U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2001 - Equatorial Guinea

The Fundamental Law of 1995 provides for freedom of religion; however, in practice the Government limited this right in some respects.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. The Government discourages criticism by religious groups and restricts activities outside church premises.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Embassy in Cameroon discusses religious freedom issues with the Government during periodic visits to the country in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 10,831 square miles and its population is 474,214. The population is approximately 93 percent Christian, 5 percent practitioners of traditional indigenous religions, and less than 1 percent each Muslim, Baha'i, other religions, and those who are nonreligious. The principal religion is Roman Catholicism, dating from the Spanish colonial period, when almost the entire population was baptized into this faith. Of the Christian population, approximately 87 percent at least nominally are Catholic, and approximately 4.5 percent belong to Protestant denominations. In practice the actual figure for traditional indigenous religions is much higher, although the exact figures are unknown. Many baptized Catholics reportedly still follow traditional beliefs. There is no known organized Christian worship in large parts of the country, in particular in the center and north of the mainland and on the smaller islands. The ethnic minorities, such as the Ngumba, Yaka, Puku, and Benga have no known organized religious congregations.

Foreign missionary groups operate in the country, both in Bioko and on the mainland, including Seventh Day Adventists, Assemblies of God, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Nondenominational evangelical Christian groups also are present.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The 1995 Fundamental Law provides for freedom of religion; however, in practice the Government limited this right in some respects.

The Government generally allows preaching, religious teaching, education, and practice by believers. The Government requires permission for any activities outside church walls; however, in practice this requirement does not appear to hinder organized religious groups.

A religious organization must be registered formally with the Ministry of Justice and Religion before its religious activities are allowed. While religious groups must be approved and registered in order to function legally, there were no reports during the period covered by this report that the Government had refused to register any group. However, information regarding the exact procedure for registering a religious denomination was not available. For example, the Assemblies of God received official recognition in 1993; however, from 1987 until 1993, the group was able to operate although it was not recognized officially. The approval process usually takes several years, but such delay apparently is due primarily to general bureaucratic slowness and is not the result of a policy designed to impede the operation of any religious group. The exact number of registered denominations is not available.

Foreign missionaries work throughout the country, generally without impediment.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government and President Teodoro Obiang Nguema's ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) have reacted defensively to any criticism, and the Government continued to restrict freedom of expression of the clergy, particularly regarding any open criticism of the Government.

A 1992 law includes a stated official preference towards the Catholic Church and the Reform Church of Equatorial Guinea due to their traditional roots and well-known influence in the social and cultural life of the populace. For example, a Roman Catholic Mass normally is part of any major ceremonial function such as the October 12 national day. In the past, the Government restricted the activities of the Catholic Church; however, there were no reports of restrictions during the period covered by this report.

Religious study is required in schools and is usually, but not exclusively, Catholic. In the first half of 2001, some schools considered banning a number of Jehovah's Witnesses students from class after their teachers complained that the students would not sing the national anthem. Discussions between the Minister of Justice and Religion and the students' parents resolved the issue.

Autonomous Rural Development (DAR), a Catholic NGO, sometimes is required to have a government delegate present at its meetings. This restriction apparently is in response to government fears that the DAR encourages antigovernment sentiment.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

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 Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

As of January 2001, the Government no longer requires that Catholic priests obtain government permission before celebrating Mass. This restriction had been put in place in previous years because of the Catholic Church's repeated criticisms of human rights violations, social injustice, and corruption in the country.

In February 1998, security forces arrested a priest, Father Eduardo Losha Belope – a member of the Bubi ethnic group and president of the Malabo chapter of the Catholic nongovernmental organization (NGO), Caritas – in connection with the January 1998 revolt. In January 2001, Father Belope was released as part of a presidential decree reducing sentences for many prisoners.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There generally are amicable relations between the various religious groups in the country. Some religious groups believe that they face societal pressures within their regions; however, no specific incidents or violence stemming from religious discrimination have been reported, and such concerns may reflect ethnic or individual as much as religious differences.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy based in Yaounde, Cameroon, maintains contact with religious groups, especially American missionaries in the country, and monitors any religious initiatives during periodic visits. During the period covered by this report, embassy staff met with various religious leaders, including members of the Catholic hierarchy, Protestant missionaries, and religiously affiliated NGO's.

The International Religious Freedom Report for 2001 is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. The law provides that the Secretary of State shall transmit to Congress by September 1 of each year, or the first day thereafter on which the appropriate House of Congress is in session, "an Annual Report on International Religious Freedom supplementing the most recent Human Rights Reports by providing additional detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom." The 2001 Report covers the period from July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2001.

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