Religious Liberty in Africa (Part 1 of 3)
Report Published by Aid to the Church in Need
ROME, JULY 20 2006 (ZENIT) - Aid to the Church in Need released a report on religious freedom around the world.
Religious Liberty in Africa
Although with the ending of a number of civil wars the more intense waves of violence characterizing Angola, the Ivory Coast and Sudan have ceased, the conflict in Uganda that also caused the death of the Caritas worker Okot Stalin and resulted in an atmosphere of persecution addressed at the Catholic Church, is not by any means over.
The efforts to promote dialogue and tolerance made by a number of states, such as Morocco and Tunisia, are opposed by Algeria's reversal through the approval in 2006 of a law punishing conversion from Islam.
In spite of a degree of openness shown by the government, the clash between Islamic extremists and Orthodox Copts, often the victims of threats, attempts at forced conversions and mass attacks, now seems to have become radicalized in Egypt.
The radical Islamic advance is also perceived in Kenya and above all in Nigeria, where the enforcement of Koranic Law tends to also be applied to non-Muslims and has caused continuous tension often resulting in attacks on the Christian communities causing dozens of victims on both sides.
In Algeria, the constitution states that Islam is the state religion and forbids all discrimination in respecting various individual freedoms. Although the constitution does not specify this, the government generally respects freedom of worship, although establishing a number of restrictions, such as the need to obtain official acknowledgment from the authorities so as to implement activities.
The Catholic Church, the Protestant community and the Seventh Day Adventists are currently the only non-Islamic denominations acknowledged and allowed to operate in this country.
Those belonging to other religious denominations are obliged to pray without permission and therefore to worship only in private homes, with the exception of the Methodists who are included in the Protestant community.
As far as the activities of Islamic groups in this country are concerned, the authorities exert strict control over the curricula of students in religious universities and also over the imams in the mosques, whose sermons are checked before being held. Furthermore, all activities in mosques are carefully supervised for security reasons and also to prevent the creation of extremist cells.
The government has expressed great concern on the subject of evangelization which caused it to approve a draft bill against proselytism undertaken by Christian groups in the month of October 2005.
The new provisions allow the authorities to forbid the proselytizing activities of non-Islamic religions. In the course of the year, in fact there were increased proselytizing activities by so-called "born again Christians," an expression of American neo-Pentecostal Churches. The phenomenon involving the growth of neo-protestant communities has started to worry the Islamic communities and the Imams in Algeria.
Algeria's small Catholic community has a few hundred believers spread all over its vast territory, about 130 priests and monks, 250 nuns ...
The government of Angola respects all religious organizations. During the past year there have been no significant changes in religious legislation, after the approval in March 2004 of a law regulating the requirements for the registration of religious groups, which must have at least 100 thousand adult members resident in the state and be present in at least two thirds of the provinces.
These requirements are addressed at avoiding the proliferation of new Churches and at preventing rituals going against the dignity or safety of people and of public order.
The conflict between the Catholic Radio Ecclesia and the government has not been solved. This radio station -- which has been broadcasting since 1954 and is the most listened to independent radio station -- has for years hosted programs that criticize the government, addressing issues often ignored by other national media, such as, for example, the clashes in the Cabinda region, the conflicts for control over diamond trafficking and the opposition's policies.
This radio station can only broadcast in the Luanda region and for years has unsuccessfully requested authorization to cover the entire national territory. Since the month of November a number of its programs have been broadcast by Vatican Radio so as to also be heard outside Luanda.
Promulgated on March 18, 2005, Burundi's new constitution confirms the freedom of worship already established in the previous constitution. Religious organizations must register with the ministry of the interior and have head offices in this country.
Unregistered organizations have their places of worship closed down and are forbidden all activities. If the law is not respected the person responsible for the organization may be sentenced to between six months and five years imprisonment.
In spite of peace agreements between the government (dominated by the Hutus which constitute 85% of the population) and rebel groups, the Tutsis (14% of the population), clashes, torture, summary executions and all kinds of violence inflicted upon the population still continue.
In 2005 however, the county's first elections since 1993 were held, thanks to a complicated system guaranteeing adequate representation in parliament also for the Tutsi and Twa (1%) ethnic minorities. Among the new government's first objectives there is the signing of a peace treaty also with the remaining rebels.
The constitution of Cameroon guarantees freedom of worship and the government respects this right, also helped by the mainly friendly relations existing between the various religions. Islamic centers and Churches coexist in the national territory and it is only in the north that there have been reports of tension between ethnic group also involving religious and tribal issues.
Religious groups must register with the ministry for territorial administration and it is considered illegal to operate without official acknowledgement, although the law does not establish specific sanctions. Registration requires a number of years due to bureaucratic slowness.
In Chad, too, the constitution acknowledges freedom of worship, although in certain situations the authorities restrict this right. The constitution states that this is a secular country, in spite of the fact that some activities linked to the Islamic religion receive special benefits. Religious groups must register with the ministry for religious affairs. Registration confers public status but does not offer any taxation privileges.
Foreign missionaries do not suffer any particular restrictions, but so as to travel and operate in this country they must receive authorization from the ministry of the interior, and on this subject no refusals by the authorities have been reported. The state celebrates both Christian and Muslim festivities. The teaching of religion in state schools is forbidden while priests and nuns from all faiths are allowed to work in private schools.
Although in Comoros, the constitution guarantees freedom of worship, the government continues to discourage the practice of all faiths that are not Islam. The authorities forbid Christians from all forms of apostolate, although they are permitted to celebrate the liturgy in private, in particular in private homes.
There are only three Christian churches in this country, mainly attended by foreigners since continuous pressure and intimidation discourages citizens, who -- if they publicly profess a faith differing from Islam -- are imprisoned, while for the same behavior foreigners are deported.
The Grand Mufti, the highest Islamic religious authority, is appointed directly by the president of the republic and takes part in the policies of the country's government especially for all concerning the Islamic religion and the respect of Koranic Law as well as addressing issues concerning marriage and education.
In Congo Brazzaville, the constitution acknowledges freedom of worship and the government respects and protects this right, also from abuse by private individuals. After a peace agreement was signed in March 2003 between the government and the rebels belonging to the Ninja group, led by Frederic Bitsangou, violence against churches and ecclesiastic buildings has stopped. One must bear in mind that like all other private organizations, religious groups are required to register.
Faith and Mission of February 3rd reports on a document drafted by the bishops gathered in a plenary assembly, and entitled "An appeal for a return to moral, religious and spiritual values in the solution of the Ivorian crisis."
In it there is a strong appeal to the need for dialogue and for the country's reunification, achievable according to the prelates only with support from the international community.
Two issues are addressed with particular emphasis: the paralysis in the work done by the government of national unity and the scourge of the racket, described as "a real cancer in society that damages the country and its economy."
The bishops also launched an appeal to media operators, inviting them to address their attitudes and responsibilities with regard to the political crisis, clearly referring to the attitude assumed by part of the press, which has chosen to support individual leaders rather than supporting the truth.
As reported by ACN News on March 16th, Father Giuseppe Baldas, the director of a missionary center in the archdiocese of Gorizia, stated that "in spite of the civil war, Christian communities in the Ivory Coast are increasing rapidly." Furthermore, he also reminded everyone of how at the beginning of the civil war all foreigners fled the country with the exception of the missionaries, who instead remained with the people
In the month of April a new agreement was signed in Pretoria between the government -- controlling the south of the country, both Christian and Animist -- and the rebels of the Forces Nouvelles, who control the mainly Muslim north, and who for years have been fighting a civil war. During this meeting the disarming of the militiamen was decided as well as the formation of a reunified national army; furthermore, 600 former rebels will be included in the police force to work together with the U.N. troops in the areas in which these are deployed. This seems at last to be a really peaceful solution of the civil war that has been ongoing in the Ivory Coast since September 2002, when there was an attempted coup d'état against President Laurent Gbagbo.
Faith and Mission of May 6th specifies that during the clashes at Duékoué over 7,000 people found refuge for days in the Catholic mission of Sainte Thérčse; one of the mission's four Salesian priests, Father Juan Ruiz spoke about how unfortunately they were not unable to provide the refugees with a great deal of material support due to their significant numbers, but that their moral support was unconditional. The civilian refugees belonged to all ethnic groups, including the Dioula and the Gueré.
Although the Egyptian constitution guarantees freedom of worship, acknowledging all credos and forms of cult, the authorities effectively impose restrictions and obstacles to freedom of worship for believers in faiths that are not Islam.
Islam is the official religion in the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Shari' a is the main source of legislation, in fact, any revision of the laws and various codes is approved by the law professors in the Al-Azhar district -- universities and mosques - in Cairo, linked to conservative and in some cases extremist Islam.
Even if belonging to Islam, every religious and civil practice conflicting with the Shari 'a is forbidden and is the subject to the imams' and the sheikhs' rigid and binding control. Within this framework, the government has decided to continue not to acknowledge the baha'I religion, forbidding both personal and collective worship.
Although the Orthodox Copts represent about 15% of the population, in the parliamentary assembly their presence is reduced to less than 1%. They are in practice excluded from even secondary level appointments within the state administration and public education. Income from taxation is used for building and restoring mosques, while other Christian places of worship do not receive public funding.
There is continuous discrimination against Christian Orthodox Copts, even affecting foreign diplomats; on December 26th a number of newspapers reported the bureaucratic obstacles imposed by Muslim employees in the American Embassy in Cairo, against citizens belonging to this religion who are waiting for a visa for the United States.
With a decree adopted by the council of ministers in February, encouraged by President Mubarak himself, the restoration of 14 Jewish places of worship in Egypt was unanimously approved, starting with the historical synagogue of Ben Ezra and the medieval Genizah in Cairo, both in the Mari Ghirghis district.
Part 2 of this report will be published on Friday.
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