism related to religion. The embassy continued to promote interreligious dialogue through grants. Additionally, the embassy supported a workshop for English teachers in Islamic schools on introducing religious tolerance into lesson plans.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and stipulates there shall be no state religion. It provides for freedom of belief, the right to practice and promote any religion, and to belong to and participate in the practices of any religious organization in a manner consistent with the constitution. The government requires religious groups to register. Between May 18 and May 29, Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) officers arrested six Muslim clerics in Masaka District and accused them of running a cell operated by the ISIS-linked armed group Allied Democratic Front. The security forces continued to hold the clerics without trial at year’s end. On July 5, the Uganda Police Force (UPF) evicted leaders of the Salafi-associated Tabliq Muslim group from a mosque in Kampala and arrested seven of its clerics before restoring management of the mosque to the largest Sunni umbrella organization, the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC). Police released the clerics on July 12 after a court order. On March 28, police arrested evangelical Christian minister Augustine Yiga after he questioned government messaging on COVID-19. The court released him on bail on May 5 and restricted him from making any public statements regarding COVID-19. Some religious leaders said that the government discriminated against religious institutions when it relaxed restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19, allowing businesses and public transport to operate but denying permission to religious institutions to reopen at the same time. The UMSC stated the government continued to discriminate against Muslims when distributing national resources and hiring for public positions.
In October, Born Again Faith Uganda (BAFU), an umbrella organization of evangelical churches, reported members of opposing faiths – who did not want to have evangelical churches in their communities – complained of noise pollution from the churches to local leaders, who then evicted churches from the communities.
U.S. embassy representatives regularly discussed religious freedom issues with government officials. On April 30, the Charge d’Affaires held discussions with Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and encouraged the government to enforce measures to combat COVID-19 without violating human rights. Embassy representatives engaged local government officials in the eastern part of the country to promote religious tolerance. Embassy representatives met with leaders of Sunni umbrella organizations, including UMSC and the Kibuli Order of the Supreme Mufti, Nadwa (a coalition of Muslim scholars), Scholars Forum, and Tabliq imams, to promote religious tolerance, education, and peacebuilding in the country. To mark the start of Ramadan in April, the Charge d’Affaires used the embassy’s social media platforms to promote religious tolerance.
The constitution declares Islam the state religion and sharia the source of all legislation. It provides for freedom of thought and expression “within the limits of the law” but does not mention freedom of religion, belief, or conscience. The law prohibits denunciation of Islam, conversion from Islam to another religion, and proselytizing directed at Muslims. The conflict that began in 2014 between the government, led by President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, and Houthi-led Ansar Allah, a Zaydi Shia movement, continued through year’s end. The secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC) remained in control of Aden, the temporary capital, until December 30, when the cabinet of a unity government, formed under the 2019 Saudi-brokered Riyadh Agreement, returned to the city. The government did not exercise effective control over much of the country’s territory and had limited ability to address abuses of religious liberty. The government publicly condemned religious persecution by the Houthi movement. Sources pointed to the support of Shia-majority Iran for the Houthis, who have historical roots as a Zaydi revivalist movement, and the support of Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia for the government. Some analysts emphasized that Houthi Zaydism was distinct from the Twelver Islam dominant in Iran, although both were generally considered to fall within the broad category of Shia Islam, and said political and economic issues were more significant overall drivers of the conflict than religion. There were no reports of Saudi-led coalition air strikes against religious targets during the year.
At year’s end, the Houthis continued to control approximately one-third of Yemeni territory and nearly 80 percent of the population. In areas they controlled, the Houthis followed a strict religious regimen and continued to discriminate against individuals who did follow those practices, particularly religious minorities. According to the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media, military actions by Houthis continued to damage places of worship and religious institutions, and to inflict casualties at religious gatherings. In January, media reported that Houthi militants launched a missile attack on a mosque at a government military installation in Ma’rib Governorate, killing at least 116 soldiers during prayers. The UN Panel of Experts reported a second Houthi attack in August on a mosque at a government security compound in Ma’rib killed seven. A Houthi-controlled court held hearings early in the year on the appeal of Hamed Kamal Muhammad bin Haydara, a Baha’i sentenced to death by the Houthi-controlled Specialized Criminal Court in 2018 on charges of apostasy and spying for Israel. In March, Mahdi al-Mashaat, President of the Houthi Supreme Political Council (SPC) in Sana’a, ordered the release of all detained Baha’is and pardoned Haydara. In July, Haydara and five other detained Baha’is – part of a group of 24 Baha’is charged with apostasy and espionage in 2018 – were released and exiled. According to the Sana’a-based human rights organization Mwatana, the Specialized Criminal Court continued proceedings against the six exiled Baha’is, ordering them to return to Sana’a to face trial, and the court continued to hold hearings against the other 19 Baha’is charged in 2018. Mwatana reported more than 70 instances of abuse against the Baha’i community since 2015, such as arbitrary detentions of dozens of Baha’is for practicing cultural activities, and deportation and enforced disappearances of others. A local human rights organization reported that since the signing of the Stockholm Agreement in December 2018, the Houthis damaged or destroyed 49 mosques in Hudaydah alone and transformed more than 100 mosques throughout the country into military barracks and sniper positions. In January, Minister of Endowments Ahmed al-Attiyah stated that the Houthis had targeted 76 mosques in areas under their control. According to the UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, the Houthis continued to use anti-Semitic rhetoric – including multiple speeches made by Houthi supreme leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi – that incited violence against Jews. The Group of Experts reported Jews faced Houthi-imposed restrictions on their freedom of movement and constant threats to their lives and security. According to the United Nations, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) remained active in Hadramawt, Shabwah, Ma’rib, Bayda’, and Abyan Governorates. According to media, gunmen killed Khalid al-Hameidi, a university professor known as a secular thinker and critic of religious extremism, in the city of Dhale on December 5. Local officials said they believed the gunmen were members of AQAP or of an ISIS affiliate.
Jewish community members said their declining numbers made it difficult to sustain their religious practices. No rabbis remained in the country, leaving no religious authority to slaughter meat in accordance with strict kosher practices. According to media reports, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government facilitated the travel of a Jewish family to the UAE in August to reunite with family members. Due to the conflict, there was no way to verify the status of the country’s small, isolated Ismaili Muslim community.
The Department of State suspended operations at the U.S. embassy in Sana’a in 2015, and the embassy has operated since then as the Yemen Affairs Unit (YAU), based in Saudi Arabia. In March, the U.S. Ambassador expressed his concern over news reports that a Houthi court upheld a verdict to execute Hamed bin Haydara, a Baha’i Faith leader imprisoned since 2013. The Ambassador emphasized that all persons should be free to engage in religious practice without fear. In November, the Department of State issued a press release calling on the Houthis to release Levi Salem Musa Marhabi, a Jew detained since 2016 for allegedly helping to remove an ancient Torah scroll from the country.
The constitution declares the country a Christian nation but also has provisions that guarantee religious freedom and uphold the country’s multireligious composition. It prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of conscience and belief. Government and ruling party officials politically attacked religious leaders who expressed dissenting views on governance issues. According to human rights organizations, during a period of aggressive implementation of the restrictions, police assaulted a group of religious leaders at a church in Mkushi and sometimes used excessive force while conducting arrests of religious leaders and congregants violating COVID-19 regulations. Police at times used the regulations to harass opponents, including religious leaders critical of the government, according to religious sources. In October, the government seized Horizon Schools in Lusaka associated with the Islamic Gulen movement and appointed a school chairperson and principal, according to local media. Horizon Education Trust, the schools’ proprietor, applied for judicial review in the Lusaka High Court to challenge the government’s decision to compulsorily acquire the school; the case remained pending at year’s end. The government continued to take administrative measures to regulate religious affairs, such as the development of minimum standards for churches and other religious organizations. A 2019 moratorium on the registration of new churches and religious groups remained in force pending adoption of a new policy on minimum standards to replace the previously proposed regulatory framework for churches and religious groups. Proposed constitutional amendments that would have emphasized Christianity’s role in the country failed to pass parliament in October. Prominent religious groups and civil society organizations continued to decry the government’s involvement in religious affairs, including some boycotting of the October 18 National Day of Prayer and Fasting attended by President Edward Lungu.
Incidents of attacks and killings of individuals suspected of practicing witchcraft continued in various parts of the country. Victims were mostly elderly persons. Notable examples of attacks based on suspicions of witchcraft included the killing of a 79-year-old woman by unknown assailants and the stoning of a 62-year-old woman to death by a crowd. Religious leaders continued to hold regular meetings to promote mutual understanding of, and joint advocacy on, religious and other social issues.
The Charge d’Affaires met with government officials to discuss topics related to religious freedom and interreligious dialogue. The Charge d’Affaires also met with religious leaders to discuss issues of religious freedom, interfaith relations, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the proposed constitutional amendments that would emphasize the country’s declaration as a Christian nation and downplay its multireligious character.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom to practice, propagate, and give expression to one’s religion, in public or in private and alone or with others. Religious and civil society groups reported the government occasionally monitored public events, prayer rallies, church congregations, and religiously affiliated nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) perceived to be critical of the government, but there were no reports of specific incidents or disruptions. NGOs continued to report that some religious officials who engaged in political discourse perceived as negative toward the government became targets of the security services. Multiple church organizations released public letters appealing for tolerance, national unity, peace, reconciliation, healing, and stability while calling on the government to uphold the constitution and protect citizens’ political rights. In August, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa called the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) “evil-minded…reckless regime-change agents” who seek to incite the public to rise against the government and “sow seeds of internecine strife as a prelude to civil war” after the group issued a pastoral letter calling on the government to build peace, eradicate corruption, and strive for stability and good governance.
Some Christian groups, such as the United Methodist Church and the Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust, continued to criticize child marriages and immunization prohibitions in some Apostolic religious groups.
To underscore the importance of religious tolerance, the Ambassador met with leaders of the country’s main Apostolic coalitions throughout the year, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) leadership in August, and with the Apostolic Nuncio in March. U.S. embassy representatives met with religious leaders and faith-based organizations to discuss religious freedom, religious tolerance, and the role of faith communities in supporting political reconciliation and national healing.