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Brazil

Executive Summary

The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, provides for the free exercise of religious beliefs, and prohibits federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any religion.  In April, the Federal Supreme Court (STF) found unconstitutional a 2015 Amazonas State law requiring schools and libraries to keep at least one copy of the Bible in their collections on the grounds it violated the principle of state secularism.  In February, the Rio de Janeiro State Legislative Assembly established a commission of inquiry to investigate increasing religious intolerance and to discuss strategies to promote religious freedom.  In April, the STF upheld as constitutional COVID-19-related government decrees to close religious institutions; some religious groups protested government COVID-19 restrictions on the numbers of worshippers allowed to attend events.  In June, the state of Rio de Janeiro enabled individuals to use the military police’s 190 hotline to report acts of religious intolerance.  In March, the state of Sao Paulo approved a religious freedom law that regulated the constitutional principle of free exercise of faith and established fines of up to 87,000 reais ($15,300) for disturbances of religious ceremonies and cults, vandalism of sacred symbols, and discrimination based on religion in schools.  In July, a Sao Paulo judge acquitted a mother on charges of domestic violence filed after her daughter participated in a Candomble ritual.  The judge stated religious freedom was a constitutional right and there was no justification to restrict a Candomble ritual.  In July, in the state of Maranhao, Afro-Brazilian religious institutions, activists combating religious intolerance, and state government representatives discussed strategies to end attacks on terreiros (temples used in Afro-Brazilian religions).  In August, the federal police launched Operation White Rose to investigate crimes of discrimination or prejudice based on intolerance and the spread of Nazi symbols.  Civil police and the Public Ministry investigated the spread of hatred and threats of violence on social media, including against Jews; in December, civil police and prosecutors launched a series of actions, serving arrest and search and seizure warrants across seven states.  In May, the Sao Paulo Secretary of Justice, through the Inter-Religious Forum for a Culture of Peace and Freedom of Faith, conducted a webinar with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to discuss freedom of religion to promote peace and tolerance in the country and worldwide.  On January 21, municipalities throughout the country commemorated the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance.

According to press reporting, anecdotal evidence, and other sources, societal respect for practitioners of minority religions – especially Afro-Brazilian religions – continued to be weak, and attacks on terreiros continued.  According to the National Secretariat of Human Rights of the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights, during the year, the National Human Rights Hotline received 581 calls reporting religious intolerance, compared with 566 reports in 2020.  Media reported individuals set fire to and destroyed Afro-Brazilian places of worship and sacred objects, sometimes injuring or threatening worshippers.  In July, a supermarket employee said his employer verbally harassed and ultimately dismissed him for wearing a protective facemask bearing an Afro-Brazilian deity.  An August report published by the press outlet Globo showed that in the first five months of the year, federal police investigated 36 cases of violations of the country’s laws against the use of symbols to publicize Nazism, a rate on track to be somewhat fewer than the 110 cases opened in calendar year 2020.  A journalist working for one of the country’s largest broadcasters stated that Brazil could attain the economic development enjoyed by Germany “only by attacking Jews.  If we kill a gazillion Jews and appropriate their economic power, then Brazil will get rich.  That’s what happened with Germany after the war.”  In the Israelite Federation of Sao Paulo State’s (FISESP) annual Antisemitism Report, it recorded 57 incidents and allegations of antisemitism in the country from January to July, compared with 149 incidents and allegations during the same period in 2020.  FISESP also reported a total of 92 incidents at year’s end.  FISESP attributed the drop in recorded cases to difficulties in collecting data during COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, when local branch offices were closed.  Media and religious organizations reported an increased number of accounts of hate speech directed at religious minorities on social media and the internet, in particular against practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions and Jews.  In June, the Federal Public Ministry indicted a man for incitement of Nazism in 2015 on a Russian social network internet site.

During the year, embassy officials assisted the government’s efforts to address the spread of hatred and threats of violence against religious groups.  In January, the embassy organized a virtual roundtable with representatives from religious groups, academia, and the government, including a federal prosecutor, a professor from the University of Chicago, and representatives of both the Interfaith Forum in Sao Paulo and the Muslim Federation of Associations in Brazil, to discuss the legal instruments available in the country to promote tolerance and inclusion.  In August, the Consul General in Sao Paulo met with representatives from Jewish organizations including the Jewish Confederation of Brazil (CONIB), CONIB-Sao Paulo, the Albert Einstein Hospital, and the Harmony Club, a social and cultural club maintained by the Jewish community in Sao Paulo, to promote religious freedom and tolerance.  In October, the Consul General in Rio de Janeiro met Afro-Brazilian religious leaders, community activists, and lawmakers during a meeting at Rio’s Museum of the Republic to discuss religious intolerance against Afro-Brazilian religious communities.  On December 22, the Consul General in Sao Paulo met with the Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Cardinal Odilo Scherer, to discuss interfaith dialogue, the impact of COVID-19 on religious groups, and human rights in the country.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 213.4 million (midyear 2021).  According to a 2019 Datafolha survey, 50 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic, the same as the previous survey in 2016 but down from 60 percent in 2014.  Atheists and those with no religion represent 11 percent, and the proportion of evangelical Christians is 31 percent, compared with 24 percent in 2016.  Two percent practice Afro-Brazilian religions, and 3 percent are Spiritists.  According to the 2010 census, the most recently available data from official sources, 65 percent of the population is Catholic, 22 percent Protestant, 8 percent irreligious (including atheists, agnostics, and deists), and 2 percent Spiritist.  Adherents of other Christian groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Seventh-day Adventists, as well as followers of non-Christian religions, including Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Afro-Brazilian and syncretic religious groups, such as Candomble and Umbanda, make up a combined 3 percent of the population.  According to the census, there are approximately 600,000 practitioners of Candomble, Umbanda, and other Afro-Brazilian religions.  Some Christians also practice Candomble and Umbanda; however, some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) believe this is significantly underreported, given the number of terreiros located across the country.  According to recent surveys, many Brazilians consider themselves followers of more than one religion.

According to the 2010 census, approximately 35,200 Muslims live in the country, while the Federation of Muslim Associations of Brazil (FAMBRAS) estimates the number to be 1.2 to 1.5 million.  The largest communities reside in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, and Foz do Iguacu, as well as in smaller cities in the states of Parana and Rio Grande do Sul.

According to CONIB, there are approximately 120,000 Jews in the country.  The two largest concentrations are 70,000 in Sao Paulo State and 34,000 in Rio de Janeiro State.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and the free exercise of religious beliefs is guaranteed.  The constitution prohibits federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any specific religion.  The law provides penalties of up to five years in prison for crimes of religious intolerance, including bullying, employment discrimination, refusal of access to public areas, and displaying, distributing, or broadcasting religiously intolerant material.  By law, courts may fine or imprison for one to three years anyone who engages in religious hate speech.  If the hate speech occurs via publication or social communication, including social media, courts may fine or imprison those held responsible for two to five years.  It is illegal to write, edit, publish, or sell literature that promotes religious intolerance.

Religious groups are not required to register to establish places of worship, train clergy, or proselytize, but groups seeking tax-exempt status must register with the Department of Federal Revenue and the local municipality.  States and municipalities have different requirements and regulations for obtaining tax-exempt status.  Most jurisdictions require groups to document the purpose of their congregation, provide an accounting of finances, and have a fire inspection of any house of worship.  Local zoning laws and noise ordinances may limit where a religious group may build houses of worship or hold ceremonies.

The law protects the right to use animal sacrifice in religious rituals.

Government regulations require public schools to offer religious instruction, but neither the constitution nor legislation defines the parameters.  By law, the instruction must be nondenominational and conducted without proselytizing, and alternative instruction for students who do not want to participate must be available.  Schools are required to teach Afro-Brazilian religion, history, and culture.  The law allows public and private school students, except those in military training, to postpone taking exams or attending classes on their day of worship when their faith prohibits such activities.  The law guarantees the right of students to express their religious beliefs and mandates that schools provide alternatives, including taking replacement exams or makeup classes.

A Rio de Janeiro State law enacted in March permits public and private schools to include subjects in their curricula that address respect for freedom of belief and worship; religious and cultural diversity; combating racism in the country; the important influence of Afro-Brazilian, indigenous, and Jewish faiths in the formation of national society; the relationship between religious freedom and secularity of the state; and the legal consequences of intolerance against expressions of religion.

The law prohibits public subsidies to schools operated by religious organizations.

A constitutional provision provides the right of access to religious services and counsel to individuals of all religions in all civil and military establishments.  The law states that public and private hospitals as well as civil or military prisons must comply with this provision.

A Sao Paulo State law approved in March establishes administrative sanctions for individuals and organizations engaging in religious intolerance.  The new law supplements an existing one from 2019 focused on religious discrimination by broadening the concept of religious intolerance, taking steps to promote religious freedom, and increasing the fines imposed.  Punishments range from a warning letter to fines of up to 87,000 reais ($15,300).

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In January, the federal government created the National Registry of Religious Organizations, a voluntary database of religious leaders and entities eligible to receive federal funds and to carry out actions in partnership with the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights.  Social science professor and leader of the Protestantism and Pentecostalism Study Group at the Pontifical Catholic University, Edin Sued Abumanssur, said the program duplicated preexisting databases of religious organizations, and he suggested creation of the new database was an attempt to garner the support of churches in the lead-up to the 2022 presidential election.

In January, the Rio de Janeiro city council created the Parliamentary Front of Religious Freedom.  The purpose of the group, composed of 38 city council members, was to discuss strategies to combat religious intolerance in the municipality.

Acting on a Rio de Janeiro State civil police report that said the state had registered 6,700 crimes of religious intolerance from 2015 through 2019, state legislator Martha Rocha established in February a parliamentary commission of inquiry in Rio de Janeiro’s Legislative Assembly to investigate this increasing number and to discuss possible strategies to promote religious freedom.

On March 3, Governor of Sao Paulo State Joao Doria approved a state-level religious freedom law regulating the constitutional principle of free exercise of faith, including imposing fines of up to 87,000 reais ($15,300) for verifiable cases of disturbances of religious ceremonies and cults, vandalism of sacred symbols, and discrimination in schools, such as prohibiting the use of religious attire.

In March, media reported that evangelical Christians and Catholics in Pernambuco State protested the state’s imposition of COVID-19 related limitations on public religious gatherings.

In April, the STF found that government decrees to close churches and other religious temples throughout the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic were constitutional.  The decision followed the STF review of Sao Paulo Governor Doria’s decree ordering the closure of religious centers to avoid large crowds.  Following the decision, according to press reports, religious groups protested the government’s COVID-19 restrictions on religious gatherings in Brasilia.  In response to the STF decision, in October, the Sao Paulo legislature overturned Governor Doria’s decree, and it declared religious observances and their respective places of worship were essential activities to be maintained in times of crises, including during pandemics and natural disasters, provided that the activity complied with the recommendations of the Ministry of Health.

In December 2020, the city of Porto Alegre inaugurated a Police Office for Combating Intolerance with a mandate to assist victims of prejudice and investigate discrimination, including religious discrimination.  As of April, the office had registered 169 occurrences, including eight related to religious discrimination.

Beginning in June, individuals could report religious intolerance in Rio State to the military police’s 190 hotline.  The Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance (CCIR), an independent organization comprised of representatives of religious groups, civil society, police, and public prosecutors’ office representatives, was responsible for documenting cases of religious intolerance and assisting victims.  CCTR coordinator Ivanir dos Santos highlighted the importance of this new channel, saying that even though victims were already able to report incidents to civil police, the 190 military police hotline was more easily accessible and familiar.

In June, Bahia’s Court of Justice sentenced Edneide Santos de Jesus, a member of the Casa de Oracao Evangelical Church, to monthly court appearances and community service for repeatedly verbally harassing members of a traditional Candomble temple in Camacari, Bahia.  The court also found de Jesus guilty of spreading rock salt in front of the Candomble temple to “cast out demons.”  The ruling by the Court of Justice was the first ruling of “religious racism” (religious intolerance or prejudice) in the state’s history.

Media reported that in June, during a search for suspected serial killer Lazaro Barbosa, police officers repeatedly entered at least 10 Afro-Brazilian temples in Goias State.  Religious leaders filed a complaint alleging that police used force in their entry, pointed weapons at the heads of those present, and examined mobile phones and computers without a court order.  The Public Security Secretariat of Goias stated that a task force composed of police officers from Goias, the federal district, and the federal highway police was “working with a single purpose:  to guarantee peace to the population of the region and to capture Lazaro Barbosa within the limits of legality.”

In July, a judge on Sao Paulo’s Court of Justice acquitted Juliana Arcanjo Ferreira of charges of domestic violence and bodily harm against her daughter after Ferreira took the 11-year-old to a traditional Candomble rite called a “cure” in October 2020.  The girl’s father filed a police report four months after the ceremony accusing Ferreira of assault, following a weekend visit during which he discovered scars on the girl’s body from the rite, which entailed making small superficial incisions on the skin.  Medical examiners found that the scars from the ritual were mild and did not cause disability; there was no conclusion that they were made under torture or other cruel means.  The judge presiding over the case emphasized that religious freedom was a constitutional right and that the transmission of beliefs to children could not carry criminal consequences if it was done with “respect for life, freedom, and security.”  He continued that there could be no justification, other than religious intolerance, for restricting a Candomble ritual.

In August, the government of Sao Paulo State announced the creation of an Online Diversity Police Station, a tool to enable citizens to report crimes of discrimination and intolerance, including those involving religion, through an online platform.  Per the tool, after reporting, cases were directed for further investigation to the city of Sao Paulo’s newly redesigned 26-person specialized precinct for crimes of discrimination and intolerance.  Alternatively, cases in the interior of Sao Paulo State were directed to the State Criminal Investigation Departments.  Authorities said 20 percent of the state’s police officers in these departments had special training in combating and investigating intolerance.

According to the FAMBRAS, women said they continued to face difficulties in being allowed to wear Islamic head coverings such as the hijab when going through security in airports and other public buildings.

In July, President Jair Bolsonaro met Beatrix von Storch, a German parliamentarian and lawmaker of the Alternative for Germany Party (AfD).  CONIB representatives criticized the welcoming of Storch, saying that the AfD was a party that downplayed Nazi atrocities and the Holocaust.  According to media reports, however, Storch’s official visit did not include any discussion of either Nazism or the Holocaust.

In March, Roberto Jefferson, leader of the Brazilian Labor Party, posted on Instagram, “Baal, Satanic deity, Canaanites and Jews sacrificed children to receive their sympathy.  Today, history repeats itself.”  CONIB said in a statement that Jefferson’s post constituted “a crime of racism, with an increased penalty for having been committed through a social network.”  For an unrelated matter in August, authorities charged Jefferson with belonging to a criminal organization opposing democracy.  He remained in jail, pending trial through the end of year.

In Maranhao State, Afro-Brazilian religious institutions and activists working to counter religious intolerance, together with the public defender, the state prosecutor, and the Order of Attorneys in Maranhao, met in July to discuss strategies to end attacks on terreiros.  According to the State Secretariat for Racial Equality, terreiros, including the Pai Lindomar Temple, had suffered increasingly frequent attacks for several years, despite military police presence in the Anjo da Guarda neighborhood where the temple was located in the state’s capital of Sao Luis.  For example, on average there were five complaints of religious intolerance per year, but in two months of 2021, four complaints of intolerance were filed.

In June, the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Public Ministry of Santa Catarina State (MPSC) shelved an investigation into possible illegal acts by history professor Wandercy Pugliesi.  In 2020, the Liberal Party pressured Pugliesi to step down as a candidate for a local town council election in Pomerode due to his association with neo-Nazi symbols and for not being ideologically aligned with the party.  Pugliesi had a large, tiled swastika symbol in his personal pool and named his son Adolf; police seized Nazi-related materials from him in 1994.  In June, Pugliesi’s lawyers requested that the Public Prosecutor’s Office shelve the case after Pugliesi provided photos showing that the symbol in the swimming pool had been removed.  In September, a member of the Superior Council of the MPSC requested that the Center for Confronting Racial Crimes and Intolerance study the case prior to shelving it.  According to media, while there was no firm timeline for the study, upon completion the MPSC’s Superior Council would consider the results of the study and whether to recommence the investigation.

In August, federal police launched Operation White Rose, a reference to the historical White Rose anti-Nazi movement in World War II Germany, to address crimes of discrimination or prejudice based on race, color, ethnicity, religion, or national origin, as well as the placement of Nazi symbols.  Documents in a database of Safernet Brazil – an NGO that promotes human rights on social networks and monitors radical websites – provided the basis for an operation against a man who made discriminatory comments against categories of individuals that included Jews and Catholics.  According to press reports, the man also displayed Nazi symbols, declared himself to be a Nazi, and disseminated content related to antisemitism and idolatry of Nazism and fascism, with the intention of inciting violence.

During the year, civil police and the Public Ministry initiated Operation Bergon (named after a French nun who helped rescue Jewish children during World War II) to investigate the spread of hatred and threats of violence on social media, including against Jews.  In December, civil police and prosecutors launched a series of actions, serving four arrest warrants and 31 search and seizure warrants across the states of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Norte, Parana, Santa Catarina, and Rio do Sul.

The NGO Center for Articulation of Marginalized Populations reported Afro-Brazilian victims of religious intolerance in the state of Rio de Janeiro continued to view police and the judiciary as being indifferent, in general, to attacks on Afro-Brazilian places of worship.  It cited what it said was a lack of investigations and arrests in these cases and that offenders were rarely held accountable.

In April, the STF declared unconstitutional a 2015 Amazonas State law requiring schools and libraries to keep at least one copy of the Bible in their collections on the grounds that it violated the principles of state secularism.  Following the ruling, some postings on social media stated the STF had banned the Bible from schools and public libraries, allegations that the government said were false.

In September, acting Rio State Governor Claudio Castro declared the Terreiro de Gomeia (Gomeia Temple) in Duque de Caxias an historical and cultural heritage site.  Candomble followers founded the Gomeia Temple in the 1950s.  The declaration emphasized the value of Afro-Brazilian religious practices.

On January 21, municipalities around the country commemorated the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance.  In Rio Grande do Sul, civil police distributed an educational booklet on religious intolerance, including information on what encompasses crimes of religious intolerance and how to report incidents.

On May 25, the Sao Paulo Secretary of Justice, through the Inter-Religious Forum for a Culture of Peace and Freedom of Faith, promoted a webinar in partnership with UNESCO to discuss freedom of religion as an integral effort to promote peace and tolerance in the country and worldwide.  The event included representatives from a variety of faiths including Afro-Brazilian religions, Islam, and Judaism.

In May, Sao Paulo Legislative Assembly Caucus of Religious Freedom representatives held a Sao Paulo State Religious Freedom Week, a series of 16 webinars to promote freedom of religion and tolerance, with the participation of various civil society groups.  Assembly deputy Damaris Moura, who led the promotion for the week’s events, said, “Defending religious freedom for all is a fundamental right constitutionally guaranteed, but still with practical problems.  Therefore, it is always necessary to alert, raise awareness, and prevent.”  The President of the Legislative Assembly, deputy Carlao Pignatari, defined religious freedom as “freedom to profess any religion [and to] hold services and [practice]  traditions related to beliefs,” and he emphasized that religious beliefs should not have “direct influence on the formulation of public policies.”  Approximately 1,000 persons attended the opening event of the week, held at the Legislative Assembly.

The State Secretariat of Human Rights in Espirito Santo State organized a State Week of Combating Religious Intolerance from January 18 to 21.  Programming included a virtual educational campaign on the secretariat’s website, a roundtable on religious intolerance with inmates from the Linhares Detention and Rehabilitation Center, and two seminars on religious intolerance that included speakers representing Catholicism, Protestantism, and Afro-Brazilian religions as well as the State Council for the Promotion of Racial Equality.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Although only approximately 2 percent of the population were followers of Afro-Brazilian religions, a disproportionate number of cases registered by the human rights hotline involved victims who were practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions. Media reported multiple incidents in which individuals and groups destroyed terreiros and sacred objects.

In January, an unidentified man broke into an Umbanda temple in Duque de Caxias, Baixada Fluminense, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, and set a fire and destroyed sacred religious objects.  According to the temple’s priest, Maria Antonia dos Santos, the man said his pastor had instructed him to break “all the demons he could find in the temple.”  The suspect was arrested the same day and sent to a psychiatric hospital after police concluded he was suffering a mental health crisis.  The leaders of the temple organized a fundraising campaign and rebuilt the temple, which was rededicated in May.

In February, unidentified men set fire to a food stand of Candomble priestess and street vendor Maria Enoia de Sousa, known as Mae Enoia, in Macae, southern Rio de Janeiro State.  The priestess had reportedly been harassed since November 2020, when she had begun selling acaraje, a regional dish associated with practitioners of Afro-Brazilian faiths.  According to media reports, when she attempted to file a police report, the police precinct said she needed to pay a fee of 700 to 800 reais ($120-$140) to conduct the investigation.  Police investigated the case, with monitoring by the CCIR, through year’s end.

In February, Gleidson Lima, an evangelical Christian pastor and leader of the Tenda dos Milagres Church, destroyed Afro-Brazilian sacred objects and offerings in the neighborhood of Belford Roxo, part of the greater metropolitan area of the city of Rio de Janeiro.  A video posted on the internet following the attack showed the pastor stating he was breaking the objects “in the name of Jesus.”  Police indicted Lima on February 24 on charges of religious intolerance, and a trial date was pending at year’s end.

In March, media reported that an unidentified, apparently intoxicated man destroyed a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows in a Catholic church in Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro State.  According to Father Lucas Thadeu, who witnessed the incident, the man broke the statue after declaring that due to his religion he did not like religious images.   Police were investigating at year’s end.

According to media in May, four individuals entered the Nossa Senhora dos Remedios Parish in Osasco, Sao Paulo, and destroyed seven religious images, plus flower vases, and toilets, saying they did so “in the name of Jesus.”  After reviewing security camera footage in June, the Secretariat of Public Security detained four suspects, including two minors.  Police indicted the two adults for the crimes of religious intolerance and “vilification of images” (the mistreatment or disrespect of objects) and took the minors to the Childhood and Youth Court.  Authorities released all the suspects after their hearings to await the outcome of the investigation, which according to media reports, the Ocasco police investigation continued through year’s end.

According to press reports, on December 3, police arrested and charged a man with aggravated theft and arson for the November 26 arson of the Shia Imam Ali Mosque in Ponta Grossa, in Parana State.  The man broke into and set fire to the husseiniya (Shia congregation hall), dirtied the kitchen walls, destroyed masbahas (prayer beads), and set fire to five volumes of the Quran.  The individual confessed to the crime, which carries a possible sentence of up to 14 years in prison.  In response to the attack, Parana Governor Carlos Massa Ratinho Junior stated his support for the mosque, stating, “We will not tolerate any criminal acts, especially those of religious intolerance, like what happened at the mosque, in Ponta Grossa,” and he pledged civil police would conduct a full investigation.

In December, a group of preschool students visited Xica Manicongo, the urban quilombo (a historical community founded by formerly enslaved persons) in the municipality of Niteroi in Rio de Janeiro State, to watch a cultural performance.  Afterward, individuals virtually attacked the participating school on social media.  Commenters conflated the quilombo with an Afro-Brazilian terreiro in the city, with posts using offensive language and criticizing the school administrators for permitting the visit.  In response, Niteroi’s municipal Secretary of Education defended the children’s participation in the event, explaining that schools have “autonomy to develop activities that defend freedom of expression and the antiracist education agenda.”  The secretary’s statement also reiterated that these activities were supported by laws that promote the culture and history of Afro-Brazilian peoples.  In response to the municipality’s clarification, many persons expressed support for the school’s position and the visit.

In February, followers of Afro-Brazilian religions in Maceio, Alagoas State, paid homage to Tia Marcelina, a temple leader whom security forces beat in 1912.  According to the Municipal Foundation for Cultural Action, the objective of the event, which included singing, instrumental music, and the hanging of a banner, was to remember the power and ancestry of the day in history and to renew what the foundation termed the fight against “religious racism.”

In July, former Mundial Supermarket employee Rafael Oliveira denounced the chain for religious intolerance, stating supermarket management verbally harassed, and ultimately fired him when he wore a protective facemask containing an image of the orixa ogun, an Afro-Brazilian deity.  According to Oliveira, other Mundial employees in the northern Rio de Janeiro State city of Ramos wore facemasks in support of other religions and sports teams without reprimand, while a manager told Oliveira to change his mask.  In the three weeks thereafter, the supermarket transferred Oliveira five times and changed his hours eight times before terminating his employment.  The supermarket chain stated that “it does not condone any act of discrimination or religious intolerance and respects all beliefs,” and said Oliveira’s dismissal was not related to discrimination.

In July, Afro-Brazilian religious leaders met with officials from Bahia State’s Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality to discuss a series of attacks against Terreiro Icimimo, a 104-year-old site recognized by the Bahia State government as a cultural heritage site.  That same month, unidentified men had broken into the temple and destroyed sacred objects and outdoor ceremonial spaces.  According to a representative for the terreiro, authorities had not indicted or arrested any suspects by year’s end.

In August, representatives of Afro-Brazilian religions in Pernambuco State, under the coordination of the Pernambuco Terreiros Walk Network (ACTPE), which unites the state’s terreiros to combat racism and religious prejudice, held a demonstration against acts of religious intolerance.  During the event, the representatives announced they had filed a complaint with the Public Ministry of Pernambuco through the State Secretariat for Social Defense against an evangelical Protestant pastor for having maligned Afro-Brazilian religions.  On social networks, Pastor Aijalon Berto of the Evangelical Church Dunamis (meaning power) objected to artistic graffiti panels installed near the Abolition Museum that depicted Afro-Brazilian cultural and religious symbols, saying these were associated with evil and Satan.  In the video, the pastor stated, “Entities referred to in Candomble are witchcraft.”  Civil police said they were investigating the case.  In November, the ACTPE held a second march in conjunction with the start of the country’s Month of Black Consciousness to mark the fight against racism and religious intolerance.  Local and state political leaders spoke alongside Afro-Brazilian religious leaders, calling for respect on a daily basis.

Media continued to report on cases of Candomble practitioners being expelled from the community and being prohibited from wearing the white clothing that is generally used by adherents of the Candomble faith in the area controlled by a criminal group self-identifying as evangelical.  Alvaro Malaqunas Santa Rosa, known as Peixao, who, according to media in 2020, had joined forces with a militia group to expand influence over a group of five favelas (informal housing settlements) to establish what came to be known as the “Complex of Israel” in northern Rio de Janeiro, continued to avoid arrest despite police operations targeting his drug trafficking operation.  As a child, Peixao followed his mother’s Umbanda practices but later converted to evangelical Christianity.

Media continued to report on cases of evangelical Christian missionaries traveling to isolated and recently contacted indigenous communities to proselytize.  Indigenous organizations said these actions violated indigenous peoples’ constitutional right to maintain their cultural heritage and sacred practices and threatened their safety.  In September, STF Minister Luis Roberto Barroso reaffirmed a 2020 court decision that prevented the entry of third parties, including members of religious groups, into areas in which isolated indigenous peoples were living to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

An August report published by Globo using data obtained through the Access to Information Law showed that in the first five months of the year, federal police investigated 36 cases entailing violations of the country’s laws against the use of symbols to publicize Nazism, a rate Globo estimated was on track to be only slightly fewer than the 110 cases opened in all of 2020.  In 2020, the highest number of cases was opened in the southeast of the country, particularly in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro States, with 27 and 23 cases, respectively.  The data did not include the states of Mato Grosso do Sul, Rondonia, and Tocantins.

FISESP’s annual Antisemitism Report recorded 57 incidents and allegations of antisemitism in the country from January to July, compared with 149 incidents and allegations during the same period in 2020.  FISESP also reported a total of 92 incidents at year’s end.  The report was based on a range of sources, including traditional media, social media, and reports from branch offices of the organization.  The survey reported a variety of activities including sightings of swastikas and other antisemitic graffiti, antisemitic hand gestures, and the sale of Nazi artifacts.  FISESP attributed the drop in recorded cases to difficulties collecting data during COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, when local FISESP branches were closed.

From the end of 2020 to May, neo-Nazi cells grew from 349 to 530, according to anthropologist Adriana Magalhaes Dias at the Sao Paulo State University of Campinas.  The cells were most prevalent in the south and southeast regions, with 301 and 193 identified, respectively.  Dias also mapped cells in the midwest (18) and northeast (13).  According to Dias, a neo-Nazi cell was a group of at least three persons inspired by the Nazism in Europe in the 20th century.

According to press reports, on March 12, the federal police raided the Pentecostal Generation Jesus Christ Church in the city of Rio de Janeiro to seize literature and antisemitic materials related to a 2020 video broadcast of the church’s leader, evangelical Pastor Tupirani da Hora Lores, praying with congregants for another Holocaust.  He said, “Massacre the Jews, God, hit them with your sword, for they have left God, they have left the nation.”  The police raid supported a cybercrimes police investigation of the pastor for inciting practitioners to discriminate against Jews through his in-person and online sermons.  In August, press reported that despite the police investigation, the pastor continued to make offensive comments.

Neo-Nazi groups maintained an active presence online.  The National Cyber Crime Reporting Center, operated by Safernet Brazil, recorded for the second year in a row an increase in complaints about internet content supporting Nazism.  During the year, Safernet Brazil stated it received 14,476 reports of neo-Nazi content online, a 60.7 percent increase compared with 2020 and the highest number registered since 2010.  The reports included 894 different webpages, of which 318 were removed by TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter because of content defined as illegal and pro-Nazi.

There continued to be reports of private entities and individuals inciting violence against or engaging in verbal harassment of religious minorities on social media and in the press.  As of August, the Israelite Federation of the State of Rio de Janeiro reported that it had confirmed 10 cases of antisemitism in Rio de Janeiro.  The number of reports of crimes of intolerance – racial, religious, or related to sexual orientation or gender identity – registered by the ombudsman’s office of the Sao Paulo Department of State between January-July represented a 24.5 percent increase compared with the same period in 2020.  During this period, 311 reports were registered, compared with 248 during the same period in 2020.

In June, the Federal Public Ministry indicted a man in the First Federal Criminal Court of Sao Paulo for incitement of Nazism on a Russian online social network in 2015.  Authorities accused the man, who had a history of involvement with neo-Nazi groups, of being responsible for a webpage containing neo-Nazi symbols and photos referencing Adolf Hitler, with faces covered by emojis.  Identified through police cooperation between Brazil and Russia, the man confessed to the authorship of the publications.  The Public Ministry said the man would be prosecuted for inciting discrimination and prejudice based on race, color, religion, or nationality and if found guilty, would be subject to a fine, up to five years in prison, or both.

According to media, on August 7, an unidentified individual or individuals scattered antisemitic pamphlets on the sidewalks and streets of Rio de Janeiro’s Barra de Tijuca neighborhood that stated, “Jews, impulsive accumulators of gold, diamonds, and dollars.”  Rio de Janeiro civil police said they were investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.

According to press reports, on August 23, unidentified men online posted pornographic images and antisemitic messages during a virtual Jewish ceremony organized by the Israelite Religious Association in Rio de Janeiro.  Hackers threatened the participants by posting messages such as, “We will burn all synagogues” and “Death to Jews.”  Organizers suspended the event until a new link could be sent to the participants.  Rio de Janeiro police were investigating the case at year’s end. 

In November, journalist Jose Carlos Bernardi, working for Jovem Pan, one of the country’s largest broadcasters, stated that Brazil could attain economic development enjoyed by Germany “only by attacking Jews.  If we kill a gazillion Jews and appropriate their economic power, then Brazil will get rich.  That’s what happened with Germany after the war.”  The journalist and network later apologized for the remarks, following public complaints.

According to FAMBRAS, anti-Muslim messages on the internet, mostly associating Islam with terrorism and spreading messages of hate against Muslim representatives and their religious symbols, continued.  In March, according to FAMBRAS legal advisor Mohamed Charanek, the Court of Justice in Brasilia ordered the removal from social media of all material associating Islam with terrorism posted by a group self-identifying as the “Conservative Party,” a group seeking recognition as a political party.  The court fined the group 10,000 reais ($1,800).

The Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights’ National Secretariat of Human Rights received 581 reports of religious intolerance via the nationwide Dial 100 Human Rights hotline during the year, compared with 566 in 2020.

The Rio de Janeiro Civil Police Office for Racial Crimes and Crimes of Intolerance (DECRADI) reported receiving 78 reports of religious intolerance during the year.  According to the Chief of Police and head of DECRADI, authorities had indicted nine persons on charges of religious intolerance.  The State Secretariat for Human Rights in Rio de Janeiro reported 51 instances of religious intolerance between January and July, compared with 26 instances during the same period in 2020.  Afro-Brazilian religious groups experienced the greatest number of occurrences, with harassment, discrimination, and destruction of religious temples reported regularly.

According to the Bahia State Secretariat of Racial Equality, there were 19 instances of religious intolerance in the state between January and July, compared with eight instances in the comparable period in 2020.

On January 21, in celebration of the Brazilian National Day Against Religious Intolerance, Temple Ile Axe Abassade Ogum organized a tribute to the late Candomble priest Mother Gilda, who experienced verbal abuse involving religious intolerance during her lifetime.  The ceremony took place at Parque do Abaete, in Salvador, Bahia State, the site of a bust of the religious leader.

Bahia State University (UNEB) organized an online event entitled “Religion, (in)Tolerance, and Respect” to celebrate the January 21 National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance.  The UNEB event focused on the growth of religious diversity in the country and how religious intolerance could lead to discrimination and aggression when members of one religious group did not recognize the religious freedom of other religious groups.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

During the year, embassy officials assisted the government’s efforts to address the spread of hatred and threats of violence against religious groups, including by providing information leading to the launch of Operation Bergon.

On January 29, the embassy organized a virtual roundtable with government, legal experts, and interfaith and religious leaders on the legal instruments available in the country to promote tolerance and inclusion.  Panelists included a federal prosecutor, a professor from the University of Chicago, Professor Vania Maria da Silva Soares from the Interfaith Forum in Sao Paulo, and Ali El Zoghbi, vice president of the Muslim Federation of Associations in Brazil in Sao Paulo.

On August 8, the Consul General in Sao Paulo met with representatives of Jewish organizations, including CONIB, CONIB-Sao Paulo, Albert Einstein Hospital, and the Harmony Club, a social and cultural club maintained by the Jewish community of Sao Paulo, to discuss further engagement in support of religious freedom.  On October 22, the Consul General in Rio de Janeiro visited the Museum of the Republic to meet with Afro-Brazilian leaders, activists, priests, prosecutors, and lawmakers involved in the religious freedom and tolerance movement for Afro-Brazilian religious communities.  During the visit, the Consul General toured the “Free Our Sacred” exhibit, which included more than 500 artifacts seized from Afro-Brazilian religious communities during police raids between 1890 and 1945.  On December 22, the Consul General in Sao Paulo met with the Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Cardinal Odilo Scherer, to discuss interfaith dialogue, the impact of COVID-19 on religious groups, and human rights in the country.

Burkina Faso

Executive Summary

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.  The government and religious authorities frequently stressed the importance of tolerance and social cohesion and warned against the messages conveyed by terrorist groups, who the government said were trying to divide the country.  In August, the country’s first terrrorism-related criminal proceedings began in the capital.  One of the five convicted defendants confessed to membership in Ansaroul Islam, a U.S. government-designated terrorist organization, and said he joined the group to “defend the Muslim religion.”  In October, senior government officials indicated the government was monitoring preaching that could promote violence or intolerance on social media using the National Observatory for Religious Information (ONAFAR).  On August 8, President Roch Kabore attended the second annual congress of the Islamic Federation of Burkina Faso (FAIB), during which FAIB’s president condemned terrorist acts, stating that, “Islam is a religion of peace and of respect for human life.”

International media reported that terrorist groups, armed insurgents, and jihadists continued their campaign of violence and sometimes targeted places of worship or religious leaders.  Domestic and transnational terrorist groups conducted more attacks and inflicted more violence against civilians than in the previous year, including numerous targeted killings based on religious identity, according to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).  Attackers killed or kidnapped imams, other clergy, and worshippers, while attacking and destroying mosques and churches.  Although responsibility for many attacks in the country went unclaimed, observers attributed most to known terrorist groups Ansaroul Islam, Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), all three designated by the U.S. government as terrorist organizations.  Media reported numerous specific incidents of violence.  An ambush on a group of villagers gathered for a Muslim naming ceremony on May 18 killed 15 Muslims in the Adjarara area of Oudalan Province.  On April 11, violent extremists killed two persons in front of the mosque of Babonga, Yagha Province.  On May 30, militants killed the imam of Bouli, in the Centre-Nord Region, along with his son, the village chief, and a member of the Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland, an armed group established by the government during the year as additional support for government security forces.  On July 21, violent extremists killed a man in front of the mosque of Boudieri.  In all these attacks the victims were believed to be Muslim.  Media and international NGOs reported on violent enforcement by organizations characterized as extremist of the insurgents’ interpretation of Islamic law in the region, with the threat of violence for noncompliance.  For example, attackers forced members of communities in the northern part of the country to dress in specific “Islamic” garb, but observers noted this was also occurring across other areas of the country.  Terrorists attacked and destroyed schools and killed teachers for teaching a secular curriculum and for teaching in French rather than Arabic, according to media reports.  As of November 30, approximately 3,000 schools had been closed, depriving nearly 500,000 students of the ability to attend school.

Human rights organizations and religious groups continued to express concern that religiously targeted violence had harmed what they termed the traditional peaceful coexistence of religious groups in the country.  Academic and other observers stated that there exists stigmatization of the mostly Muslim ethnic-Fulani community because of the community’s perceived sympathy for those Islamists who are seen as militant, violent, and who recruited ethnic-Fulani to join related armed groups.  This perception and activity aggravated existing societal tensions and posed a threat to stability.  Members of the Burkinabe Muslim Community Organization, the Catholic Archdiocese of Ouagadougou, and the Federation of Evangelical Churches continued to state that despite an increase in religiously motivated attacks, religious tolerance remained widespread as a common value, and numerous examples existed of families of mixed faiths and religious leaders attending each other’s holidays and celebrations.  Members of the largest religious communities promoted interfaith dialogue and tolerance through public institutions such as FAIB, which conducted awareness campaigns throughout the country.

U.S. embassy officials discussed with a wide range of government agencies and officials, including the Office of the President, the continued increase in religiously motivated attacks, particularly in the Sahel and Est Regions.  In addition, embassy staff met with religious leaders to encourage and promote values of religious freedom, interfaith tolerance, and active civil dialogue on these subjects.  Throughout the year, the Ambassador met with imams and other Muslim leaders, and Catholic and Protestant leaders to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom and tolerance, and to hear their concerns.  During the year, the embassy also conducted regular outreach with religious figures and religiously oriented civil society organization leaders to understand current threats to religious freedom and tolerance in the country as a result of the unprecedented level of violence against both Christians and Muslims.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 21.4 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2006 census, 61 percent of the population is Muslim (predominantly Sunni), 19 percent is Roman Catholic, 4 percent belong to various Protestant groups, and 15 percent maintain exclusively indigenous beliefs.  Less than 1 percent is atheist or belongs to other religious groups.  Statistics on religious affiliation are approximate because Muslims and Christians often adhere simultaneously to some aspects of traditional or animist religious beliefs.

Muslims reside largely in the northern, eastern, and western border regions, while Christians are concentrated in the center of the country.  Traditional and animist religious beliefs are practiced throughout the country, especially in rural communities.  The capital has a mixed Muslim and Christian population.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states the country is secular, and both the constitution and other laws provide for the right of individuals to choose and change their religion and to practice the religion of their choice.  The constitution states freedom of belief is subject to respect for law, public order, good morals, and “the human person.”  Political parties based on religion, ethnicity, or regional affiliation are forbidden.

The law provides that all organizations, religious or otherwise, may register with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization (MATD), which oversees religious affairs.  Registration confers legal status, and the process usually takes approximately three to four weeks and costs less than 50,000 CFA francs ($86).  Religious organizations are not required to register unless they seek legal recognition by the government, but after registration they must comply with applicable regulations imposed on all registered organizations or be subject to a fine of 50,000 to 150,000 CFA francs ($86-$260).  The ministry, through the Directorate for Customary Affairs and Worship, helps organize religious pilgrimages; promotes and fosters interreligious dialogue and peace; develops and implements measures for the construction of places of worship and the registration of religious organizations and religious congregations; and monitors the implementation of standards for burial, exhumation, and transfer of remains (which may include religious elements).

Religious groups operate under the same regulatory framework for publishing and broadcasting as other entities.  MATD may request copies of proposed publications and broadcasts to verify they are in accordance with the nature of the religious group as stated in its registration.  MATD also reviews permit applications by religious groups.

The government generally does not fund religious schools or require them to pay taxes unless they conduct for-profit activities.  The government, however, provides subsidies to a number of Catholic schools as part of an agreement allowing students from public schools to enroll in Catholic schools when public schools are at full capacity.  The government also provides subsidies to registered Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim (commonly referred to as “Franco-Arabic”) schools for teacher salaries, which were typically less than those of public-school teachers.  The government taxes religious groups only if they engage in commercial activities, such as farming or dairy production.

Religious education is not allowed in public schools.  Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups operate private primary and secondary schools and some institutions of higher education.  These schools are permitted to provide religious instruction to their students.  Schools (religious or not) must submit the names of their directors to the government and register their schools with the Ministry of National Education and Literacy.  The government does not appoint or approve these officials, however.  The government periodically reviews the curricula of new religious schools as they open, as well as others, to ensure they offer the full standard academic curriculum.  The majority of Quranic schools are not registered and thus their curricula are not reviewed.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

During the year, security continued to deteriorate in the country, further weakening the government, according to media and experts.  Following the terrorist attack that claimed the lives of 53 gendarmes in Inata (Sahel) on November 14, and a wave of civil society-led protests and demonstrations across the country, some peaceful and others violent, President Kabore appointed a new Prime Minister, and vowed to step up the fight against terrorism.  According to sources, he reshuffled his cabinet and military leaders in an effort to establish a more effective “fighting” government and to satisfy protesters.  During a parliamentary session on November 26, the Ministers of Defense and Security stated that the majority of those attacking security forces were from the country (Burkinabe) and expressed concern that security forces were hampered by the actions of Burkinabe on the ground who cooperated with extremist groups.

From August 9-13, trials involving 10 defendants facing terrorism charges began in Ouagadougou, the country’s first terrorism-related criminal proceedings.  One defendant was acquitted, five other defendants were convicted and sentenced to between 10 and 21 years in prison.  The court had not concluded trial proceedings for the remaining four by year’s end.  One convicted defendant confessed to membership in Ansaroul Islam, considered a terrorist organization by the government and a U.S. government-designated terrorist organization, responsible for prior violent and deadly terrorist attacks.  The defendant said he joined the group to “defend the Muslim religion.”  He stated in the proceeding that he considered it a legitimate act to attack and burn a school and rob staff members because “they don’t pray and they have no religion,” and because the school is a government institution.  More than 900 defendants facing terrorism charges remained in custody pending trial at year’s end.

The government stated that terrorists attacked religious institutions with the aim of dividing the population.  On many occasions, representatives of the government acted with a stated intent to counter this influence and foster peaceful cohabitation between communities and followers of various religions.

President Kabore attended the second annual FAIB congress on August 8, during which FAIB President El Hadj Zoungrana condemned terrorist acts, thanked everyone involved in the fight against terrorism, and stated that “Islam is a religion of peace and respect for human life.”

On May 13, in a celebration during Ramadan, which coincided with the Christian Ascension holiday, Minister of State and Interior Clement Sawadogo commended the religious communities in the country for what he stated were the peaceful coexistence they had demonstrated.  “When I see that Cardinal Philippe Ouedraogo has left his own faith’s celebration of Ascension Day to come here to commune with Muslims, it serves as a powerful symbol, and represents an advantage for our country which we must preserve.  All believers must live in harmony, in peace, in joy so that our country is always a haven for peace.”

On July 21, Minister of National Reconciliation and Social Cohesion Zephirin Diabre and Minister of State and Interior Minister Clement Sawadogo attended the Eid al-Fitr (known locally as Tabaski) prayer ceremony in Ouagadougou.  Sawadogo said, “[T]he government, through our presence, intends to commune with all the Muslims of Burkina Faso on this blessed day of Tabaski.  It is an opportunity for us to show the gratitude of the government for all your prayers for us and for our country.”

The government allocated 75 million CFA francs ($129,000) each to the Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and animist communities, the same level as in previous years.  Sources continued to state that this funding was meant to demonstrate equitable government support to all religious groups in the country.

On August 6, the government issued a decree integrating the traditional animist communities into ONAFAR, providing animist communities with representation in the government agency responsible for promoting interreligious dialogue as well as preventing and managing conflicts of a religious nature.

The government continued to routinely approve applications from religious groups for registration, according to religious group leaders, although the government indicated it had rejected some on “moral” grounds, such as the moral character of the person or group, lawful conduct of activities, and transparency in disclosing sources of income.  Government officials indicated mosques had been closed as a result of application denials on moral grounds, but the central government does not maintain statistics on these closures.

On May 6, the government made a final decision to convey a disputed plot of land in Ouagadougou to FAIB for the construction of a mosque and community center to benefit the Muslim community.  The government also committed to allocate a separate tract of land to the legal owner of the disputed land, a Christian.  The parties had agreed to this arrangement, and according to Clement Sawadogo, Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, the government’s actions were intended to promote social cohesion and resolve tensions between Christian and Muslim communities resulting from the destruction of a mosque on the original plot of land in 2020.  Some within the judiciary as well as some members of the Muslim and Christian communities stated they did not believe the government should involve itself in this legal matter.  The Union of the Judiciary stated the ruling was “… a challenge to the independence and authority of the judiciary.”

In October, senior government officials indicated the government was monitoring preaching that could promote violence or intolerance on social media using ONAFAR.  The MATD also announced the recruitment of a communication specialist to work on social media and strengthen the ONAFAR team.

The Director of Public and Political Freedoms within MATD stated in December that MATD was close to completing review of amendments to the law ensuring religious freedom for groups within the country’s secular government framework.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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.  Observers continued to report the stigmatization of the predominantly Muslim Fulani ethnic community because of a perceived association with militant Islamist groups.  They said this aggravated social tensions in some regions, since self-defense militias at times exacted vigilante justice on Fulani communities in the northern and central regions of the country because of this perceived connection to militant and terrorist groups.

Members of the Burkinabe Muslim Community Organization, the Catholic Archdiocese of Ouagadougou, and the Federation of Evangelical Churches continued to state that despite an increase in religiously motivated attacks, religious tolerance remained widespread as a common value, and numerous examples existed of families of mixed faiths and religious leaders attending each other’s holidays and celebrations.  Members of the largest religious communities promoted interfaith dialogue and tolerance through public institutions such as FAIB, which conducted awareness campaigns throughout the country.  They also worked through NGOs such as the Dori-based Fraternal Union of Believers, which encouraged various religious communities, specifically in the Sahel Region, to conduct social and economic development activities with the goal of reducing vulnerability to terrorist recruitment and fostering religious tolerance between the communities.

In January, the Catholic Archbishop of Ouagadougou, Cardinal Philippe Ouedraogo, denounced terrorist violence, calling it “an evil for humanity.”  Ouedraogo also said he feared how jihadist and terrorists attacks were challenging social cohesion.  He said, “Fundamentalism is gaining ground, due to the misinterpretation of the holy book.  We already see tensions, as evidenced by fundamentalist signs including within religions…”  He added, however, that Protestants, Muslims, and Catholics had met together with the Mogho Naba, a powerful traditional chief of the predominantly Muslim Mossi ethnic group, who had assisted in addressing and reducing such tensions.  Describing the closure of three of the six parishes of the Diocese of Dori in the Sahel Region, Ouedraogo said, “All priests, sisters, and worshippers have fled” to Kaya (Centre-Nord Region).  The Archbishop discussed his initiative to promote interfaith dialogue through the annual Christian-Islamic and interethnic couples pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Notre Dame de Yagma near Ouagadougou, taking place in February, the second time for this pilgrimage.

Pastor Henry Ye, the President of the Federation of Evangelical Churches and Missions (FEME), stated that religious dialogue and tolerance was valued among religious leaders in the country, but observed that the broader religious community did not yet embrace this spirit at the same level.  To counter pressures toward radicalization and violent extremism among youth in particular, he noted that the FEME held regular exchanges over social media among youth organizations of religious groups.  Ye also described how acts of terrorism affected churches.  For instance, all FEME-related churches in Yagha Province, Sahel Region were closed.  Pastor Lankoande Isaie of the Assembly of God said that one group of violent extremists agreed not to close churches in Tapoa, Est Region, as long as members did not raise pigs or brew beer, and the men grew beards and wore short trousers.

Religious leaders continued to express their view that the foundation of interfaith dialogue in the country helped them resist and survive various crises over time, including the threat and challenge to interreligious and ethnic cohesion posed by terrorism.  They said the government often called upon them for assistance in resolving socioeconomic tensions including a case involving destruction of a mosque in 2020 on disputed land, and tensions regarding the length of closure of places of worship during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Another case involved a protest and attack at FAIB headquarters regarding the perceived prolonged closure of a mosque, to which the government responded by reopening the mosque.

As in previous years, new Muslim and Protestant congregations continued to form without approval or oversight from existing Muslim and Protestant federations.  Religious leaders stated the messages of tolerance by Muslim and Protestant federations were often undermined by small new religious groups that did not fall under their oversight and that took positions counter to the federations’ views.  They said the lack of oversight made it difficult for official religious groups to monitor and regulate the activities and messages of these new groups.

On February 4, FAIB leaders cited the growing social stigmatization of their wives when they wear a veil.  El Hadj Oumarou Zoungrana, then president of FAIB, also described FAIB’s newly-established National Technical Committee, charged with reviewing sermons for content promoting violence in sermons and speeches by imams, and reprimanding the offenders.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials raised the continued increase in religiously motivated attacks, particularly in the Sahel, the Nord, the Ouest, the Sud-Ouest, and Est Regions, with government officials, including those in the MTAD, the Ministries of Defense and Security, and the Office of the President.  Embassy staff regularly discussed events and policies affecting religious freedom with the MATD, and the Director General for Traditional Beliefs, which included discussing the equitable registration process for religious groups, a draft of a pending law on religious freedom, the equitable treatment of religious groups by the government, and the status of the relationship between the government and different religious groups.

The Ambassador and embassy officials met separately with Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders to encourage their efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and advocate for religious tolerance and freedom.  During these meetings with religious leaders throughout the year, many discussed with the Ambassador the impact of the current violent extremism on the country’s tradition of peaceful coexistence of religious groups

On January 22, the Ambassador met with Cardinal Ouedraogo to discuss his views on needed support from the international community to end terrorist violence in the country.

On February 17, the Ambassador visited the headquarters of FEME and discussed with FEME leaders their views of the consequences of violent extremism on interreligious and intrareligious tensions, and the spread of ethnic division.

On January 27, the Ambassador hosted a roundtable with representatives of religious associations and NGOs working on interfaith dialogue.  Participants suggested that giving more such opportunities to voices of persons supporting interfaith dialogue would promote increased social cohesion.  One young participant working in the Sahel explained how he used the WhatsApp network to link with youth from 13 regions across the country to promote interfaith dialogue.  “The idea is to train people including imams and other religious leader to be part of social media” in this effort.

Embassy representatives used social media platforms to reinforce messaging that promoted religious freedom and tolerance.  The Ambassador regularly raised the need to counter the threats to the country’s tradition of religious freedom and tolerance.

The embassy continued funding literacy programming in registered Quranic schools in northern parts of the country, the curriculum of which focused on peaceful dialogue, nonviolent conflict resolution, and religious tolerance.

The embassy provided the Association for Religious Tolerance and Interfaith Dialogue a $35,000 grant for activities such as advocacy, awareness campaigns, public messaging, community inclusion efforts, and conflict prevention.

Embassy officials organized or supported several activities to respond to the social divisions between religious groups.  For example, the embassy supported training for religious leaders on building tolerance and stability in their communities, conflict management, and fostering inter- and intrareligious cohesion.

Ghana

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, stipulates 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.  Debate among religious groups and lawmakers about how best to regulate religious practices continued during the year; the government and interfaith leaders continued work on a proposed regulatory framework that would ensure religious rights and deconflict policies, particularly those regarding elementary and secondary education.  There were reports of uneven enforcement and implementation in schools across the country of a government directive requiring schools to respect students’ religious practices.  This was illustrated by the widely publicized case of Wesley Girls’ School, which was ordered by the government to permit Muslim students to fast during Ramadan.  President Nana Akufo-Addo moved forward with plans for an interdenominational national Christian cathedral, and government officials solicited public support for the project, while opposition to the proposal continued.  The government continued to issue and revise directives for COVID-19 protocols for public events, including religious gatherings, which could not exceed two hours and had to be held in open spaces.  Religious leaders generally expressed appreciation that the government consulted with religious institutions on those measures, and most Christian and Muslim leaders advised their communities to follow the directives.  Some small, independent churches, however, continued to complain that the ban on large gatherings and the time limits on church and mosque religious activities infringed upon religious liberties.

According to nongovernmental organization (NGO) International Christian Concern, three members of a prayer ministry in Kumasi were wounded when armed assailants attacked their all-night prayer service on February 6.  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.

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 included prominent religious leaders.  In May, the Ambassador encouraged religious freedom and interfaith harmony in a social media post marking Eid al-Fitr.  In July, the Ambassador made Eid al-Adha donations to the National Chief Imam.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 32.4 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2010 government census (the most recent available with this data), approximately 71 percent of the population is Christian, 18 percent is Muslim, 5 percent adheres to indigenous or animistic religious beliefs, and 6 percent belongs to other religious groups or has no religious beliefs.  Smaller religious groups include Baha’is, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, and followers of Shintoism, Eckankar, and Rastafarianism.

Christian denominations include Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, Eden Revival Church International, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventist, Pentecostal, Baptist, Eastern Orthodox, African independent churches, the Society of Friends, and numerous nondenominational Christian groups, including charismatic churches.

Muslim communities include Sunnis, Ahmadiyya, Shia, and Sufis (Tijaniyyah and Qadiriyya orders).

Many individuals who identify as Christian or Muslim also practice some aspects of indigenous beliefs.  There are syncretic groups that combine elements of Christianity or Islam with traditional beliefs.  Zetahil, a belief system unique to the country, combines elements of Christianity and Islam.

There is no significant link between ethnicity and religion, but geography is often associated with religious identity.  Christians reside throughout the country; the majority of Muslims reside in the northern regions and in the urban centers of Accra, Kumasi, and Sekondi-Takoradi.  Most followers of traditional religious beliefs reside in rural areas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, provides for individuals’ freedom to profess and practice any religion, and does not designate a state religion.  These rights may be limited for stipulated reasons including defense, public safety, public health, or the management of essential services.

Religious groups must register with the Office of the Registrar General in the Ministry of Justice to receive formal government recognition and status as a legal entity, but there is no penalty for not registering.  The registration requirement for religious groups is the same as for nongovernmental organizations.   Most indigenous religious groups do not register.

According to law, registered religious groups are exempt from paying taxes on nonprofit religious, charitable, and educational activities.  Religious groups are required to pay taxes, on a pay-as-earned basis, on for-profit business activities, such as church-operated private schools and universities.

The Ministry of Education includes compulsory religious and moral education in the national public education curriculum.  There is no provision to opt out of these courses, which incorporate perspectives from Christianity and Islam.  There is also an Islamic education unit within the Ministry of Education responsible for coordinating all public education activities for Muslim communities.  The ministry permits private religious schools, but these must follow the prescribed curriculum set by the ministry.  International schools, including those that do not follow the government curriculum, are exempt from these requirements.  Faith-based schools that accept funds from the government are obliged to comply with the directive that states students’ religious practices must be respected.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Debate among religious groups and lawmakers regarding how best to regulate religious practices continued during the year.  As of December, key stakeholders, including the Ghana Education Service, the Christian Council of Ghana, the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, Muslim leaders and the Office of the Chief Imam, the Catholic Bishops Conference, as well as leaders of smaller faith communities and traditional religious authorities, continued to work on a proposed regulatory framework that would ensure religious rights and deconflict policies, particularly policies that regard elementary and secondary education.  The issue of regulating “self-styled” pastors, those working outside of established ecumenical bodies, continued to be debated between legislators and the Christian Council of Ghana, an umbrella group of mainly traditional Protestant denominations.

There were reports of uneven enforcement and implementation in schools across the country of the government directive requiring schools to respect students’ religious practices.  In March, Achimota School admitted two Rastafarian students on the condition they shave their dreadlocks.  The students challenged the directive and the Human Rights High Court ruled in their favor, but the decision was appealed by the school, with a final decision pending at year’s end.

During Ramadan, Wesley Girls’ School and other schools barred Muslim students from fasting.  Wesley Girls’ School said it was preventing doing so for health reasons.  The issue divided segments of the Christian and Muslim population.  It was widely covered in traditional and social media and discussed in parliament.  On May 1, the Ghana Education Service, the division of the Ministry of Education responsible for ensuring that all school-age children are provided with quality formal education, ordered all schools to permit Muslim students to fast during Ramadan, a decision hailed as a victory for religious tolerance.  President Akufo-Addo made a public show to break the Ramadan fast on Eid al-Fitr with members of the Muslim community served by the school during the debate.

Support for and opposition to the President’s proposal to build an interdenominational national Christian cathedral continued.  Although President Akufo-Addo stated that public funds would not be used for the project, to be constructed on state-owned lands, critics continued to question whether the $100 million cathedral complex should be a priority for a country with urgent development needs and argued that the project inappropriately linked the state with a particular faith.  In September, President Akufo Addo traveled to Texas to attend a fundraising event for the cathedral, following his attendance at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.  At a midyear budget review presentation to Parliament, Minister of Finance Ken Ofori-Atta urged each citizen to contribute 100 Ghana cedis ($17) per month voluntarily towards the construction of the National Christian Cathedral.

The government continued to issue and revise directives for COVID-19 protocols affecting public events.  As of year’s end, all public gatherings, including worship activities, could not exceed two hours and were required to be held in open spaces.  Religious leaders generally expressed appreciation that the government consulted with religious institutions on COVID-19 protection measures.  While most Christian and Muslim leaders advised their communities to follow the directive, some small, independent churches continued to complain that the ban on large gatherings and the two-hour time limit on church and mosque religious activities infringed upon religious liberties.

Government officials leading official events generally offered Christian and Islamic prayers and, occasionally, traditional invocations.  President Akufo-Addo, a Christian, and Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, a Muslim, continued to emphasize the importance of peaceful religious coexistence in public remarks.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to NGO International Christian Concern, a U.S.-based Christian advocacy organization, three members of the Action Prayer Ministry in Kumasi were wounded when armed assailants attacked their all-night prayer service on February 6.  According to police and congregation members, gunmen fired into the congregation at 2:00 am, slightly injuring three individuals.  Police responded and found church members restraining one of the attackers.  The perpetrators were later found to be members of armed gangs who sought to extort money from church members.

Muslim and Christian leaders continued informal dialogue between their respective governing bodies and the National Peace Council.  Faith leaders said they regularly communicated among themselves on religious matters and ways to address issues of concern or sensitivity.  Religious institutions played a key role in providing vulnerable citizens a social safety net during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were Muslim-Christian and intra-Muslim tensions in the country, with the latter being found largely in northern areas.  Researchers described the main cause of intra-Muslim tensions as doctrinal differences, with different groups interpreting the Quran and hadith differently.  They stated the Ahlus-Sunnah wal Jamaa viewed the Tijaniyya as heretics and innovators, while the latter viewed the former as ignorant and resistant to change.  According to sources, chieftaincy, land tenure, and politics played an important role in exacerbating intra-Muslim tensions between the two major chieftaincies in the Dagbon region.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy representatives discussed with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration and other government officials the importance of mutual understanding, religious tolerance, and respect for all religious groups.  Embassy officials also discussed these subjects with a broad range of religious groups and civil society organizations, including Christian groups such as the Christian Council and the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference, as well as Muslim civil society organizations such as the Office of the National Chief Imam.  They also engaged with the National Peace Council and Regional Peace Councils, whose governing councils included prominent religious leaders.  In addition, the Ambassador underscored in meetings with key religious leaders that the United States supported an individual’s right to his or her faith as well as the right of individuals not to practice any religion.

In May, the Ambassador encouraged religious freedom and interfaith harmony in a social media post marking Eid al-Fitr.  Embassy officers discussed religious freedom and tolerance with religious leaders and engaged them on the need to maintain broadmindedness.  The embassy supported the Islamic Education Unit of the national education service by donating iftar food packages to Muslim families in selected impoverished communities of Accra, while engaging Muslim organizations and educators on the need to advance religious freedom and prevent violent extremism related to religion.

In July, the Ambassador made an Eid al-Adha food donation to the National Chief Imam.  During their meeting, the Ambassador underscored the importance of avoiding religious extremism.

The embassy continued its support for the efforts of the West Africa Centre for Counter Extremism, a local organization that brings together traditional leaders, interfaith religious leaders, political party leaders, and local government authorities to emphasize messages of peace, tolerance, and nonviolence to vulnerable youth.  During the year, the center organized community workshops and forums aimed at improving inter- and intrareligious (Muslim) relations in the Upper East, Upper West, and Northern Regions, as well as capacity building workshops in Accra focusing on preventing violent extremism and promoting leadership, security, stability, and good governance.

Liberia

Executive Summary

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.  Muslim groups continued to call on the legislature to pass a law recognizing Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as national holidays.  In May, Bomi County Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe introduced three draft bills to make the two Islamic holidays as well as Easter Monday public holidays.  The draft bills gained the support of the Muslim community at large, but Christian organizations and leaders, some of whom described the actions of Senator Snowe as “unwise and hypocritical,” expressed opposition.  Some Muslim organizations, however, noted improvements in government attitudes towards Muslims, citing adjustments in school examination schedules to accommodate Islamic holidays and the government’s plans to incorporate Islamic teachings into the public school curriculum.  These organizations, however, pointed to the low proportion of Muslim chaplains relative to their percentage of the population and what the groups said were disproportionately low government subsidies to schools affiliated with Muslim organizations.  Religious leaders urged the government to engage religious communities in proactive dialogue on contentious social issues rather than calling upon religious organizations as mediators of 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 October, leaders of the secret, traditional Poro Society detained 11 members of the Saint Assembly Ministries International Church in Gbartala, Bong County.  According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), local residents had expressed anger when members of the Church, who had traveled from the capital Monrovia to Gbartala to proselytize, criticized the community’s culture and traditions as being “demonic.”  The 11 men were released after allegedly being conscripted by force into the society.  In March, the Tyneceploh Education Foundation School reportedly expelled a six-year-old female student accused of being a witch, on the grounds that she would initiate other students into witchcraft.  In July, a man in Sinoe County was subjected to a traditional “sassywood” practice – a trial by ordeal, which the government banned in 2009 – after he was accused of witchcraft, in a video widely circulated on social media.

U.S. embassy officials engaged with government officials, including the President’s religious advisors, 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.  In addition, embassy officials promoted religious freedom and tolerance through outreach and consultations with diverse religious leaders and communities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 5.2 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2008 National Population and Housing Census, which remains the most recent available, the population is 85.6 percent Christian, 12.2 percent Muslim, 1.5 percent persons who claim no religion, 0.6 percent adherents of indigenous religious beliefs, and less than 1 percent members of other religious groups, including the Baha’i Faith, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists.  Muslim organizations continued to dispute these official statistics, stating that Muslims constitute up to 20 percent of the population and calling for the government to conduct a new census.

Christian denominations include the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Baptist, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Episcopal, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, United Methodist, and a variety of Pentecostal churches.  Many members of religious groups also incorporate elements of indigenous traditional beliefs and customs into their religious practices.

Christians reside throughout the country.  Muslims belonging to the Mandingo and Fula ethnic groups reside throughout the country, while Muslims of the Vai ethnic group live predominantly in the west.  The Poro (for males) and Sande (for females) societies – often referred to as secret societies – combine traditional religious and cultural practices and are present in the northern, western, and central regions of the country.  Other traditional cultural and religious societies, including the Kui Society and the Bodio, or priests of the Gleebo people, exist in the southeast.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the separation of religion and state and stipulates all persons are entitled to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.  It states no one shall be hindered in the exercise of these rights except as required by law to protect public safety, order, health, morals, or the rights of others.  It provides for equal protection under the law and prohibits political parties that exclude citizens from membership based on religious affiliation.  It also states no religious group shall have exclusive privileges or preferences and that the country shall establish no state religion.

The government requires all religious groups, except for indigenous ones that generally operate under customary law, to register their articles of incorporation and their organizations’ statements of purpose.

Local religious organizations register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and pay a one-time fee of 7,500 Liberian dollars ($52) to file their articles of incorporation and an annual fee of 3,500 Liberian dollars ($24) for registration.  Foreign religious organizations pay 78,000 Liberian dollars ($540) for registration annually and a one-time fee of 96,000 Liberian dollars ($670) to file their articles of incorporation.  Religious organizations also pay 1,500 to 2,250 Liberian dollars ($10-$16) to notarize articles of incorporation to be filed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and an additional 1,500 Liberian dollars ($10) to receive a registered copy of the articles.  The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning issues proof of accreditation for the articles of incorporation.  There is also an option of completing the same process at the Liberia Business Registry.  Some religious organizations report being charged annual registration fees for each of their individual locations throughout the country, as per a government regulation issued three years ago.

Registered religious organizations, including missionary programs, religious charities, and religious groups, receive income tax exemptions and duty-free privileges on goods brought into the country, privileges not afforded to unregistered groups.  Registered groups may be sued as a single entity separately from any lawsuits brought against individual owners.

The law requires high-level government officials to take an oath ending with the phrase, “So help me God” when assuming office.  It is customary for Christians to kiss the Bible, and Muslims the Quran, on those occasions.

Public schools offer nonsectarian religious and moral education as part of the standard curriculum, which includes an overview and history of various religious traditions and an emphasis on moral values.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In the wake of calls since 1995 by Muslim groups and clerics for the government to recognize Islamic holidays, on May 25, Senator Snowe introduced three draft bills that would make Easter Monday, Eid al-Adha, and Eid al-Fitr public holidays.  Snowe, who represents predominately Muslim Bomi County in the western part of the country, publicly noted that the introduction of the bills was not intended to bring conflict or seek favor from any segment of society, but rather represented his belief in equality and religious freedom as guaranteed by the constitution and law.

The draft bills gained the support of the Muslim community at large, but some Christian organizations and leaders expressed opposition, and some described the actions of Senator Snowe as “unwise and hypocritical.”  Following the introduction of the bills, a local radio station reported that unknown armed men attacked the home of a pastor who advocated against the bills.

In May, Chief Imam of Liberia Sheikh Ali Krayee renewed calls for the government to recognize Islamic holidays, stating that the country would never have peace until Islamic holidays were granted.  In July, Krayee expressed support for Senator Snowe’s religious holiday bills and stated opposition to the bills from the larger Christian community was not surprising, due to longstanding “prejudices against Muslims” on a variety of issues.  In a July 20 Eid al-Adha address to the Muslim community, Krayee said denying official recognition of Islamic holidays and discriminating against Muslims were “provoking revolution in this country.”  He demanded the issue of Islamic holidays be resolved by Ramadan 2022 and said that by then, “There will be freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody.”  The next day, Krayee said the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL), a civil society organization that included representatives from the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC) and the National Muslim Council of Liberia (NMCL), among others, had lost the essence for which it was established in the early 1990s.  He said that Muslims were being suppressed because they were not given Islamic holidays and that the IRCL was not discussing it.  He said, “They should be dissolved because they are not working toward it…they are a council of hustlers in the name of God; they are not an inter-religious council anymore.”  He also said some bishops and pastors were seeking to increase their own relevance, at the expense of others, through the religious holiday debate.

Some Muslim leaders publicly condemned Krayee’s comments.  In a July 27 statement, chairman of the NMCL Imam Abdullai Mansaray – in his capacity as president of the IRCL – said the statements made by Krayee had the propensity to create hatred and confusion.  The NMCL released a statement saying, “While many Muslims may consider this as a genuine call, we however hold the belief that the approach employed by the Imam [Krayee] has the propensity to create acrimony in the society and therefore does not represent the views and position of the Muslim Community in Liberia.”  The council stated that the “outburst” by Krayee should be considered an act of provocation and must be condemned.

On June 8, Bishop Kortu Brown, the president of the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), which includes Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, and Episcopalians, rejected the religious holiday bills, stating that the main goal of the LCC was to help maintain the peace in the country and that the introduction of Islamic religious holidays could trigger more interreligious conflict, as a 2004 land ownership dispute in the Monrovia suburb of Paynesville had done when it escalated into a religious riot the same year.  Brown further stated Senator Snowe introduced the bills in “bad faith” and that the senator was seeking to curry political favor with the Muslim community at the expense of peace.

On June 15, more than 20 bishops and pastors describing themselves as “Leaders of the Christian Church in Liberia” presented a petition to Senate President Pro-Tempore Albert Chie calling on the Senate not to pass the religious national holidays bills.  Reading the petition out loud, Bishop Isaac Winker of the Dominion Christian Fellowship said the bills were inimical to peace and a product of a religious crisis in the country.  Winker further described the action of Senator Snowe as misplaced, since, he said, the constitution does not discriminate against any religion.  Bishop Winker labeled as a “national security threat” the May statement by Chief Imam Krayee that the country would never have peace until Islamic holidays were legally recognized.

In July, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abubakar Sumaworo criticized some imams for calling for “the use of force” to demand that the government grant Islamic holidays, although Sumaworo expressed support for the bills that would grant the holidays.  Sumaworo said that if the bills were not passed, then Muslim students should at least continue to be exempted from taking exams during Islamic holy days, which he said regularly occurred already.  For example, he noted that the domestic office of the West African Examination Council (WAEC) was scheduled to administer public school exams on July 20, which coincided with Eid al-Adha; the WAEC postponed the exams when the scheduling issue was brought to its attention.  Sumaworo expressed appreciation for President George M. Weah’s proclamation exempting Muslims from work in public institutions on Eid al-Adha but noted that this proclamation did not extend to schools and private organizations.

In an August 16 statement published in the newspaper FrontPage Africa, the Liberia Islamic Network Incorporated (LNI) defended Krayee and criticized the NMCL, calling its July statement against the chief imam disrespectful and likely to cause division among Muslims.  The LNI said it saw nothing wrong with Krayee’s sermon, saying it was intended to guide Muslims to channel their advocacy constructively.

Muslim leaders stated that the community had long experienced unequal government treatment relative to Christians, including, but not limited to, the issue of religious holidays.  They said, for example, that government institutions employed disproportionately few Muslim chaplains relative to the Muslim percentage of the population.  Each of the 19 government ministries reportedly had a Christian chaplain, while the Senate had five and the House of Representatives had two.  In practice, and by tradition, Christian chaplains led a Christian invocation before the start of public events or official business, with an Islamic prayer at the end.  With the exception of the Supreme Court, the armed forces, and the Office of the President, however, few, if any, other institutions had Muslim chaplains to lead such a prayer.

Muslims also reported the government provided disproportionately more subsidies to schools affiliated with Christian organizations than to those affiliated with Muslim organizations, although the government stated it provided these subsidies to schools based on need, through an application process.

Some Muslim organizations, however, noted some improvements in government practices.  The National Muslim Council of Liberia publicly congratulated the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the WAEC Secretariat for adjusting national exams scheduled for 3rd and 6th graders, which fell on Eid al-Fitr, to allow Muslim students to observe the end of Ramadan holiday and take the exams on a different day.  The National Imam Council also stated the MOE was planning to include basic Islamic teachings in the curriculum for public schools throughout the country.

Religious leaders continued to recommend that the government engage religious communities in proactive dialogue on social and other issues, such as COVID-19 awareness and vaccinations, political violence and disputes, and economic development, rather than calling upon religious organizations as mediators only after problems developed.  As in years past, the IRCL called for and facilitated dialogue between the government and some opposition figures during the year.  Religious leaders continued to express willingness to mediate in conflict situations as an extension of their proactive dialogue on social issues.

In March, the LCC condemned what it described as “a growing wave of violence” in the country and called on the government to investigate incidents and bring perpetrators to justice.  The LCC cited gasoline bomb (Molotov cocktail) attacks at the home of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Joseph Nagbe on March 10 and at the National Elections Commission headquarters on March 15, and a reported exchange of gunfire between national police and alleged armed robbers in the Bushrod Island area of Monrovia.  The LCC said these developments were inimical to fostering peace, security, and stability.

Human rights organizations continued to call upon the government to intervene in and investigate cases of persons injured or killed due to accusations of witchcraft via exorcisms and trials by ordeal.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Human rights organizations continued to note an increase in reports of harmful traditional practices, including accusations of witchcraft and ritualistic killings, as well as other violent practices – such as female genital mutilation – within traditional secret societies, such as the Sande Society.  Religious and human rights organizations also stressed the need to clearly define the boundaries between traditional beliefs and religion so that religion would not be used to justify harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation.

Religious organizations stated that in some parts of the country, inhabitants held firm to traditional practices and did not welcome Christian evangelists.

On October 25, local media reported that on October 5, leaders of the secret Poro Society detained 11 members of the Saint Assembly Ministries International Church in Gbartala, Bong County.  According to Assistant MIA Joseph Jangar, residents there had expressed anger when members of the Church, who had traveled from Monrovia to Gbartala to proselytize, criticized the culture and traditions of the community as “demonic.”  Community leaders said villagers detained the Saint Assembly Ministries members in a nearby town in order to turn them over to the local authorities for violating traditional culture.  The MIA confirmed the release of all 11 Church members on October 7 following a sit-in protest by Church members at the ministry in Monrovia demanding their release.  The MIA said, however, that the Church members had been allegedly conscripted by force into the Poro Society before their release.

On March 16, the Tyneceploh Education Foundation School in Monrovia reportedly expelled six-year-old female student Catherine Karma, whom they accused of being a witch, on the grounds that she would initiate other students into witchcraft.  An unidentified source from the school told media that school administrators told the student’s parents to take her to pastors for what they termed “deliverance prayers,” after which the parents should provide a note from the church or pastor confirming that the child was free from witchcraft practices as a precondition of her being accepted back into the private school.  The parents called on the MOE, the MIA, children’s rights advocacy groups, and civil society groups to investigate the situation.  Humanists Liberia, with the support of the civil society organization Advocacy for Alleged Witches, issued a statement calling for “a swift, publicly written apology” to Catherine and her family.  The statement said, “We are also calling on the government to assist with counseling of Catherine and family and to take punitive action against the school to send a strong deterrence to others in the habit of falsely accusing their compatriots of witchcraft.  The issue of witchcraft is a long-standing dogma that has alienated many and stifled development.  It is time to tackle it head on!”

On July 31, in Jeadeapo Statutory District in Sinoe County, individuals subjected a man identified only as Wesseh to a traditional “sassywood” practice – trial by ordeal that includes violence to extract confessions from the accused – after he was accused of witchcraft in a video widely circulated on social media.  The practice was banned by the government in 2009.  Traditional witch doctors also accused Wesseh of causing the deaths of two persons and the disappearance of a teenager.  The national police investigated the matter and said the trial by ordeal against Wesseh, if proven, could lead to charges against the perpetrators ranging from aggravated assault to attempted murder.  At year’s end, however, authorities had filed no charges and made no arrests in the case.  Some Sinoe County residents said they were concerned about what they said was mob justice being carried out by some traditionalists in the area and appealed to the head of the National Traditional Council of Liberia as well as to the MIA for urgent intervention.

During an October 25 meeting, the NMCL said traditional leaders in Bong County forcibly initiated two men belonging to the Mandingo ethnic group into the Poro Society in October.

The Baha’i Spiritual Assembly said that in March, local community members in Grand Gedeh County accused 12 Baha’is of witchcraft.  The men were stripped naked and forced to undergo “cleansing,” despite the assembly appealing to the MIA’s local office to intervene.  Local leaders levied fines against the 12 men, reportedly resulting in some of them selling their goods and property to pay the fines.  Baha’i community members said the forced “cleansing” process went totally against their teaching.

In October, the IRCL helped resolve a conflict with ethnoreligious aspects in Palala, Bong County.  The incident involved the death of a 15-year-old boy from the predominantly Christian Kpelle ethnic group who was an apprentice in a motor vehicle repair shop owned and operated by a male guardian from the predominantly Muslim Mandingo ethnic group.  An IRCL investigation concluded that the boy likely died from internal injuries sustained in an accidental explosion of a car’s airbag.  In addition, the town chief set up a 15-person jury comprised of local Muslims, Christians, medical workers, and town elders to investigate the incident; the jury also concluded the death was accidental.  However, suspicion surrounding the death remained, as bruises from possible beatings were seen on the body of the deceased, according to witness accounts to the IRCL investigators and the media.  A member of the IRCL said that statements from some Mandingo community members that Mandingos had died at the hands of Kpelle guardians in the past raised suspicions about the incident.  Kpelle community members then threatened to burn down mosques in the area, which prompted a counterthreat by members of the Mandingo ethnic group to burn down Kpelle churches.  According to the IRCL member, the IRCL eased tensions by meeting with the victim’s family and his guardian, in coordination with the police, and stressing the need to remain calm.

According to its chairman, the IRCL also mitigated tensions with the National Imam Council of Liberia (NICOL), headed by Chief Imam Krayee, after he called for the IRCL to be dissolved during his Eid al-Adha message to the Muslim community and a national radio broadcast in July.  The IRCL said that after a conflict mitigation discussion with Krayee, NICOL promised to join with the IRCL to enhance interreligious dialogue in the country.

In October, the IRCL stated that it planned to modify its constitution to permit groups that were excluded, such as the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and the Baha’i Faith, to become members.  By year’s end, however, the IRCL took no action on this issue.  The existing constitution of the IRCL granted membership only to what it defined as historically mainline traditional Muslim and Christian organizations.  The IRCL said it would encourage these groups and others to join; several had expressed interest in joining but were not aware of the IRCL’s constitutional limitations.

Christian, Muslim, and interfaith organizations promoted tolerance, dialogue, and conflict resolution through training sessions, workshops, and community meetings.  In addition, the LCC held several workshops and outreach events on social issues with government agencies and international partners.

In January, the LCC condemned what it said had been the government’s unsuccessful attempt, during December 2020 midterm senatorial elections and a national referendum, to pass eight constitutional amendments that would have reduced the terms of office of the President, Senate, and House of Representatives; amended the constitution to change the date of general elections; and decreased the time the Elections Commission had to investigate complaints.

On August 4, in what the LCC said was an effort to revive discussion of the recommendations in the 2009 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, the LCC held a one-day meeting with stakeholders to discuss the findings of the LCC’s 2021 perception survey on the report.  According to LCC Secretary General Christopher Toe, the survey engaged 2,000 persons in five counties:  Bong, Grand Bassa, Margibi, Montserrado, and Nimba.  Without providing details on methodology, the LCC said the survey showed that more than half of those surveyed agreed that warlords and leaders of fighting factions during the country’s two civil wars (1989-2003) should be punished under the law, while nearly three-fourths agreed 58 of the worst offenders should be prosecuted by a domestic court for the commission of high crimes.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials engaged with government officials, including the President’s religious advisors, to promote interfaith dialogue and to stress U.S. government support for religious freedom and tolerance in connection with issues relating to historical accountability, land disputes, and ethnic tensions.

In May and June, the U.S. Ambassador met with leaders and members from a number of religious groups, both large and small.  During the meetings, LCC and IRCL representatives spoke about issues concerning corruption, impunity, and religious tolerance, including the proposed bills on religious holidays.  The Ambassador stressed the need for the religious organizations to continue their efforts in maintaining peace in the country and stressed that the United States continued to champion and support religious freedom.

Embassy officers regularly met with a wide range of civil society and religious figures, including representatives of Christian, Muslim, Baha’i, and traditional religious groups, to discuss tolerance and the importance of religious leaders and adherents working to bring communities together.

The embassy worked with influential religious leaders to emphasize peaceful reconciliation practices as the country continued to cope with the lingering effects of its civil wars.

Mali

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and grants individuals freedom of religion in conformity with the law.  Following the August 2020 coup d’etat, in September 2020, the transition government adopted the Transition Charter, which recognized the continued validity of the 1992 constitution’s definition of the country as secular and prohibited religious discrimination under the law.  Following the May 24 consolidation of military power, the subsequent transition government also upheld the validity of these founding documents.  The law criminalizes abuses against religious freedom.  The transition government drafted a bill governing religious freedom and the exercise of worship; it was adopted as a draft law by the Council of Ministers on December 15.  The request for full adoption and implementation of the law was pending with the transition government at the end of the year.  This law would make the process of registering religious associations with the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Worship, and Customs (MARCC) more transparent.  On July 1, the transition government also adopted its 2021-25 national action plan for countering and preventing violent extremism and terrorism, which drew on data from religious groups.

Unidentified armed individuals continued to abduct individuals, including religious leaders, of all faiths or beliefs throughout the country.  Religious leaders were often targeted for abduction for ransom due to their proximity to armed conflict and the high-profile nature of their work, according to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and experts.  On October 9, captors released Colombian nun Sister Gloria Cecilia Argoti, abducted in February 2017 in Karangasso in the Koutiala Region by the al-Qa’ida affiliated terrorist group Jama’at Nasr al Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM).  Abbot Leon Dougnon, a Catholic priest from the Bandiagara region, and Pastor Emmanuel Goita from Koutiala were also abducted and subsequently released between June and October.  Individuals affiliated with terrorist organizations designated by the U.S. government 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 in August by the Human Rights and Protection Division (HRPD) of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) covering the period from April to June, terrorist and other armed groups publicly beat two women and a 16-year-old girl in the village of N’Doukala in the Segou Region because they refused to wear veils.  The report also mentioned these groups prevented women from performing work outside their homes.  Particularly in the center of the country, JNIM continued to attack multiple towns in the Mopti and Segou Regions 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.  In the region of Mopti, especially in Koro, groups identified as extremists reportedly entered into verbal “peace” agreements with local populations, with stipulations that permitted the local population to move freely across the subdistrict of Koro and practice their faith in exchange for not challenging the groups’ territorial claims.

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.  Representatives of the Catholic organization Caritas stated such organizations banned alcohol and pork and forced women of all faiths to wear veils in some parts of the region of Mopti.  Caritas characterized these developments as signs of the growing influence of Islam in Mopti, which they believed threatened the Christian community.  Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic leaders jointly called for peace and solidarity among all faiths at celebrations marking Christmas, the New Year, and Eid al-Fitr.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officials discussed with religious leaders and human rights organizations the importance and long-held tradition of interfaith dialogue as a tool to bring peace to the country, and they underscored to these leaders their important role in promoting religious tolerance and freedom.  The embassy supported programs to counter violent extremism related to religion and to promote tolerance, peace, and reconciliation.  The embassy highlighted the work of Muslim frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic in a call with the U.S. Secretary of State and met regularly with government officials charged with religious affairs and with representatives from religious minority associations operating in the country.  In April, to commemorate the beginning of Ramadan, the Ambassador met with influential imams in Bamako, highlighting the role of religious leaders in confronting religious intolerance and promoting peace, and released a statement on the important role religious leaders play in society.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 20.1 million (midyear 2021).  According to the MARCC, Muslims constitute an estimated 95 percent of the population.  Nearly all Muslims are Sunni, and most follow Sufism; however, one prominent Shia imam stated that as many as 10 percent of Muslims are Shia.  Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Christians, of whom approximately two-thirds are Catholic and one-third Protestant; groups with indigenous religious beliefs; and those with no religious affiliation.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) estimated its membership at approximately 100 individuals.  Groups adhering to indigenous religious beliefs reside throughout the country, mostly in rural areas.  Many Muslims and Christians also adhere to some aspects of indigenous beliefs.  The MARCC estimates fewer than 1,000 individuals in Bamako and an unknown number outside of the capital are associated with the Dawa al-Tablig, a subgroup of Sunni Islam.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state, prohibits discrimination based on religion, and provides for freedom of religion in conformity with the law.  Following the August 2020 coup d’etat, in September 2020, the transition government adopted the Transition Charter, which recognized the continued validity of the 1992 constitution’s definition of the country as secular and prohibited religious discrimination under the law.  Following the May 24 consolidation of military power, the subsequent transition government also upheld the validity of these founding documents.

According to the penal code, any act of discrimination based on religion or any act impeding the freedom of religious observance or worship is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment or 10 years’ banishment (prohibition from residing in the country).  The penal code also states any religiously motivated persecution of a group of persons constitutes a crime against humanity.  There is no statute of limitations for prosecuting such crimes.

The law requires registration of all public associations, including religious groups, except for groups practicing indigenous religious beliefs; however, registration confers no tax preferences or other legal benefits, and there is no penalty for not registering.  To register, applicants must submit copies of a declaration of intent to create an association, notarized copies of bylaws, copies of policies and regulations, notarized copies of a report of the first meeting of the association’s general assembly, and lists of the leaders of the association, with signature samples of three of the leaders.  Upon review, if approved, the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization (MATD) grants the certificate of registration.

The MARCC is responsible for administering the national strategy for countering violent extremism, promoting religious tolerance, and coordinating national religious activities such as pilgrimages and religious holidays for followers of all religions.

The constitution prohibits public schools from offering religious instruction, but it permits private schools to do so.  Privately funded madrassahs teach the standard government curriculum, as well as Islam.  Non-Muslim students in these schools are not required to attend Islamic religious classes.  Private Catholic schools teach the standard government curriculum and Catholic religious classes.  Non-Catholic students in these schools are not required to attend Catholic religious classes.  Informal schools, known locally as Quranic schools and which some students attend in lieu of public schools, do not follow a government curriculum and offer religious instruction exclusively.

The law defines marriage as secular.  Couples who seek legal recognition must have a civil ceremony, which they may follow with a religious ceremony.  A man may choose between a monogamous or polygamous marriage.  The religious customs of the deceased determine inheritance rights, and civil courts consider these customs when they adjudicate such cases; however, many cases are settled informally.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

According to numerous civil society organizations and UN reports, the transition government and security forces struggled to tamp down violence generated by the spread of groups they described as violent extremist organizations in the northern and central regions of the country, including terrorist groups and ethnically aligned militias.  They stated that the presence of terrorist organizations and armed groups in the northern and central regions limited the transition government’s capacity to govern and to bring perpetrators of abuses to justice, especially outside major cities.

In October 2020, the National Secretariat for the Prevention and the Fight Against Violent Extremism within the MARCC, with the assistance of the UN Development Program, launched a study of factors influencing extremism related to religion.  In July, using the results from the 2020 study, the transition government finalized a 2021-25 national action plan on countering and preventing violent extremism and terrorism that includes interfaith efforts and promotion of religious tolerance.

The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission held its third and fourth public hearings on April 3 and September 18, respectively, covering cases relating to arbitrary arrest, forced disappearance, torture, and killings.  All public hearings were broadcast on national television.  As of December 8, the commission had heard the testimony of a total of 23,988 individuals since its launch in 2014, including cases involving religious freedom violations.  Political events in the country, the COVID-19 pandemic, growing security concerns in the central and northern regions, a lack of transportation for victims, and the lack of access in camps for displaced persons limited the collection of testimony.

The transition government proposed a draft law on religious freedom and the exercise of worship.  The draft law was adopted by the Council of Ministers on December 15, and the request for full adoption and implementation of the law was pending with the transition government at the end of the year.  Once fully implemented, it would streamline the process of registering religious associations with the MARCC directly, rather than through the MATD.

In July, Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga and Minister of Religious Affairs, Worship, and Customs Mamadou Kone visited mosques as well as Catholic and Protestant churches in Bamako to pray for peace in the country, a successful transition period, and a fruitful rainy season.  The MARCC, in coordination with Archbishop of Bamako Cardinal Jean Zerbo, organized the annual Catholic pilgrimage to Kita, which took place November 20-21.  Cardinal Zerbo and Prime Minister Maiga took part in the pilgrimage, as did the Union of Young Malian Muslims (UJMA).  As part of the pilgrimage, a UJMA representative marched from Kayes to Kita (approximately 250 miles) to demonstrate UJMA’s support for interfaith dialogue.  In September, the transition government funded the pilgrimage of at least 20 Protestants to Jerusalem.  As of mid-December, the transition government had not resumed funding travel to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage due to limitations related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Caritas representatives and some Protestant leaders stated that although there were far fewer Christians than Muslims in the country, they did not experience unequal treatment by the transition government, and the government was adhering to the constitutional requirement to treat all religions equally.  Transition government officials from the MARCC continued to emphasize and cite that the constitution and government practices provide for the freedom to worship and practice any religion, including the freedom to not engage in religious practices.  For example, in a speech during the Catholic pilgrimage to Kita, Prime Minister Maiga said all religions are essential to maintain social harmony, resolve conflict, and aid in the country’s economic development.

Caritas expressed concern regarding what it termed the growing influence of Muslim religious leaders in the political field and in the transition government.  For example, Caritas criticized the nomination of Imam Oumarou Diarra as deputy minister to the Minister of Social Development in Charge of Humanitarian Action, Solidarity, Refugees, and IDPs while retaining his title of imam.  Caritas and the prosecutor for Bamako’s Commune IV court criticized Diarra for attending a demonstration in August in his role as imam at the Bamako Camp I gendarmerie advocating for the release of imams who had been detained following a complaint.

The 121-member National Transition Council, the country’s transition legislative body formed by the transition government in 2020, included three seats reserved for representatives of religious associations.  One seat is filled by a Catholic, one by a Muslim, and one by a Protestant.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to Caritas, the Cadre for Action, Monitoring, Mediation, and Negotiation of Religious Denominations and Civil Society, which was formed as a mediation and negotiation network in 2020 in response to violent antigovernment protests, strengthened its ability during the year to operate effectively.  The organization, composed of Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and civil society leaders, issued a joint statement on May 24 urging the transition government to work towards stability and peace following the consolidation of military power.  The network routinely called for peaceful elections.

Some Christian missionaries again expressed concern regarding the increased influence in remote areas of organizations they characterized as violent and extremist, which the missionaries said could affect their ability to continue working in the country over the long term.  Representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ said that their ability to travel throughout the country had grown severely limited due to reports of terrorist attacks.  Caritas representatives reported that terrorist and other armed groups targeted persons throughout the country regardless of religious affiliation.  They said, however, that priests in terrorist-controlled Minta in the region of Mopti remained able to carry out their normal functions without interference or threat.  Protestant leaders noted the case of a Christian teacher who fled his home after being threatened by terrorists and members of armed groups in Mandiakoy village in Segou Region.

Caritas leaders expressed concern about the terrorist groups taking control of the subdistricts of Koro, Bankass, Bandiagara, and Douentza following agreements signed with the local population.  These agreements afford decision-making and territorial authority to terrorist and other armed groups in exchange for not attacking the local population and allowing their freedom of movement throughout the territory.  These leaders said they feared that terrorists would impose Islamic practices on those populations in the future.  Caritas cited 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 which they viewed as a threat to the Christian community.  MINUSMA HRPD and Caritas reported that terrorist and other armed groups imposed Islamic practices such as forcing women to wear veils and collecting zakat (religious taxes) to pay for local services in the north and central regions.

Ousmane Bocoum continued spreading messages of tolerance.  He held conferences with religious leaders and women as a way of countering what were termed radical ideologies most prevalent in the center of the country in an effort to bring peace to his community.  With MINUSMA’s support, Bocoum organized an awareness-building campaign for women religious leaders in Mopti on preventing violent extremism.  In November, Bocoum concluded training on preventing violent extremism and radicalization for religious leaders, community workers, and radio announcers, also in Mopti.

While media reporting highlighted religious leaders’ increasingly important role in politics, media reports also noted that religious activism was not a new phenomenon and, in many cases, they saw this activism as a sign of the country’s tolerance for a plurality of religions.

According to a member of the UJMA, local Shia often faced discrimination from followers of different schools of Islam that perceive Shia practices to be incorrect.

Members of religious groups commonly attended the religious ceremonies of other religious groups, especially baptisms, weddings, and funerals.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The embassy continued to encourage the government to promote interfaith dialogue and to maintain a tradition of religious tolerance.  The embassy also continued to highlight the importance of countering violent extremism related to religion, including through working with the MARCC to support programs with this goal.  Embassy officials worked with vulnerable communities to build their ability to address conflict, radicalization, and religious violent extremism.  For example, a civic engagement program held 15 capacity-building sessions on conflict management for more than 500 participants.  These workshops allowed participants to improve their knowledge of mediation and conflict-resolution techniques.

The Ambassador and embassy officers spoke with a wide range of religious leaders and human rights organizations to promote religious tolerance and freedom, including Imam Mahmoud Dicko, members of the High Islamic Council and other imams, the Association of Muslim Women, Caritas, Protestant leadership, and missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ.  They urged religious leaders to advocate for tolerance and peace among various social and religious groups.

In August, in honor of Eid al-Adha, the U.S. Secretary of State held a virtual roundtable discussion with Muslim healthcare professionals working with marginalized communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, including Malian social worker Hawa Diallo.  After a brief discussion between the Ambassador and Diallo, the embassy posted photographs and a statement on its Facebook page.

In April, to commemorate the beginning of Ramadan, the Ambassador met with influential imams in Bamako, highlighting the role of religious leaders in confronting challenges such as insecurity fueled by religious intolerance and in the promotion of peace through increased civic education.

The embassy highlighted the importance of tolerance and respect for religious diversity on its social media platforms throughout the year.  In April, following a meeting with religious leaders, the Ambassador said in a written statement that religious leaders played an important role in creating a stronger, more democratic, and more stable country.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future