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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:
Niger

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

The July 1999 Constitution provides for "the right of the free development of each individual in their spiritual, cultural, and religious dimensions," and the Government supports the freedom to practice one's religious beliefs, as long as persons respect public order, social peace, and national unity.

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

There are generally amicable relations between the various religious communities, but there have been instances when members of the majority religion (Islam) have not been tolerant of the rights of members of minority religions to practice their faith.

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 of Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The July 1999 Constitution provides for "the right of the free development of each individual in their spiritual, cultural, and religious dimensions," and the Government supports the freedom to practice one's religious beliefs, as long as persons respect public order, social peace, and national unity.

Religious organizations must register with the Interior Ministry. This registration is a formality, and there is no evidence that it has ever been denied.

Religious Demography

Islam is the dominant religion and is practiced by over 90 percent of the population. Christians (including Jehovah's Witnesses) and Baha'is practice freely. Islam is dominant throughout the country. The cities of Say, Kiota, Agadez, and Madarounfa are considered holy by the local Islamic communities, and the practice of other religions in those cities is not as well tolerated as in other areas. Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, account for less than 5 percent of the population and are particularly active in Niamey and other urban centers with expatriate populations. As Christianity was the religion of French colonial institutions, its followers include many local believers from the educated, the elite, and the colonial families, as well as Africans from neighboring coastal countries, particularly Benin, Togo, and Ghana. There is a Christian community in Galmi, in the Tahoua Department, which houses a hospital and health center run by Society for International Missions (SIM) missionaries and has been in operation for over 40 years. The Baha'is are very active and represent a small percentage of the population (in the thousands). They are located primarily in Niamey and in communities on the west side of the Niger River, bordering Burkina Faso. Followers of the Baha'i faith have sponsored religious tolerance campaigns and have had press coverage of some of their activities. A small percentage of the population practice traditional indigenous religions.

Christmas and Easter, along with Muslim holy days, are recognized national holidays. No religious group is subsidized officially to conduct its activities, although the Islamic Association has a weekly broadcast on the government-owned (and the only) television station. Christian programming generally is broadcast only on special occasions like Christmas.

The State must authorize construction of any place of worship.

Foreign missionaries work freely, but their organizations must be registered officially as associations.

Active Christian missionary organizations include Southern Baptist, Evangelical Baptist, Catholic, Assemblies of God, Seventh-Day Adventist, SIM, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Beyond proselytizing, most missionary groups generally offer development assistance as well.

There were instances during the period covered by this report in which local police were not confident that they could ensure the safety of foreign missionaries, and local authorities ordered the closure of a church in Niamey but did not enforce it (see Section II).

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

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 are generally amicable relations between the various religious communities, but there have been instances when members of the majority religion (Islam) have not been tolerant of the rights of members of minority religions to practice their faith.

Starting in 1998, Southern Baptist missionaries in Say faced harassment by members of the majority Islamic community. When the missionaries notified the authorities, they were told that, while it was within their rights to be there, the local police could not ensure their safety.

The harassment continued through September 1999, when the missionaries decided to leave the area for a new location. One family has relocated to Gotheye, and the other one continues its missionary activities in the region but no longer lives in Say. However, local Christians remain in Say.

On May 14, 2000, the same members of the local Islamic community in Say threatened to burn down the meeting place of the local Christians who remained. Leaders of the same organization also threatened to beat or have arrested a local Christian man in the village of Ouro Sidi because he continued to work with the Southern Baptists. There were no reports that such threats were carried out.

Just after the April 1999 coup, the Assemblies of God church in the capital, Niamey, was notified by the mayor's office that it had to close until the "new order" was established, (presumably until a democratically elected government is in place, in early 2000). The church has been in its location since 1996 and has had an ongoing problem with one of it neighbors, another Christian group who had been trying actively to have the church closed since its establishment. The Assemblies of God church remains open, and no further action was ever taken on the case.

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. The Embassy regularly emphasizes the importance of a spirit of tolerance in its public statements and in meetings with government officials and members of civil society.

The Embassy maintains good relationships with minority religious groups, most of which are long-term resident missionaries and well-known members of the American community. Embassy personnel also have contact with the Catholic mission, the Baha'i community, and Islamic organizations.

Embassy officers on August 31, 1999, met with the Interior Minister to discuss the situation of the missionaries in Say and on September 15, 1999, met with the Secretary General of the Interior Ministry. Following the report of a new threat, an embassy officer on May 18, 2000, met with the director of political and judicial affairs at the Interior Ministry and raised embassy concerns about the renewed threats to Christians in the Say region. The director replied that such incidents could not be tolerated in a secular state and promised to look into it.

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