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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 1996 Constitution, which was suspended by the military after a coup on April 30, 1999, prohibited discrimination on the basis of religion or religious belief; however, during 1998 the Government infringed on the freedom of religion of non-Muslims to some extent. The 1996 Constitution also established an Ulamas Council, which advised the President, Prime Minister, President of the Federal Assembly, the Council of Isles, and the island governors on whether bills, ordinances, decrees, and laws were in conformity with the principles of Islam. The Constitution promulgated by the head of the military after the April 30, 1999, coup provides that the National Army of Development uphold individual and collective liberties; however, it does not provide specifically for freedom of religion. The three federal governments that held power between January 1, 1999 and June 30, 1999 discouraged the practice of religions other than Islam; Christians, in particular, faced restrictions on their ability to practice their faith. The Constitution written by the separatist leadership of the island of Anjouan provides for freedom of religion; however, the Anjouan separatist leadership discouraged the practice of religions other than Islam.

An overwhelming majority--almost 99 percent--of the population are Sunni Muslim. Fewer than 300 persons--less than 1 percent of the population--are Christian; all of whom reportedly converted to Christianity within the last 5 years. There is a very small population (less than five families) of Indian descent. There was no information available to indicate whether any members of this population practice Hinduism.

There are two Roman Catholic churches, one in Moroni on the island of Grande Comore and one in Mutsamudu on the island of Anjouan. There is one Protestant church in Moroni. However, prior to the April 1999 coup, the Government restricted the use of these three churches to noncitizens. There was no information available on whether the new Government has continued this practice. Many Christians practice their faith in private residences. Christian missionaries work in local hospitals and schools, but they are not allowed to proselytize.

Police regularly threatened and sometimes detained practicing Christians. Most detentions occurred on the island of Anjouan where the practicing Christian population is more open. In 1998 in Anjouan, police reportedly arrested and beat a Christian and demolished a house that had been used as a meeting place for Christians. There were also reports that the secessionist Anjouan's quasi-police authorities, known as embargoes, arrested and detained nine Christians. In April 1999, embargoes arrested, beat, and detained for a day three local Christians. Usually, the authorities hold those detained for a few days and often attempt forcibly to convert them to Islam. None of the above incidents were investigated, nor was action taken against the persons responsible. One Anjouanais Christian estimates that around 50 Christians, both men and women, have been detained in Anjouan by the embargoes during the period covered by this report.

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Revised last: 10-09-1999