International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, in practice the Government limited this right in some respects.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. Government regulation of religion is generally exercised via administrative registration controls. Beyond this, the Government discourages criticism by religious groups and restricts activities outside church premises.

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 10,827 square miles, and its population is approximately 474,200. The population is approximately 93 percent Christian and 5 percent practitioners of traditional indigenous religions; Muslims, members of the Baha'i Faith, members of other religions, and those who are nonreligious each make up less than 1 percent. The principal religion is Roman Catholicism, dating from the Spanish colonial period, when almost the entire population was baptized into this faith. Of the Christian population, approximately 87 percent at least nominally are Catholic, and approximately 4.5 percent belong to Protestant denominations. In practice the actual number of practitioners of traditional indigenous religions is much higher, although the exact figure is unknown. Many baptized Catholics reportedly still follow traditional beliefs. There is no known organized Christian worship in large parts of the country. The ethnic minorities, such as the Ngumba, Yaka, Puku, and Benga, have no known organized religious congregations.

Foreign missionary groups operate in the country, both in Bioko and on the mainland, including Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Nondenominational evangelical Christian groups also are present.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, in practice the Government limited this right in some respects. A 1992 law includes a stated official preference for the Catholic Church and the Reform Church of Equatorial Guinea due to their traditional roots and well-known influence in the social and cultural life of the populace. For example, a Roman Catholic mass normally is part of any major ceremonial function, such as on the October 12 national day. This law also regulates the registration of religious groups.

The Government generally allows preaching, religious teaching, education, and practice by believers. The Government requires permission for any activities outside the confines of places of worship; however, in practice this requirement does not appear to hinder organized religious groups.

A religious organization must be registered formally with the Ministry of Justice and Religion before its religious activities are allowed. While religious groups must be approved and registered to function legally, there were no reports during the period covered by this report that the Government refused to register any group.

Though required by the 1992 law regulating religions, exact registration procedures are enforced inconsistently at the whim of the bureaucracy. In 2002, the Director General of the Ministry of Justice and Worship, who is charged with administering registration procedures for religious groups, declared that, in addition to the existing fee required to register a religious organization nationally, churches would now be required to pay a fee to register each individual congregation. The Director General claimed that this requirement was contained in the 1992 law, but had never been enforced. Consequently, he proposed applying this fee retroactively to all congregations established after a religious organization gained national recognition. However, within 2 months the Director General was removed from office due to heavy protests from the religious community. Since then, no action has been made to apply the former Director's General original proposal.

To register, churches must make a written application to the Ministry of Justice and Worship. This application was not required of the Catholic and Reform Churches because of their long-established presence in the country and because the law contains official preferences for these churches. The application and approval process usually takes several years, but such delay appears to be the result of general bureaucratic inefficiency and not of a policy designed to impede the operation of any religious group. Unregistered groups operating in the country can be fined; however, such fines are rarely applied. For example, the Assemblies of God received official recognition in 1993; however, from 1987 through 1993, the group was able to operate although it had not been recognized officially. The degree of enforcement of registration requirements appears to be dependent upon the whim of the Ministry of Justice and Worship.

The exact number of registered denominations is not publicly available.

Foreign missionaries work throughout the country, generally without impediment.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government and President Teodoro Obiang Nguema's ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) have reacted defensively to any criticism, and the Government continued to restrict freedom of expression of the clergy, particularly any open criticism of the Government. According to Jose Maguga, the director of the Autonomous Rural Development (DAR), a Catholic nongovernmental organization (NGO), Church representatives practiced self-censorship on these issues during the year. Government agents sometimes officially or unofficially visit churches to monitor church behavior or request a timetable of church activities. The Government requires permission for any religious or faith-based social assistance activity outside the confines of places of worship; however, in practice this requirement did not appear to hinder organized religious groups. There were some reports that a growing international presence and the Government's focus on petroleum exploration and development resulted in a reduction of religious restrictions during the period covered by this report; however, these reports could not be confirmed.

Religious study is required in schools and is usually, but not exclusively, Catholic.

In 2002, the DAR was required to have a government delegate present at its meetings. This restriction apparently was in response to government fears that DAR encourages antigovernment sentiment. The Government required that the DAR office in the diocese of Ebibeyin inform the local delegate each time it held a board meeting. The DAR complied with the requirement and received permission to meet, but the local delegate insisted on being present during the meetings. The DAR refused to hold meetings with the delegate present, and consequently it did not hold official meetings during 2002.

In 2001 some citizens working as missionaries received nonspecific warnings from the Ministry of Justice and Religion against voting for candidates who were not PDGE members; most missionaries were told to appear before the Ministry. None of the missionaries were made to appear before the Ministry and no further warnings were issued during the remainder of the reporting period.

Recently, church leaders and foreign missionaries complained that U.S. citizens affiliated with their organizations had been threatened with denial of entry by immigration officials at Malabo's international airport. Some religious leaders feared that these denials were motivated by a bias against Protestant denominations.

Foreign missionaries also complained of the length of time and new costs required to obtain previously no-cost residence permits.

Some individual government officials defended the sudden full enforcement of church registration requirements in terms of the need to "control" rapid growth of new and unfamiliar sects or religions in the country. However, shortly after foreign diplomats and church officials complained of the sudden registration requirement change, the Director General who had made this policy change was removed from his posting.

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 relations among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Some religious groups believe that they face societal pressures within their regions; however, no specific incidents or violence stemming from religious discrimination have been reported, and such concerns may reflect ethnic or individual differences as much as religious differences.

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. During the period covered by this report, Embassy staff met with various church and missionary leaders, as well as government officials responsible for religious activity. The U.S. Embassy based in Yaounde, Cameroon, maintains contact with religious groups, especially American missionaries in the country, and monitors religious initiatives during periodic visits.

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