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

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government did not respect this right when in August 2001, President Yala abruptly expelled the Ahmadis, an Islamic religious group, from the country.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report; however, observers have noted that since the November 2000 death of General Mane, who was an ethnic Mandinka and a Muslim, President Yala, who is an ethnic Balanta and a Christian, increasingly has been intolerant of other ethnic and religious groups.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

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 10,811 square miles, and its population is 1,285,715. Approximately half the population follows traditional indigenous religious practices. Approximately 45 percent of the population are Muslim and approximately 5 percent are Christian. There are few atheists.

Christians belong to a number of groups, including the Roman Catholic Church and various Protestant denominations. The Muslim population is concentrated in the Fula and Mandinka ethnic groups, and Muslims generally live in the north and northeast. Christians are concentrated in Bissau and other large towns. Practitioners of traditional religions inhabit the remainder of the country.

Missionaries from numerous Christian denominations long have been active.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government did not respect this right in one instance. There is no state religion.

The Government requires that religious groups be licensed; however, no applications have been refused. There were no reports that new applications were made during the period covered by this report.

Historically, political affiliation has not been related directly to ethnic or religious affiliation. Members of all major faiths are represented in the National Assembly.

Numerous foreign missionary groups operate in the country without restriction.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

In August 2001, President Kumba Yala expelled from the country members of an Islamic religious association known as Ahmadis, whose members belong to a sect that originated in Pakistan and have major doctrinal divisions from the traditional tenets of Islam. They believe their founder, Ahmadi, to be a prophet, and they do not believe in the pilgrimage to Mecca as a pillar of Islam. The Ahmadis came to the country in 1995. The President alleged they were engaged in subversive activity and were undermining Islam and declared he would support "real religious associations but not sects." He asserted that his actions were in the interests of the Muslim community. The Supreme Court declared the expulsion unconstitutional; however, the Ahmadis was not permitted to return. The case still was pending at the end of the period covered by this report. The President subsequently dismissed five of the justices. There were no other reports of government harassment or expulsion of religious associations.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

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

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Society is tolerant on religious matters.

There have been no reports of significant ecumenical movements or activities to promote greater mutual understanding and tolerance.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

There has been no official U.S. presence in the country since June 1998;1 however, the U.S. Embassy based in Dakar, Senegal, discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

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