Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July 2014, 14:56 GMT

2008 Report on International Religious Freedom - Kenya

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 19 September 2008
Cite as United States Department of State, 2008 Report on International Religious Freedom - Kenya, 19 September 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48d5cbb350.html [accessed 23 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report. However, some Muslim leaders continued to charge that the Government is hostile toward Muslims.

While there were very few reports of societal abuse or discrimination based on religious belief or practice, some Muslims perceived themselves to be treated as second-class citizens in the predominantly Christian country.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 225,000 square miles and a population of 35.5 million. Approximately 80 percent of the country is Christian, 10 percent is Muslim, less than 1 percent is Hindu, Sikh, and Baha'i, while the remainder follows various traditional indigenous religions. Protestants comprise 58 percent of Christians, and Roman Catholics 42 percent.

The North Eastern Province, where the population is predominantly ethnic Somali, is home to 15 percent of the Muslim population. Sixty percent of the Muslim population lives in Coast Province, comprising 50 percent of the total population there. Western areas of Coast Province are mostly Christian. The upper part of Eastern Province is home to 10 percent of the country's Muslims, where they are the majority religious group. Apart from a small ethnic Somali population in Nairobi, the rest of the country is largely Christian.

Upper Eastern, North Eastern, and Coast Provinces, which together are home to approximately 75 percent of the Muslim population, have less developed infrastructure, lower levels of education, and higher levels of poverty and unemployment than many other parts of the country. The new coalition Government created a Ministry of the Development of Northern Kenya and Other Arid Lands to specifically redress this situation. The Minister is a Muslim from the North Eastern Province.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. The law at all levels protects this right in full against abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

Muslim groups effectively voiced concerns regarding a proposed antiterrorism bill, which they perceived as anti-Muslim. The country's public communications secretary and government spokesman met with the Council of Imams in November 2006 and assured them that no terrorism bill would go before Parliament that did not take their position into account. No terror legislation went to vote during the period covered by this report.

Religious belief was not a requirement for membership in any major political party, and a record number of Muslims were elected to Parliament in December 2007. There were 34 Muslim members of a 222-seat Parliament, and a record 13 of them were appointed to the Government's 42-member cabinet.

The Constitution and the Kadhis' Courts Act of 1967 establish a venue for the adjudication of certain types of civil cases based on Islamic law. The Constitution provides for Kadhis' courts in situations where "all the parties profess the Muslim religion" in suits addressing "questions of Muslim law relating to personal status, marriage, divorce, or inheritance." Kadhis' courts, however, are "subordinate" courts, meaning that the secular High Court has jurisdiction to supervise any civil or criminal proceedings, and any party involved in the proceedings may refer a question involving interpretation, or directly appeal a decision, to the High Court.

Some Christian groups argued that the Constitution' s inclusion of the federally funded Kadhis' courts gives preferential treatment to Muslims; however, the relevant section of the Constitution remained in place.

The Government requires new religious organizations to register with the Registrar of Societies, which reports to the Office of the Attorney General. The Government allows traditional indigenous religious organizations to register, although many choose not to do so. After registration, religious organizations may apply for tax-exempt status, including exemption from paying duty on imported goods. The Government does not use tax laws to favor one religious group over another, although some religious organizations alleged that it does. Religious organizations generally received equal treatment from the Government; however, some small splinter groups found it difficult to register when the Government viewed them as an offshoot of a larger religious organization.

The Ministry of Information and Communications approved regional radio and television broadcast licenses for several Christian and Muslim groups, including most recently Radio Salaam. The petition of the Catholic Church for a national frequency remained unresolved at the end of the period covered by this report. To date, the Ministry has not granted a national frequency to any media organization except the government-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. However, it assigned a series of regional broadcasting frequencies to some organizations, both secular and religious, to give their broadcasts national reach.

Practicing witchcraft is a criminal offense under colonial-era laws; however, persons generally were prosecuted for this offense only in conjunction with some other charge, such as murder.

The Government observes Good Friday, Easter Monday, Christmas, and Eid al-Fitr as national holidays. The Government also recognizes Eid al-Adha and Diwali as public holidays for Muslims and Hindus respectively. On November 6, 2007, President Kibaki directed the Attorney General to make Eid al-Adha a national holiday. The order was published in the official government gazette on December 19, 2007, and the Government planned to present an amended Public Holiday Act to Parliament to make the holiday permanent.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report.

Some Muslim leaders charged that the Government was hostile toward Muslims. The leaders claimed that since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, the 2002 terrorist attacks in Mombasa, terrorist attacks elsewhere in the country, and continued instability in Somalia, government discrimination against their community worsened. According to these leaders, it was more difficult for persons with Muslim surnames to acquire identity documents such as birth certificates, national identity cards, and passports. In order to acquire such documents, Muslims are routinely asked to provide additional documentation of citizenship, such as birth certificates of parents and even grandparents.

Some Muslims expressed concern that the lack of a university in Coast Province, which has a large Muslim population, hindered educational opportunities for Muslims.

In October 2007 President Kibaki appointed a special committee to look into the grievances of the Muslim community. The committee took action on individual claims of denied identity documents, and on April 15, 2008, the newly appointed Minister for Immigration and Registration of Persons promised to streamline the ministry's operations and systematically stamp out such discrimination.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

The Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya and other Muslim organizations, including the Muslim Human Rights Forum, accused the Government of harassment in the guise of anti terrorist measures. The Muslim Human Rights Forum accused the Government of not following due process in the arrest and subsequent rendition to Somalia and Ethiopia of more than 100 suspected terrorists along the Kenya/Somalia border. Some of those detained, the group claimed, were women and children. The whereabouts of some of the detainees was still not known, the group claimed. A president-appointed special committee, formed in October 2007, heard testimony from persons affected by the operation, but the final report had not been released at the end of the reporting period. A Muslim Cabinet minister told the press in April 2008 that the Government would deal with those involved in terrorist activities accordingly; however, the minister stated that he would remain firm on the unjust victimization of citizens, especially those who were deported on terrorist grounds.

Muslim human rights activists called for the disbandment of the Anti-Terrorist Police Unit, claiming that it was engaging in a systematic campaign of harassment that specifically targeted Muslims. While the Kenya National Human Rights Commission and the special presidential committee convened to investigate grievances from the Muslim community both heard complaints against this unit, neither had made any definitive conclusions or recommendations by the end of the reporting period.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

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 refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. There generally is a great level of tolerance among religious groups, although some Muslims perceive themselves to be treated as second-class citizens in a predominantly Christian country. Intermarriage between members of Christian denominations is common, and interfaith prayer services occur frequently. Intermarriage between Muslims and Christians, although less frequent, also is socially acceptable.

On May 20, 2008, gangs of villagers burned more than 50 houses and burned and killed 15 persons – mostly women – suspected of practicing witchcraft. The victims were suspected by villagers of using supernatural powers to kill, maim, and cause children to perform poorly in school. By late May police arrested 120 suspects in connection with the crime.

Some Muslim groups believed that the Government and business communities deliberately impeded development in predominantly Muslim areas.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. Embassy made a concerted effort to bridge the gaps that exist between Muslims and Christians. U.S. embassy officials maintained regular contact with all religious communities.

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