International Religious Freedom Report 2002
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The May 2000 constitution, which was promulgated by the head of the military after the April 1999 coup, did not provide for freedom of religion specifically, and authorities infringed on this right. The new Constitution, which was voted into effect in December 2001, specifically provides for freedom of religion; however, authorities continued to infringe on this right.

There was no change in the status of what is at times limited respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. An overwhelming majority of the population is Sunni Muslim, and government authorities and the local population restricted the right of Christians to practice their faith. In the past, police regularly threatened and sometimes detained practicing Christians; however, there were no reports of such incidents during the period covered by this report.

There is widespread societal discrimination against Christians.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 838 square miles, and its population is approximately 685,000. An overwhelming majority--almost 99 percent--of the population are Sunni Muslim. Fewer than 300 persons--less than 1 percent of the population--are Christian, all of whom reportedly converted to Christianity within the last 7 years. There is a very small population (less than five families) of Indian descent, of which two or three families are Hindu. There are no atheists in the country.

A few foreign missionaries of Christian faith practice in the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The May 2000 constitution, which was promulgated by the head of the military after the April 1999 coup, did not provide for freedom of religion specifically, and authorities infringed on this right. The new Constitution, which was voted into effect in December 2001 and reincorporates Anjouan, Grand Comoros, and Moheli into a new federation that grants the islands greater autonomy, specifically provides for freedom of religion; however, authorities continued to infringe on this right. The new Constitution makes Islam the official religion of the country, and the Government discouraged the practice of religions other than Islam.

Prior to the incorporation of Anjouan into the federation, the Constitution written by the separatist leadership of Anjouan provided for freedom of religion; however, separatist leadership discouraged the practice of religions other than Islam.

The Ulamas council, which had advised the President, Prime Minister, President of the Federal Assembly, the Council of Isles, and the island governors on whether bills, ordinances, decrees, and laws are in conformity with the principles of Islam, no longer exists. Since December 2001, a Grand Imam consults with a group of elders periodically to assess whether the principles of Islam are respected.

There is Islamic instruction in public schools for students at the middle school level that is taught in conjunction with Arabic instruction. Almost all children between 4 and 7 years of age attend Koranic schools outside of normal school hours in order to learn how to read the Koran.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government discouraged the practice of religions other than Islam. Christians, in particular, faced restrictions on their ability to practice their faith. The Government continued to restrict the use of the country's three churches to noncitizens. There are two Roman Catholic churches, one in Moroni on the island of Grande Comore and one in Mutsamudu on the island of Anjouan. There is one Protestant church in Moroni. Many Christians practice their faith in private residences. Foreign missionaries work in local hospitals and schools, but they are not allowed to proselytize.

Local authorities and religious leaders continued to harass Christians on Anjouan. Some community authorities on Anjouan banned Christians from attending any community events and banned Christian burials in a local cemetery.

Bans on alcohol and immodest dress are enforced sporadically, usually during religious months, such as Ramadan. Alcohol can be imported and sold with a permit from the Government.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

In the past, the Government arrested and convicted individuals with Christian affiliations on charges of "anti-Islamic activity." In 1999 two citizens were arrested, tried, and convicted in part because they possessed Christian books and audiovisual material. One of the individuals was released after 4 months; it was unknown at the end of the period covered by this report whether the other citizen was released or still was incarcerated. In the past, police regularly threatened and sometimes detained practicing Christians; however, there were no reports of such incidents during the period covered by this report. Usually the authorities held those detained for a few days and often attempted to convert them forcibly to Islam.

On Anjouan, local authorities continued to attempt to suppress or convert the local Christian minority. In the past, there have been accounts of police and quasi-police authorities, known as embargoes, arresting, beating, and detaining Christians on the island of Anjouan. One Anjouanais Christian estimated that approximately 50 Christians, both men and women, were detained and released several days later by the embargoes in an 18-month period between 1999 and 2000. There were no reports of Christians being detained on Anjouan during the period covered by this report.

Unlike in the period covered by the previous report, there were no reports that police arrested persons inside mosques while they were praying.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There is widespread societal discrimination against Christians in all sectors of life. Christians face insults and threats of violence from members of their communities. Christians have been harassed by mobs in front of mosques and called in for questioning by religious authorities. In some instances, families have forced Christian family members out of their homes or threatened them with a loss of financial support. Some Christians have had their Bibles taken by family members. Local government officials, religious authorities, and family members have attempted to force Christians to attend services at mosques against their will.

In April 2001, in Domoni on Anjouan, a local Christian leader was summoned before local Islamic leaders and threatened. The Christian leader's father was forced to pay a fine, and the leader's family had to leave Domoni for 1 month. Several times during the first half of 2001, religious leaders on Anjouan and Grande Comore made threats against Christians during radio broadcasts. There were no reports of local religious leaders threatening Christians during the period covered by this report.

Attempts have been made to isolate Christians from village life. In 1999 on Anjouan, a religious leader started an unofficial campaign against Christians. Committees were formed in many villages to harass Christians, and lists of names of suspected Christians were circulated; however, there were no reports that the committees were active. The campaign resulted in threats, but not violence.

Islamic fundamentalism is growing in popularity as more students return to the country after studying Islamic subjects in foreign countries.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

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