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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:
Comoros

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000
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COMOROS

The new Constitution decreed in May 1999 does not prohibit specifically discrimination based on religion or religious belief, and the Government restricted this right.

There was no change in the status of what is at times limited respect for religious freedom during the period of the report.

An overwhelming majority of the population is Sunni Muslim. 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 hold those detained for a few days and often attempt to convert them to Islam forcibly. In October 1999, two citizens were arrested, tried, and convicted of "anti-Islamic activity" in part because they possessed Christian books and audiovisual material. One of the citizens was sentenced to 18 months in prison, while the other was sentenced to 4 months. The first was released after 4 months, while the second was released after 2 months. 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. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution promulgated in May by the head of the military after the April 20, 1999, coup provides that the National Army of Development upholds individual and collective liberties; however, it does not provide specifically for freedom of religion, and the Government restricted this right. The Government discouraged the practice of religions other than Islam. Christians, in particular, faced restrictions on their ability to practice their faith. 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, the separatist leadership has discouraged the practice of religions other than Islam. However, there were no reports of official persecution initiated by civil authorities during the period covered by this report. In one instance on Anjouan, a judge intervened to protect Christians from harassment.

Religious Demography

An overwhelming majority--almost 99 percent--of the population is Sunni Muslim. Fewer than 300 persons--less than 1 percent of the population--are Christian; all of who reportedly converted to Christianity within the last 5 years. There is a very small population (less than five families) of Indian descent, of which two or three families are Hindu.

Governmental Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government continues 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. Christian missionaries work in local hospitals and schools, but they are not allowed to proselytize.

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, like Ramadan. Alcohol can be imported and sold with a permit from the Government.

Governmental Abuses of Religious Freedom

Police regularly threatened and sometimes detained practicing Christians. In December 1999, Bibles were found in the possession of three young men from the village of Chomoni on Grande Comore. A mob burned two of their huts, and they were turned over to local police. The police reportedly beat them, doused them with water, and then imprisoned them for 3 days before they were released. 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; however, there were no such incidents reported during the period covered by this report.

The Government has arrested and convicted individuals with Christian affiliations on charges of "anti-Islamic activity." In October 1999, two citizens were arrested, tried, and convicted on charges of disturbing the peace and anti-Islamic activity. They were apprehended following a protest by Islamic religious leaders against the airing of a Christian video on a local, private television station. One was sentenced to 18 months for allegedly selling or giving away the videotapes; he was released after serving 4 months in jail. The other was sentenced to 4 months for having a meeting in his home where the same videos were shown; he was released after serving 2 months in jail and since has left the country. Police confiscated videos, Bibles, and books from the homes of the individuals and arrested one of them while he was trying to flee the country. The police declared the videos illegal and ordered that all copies be turned in to authorities; in making this declaration, the police announced in that "freedom of worship is not recognized in Comoros;" however, it is not clear whether this announcement was a statement made by an individual policeman or a statement of official policy.

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.

Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens

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

There is widespread societal discrimination against Christians in all sectors of life. 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. Anti-Christian rhetoric was broadcast on the radio. This campaign resulted in threats, but there were no reports of violence. 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. In the past, local government officials, religious authorities, and family members have attempted to force Christians to attend services at mosques against their will, but 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 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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