International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there were a few exceptions.

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; however, there were a few incidents of religious discrimination by private actors. In addition, some religious groups face societal pressure and discrimination within their regions, although this may reflect ethnic more than religious differences.

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 area of 183,568 square miles, and its population is approximately 16.5 million. Muslim centers and Christian churches of various denominations operate freely throughout the country. Approximately 40 percent of the population is at least nominally Christian, approximately 20 percent is at least nominally Muslim, and approximately 40 percent practices traditional indigenous religions or no religion. The Christian population is divided approximately equally between Catholic and Protestant denominations.

Christians are concentrated chiefly in the southern and western provinces. The two Anglophone provinces of the western region largely are Protestant; the Francophone provinces of the southern and western regions largely are Catholic. In the northern provinces, the locally dominant Fulani (or Peuhl) ethnic group overwhelmingly is Muslim. Other ethnic groups, known collectively as the Kirdi, generally practice some form of Islam. According to a church official in the Far North Province, there are reportedly 110,000 Catholic and 150,000 Protestant Kirdi practicing in Cameroon. The Bamoun ethnic group of the West Province is largely Muslim. Traditional indigenous religions are practiced in rural areas throughout the country but rarely are practiced publicly in cities, in part because many indigenous religions are intrinsically local in character.

Missionary groups are present throughout the country, including Catholic, Muslim, the Baha'i Faith, Baptist, Presbyterian, Evangelic Protestants, Methodist, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unification Church, Seventh-day Adventists Church, New Church of God, and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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; however, there were a few exceptions. There is no official state religion.

The Law on Religious Congregations governs relations between the Government and religious groups. Religious groups must be approved by and registered with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization (MINAT) to function legally. There were no reports that the Government refused to register any group; however the process can take a number of years. It is illegal for a religious group to operate without official recognition, but the law prescribes no specific penalties. Although official recognition confers no general tax benefits, it does allow religious groups to receive real estate as tax-free gifts and legacies for the conduct of their activities.

To register, a religious denomination must fulfill the legal requirement to qualify as a religious congregation. This definition includes "any group of natural persons or corporate bodies whose vocation is divine worship" or "any group of persons living in community in accordance with a religious doctrine." The denomination then submits a file to the MINAT. The file must include a request for authorization, a copy of the group's charter describing planned activities, and the names and respective functions of the group's officials. The Minister reviews the file and sends it to the Presidency with a recommendation for a positive or negative decision. The President generally follows the recommendation of the Minister, and authorization is granted by a presidential decree. The approval process may take up to several years, due primarily to administrative delays.

The only religious groups known to be registered are Christian and Muslim groups and the Baha'i Faith. According to MINAT statistics released in April 2002, there are 38 officially registered denominations, most of which are Christian. There also are numerous unregistered small religious groups that operate illegally but freely. The Government does not register traditional religious groups affiliation for members of a particular ethnic or kinship group, or for the residents of a particular locality.

Disputes between or within registered religious groups about control of places of worship, schools, real estate, or financial assets are resolved primarily by the MINAT rather than by the judiciary.

Missionary groups are present in the country and operate without impediment. The licensing requirements for foreign groups are the same as those for domestic religious denominations.

Several religious denominations operate primary and secondary schools. Although post-secondary education continues to be dominated by state institutions, private schools affiliated with religious denominations, including Catholic, Protestant, and Koranic schools, have been among the country's best schools at the primary and secondary levels for many years. The Ministry of Education is charged by law with ensuring that private schools run by religious groups meet the same standards as state-operated schools in terms of curriculum, infrastructure, and teacher training. For schools affiliated with religious groups, the Sub-Department of Confessional Education of the Ministry's Department of Private Education performs this oversight function. In 2002 and 2003, Confessional Education officials from all denominations complained that they had not received their financial allocations from the Government. The Government explained that this was a budgetary problem. All of the groups received payments by the end of 2003.

School attendance--public, private, or parochial--is mandatory through junior high school.

The Catholic Church operates two of the country's few modern private printing presses (one in Yaounde and one in Douala), and publishes a weekly newspaper, L'Effort Camerounais.

A 2000 government decree requires potential commercial radio broadcasters to submit a licensing application, pay a fee when the application is approved, and pay an annual licensing fee. The Government has been slow in granting authorization; consequently, there are many illegal radio stations operating in Cameroon. Two private religious radio stations that had been broadcasting illegally--the Pentecostal Radio Bonne Nouvelle and Radio Reine, the latter managed by a Catholic priest although not officially sponsored by the Catholic Church--continued to broadcast while awaiting official authorization. A new private Catholic radio station, Radio Veritas, submitted its application to broadcast in January 2001. In December 2003, after several months of misunderstanding between the Government and the Archdiocese over the station's licensing application, the Ministry of Communication finally granted Radio Veritas a temporary authorization to broadcast. At the end of the period covered by this report, the station had been permitted to broadcast for several months without incident.

The state-sponsored television station, CRTV, carries 2 hours of Christian programming on Sunday mornings, normally 1 hour of Catholic Mass and 1 hour from a Protestant church. There is also 1 broadcast hour dedicated to Islam on Friday evenings. State-sponsored radio broadcasts Christian and Muslim religious services on a regular basis, and both the radio and television stations periodically broadcast religious ceremonies on national holidays or during other national events.

Both Christian and Muslim religious holidays are celebrated as national holidays. These include Good Friday (Christian), Ascension Day (Christian), Assumption Day (Christian), Christmas Day (Christian), the Feast of the Lamb (Muslim), and End of Ramadan (Muslim). These holidays do not negatively affect non-observers.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

In the past, government officials have disapproved of and questioned criticism of the Government by religious institutions and leaders; however, there were no reports that government officials used force to suppress such criticism.

The practice of witchcraft is a criminal offense under the national penal code; however, persons generally are prosecuted for this offense only in conjunction with some other offense, such as murder. Witchcraft traditionally has been a common explanation for diseases of unknown origin.

In April 2002, the Government banned the Ma'alah, a nontraditional religious body, following the March 2002 death of a 6-year-old girl whose mother and other members of the religious group had beaten to death. The group believed that severe beating could extract the devil from a possessed body. Both the Government and the girl's father have since sued the mother and her accomplices. At the end of the period covered by this report, court action was still pending. Shortly after her arrest, the mother escaped and fled overseas. She remained at large at the end of the period covered by this report and her absence is likely to delay further court action.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

In the past, the sites and personnel of religious institutions were not exempt from the widespread human rights abuses committed by government security forces; however, there were no reports of such abuses during the period covered by this report.

In December 2003, armed bandits killed Brother Anton Probst, a German missionary working in the Centre Province. He was the paymaster for his organization and is believed to have been carrying a large sum of money at the time of the attack. On January 7, the Judicial Police arrested Michel Atanga Effa and Gervais Balla as suspects in the killing. The two men remained in custody awaiting formal charges at the end of the period covered by this report.

In July 2002, the GSO, a special Yaounde police unit, arrested and charged 21-year-old Robert Ndoumbe Elimbi for the April 2001 murder of Appolinaire Ndi, a parish priest in the Yaounde diocese. Elimbi remained in detention at the end of the period covered by this report and no trial date had been set.

According to press reports, in April 2002, the Muslim authorities of Bui Division in the Northwest province tortured six members of the Dariga Tijaniya, a schismatic Islamic group. According to the Bui authorities, during certain worship rituals, male members of the religious group were having sex with female members in mosques, where sexual activity is unlawful. The Bui authorities further alleged that the six members had killed several persons in Nigeria and continued to cause serious turmoil in Foumban, a Muslim Sultanate in the West Province. The 6 members, who were released, denied all charges and stated that the Bui Muslim authorities had fined them 24 cows. The Bui authorities denied the fine allegation. Central government authorities did not involve themselves in the case.

Unlike in previous years, imams of the Muslim Sultanate of Foumban did not disturb the public order or sabotage any Ramadan ceremonies.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion by the Government. In addition, the Government responded promptly to assist the Embassy in the one reported case of forced conversion of American citizens by a private actor. In January, the Embassy Consular section assisted an American citizen in securing physical custody over her two American citizen children. The children were being held by their Cameroonian-born father on a family compound and were forced to worship a family elder and to perform invasive purification rituals. Following the Embassy's intervention (which utilized Cameroonian law enforcement assistance), the mother and children were repatriated to the U.S. The religious leader of the group is currently in police custody pending formal charges.

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; however, some religious groups faced societal pressures within their regions. In the northern provinces, especially in rural areas, societal discrimination by Muslims against persons who practice traditional indigenous religions is strong and widespread. In addition, some Christians in rural areas of the north complained of discrimination by Muslims.

In May a group of Muslim radicals circulated anti-Christian tracts in the North, Far North, and Adamaoua Provinces. Both Muslim and Christian religious leaders in the area reacted quickly to identify the source of the tracts and to encourage their congregations to respect religious diversity and promote religious tolerance.

In November 2003, a Catholic Church official in the Far North Province reported that Muslim "fundamentalists" who trained in Pakistan and Sudan were jeopardizing the usually good relationship between Muslims and Christians in the region. According to the official, these fundamentalists were gaining support, particularly among the youth, because of the high levels of poverty and unemployment in the northern provinces. While the official did not feel that fundamentalism had caused serious problems in the region, he recognized that relations between religious groups could deteriorate if the economic situation remains poor. The official also mentioned that some Christian groups were aggressively working to convert Muslims in the region.

There were two reported incidents of religious violence during the period covered by this report. In late 2003, a Christian convert from a predominantly Muslim area of the West Province came to the Embassy to complain that he had been harassed, beaten and jailed by a traditional ruler in an effort to convince him to convert back to Islam. There was no evidence that local authorities were aware of or took any action in this case.

In May Pastor Alombah Godlove was reportedly beaten and fined by the traditional ruler, or Fon, of his village for providing a Christian burial for a village elder in accordance with the deceased's will. The Fon believed that the elder, who was also a member of a traditional religious secret society, should have been buried with traditional rites. At the time of this report, no legal action had been brought in this case.

These two incidents of violence appear to have been religiously motivated; however, this type of discrimination may reflect a combination of ethnic and religious differences.

The northern region suffers from ethnic tensions between the Fulani, an ethnic (or multi-ethnic) Muslim group that conquered most of the region 200 years ago, and the Kirdi, the descendents of groups that practiced traditional indigenous religions. The Fulani conquered or displaced many Kirdi as part of a westward expansion of Islam in Africa. Although some Kirdi subsequently adopted Islam, the Kirdi have remained socially, educationally, and economically disadvantaged relative to the Fulani. The slavery still practiced in parts of the north is reported to be largely enslavement of Kirdi (both Muslim and non-Muslim) by Fulani.

The multiplication of new unaffiliated religious groups, most of which are Protestant, has led established churches to vigorously denounce what they label "sects" or "cults." Leaders of established religious organizations characterize and denounce these "sects" as detrimental to societal peace and harmony. It is reported that some religious leaders warn congregations during major celebrations to beware of such groups.

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 Embassy organized a panel discussion on "Islam and Religious Tolerance," excerpts of which were aired during two editions of the weekly television program "Understanding Islam." The Ambassador also reached out to the Muslim community by hosting an Iftaar dinner during the holy month of Ramadan. Approximately 500 copies of the pamphlet "Muslim Life in America" were distributed to Muslim leaders throughout the country. The Embassy also provided regular assistance to the American Missionary community in Cameroon and consular repatriation services to American citizens in a case of forced religious conversion.

Embassy officials met on several occasions with Douala Archbishop Cardinal Christian Tumi to discuss various issues including religious freedom, human rights, freedom of the press, and the democratization process. Embassy officials have also met with the imam of the Central Mosque in Yaounde, the Bishop of Maroua-Mokolo in the predominantly Muslim and animist Far North Province, and regularly with various missionary groups active throughout the country to discuss religious freedom and human rights. In addition, during their regular trips within Cameroon's 10 provinces, Embassy officials frequently meet local religious officials to discuss their work and any problems they may be experiencing with government officials or individuals belonging to other faiths and denominations.