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

The Constitution does not provide for freedom of religion specifically and does not prohibit discrimination based on religion or religious belief specifically, and authorities infringed on freedom of religion.

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. Police regularly threatened and sometimes detained practicing Christians. Usually the authorities held those detained for a few days and often attempted to convert them forcibly to Islam.

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 578,400. 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 6 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 Constitution, which was promulgated in May 2000 by the head of the military after the April 1999 coup, provides that the National Army of Development upholds individual and collective liberties; however, it does not provide for freedom of religion specifically, and authorities infringed on freedom of religion. The Government 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. The Constitution written by the separatist leadership of the island of Anjouan provides for freedom of religion; however, in the past, the separatist leadership has discouraged the practice of religions other than Islam. Civil authorities on Anjouan appear to have refrained from discouraging religions other than Islam during the period covered by this report, possibly because they were focused on political efforts to reunify the country. The Fombani Declaration that was signed by Azali and the Anjouan separatist leader in August 2000 included an agreement to make Islam the national religion; however, there were no reports of official discrimination or other abuse initiated by civil authorities during the period covered by this report.

The February 17, 2001, "Framework Accord for Reconciliation in the Comoros" created a commission that is tasked with developing a new Constitution by June 2001; however, the new Constitution had not been created by the end of the period covered by this report.

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 go to Koranic schools outside of normal school hours in order to learn 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. In the past, some community authorities on Anjouan have banned Christians from attending any community events and banned Christian burials in a local cemetery, but there were no reports of such incidents during the period covered by this report.

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

On October 13, 2000, during protests in Moroni, there were reports that police arrested persons inside a mosque while they were praying; all of those arrested in connection with the protests were released without charge after 24 hours.

Police regularly threatened and sometimes detained practicing Christians. The Government has arrested and convicted individuals with Christian affiliations on charges of "anti-Islamic activity." In the past, local government officials attempted to force Christians to attend services at mosques against their will; however, there were no reports of such incidents during the period covered by this report (see Section III).

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 at the end of the period covered by this report.

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 Government's 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 April 2001, in Domoni on Anjouan, one of the local Christian leaders 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 a month. Several times in the first half of 2001, religious leaders on Anjouan and Grande Comore have made threats against Christians during radio broadcasts. In December 2000, also in Domini, community members set fire to the house of a Christian man while he was sleeping inside; the man escaped.

Attempts have been made to isolate Christians from village life. In September and October 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 during the period covered by this report that the committees were active or that the lists were used to harass Christians.

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. In the past, local government officials, religious authorities, and family members attempted to force Christians to attend services at mosques against their will (see Section II); however, there were no reports of such incidents during the period covered by this report.

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

[This is a mobile copy of Comoros]