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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999: Comoros

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999

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Section I. Freedom of Religion

The 1996 Constitution, which was suspended by the military after a coup on April 30, 1999, prohibited discrimination on the basis of religion or religious belief; however, during 1998 the Government infringed on the freedom of religion of non-Muslims to some extent. The 1996 Constitution also established an Ulamas Council, which 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 were in conformity with the principles of Islam. The Constitution promulgated by the head of the military after the April 30, 1999, coup provides that the National Army of Development uphold individual and collective liberties; however, it does not provide specifically for freedom of religion. The three federal governments that held power between January 1, 1999 and June 30, 1999 discouraged the practice of religions other than Islam; Christians, in particular, faced restrictions on their ability to practice their faith. The Constitution written by the separatist leadership of the island of Anjouan provides for freedom of religion; however, the Anjouan separatist leadership discouraged the practice of religions other than Islam.

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 5 years. There is a very small population (less than five families) of Indian descent. There was no information available to indicate whether any members of this population practice Hinduism.

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. However, prior to the April 1999 coup, the Government restricted the use of these three churches to noncitizens. There was no information available on whether the new Government has continued this practice. Many Christians practice their faith in private residences. Christian missionaries work in local hospitals and schools, but they are not allowed to proselytize.

Police regularly threatened and sometimes detained practicing Christians. Most detentions occurred on the island of Anjouan where the practicing Christian population is more open. In 1998 in Anjouan, police reportedly arrested and beat a Christian and demolished a house that had been used as a meeting place for Christians. There were also reports that the secessionist Anjouan's quasi-police authorities, known as embargoes, arrested and detained nine Christians. In April 1999, embargoes arrested, beat, and detained for a day three local Christians. Usually, the authorities hold those detained for a few days and often attempt forcibly to convert them to Islam. None of the above incidents were investigated, nor was action taken against the persons responsible. One Anjouanais Christian estimates that around 50 Christians, both men and women, have been detained in Anjouan by the embargoes during the period covered by this report.

Local government officials have attempted to force Christians to attend services at mosques against their will (see Section II). Some community authorities on Anjouan banned Christians from attending any community events and banned Christian burials in a local cemetery (see Section II).

There is Islamic instruction in public schools for students at the middle school level that coincides 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.

Former President Taki's bans on alcohol and immodest dress remain in effect, but reportedly are not enforced. Alcohol can be imported and sold with a permit from the Government.

There was no change in the status of at times limited respect for freedom of religion.

There were no reports of the forced religious conversions 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 II. Societal Attitudes

There is widespread societal discrimination against Christians in all sectors of life. Attempts have been made to isolate Christians from village life. Community members and authorities in Lingoni, Anjouan, banned Christians from attending any community events and, in Mremeni, Anjouan, banned Christian burials in the local cemetery. 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.

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

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.

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