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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999


Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion but establishes fixed legal conditions and prohibits what the Government considers religious fundamentalism or intolerance. The constitutional provision prohibiting religious fundamentalism is widely understood to be aimed at Muslims. In practice, the Government permits adherents of all religions to worship without interference. Religious groups (except for traditional indigenous religious groups) are required by law to register with the Government's Ministry of Interior. This registration is free and confers official recognition and certain limited benefits, such as customs duty exemption for the importation of vehicles or equipment, but does not confer a general tax exemption. The administrative police of the Ministry of Interior keep track of groups that have failed to register but the police have not attempted to impose any penalty on such groups. The Government continued during the period covered by this report to refuse to reregister the previously registered and subsequently banned Unification Church. The Government does not register traditional indigenous religious groups.

A variety of religious communities are active. The population is believed to be about 50 percent Christian, 15 percent Muslim, and 35 percent practitioners of traditional indigenous religions, or non-religious. Most Christians also practice some aspects of their traditional indigenous religions.

Religious organizations and missionary groups are free to proselytize, worship, and construct places of worship.

Any religious or nonreligious group that the Government considers subversive is subject to sanctions. The Ministry of Interior may decline to register, suspend the operations of, or ban any organization that it deems offensive to public morals or likely to disturb the peace. The Government has banned the Unification Church since the mid-1980's as a subversive organization likely to disturb the peace, specifically in connection with alleged paramilitary training of young church members. However, the Government imposed no new sanctions on any religious group during the period covered by this report. The Ministry of Interior also may intervene to resolve internal conflicts about property, finances or leadership within religious groups.

Muslims, particularly Mbororo (also known as Peulh or Fulani) herders, claim to be singled out for harassment by authorities, including extortion by police, due to popular resentment of their presumed affluence. Muslims play a preponderant role in the economy.

The practice of witchcraft is a criminal offense under the penal code; however, persons are generally prosecuted for this offense only in conjunction with some other offense, such as murder. Witchcraft traditionally has been a common explanation for diseases of which the causes were unknown; historically, diseases now known to be caused by microparasites, rather than food shortage, have been the main environmental constraint on human population and civilization in the country. Although many traditional indigenous religions include or accommodate belief in the efficacy of witchcraft, they generally approve of harmful witchcraft only for defensive or retaliatory purposes and purport to offer protection against it. The practice of witchcraft is widely understood to encompass attempts to harm others not only by magic, but also by covert means of established efficacy such as poisons.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Although religious tolerance among members of different religious groups is the norm, there have been occasional reports that villagers who were believed to be witches were harassed, beaten, or sometimes killed by their neighbors. Courts have tried, convicted, and sentenced some persons for crimes of violence against suspected witches. Rural radio stations reported several killings of persons suspected of practicing witchcraft during the period covered by this report. In October 1998, in the northern prefecture of Obo, villagers buried alive an old man suspected of having caused the deaths by drowning of two young boys. In February 1999, authorities in the village of Sibut detained three men alleged to have caused the death of young people by witchcraft. The detained men were brought before a court on charges of murder. After the court released the three men for lack of evidence, they were killed by a mob on their way home. Government gendarmes arrested some suspects and are continuing to investigate these killings.

There was popular resentment of the presumed affluence of Muslims (see Section I).

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discussed religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. The Ambassador visited the Catholic Bishop of Bangui and met periodically with American missionaries.

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Revised last: 10-09-1999