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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 that all citizens have the freedom to practice or not to practice a religion and gives religious denominations the right to pursue their religious aims freely, and the Government respects these rights in practice.

The 1989 Law on Religious Freedom requires religious institutions and missionary organizations to register with the Ministry of Justice, reveal their principal source of funds and provide the names of at least 500 followers in good standing. No particular benefits or privileges are associated with the registration process.

According to the National Institute of Statistics, half of the population of 16 to 17 million does not profess to practice a religion or creed. However, scholars at local universities assert that virtually all persons recognize or practice some form of animism or traditional indigenous religions. Of the approximately 8 million persons who do profess a recognized religion, 24 percent are Roman Catholic, 22 percent are Protestant, and 20 percent are Muslim. Many Muslim clerics disagree with this statistic, claiming that Islam is the country's majority religion. Religious communities are dispersed throughout the country. The northern provinces and the coastal strip are most strongly Muslim, Catholics predominate in the central provinces, and Protestants are most numerous in the southern region.

There are 394 distinct denominations of religions registered with the Department of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Justice. Among Muslims, only a generic "Islamic" community (Sunni) and the Ismaili community are registered. Among Christians, the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Greek Orthodox Churches are registered along with Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, Seventh-Day Adventist, Mormon, Nazarene, and Jehovah's Witnesses groups, as well as scores of evangelical, apostolic, and Pentecostal churches. Jewish, Hindu, and Baha'i communities also are registered, and constitute small minorities. Many citizens consider the Baha'i Faith to be a "new religion." Many of these communities draw members from across ethnic, political, and racial lines.

Traditional indigenous practices and rituals are present in most Christian churches, including Catholic churches, and in most Muslim worship. For example, members of these faiths commonly travel to the graves of ancestors to say special prayers for rain. Similarly, Christians and Muslims continue to practice a ritual of preparation or inauguration at the time of important events, e.g. a first job, a school examination, a swearing-in, etc., by offering prayers and spilling beverages on the ground to please ancestors. Some Christians and Muslims consult "curandeiros," traditional healers or spiritualists--some of whom are themselves nominal Christians or Muslims--in search of good luck, healing, and solutions to problems.

The Government routinely grants visas and residence permits to foreign missionaries. Dozens of foreign missionary and evangelical groups operate freely in the country, representing numerous Protestant denominations along with the Summer Institute of Languages Bible Translators and the Tabligh Islamic Call Mission. Muslim missionaries from South Africa have established Islamic schools (Madrassas) in many cities and towns of the northern provinces.

The Constitution gives religious groups the right to own and acquire assets, and these institutions are allowed by law to own and operate schools. Religious instruction in public schools is strictly prohibited.

In February 1999, police detained a Pakistani imam for questioning in connection with the criminal investigation of the murder and decapitation of a young black man. An investigating magistrate released the imam after 8 days for lack of evidence, but as of June 30, 1999, the imam still had to report to the police weekly and was not allowed to leave the country. The media reaction to the detention sparked sharp public debate (see Section II).

In 1996 there was heated disagreement in Parliament over a bill that included Muslim observances in the official calendar of national holidays, along with such events as "Family Day" on December 25. Some parliament members argued that "Family Day" was a thinly veiled mechanism to celebrate the Christmas holiday despite the fact that the Government abolished the state observance of Christian holidays in 1975. Parliament passed the law in 1996, but the President refused to promulgate it and the Supreme Court rendered an advisory opinion stating that the law was an unconstitutional violation of church-state separation. The issue was reintroduced for debate in Parliament in December 1998, but did not become law. The issue was resolved in practice when the Government instructed employers to grant liberal leave to both Christian and Muslim employees to observe their respective religious holidays, in addition to scheduled national holidays.

A conference of bishops, including Catholic and Anglican members, meets regularly and consults with the President of the Republic. In 1998 there were periods of stress in relations between the Government and religious organizations as some Catholic leaders and clergy publicly criticized the conduct of the June 1998 municipal elections. A journalist with state-owned Radio Mozambique who broadcast critical remarks made by the Archbishop of Beira effectively was demoted.

The law governing political parties specifically forbids religious parties from organizing, and any party from sponsoring, religious propaganda. In late 1998, the Independent Party of Mozambique (PIMO), a predominantly Muslim group without representation in Parliament, began arguing for the right of political parties to base their activities on religious principles. PIMO, the object of criticism from the Government and some members of the legislature, argued that the Movimento Islamico, a parliamentary caucus of Muslims from the ruling Frelimo party, was itself tantamount to a religious party.

While virtually all places of worship nationalized by the State in 1977 have been returned to the respective religious organizations, the Catholic Church and certain Muslim communities complained that some other properties such as schools, health centers and residences unjustly remain in state hands, and continued to press for the return of such properties. The Government claimed that all "erroneously" nationalized properties have been returned. These complaints and the Government's responses to them have been aired in the press and debated in Parliament. The Conference of Catholic and Episcopal Bishops repeatedly raised this issue in its regular periodic meetings with the President, noting that many properties remain in state hands. In April 1999, an independent newsletter published a list of properties that the Government has failed to return, including Catholic schools and seminary properties in Inhambane, Maputo, Niassa, and Zambezia provinces, and a Muslim school in Sofala province. In 1998 the Catholic Church successfully negotiated for the return of many educational, social, and residential facilities that had remained in state hands.

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 among communities of different faiths are generally amicable, especially at the grassroots level. However, there has been a longstanding racial division within the Muslim community, particularly between black and Indian Muslims.

In February 1999, the police detained and questioned a Pakistani imam in connection with the criminal investigation of the murder and decapitation of a young black man (see Section I). In April a state-owned newspaper stated in a series of poorly documented articles that the imam had confessed to the crime. The newspaper's allegations unleashed an intense debate in Parliament and the media and included accusations that the press was anti-Muslim, that black Muslims and Indian Muslims harbored racial prejudices against each other, and that Indian Muslims were involved in drug trafficking and organized crime.

The 2-year-old Forum of Religions, an organization for social and disaster relief composed of members of the Christian Council of Mozambique, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Muslim community, and the Baha'i and Jewish temples is an example of interfaith cooperation. The goal of the forum is to offer collective assistance to the needy, without regard for creed.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

U.S. Government actions in support of religious freedom have included many embassy demarches to the Government seeking diplomatic support for United Nations (U.N.) human rights resolutions, including the Resolution on Iran at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in April 1999, which condemned restrictions on worship. These demarches and associated discussions have been held at the ambassadorial level with government ministers, as well as at lower levels of Embassy and Foreign Ministry personnel.

During the period covered by this report, the Ambassador met with American missionaries of several denominations, with the Anglican Archbishop of Mozambique, and with 12 Catholic archbishops and bishops. During these visits, the Ambassador discussed social issues in general, the return of church properties by the Government, and the outlook for local and national elections.

The U.S. Embassy's Public Affairs Office had periodic contact with the Christian Council of Mozambique and promoted awareness of its "arms into art" program, which is supported by the U.S. National Council of Churches.

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Revised last: 11-09-1999