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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

Article one of the Constitution provides for religious freedom, and the Government generally observes and enforces this right in practice. There is no state religion, and authorities do not engage in religious persecution or favoritism. A 1983 decree banning Jehovah's Witnesses, which the government promulgated on the grounds that Jehovah's Witnesses allegedly do not adequately protect individuals who might dissent from the group's views, remained in effect. However, the Government did not enforce the ban; in practice, Jehovah's Witnesses in the country worshipped free from any known hindrance by the State. Interior Ministry officials reportedly have met with representatives to discuss lifting the ban; as a condition of lifting the ban, the Government reportedly seeks a written commitment from the denomination that it will respect individual rights.

The Government promotes interfaith relations by facilitating meetings of leaders of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy and the Islamic Council. Such meetings have been held, on average, once or twice a year in recent years. The last such meeting took place in September 1998.

Major religions practiced in the country include Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism), Islam, and traditional indigenous religions. Government statistics indicate that about 60 percent of the country's citizens practice Christianity, almost 40 percent practice traditional indigenous religions, and only 1 percent practice Islam. However, Muslims make up a much larger proportion of the total population including noncitizens. Moreover, many persons practice both elements of Christianity and elements of traditional indigenous religions. For example, most adolescents, including many Christians, continue to be initiated into traditional religions. The initiation ritual, known as "eboga," generally involves eating the tabernath plant, traditionally believed to transport initiates to a land inhabited by the spirits of their ancestors. It is estimated that approximately 73 percent of the population practice at least some elements of Christianity, about 12 percent practice Islam, about 10 percent practice traditional indigenous religions exclusively, and about 5 percent practice no religion.

Noncitizens constitute approximately 20 percent of the population. A significant portion of these aliens come from countries in West Africa with large Muslim populations. Approximately 80 to 90 percent of the 12 percent of the total population who practice Islam are foreigners. However, the country's President is a member of the Islamic minority.

Foreign missionaries, including Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic missionaries, operate without hindrance.

The Ministry of the Interior maintains an official registry of some religious groups; however, it does not register traditional indigenous religious groups. The Government does not require religious groups to register but recommends that they do so in order to assemble with full constitutional protection. No financial or tax benefit is conferred by registration. The Government has refused to register about ten religious groups, including Jehovah's Witnesses.

Islamic, Catholic, and Protestant denominations operate primary and secondary schools in the country. These schools are required to register with the Ministry of Education, which is charged with ensuring that these religious schools meet the same standards required for public schools. The Government does not contribute funds to private schools, whether religious or secular.

There are no media operated by religious denominations, although several radio and television stations apportion some airtime for religious programming.

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

Relations between the various religious communities have been amicable. Although in past years there has been some societal violence against immigrants, many of whom were Muslims, such violence occurred largely in the context of economic problems, and there have been no reports of such violence during the period covered by this report.

There were occasional incidents of violence in which practitioners of some traditional indigenous religions inflicted bodily harm on other persons. However, the details of these incidents are uncertain. The Ministry of the Interior maintained that violence and bodily harm to others in the practice of a traditional religion is a criminal offense and is prosecuted vigorously. Media reports suggested that this was true; however, little information about such prosecutions or their results is available.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy maintains contact with religious leaders of the major religions and discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 10-09-1999