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

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

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MALI

Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, the Government does not officially recognize the Baha'i Faith. The law allows for religious practices that do not pose a threat to social stability and peace. The Constitution declares the country a secular state.

The Government requires that all public associations, including religious associations, register with the Government. However, registration confers no tax preference and no other legal benefits, and failure to register is not penalized in practice. The registration process is routine and is not burdensome. Traditional indigenous religious are not required to register.

In 1989 a previous government refused an application for registration submitted by a Baha'i group, although there was and still is no state law prohibiting the practice of the Baha'i Faith. The absence of official recognition does not appear to have restricted materially the practice of the Baha'i Faith in the country.

Muslims make up about 90 percent of the population, and the vast majority of Muslims are Sunni. Most of the remainder of the population practice traditional indigenous religions or no religion. There is a small Christian minority, and the Christian community is about evenly split between Catholic and Protestant denominations. Atheism or agnosticism is rare. Most immigrants are from neighboring countries and either practice the majority Muslim faith or belong to Christian groups.

The vast majority of citizens practice their religion daily. Islam is tolerant and adapted to local conditions. Women participate in economic and political activity, engage in social interaction, and do not wear veils. The vast majority of Muslims are Sunni.

Although the Government does not officially recognize the Baha'i Faith, it does not restrict the practice of that religion either in law or in practice.

Persons are free to change their religion, and Muslims and non-Muslims may proselytize freely. Many of the country's Christians belong to missionary groups that engage in development-related activity. However, they do not link the benefits of their development activities to conversion.

Foreign missionary groups operate in the country. Most known foreign missionary groups are Christian groups that are based in Europe and are engaged in development work. A number of U.S.-based Christian missionary groups also operate in the country.

On August 2, 1998, members of a traditionalist Islamic group known as the "pieds nus" (bare feet, from the practice of going barefoot from village to village to preach) stabbed and killed Judge Omar Bah in Dioila and freed several members of their group from the Dioila jail, where they had been incarcerated for disturbing the peace during a domestic altercation. The attack followed the death in jail of an 85-year-old member of the group who had adhered to the group's practice of refusing to take medication. Gendarmes, local hunters, and veterans apprehended the "pieds nus" after the jailbreak, shot and killed 11 of them, and wounded 10 more in an exchange of gunfire near Menaka.

The Minister of Territorial Administration and Security can prohibit religious publications that he concludes defame another religion, but there were no reports of instances in which publications were prohibited.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion 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

Relations between the Muslim majority and the Christian and other religious minorities are generally amicable. Adherents to a variety of faiths may be found within the same families. Many followers of one religion attend religious ceremonies of other religions, especially weddings and funerals. Islam as practiced in the country opposes the use of violence. Christian missionaries, especially the rural-based development workers, enjoy good relations within their communities.

On April 28, 1998, a mob of about 300 Muslims attacked Christian missionaries and nongovernmental organization workers in the town of Menaka, in the northern region of Gao. Several missionaries were injured; their assailants stole property and burned and partially destroyed a small Christian church and two missionary houses. The attack followed the public showing of a film on the life of Jesus, which reportedly exacerbated already existing tensions between Christians and Muslims. The local Muslim clergy as well as government officials quickly criticized the attack.

There were no reports of instances in which persons who had changed their religion experienced adverse social consequences.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy monitors developments affecting religious freedom, maintains contact with clergy and other leaders of major religious groups, and discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.

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