Religious Liberty in Africa (Part 3 of 3)
Report Published by Aid to the Church in Need
ROME, JULY 22, 2006 (Zenit) - Aid to the Church in Need released a report on religious freedom around the world.
Although the constitution guarantees freedom of worship, local authorities in Rwanda often restrict this right, intervening above all against the Pentecostals and Jehovah's Witnesses whose children, in some provinces, are expelled from schools. The constitution forbids political parties from indicating any religious belonging. Hence the former Islamic Democratic Party has had to change its name to the Democratic Party for an Ideal.
A 2001 law states that all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) must register, indicating their objectives and activities, so as to obtain approval from local authorities and then present a request to the Ministry of Justice. It is necessary to report that registration procedures are difficult and therefore many organizations work with no authorization.
If religious functions are held at night, the authorities must be told in advance; in the past in fact, groups of rebels described their night time meetings used for aggressions as "religious meetings." It is also for this reason that the government requires religious meetings to be held in places of worship and not in private homes.
Missionaries can operate freely but must register. In state schools religious instruction is permitted, often as an alternative to morals courses; and Catholic, Protestant and Islamic schools are also allowed.
Since 2003 there has been a ban -- although both churches have appealed this in court -- on the United Methodist Church of Rwanda led by Jupa Kaberuka and on the Community of the International Methodist Union led by Louis Bwanakweli.
Between April and June 1994, between half a million and eight hundred thousand people were massacred in Rwanda by the Hutu extremists; thousands more were then killed in Tutsi revenge attacks in the months that followed, resulting, according to the government, in a total of about 937 thousand victims.
For years now, tens of thousands of people have been imprisoned, accused of having participated in the genocide, but the special tribunal set up by the United Nations has only managed to hold a few dozen trials. Most of these -- only those concerning minor players who followed orders from their superiors, ordinary soldiers and ordinary people -- have all been moved to ordinary courts.
The first trial was held at the beginning of March in Mayange, 60 kilometers (approximately 37 miles) south of the capital Kigali, and was followed by those held by 750 other courts that have finished investigations and can therefore hold the trials according to a system based on confessions and that wishes to allow reconciliation between the victims and the accused: Those who confess and acknowledge their guilt receive greatly reduced sentences.
According to the government's data, almost one million people may be involved in these hearings -- in practice one inhabitant in every eight -- considering that the "Gacaca" can arrest a person even only due to simple "suspicion." The creation of these tribunals has therefore resulted in thousands of accused people fleeing, attempting to take refuge in Burundi -- unsuccessfully however, considering that the authorities have sent back the refugees. In July about 25 thousand prisoners were freed, among them those who confessed, the elderly and the sick.
The Catholic Church, in particular, is frequently accused of wishing to protect priests reportedly involved in the genocide and of not wanting to assume its own responsibilities.
On Sept. 6 while waiting to leave for Belgium, Father Guy Theunis, who belongs to the order of the Missionaries of Africa, was arrested at Kigali Airport, and accused of genocide.
Violence against the Jehovah's Witnesses continues, in particular because of their rejection of the ideas and symbols of state sovereignty and national unity, such as, for example, the custom, not however sanctioned by law, for hands to be placed on the national flag during marriages.
Senegal, Sierra Leone
The president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, has announced that in December 2006 the country will host a summit of the Islamic Conference Organization, and then also a meeting addressed at the dialogue between Muslims and Christians.
In an interview given on Feb. 24 to the "Yemen Observer," the president also stated that there is the need for a close dialogue between the leaders of the various religions present in the country, so as to discuss the problem of religious tolerance.
The constitution of Sierra Leone recognizes freedom of worship and it is generally respected by the government. Religious groups are not obliged to register. Since Jan. 1, 2005, the Department for Immigration has increased by 24% the annual tax paid by foreign missionaries.
Religious instruction is provided by state schools, giving a choice between Christian and Muslim classes.
Relations between the various confessions are generally good, although there have been serious episodes of intolerance between Muslims -- more numerous especially in the northern regions -- and the Christians who are more numerous especially in the south.
For years, it has been a land of conflict between various contenders, and is still divided between the so-called "war lords." The transitional government in Somalia -- following the Arta agreements signed in 2000 and supported by the United Nations -- has not managed to gain control over the territory.
In October 2004 the federal transitional government was created, which traveled to the country during the following month of June, without, however, managing to get the situation under control. In March 2005, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, an influential member of the Association of Islamic Courts, summoned a jihad (a holy war) against anyone on a peace mission as well as the new government.
The country is basically divided into four parts. To the north are the self-proclaimed states of Somaliland and Puntland; to the south the state of south western Somalia and finally the rest of the country which includes the capital Mogadishu.
In this situation there is no constitution or laws on freedom of worship. The people are above all Sunni Muslims and other religions are disapproved and often discriminated and persecuted. The Sunni majority is often diffident with non-Sunni Muslims.
The situation is basically anarchic and without a central power, encouraging religious persecution and increased Islamic extremism. Somalia is considered one of Al Qaeda's main hideouts, considering that widespread chaos is the ideal environment for recruiting and training jihadists.
Churches have been destroyed for years and the few dozen remaining Catholics are obliged to celebrate the Eucharist secretly, in private homes with bars on the windows so as not to risk their lives.
On Oct. 7, Doctor Osman Sheik Ahmed was killed in Mogadishu, after converting in 2002 and becoming a minister of the evangelical church; witnesses and members of his family have testified that the killers were Muslims.
A few days later, on Oct. 31 again in Mogadishu, three Somalis who had converted to Christianity were attacked and the Reverend Hirsi was seriously wounded.
The difficulties encountered by the religious communities in South Africa are caused by the climate of violence existing in the country.
A group of non-identified men killed 74-year-old Sister Margaret Branchčn, a Swiss nurse belonging to the Ursuline congregation. The nun was killed in the clinic where she worked, the St. Mary Hospital in Ngqelewi, near Mthatha. According to police sources quoted by the Missionary News Service on Dec. 30, "the murder was the result of a robbery attempt."
2005 was a very important year for Sudan, with the signing on Jan. 9 of the peace agreement between the government and the leaders of the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (Spla/m) putting an end to the armed conflict that since 1983 resulted in 2.5 million victims and over 4 million refugees and evacuees on the North/South axis.
On July 7, Parliament unanimously approved the new constitution. The first article states that "Sudan is a welcoming nation, where races and cultures merge and religions are reconciled"; it also states that "Christianity and traditional religions have significant communities of believers." The new constitution clearly distinguishes the north with its Muslim majority, from the south mainly inhabited by Christians and the followers of traditional faiths. The constitution emphasizes that the Shariah is a source of legislation only in the north -- a change compared to the past when Koranic law was imposed throughout the country -- while in the south the source of legislation is the "will of the people, their values and customs, as well as religious traditions and beliefs."
While freedom of worship is basically guaranteed, Islam is however effectively still considered the state's religion, and consequently there is no lack of discriminations and abuse against non-Muslims. Religious organizations are subject to a number of restrictions.
The government controls imports of religious publications, and for those published in the country requires pre-approval of the contents by the national publishing council. At times the publication of newspapers is suspended, usually for political reasons, but at times also for religious reasons as happened last May when publication of the Khartoum daily paper "Al Wafaq" was suspended for several days and the editor, Mohamed Taha, was arrested after publishing an article considered blasphemous to the Prophet Mohammed.
The Koran's provisions recurrently pervade television programs on networks controlled by the government, although in the south there are three channels broadcasting programs of Christian inspiration.
The Catholic Church emphasizes that -- ever since President Omar El Bashir came to power in 1989 -- the production and consumption of alcohol has been forbidden in the country, which makes the use of wine illegal in all religious ceremonies.
Tanzania and Togo
There is still tension between moderate and extremist Muslims, emphasized also in the American State Department's Report on freedom of worship in the world. Still, in Tanzania, as far as relations between Christians and Muslims are concerned, one must bear in mind the appeal launched by Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino. Cardinal Martino, during his visit in the month of July, exhorted Christians to always find new forms of dialogue and peaceful coexistence with the Muslim community.
Respect for the right to freedom of worship in Togo is strictly conditioned by ongoing political tensions. In an attempt to provide a contribution to the solution of the conflicts, on Feb. 11 the leaders of the Christian communities published an appeal in which they asked the authorities and political parties to commit to dialogue and confront the political crisis the country is experiencing.
Presidential elections were held on April 24 in a divided climate, following the death of President Gnassingbč Eyadéma on Feb. 5 after 38 uninterrupted years leading the country's government with the Rassemblement du peuple togolais.
As reported by Vatican Radio that same day, on April 29 the opposition's candidate Emmanuel Akitani Bob proclaimed himself president, also requesting the annulment of the elections that gave the victory to the government party candidate Faure Gnassingbč, the son of the deceased president.
On the same day, after the press lock down imposed by the army to deal with the tension, the largest Catholic radio in the country, Radio Maria, was closed down. Other independent media were also closed down, as was the internet, while there were numerous clashes between the police and protesters that resulted in dozens of deaths.
The same Christian leader who signed the February appeal, following the difficult post-electoral situation, sent another message -- as reported by Fides news service on May 18 -- in which they begged for hope and uninterrupted prayer for the nation's destiny.
The constitution of Tunisia guarantees freedom of worship and the government generally respect this right. Islam is the state religion but in spite of this, the authorities' policies are addressed at respect for other religions. Political parties based on religious principles are not permitted and proselytism is forbidden; there are also restrictions on using the Islamic veil.
The country promotes its image in the world presenting itself as a peaceful oasis of modernity and as a bastion in the battle against Islamic extremism in the region, although many violations of human rights are reported so as to guarantee this stability, in particular against activists belonging to Islamic movements.
In Uganda, too, the constitution recognizes freedom of worship. Religious groups must register with the Ministry of the Interior, just like all other private associations and it is an offence punishable with a fine ranging between $6-$115 not to comply with this provision. Non-payment can result in up to a year in prison for the person responsible for the association.
Missionaries do not suffer any restrictions in their work, but religious orders and foreigners must register like all other groups. There are many private schools, both Christian and Muslim. Normal authorization is required for all religious buildings but there are no reports that the government withholds these authorizations. At times the authorities forbid night time meetings -- for example in the districts of Ntungamo and Kayunga -- fearing that gangs of criminals might use the pretext to meet before enacting their crimes.
The year 2004 ended in a sign of hope. For the very first time in December, delegations from the government and the rebels belonging to the Lord's Resistance Army met. Hope for peace was increased by the rebels' objective problems -- they are thought to be short of men and supplies -- and the more positive attitude assumed by the government which has previously accused all those proposing dialogue of being traitors.
A cease-fire had been agreed on for a buffer zone, often extended by President Yoweri Museveni and lasting until the month of February. The war started up again immediately after this date with the rebels killing at least 8 civilians and -- as reported by "irinnews.org" on Feb. 28 -- mutilating the lips of at least eight women.
The year 2005 therefore marked a full resumption of hostilities and 2006 began with the sad comments expressed by Bishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, about the world community's indifference to these "25 years of violence," with its endless daily reports of murder, violence and terror that no longer even attract media attention or the attention and intervention of the international community.
A draft bill imposing restrictions on polygamy resulted in protests from the Islamic community. According to this law, polygamy would only be allowed if the husband has the means to guarantee his new wife the same living conditions and if previous wives are in agreement. In March, over 3000 Muslims held a peaceful protest in the streets.
In Zambia, freedom of worship is guaranteed by Article 19 of the constitution. Since 1996 an alteration in the Constitutional Charter defined the country a Christian nation and the government generally respects the rights of all religions, committed to protecting this right and intolerant of all abuse. Religious groups and institutions must be registered.
A process of constitutional reform has begun involving numerous groups, and also religious ones. The Oasis Forum, composed of the countries legal associations, the committee coordinating NGOs, the Catholic episcopal conference, Zambia's Christian Council and Evangelical Council, has criticized members of the government about the position assumed with regard to the constitutional revision process and the modalities for the approval of the new constitution. In spite of being reprimanded by the government, religious leaders have continued to attack the political leader and have also continued to organize activities and mobilize public opinion.
Relations between the various religions are basically good, although in September a mosque was attacked after the unrest that followed a soccer match for qualification in the World Cup that saw the local national team beaten by Senegal. Clashes continued also on the following day in Kitwe where a number of Senegalese were beaten and shops and cars were burned.
The constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees freedom of worship, but the government does not always respect this right. There is no state religion and all religions are recognized; religious groups and institutions do not need to register unless managing schools or health centers. Religious instruction is permitted in private school and many state secondary schools also teach the Christian religion. Muslims have raised objections against this provision and asked the government to change it.
The situation concerning freedom of worship has deteriorated significantly since 2002, coinciding with the presidential elections preceded and followed by serious episodes of violence and repeated violations of human rights, including the right to freedom of worship.
President Robert Mugabe has shown a degree of concern about the increased numbers of faithful in the evangelical churches and the local churches he considers as potentially subversive. The authorities -- who in the past usually had good relations with the religious communities -- have progressively assumed a more hostile attitude.
A number of religious leaders who have assumed critical attitudes toward the country's leadership, responsible of a violent intimidation campaign against all form of opposition, have been threatened arrested and imprisoned.
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