U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2004 - Niger

Released by the U.S. Department of State Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on September 15, 2004, covers the period from July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2004.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total land area of 490,000 square miles, and its population is approximately 11.3 million. Islam is the dominant religion and is practiced by more than 90 percent of the population. There also are small practicing communities of Christians and Baha'i. Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, account for less than 5 percent of the population but are active particularly in the region of Maradi, Dogondoutchi, Niamey, and other urban centers with expatriate populations. Christianity was the religion of French colonial institutions, and its followers include many local believers from the educated, the elite, and colonial families, as well as Africans from neighboring coastal countries; particularly Benin, Togo, and Ghana. Numbering only a few thousand, the Baha'i are located primarily in Niamey and in communities on the west side of the Niger River, bordering Burkina Faso. A small percentage of the population practices traditional indigenous religions. There is no information available regarding the number of atheists in the country.

Active Christian missionary organizations include Southern Baptists, Evangelical Baptists, Catholics, Assemblies of God, Seventh-day Adventists, Serving in Mission (SIM), and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

No religious group was subsidized; however, the Islamic Association, which acts as an official advisory committee on religious matters to the Government, conducted biweekly broadcasts on the government-controlled television station. Christian programming generally was broadcast only on special occasions, such as Christmas and Easter.

Religious organizations must register with the Interior Ministry. This registration is a formality, and there is no evidence that the Government favors any religion over another or that it ever has refused to register a religious organization. Approval is based on submission of required legal documents and the vetting of organization leaders. The Government must also authorize construction of any place of worship; however, there were no reports that the Government refused construction permits during the period covered by this report.

Foreign missionaries work freely, but their organizations must be registered officially as associations. In addition to proselytizing, most missionary groups generally offered development or humanitarian assistance. The Christian community in Galmi, Tahoua Department, housed a hospital and health center run by SIM missionaries. The hospital and health center have been in operation for more than 40 years.

Public school instruction is conducted in French, and there are also public bilingual schools conducted in French and Arabic. The government does not permit religious instruction in public schools.

Christmas, Easter Monday, and Muslim holy days are recognized as national holidays. It is not uncommon for Muslims and Christians to attend each other's festivities during these holidays.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion; however, in the fall of 2001, the Government banned two Islamic organizations because they sent threatening letters to a foreign embassy. Despite the ban in 2002, the same organizations issued a tract calling for a jihad in which they denounced the secular state and advocated Shari'a law. The Government reaffirmed the ban and warned those who signed the tract to stop such actions. Later, in 2002, the Government arrested the leaders of both organizations and charged them with incitement to revolt. They were released in 2003, but their organizations remained banned at the end of the period covered by this report. No mainstream Islamic organizations or human rights organizations have challenged the legality of the bans.

The Constitution forbids political parties from having a doctrine based on any religious ideology.

The Government does not impose religious speech restrictions as long as there is no intent to disrespect public order, social peace, and national unity. In Spring 2004, during a regional polio vaccination campaign sponsored by the United Nations, seven Muslim preachers urged violent resistance to the campaign, claiming it was a plot by Westerners to sterilize Muslim children. In reaction, the Government temporarily detained the preachers on the grounds of inciting a riot. Nigerian Islamic associations and President Tandja publicly supported the campaign.

Some senior-level government employees are required to take religious oaths. The Constitution specifies that the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the President of the National Assembly, and the President of the Constitutional Court, must take an oath on a holy book of their own choosing. Members of the Constitutional Court, Independent National Election Commission, and High Council for Communications are also required to take religious oaths on a holy book of their own choosing.

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

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. There have been reports in the past of isolated instances where individual Muslims were not tolerant of the rights of members of minority religions to practice their faith; however, there were no reported cases of intolerance toward non-Islamic communities or religions during this reporting period.

In March 2003, Islamic organizations in Niamey held a rally to protest the war in Iraq and expressed solidarity with Iraqi citizens. No violence was reported.

In Spring 2004, Muslim preachers verbally protested a polio vaccination campaign, and the government intervened to limit their effect (see Section II).

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. Embassy regularly emphasizes the importance of tolerance in its public statements and in meetings with government officials and members of civil society.

As part of the U.S. Embassy's continued outreach to the Muslim community, the U.S. Government funded an important cultural preservation project by supplying equipment and training to electronically preserve thousands of revered Islamic texts. The U.S. Government also funded a renowned American religious scholar to tour the country and lead discussions on Islam in America, prompting in-depth discussions and promoting a deeper appreciation of American society.

The U.S. Embassy hosted a series of Iftaar dinners during Ramadan, met with traditional Muslim leaders in Kiota and with Islamic leaders at the Islamic University in Say, enhanced existing relationships with Islamic journalists, and presented programs at French/Arabic bilingual schools. In March 2003, Embassy officials met with key Muslim leaders regarding the U.S. military operations in Iraq, in an effort to lessen any potential anti-Christian or anti-Western reactions.

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


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