Section I. Freedom of Religion
The Fundamental Law provides for freedom of religion, but the Government limited this right in practice by its restrictions, for example, on the right of assembly.
A religious organization must be formally registered with the Ministry of Justice and Religion before its religious activities are allowed. While religious groups must be approved and registered in order to function legally, there were no reports during the period covered by this report that the Government had refused to register any group. However, information regarding the exact procedure for registering a religious denomination was not available. The Assemblies of God, for example, received official recognition in 1993. From 1987 until 1993, the group was able to operate but was not recognized officially. The approval process usually takes several years, but such delay apparently is due primarily to general bureaucratic slowness and not the result of a clear policy designed to impede the operation of any religious group. The exact number of registered denominations is not available.
The population is approximately 93 percent Christian, 5 percent animist, and less than 1 percent each for Muslim, Baha'i, nonreligious, and other religions. The principal religion is Roman Catholicism, dating from the Spanish colonial period, when almost the entire population was baptized into this faith. Of the Christian population, approximately 87 percent are at least nominally Catholic, and approximately 4.5 percent belong to Protestant denominations. In practice the actual figure for tribal religions is likely much higher; moreover, many baptized Catholics reportedly still follow traditional beliefs. There is no known organized worship in large parts of the country, in particular in the center and north of the mainland and on the smaller islands. The ethnic minorities, such as the Ngumba, Yaka, Puku, and Benga have no known organized religious congregations.
The Government and President Obiang's ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) have reacted defensively to any criticism. They prefer that religious groups stay out of politics and refrain from criticism of the Government and its leadership. The Government requires permission for any activities outside church walls, but in practice this nominal requirement does not appear to be a hindrance to organized religious groups. After the January 1998 coup attempt, all religious groups were summoned by the authorities to assemble in an ecumenical meeting in February at the stadium in the capital to endorse a public profession against violence. Reportedly, no signed agreement resulted, and there was no communiqu&#;eacute; issued from the meeting.
Religious study is required in schools and is usually, but not exclusively, Catholic. The Government generally allows preaching, religious teaching, education, and practice by believers. Missionaries work throughout the country, generally without impediment, including several dozen American missionaries and their dependents. However, the Government restricted the activities of the Catholic Church. In February 1998, security forces arrested a priest, Father Eduardo Losoha Belope--a member of the Bubi ethnic group and president of the Malabo chapter of the Catholic nongovernmental organization, Caritas--in connection with the January 21, 1998 revolt. In July 1998, the Archbishop of Malabo, Laureano Ekua Obama, stated publicly that the Government now requires Catholic priests to obtain government permission before celebrating Mass, and commented that the Government does this because the Church repeatedly has denounced human rights violations, social injustice, and corruption in the country. The Archbishop also stated that government harassment made it very difficult to be a Catholic priest in the country. There nevertheless seems to be a marked official preference towards the Catholic Church. For example, a Roman Catholic mass is normally part of any major ceremonial function such as the October 12 national day.
The Government relaxed some restrictions on religious activities by foreign missionaries in 1996. Missionaries in Bata and Malabo reported little government interference in their work. However, in January 1998 in Bata, the largest town on the mainland, security forces broke up a religious revival conducted by a popular European evangelist and expelled him from the country. According to several sources, the governor of Bata and the police chief expelled the evangelist and his group the following day in order to take possession of the evangelist's vehicles, sound system, and other equipment. Diplomatic intervention by a number of foreign governments allowed the evangelist to depart with his vehicles.
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
There generally are amicable relations between the various religious groups in the country. Some religious groups believe that they face societal pressures within their regions. However, no specific incidents or violence stemming from religious discrimination have been reported, and such concerns may reflect ethnic or individual as much as religious differences.
Section III. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon maintains contact with religious groups, especially American missionaries in the country, and monitors any religious initiatives during periodic visits. During the period covered by this report, embassy staff met with various religious leaders, including members of the Catholic hierarchy, Protestant missionaries, and religiously affiliated nongovernmental organizations.
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