2007 Report on International Religious Freedom - Niger

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

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice, as long as persons respected public order, social peace, and national unity.

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

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice.

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 an area of 490,000 square miles and a population of approximately 14,270,000. Islam is the dominant religion and is practiced by more than 90 percent of the population. Approximately 95 percent of Muslims are Sunni and 5 percent Shi'a. There are also small communities of Christians and Baha'is. Christians, both Roman Catholics and Protestants, account for less than 5 percent of the population and are mainly present in the regions of Maradi and Dogondoutchi, and in Niamey and other urban centers with expatriate populations. Christianity was brought with French colonial institutions, and its adherents include many local believers from the educated, the elite, and colonial families, as well as immigrants from neighboring coastal countries, particularly Benin, Togo, and Ghana. Numbering only a few thousand, Baha'is reside 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 religious beliefs. There is no reporting available regarding the number of atheists.

Foreign missionary organizations are active in the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice, although it monitors religious expression it views as potentially threatening to public order or national unity. The Government at all levels sought to protect this right in full and did 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 was broadcast on private and government radio stations, although the government stations typically broadcast it only on Sundays and on special occasions, such as Christmas and Easter.

Religious organizations must register with the Interior Ministry. 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 Government does not permit religious instruction in public schools.

Christmas, Easter Monday, Eid el-Adha, Muharram, Maulid al-Nabi (the Prophet Muhammad's birthday), Lailatoul-Quadr, and Eid al-Fitr 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.

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. 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 must do the same.

On August 16, 2006, the Minister of Interior wrote a letter to all Islamic associations with the intent to regulate preaching in order to curb "provocative sermons likely to create disagreements among believers but also to disturb public order." According to the Minister, "it is not uncommon to hear some innuendos that overstep the prescriptions of the Qur'an and Hadiths." The letter instructed Islamic associations to inform the authorities via the Islamic Council on preachers' level of instruction as well as the dates and locations at which the preaching sessions would take place. The letter further stated that "any blunder by a member of an association may involve the individual's or organization's responsibility and be subject to appropriate sanction." While religious and civil society organizations generally agreed with the spirit of the letter, they decried the Minister's attempt to infringe upon their freedom of expression. On September 5, 2006, the Minister called a press conference to clarify his intent, calling for well organized sermons consistent with the Islamic Council's advice. There was no indication that the clergy changed their sermons in response to the Minister's letter.

Traditional chiefs and senior Islamic clergy asserted the right to approve or disapprove of sermon content and mosque building plans by foreign Islamic preachers and donors. In practice, however, this assertion did not seem to impede Islamic preaching and mosque construction initiatives undertaken by foreign clergy and organizations. Many of these groups preached Salafi/Wahhabi-inspired doctrine that differed from the traditional Sufi teachings of the mainline clergy and chiefs.

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.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

The Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA) was created on March 1, 2007, to foster interfaith dialogue, elicit religious viewpoints on government policies and programs, coordinate religious organizations' humanitarian projects, and establish religious schools. The MRA intended to restructure Islamic schools, focusing on curriculums and teacher payment – the latter to address problems such as child begging and trafficking in children by some teachers. The Niger Islamic Council, an organization established in February 2006 and composed of representatives from Muslim organizations and government agencies, reported to the MRA.

From January 24 to 27, 2007, Richard Roberts of Oral Roberts University led a high-profile Christian mission to the country. He met with senior government officials and hosted a series of large "miracle and healing" events attended by Muslims, Christians, and others, demonstrating harmonious coexistence between religious groups in the country.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice.

On July 28, 2006, the police used batons and tear gas to disperse an unauthorized protest staged by a group of Muslim activists. A few protesters suffered minor injuries; none were detained. On November 26, 2006, police prevented another gathering of Muslim activists at Niamey's Grand Mosque. Both groups had assembled to protest against the ratification of the African Union protocol on women's rights, which they considered incompatible with Islamic law. On May 11 (Niger's Women's Day) and May 24, 2007, several Muslim women's associations staged protests against the Government's renewed attempt to ratify the protocol. On May 28, 2007, the Government withdrew the bill for further consultations.

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 emphasized the importance of tolerance in its public statements and in meetings with government officials and members of civil society.

Released on September 14, 2007


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