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

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, in practice the Government imposed some minor restrictions.

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; however, local authorities prevented some nighttime religious meetings for security reasons. During the period covered by this report, no members of religious groups under suspicion of being "cults" were arrested or detained for illegal assembly or public nuisance.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom; however, there were isolated cases of tension between Muslims and evangelical Christians over the issue of slaughtering animals for public sale during the period covered by this report. Unlike the previous year, the negative backlash from the Kanungu killings is no longer an issue, except in Kanungu District, where authorities closed one church suspected of "cult-like" activities.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights; it is also active in sponsoring efforts to promote dialogue and harmony among religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 93,070 square miles, and its population is approximately 25 million. Christianity is the majority religion, and its adherents constitute approximately 75 percent of the population. Muslims account for approximately 15 percent of the population. A variety of other religions, including traditional indigenous religions, Hinduism, the Baha'i Faith, and Judaism, are practiced freely and, combined, make up approximately 10 percent of the population. Among the Christian groups, the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches claim approximately the same number of followers, accounting for approximately 90 percent of the country's professed Christians. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), the Orthodox Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Baptist Church, the Unification Church, and the Pentecostal Church, among others, also are active. Muslims are mainly Sunni, although there are Shi'a followers of the Aga Khan among the Asian community. Several branches of Hinduism also are represented among the Asian community. There are few atheists in the country.

In many areas, particularly in rural settings, some religions tend to be syncretistic. Deeply held traditional indigenous beliefs commonly are blended into or observed alongside the rites of recognized religions, particularly in areas that are predominantly Christian.

Missionary groups of several denominations are present and active in the country, including the Pentecostal Church, the Baptist Church, the Episcopal Church/Church of Uganda, the Church of Christ, and the Mormons.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, in practice, the Government imposed some minor restrictions.

All indigenous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including religious organizations, must register with the NGO Board, a division of the Interior Ministry that regulates and oversees NGO services. According to the NGO Registration Act (1989), failure to register is a criminal offense punishable by a fine of not less than $6 (10,000 shillings) and not exceeding $115 (200,000 shillings). Failure to pay such fine can result in the imprisonment of those responsible for the management of the organization, for up to a year.

A harsher new NGO Registration Amendment Bill that was introduced in 2001 remained under consideration by the Parliamentary Defense and Internal Affairs Committee. However, the bill has encountered significant opposition from civil society groups and several committee members, such that its enactment in its current form may be blocked.

In order to register, each organization must submit the following documents to the NGO Board: a registration form for the organization signed by two promoters providing the organization's name; its objectives; the class of persons to whom membership is open; the membership body; titles of organization officers and their addresses; the organization's source of funding; property owned by the organization; any privileges, immunities, or exemptions requested by the organization; a recommendation letter endorsed by the three chairmen of the local government structures and the Resident District Commissioner; two letters of recommendation by guarantors or references of the organization; a budget and work plan of activities to be carried out during the first year of operation; two copies of the organization's constitution or by-laws; an organizational chart of the leadership; and a letter specifying the district of operation.

The Government continued to refuse to grant registration to the World Last Message Warning Church, an apocalyptic group under suspicion following the 2000 killings of more than 1,000 citizens; however, there were no reports that the Government refused to grant such registration to any other religious organization.

The Political Parties and Organizations Act imposes restrictions on the registration and organization of political parties and organizations. It precludes the formation of such entities, if membership is based exclusively on sex, race, color, ethnic origin, tribal birth, creed, or religion. In a 2003 court ruling, parts of the act were declared unconstitutional and the Government subsequently decided not to appeal. The Government stated that it plans to introduce revised legislation in Parliament, but it did not do so during the period covered by this report.

Missionary groups face no restrictions on their activities. Foreign missionary groups, like foreign NGOs, must register with the Government. There were no reports that the Government refused to grant registration to any foreign missionary groups.

In September the Uganda Revenue Authority announced it would tax the religious institutions' surplus income not put to the common use of their congregations or to the good of society. Several religious leaders have protested this decision, which did not go into effect during the period covered by this report.

Permits are necessary for the construction of facilities, including religious facilities. There were no reports that the Government refused to grant such permits to any religious organization.

Private Koranic and Christian schools are common. In public schools, religious instruction is optional, and the curriculum covers world religions rather than instruction in one particular religion. There are also many private schools sponsored by religious groups that offer religious instruction according to the school's affiliation. These private schools are open to students of other faiths, but they usually do not offer minority religious instruction.

Prisoners are given the opportunity to pray on days applicable to their faith. Muslim prisoners usually are released from work duties during the month of Ramadan.

Religious holidays celebrated as national holidays include Eid al-Adha, Eid-al-Fitr, Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Christmas.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Some local governments have temporarily restricted operation of religious organizations for reasons of security and protection of public morality. In August 2003, Masaka district officials asked the Chairman of the Masaka District Traditional Healers Association to close a traditional shrine belonging to Mawawu Kasozi. The estimated 50 nightly visitors to the shrine were allegedly required to disrobe, leading to district concerns about the morality of the institution's activities. In November 2003, police in Nebbi District temporarily closed a mosque during Eid-al-Fitr prayers, after reports of violence and of a person injured. Kanungu District officials reportedly closed a church in February, alleging similarities with a local "cult" group, Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, deemed responsible for the mass killing of its followers in 2000.

Seventy-six followers of Prophetess Nabaasa Gwajwa remain in custody following their May 2003 arrest outside police headquarters in Sembabule District. They were arrested for demonstrating against the police, after the police evicted the group from a worship center in Ntuusi village for failing to register with the Uganda Herbalists Association. In June 2003, the police released 128 protesters that were arrested.

In August 2003, Minister of State for Information Nsaba Buturo re-opened the Catholic Church-owned radio station Kyoga Veritas FM. Security forces closed the station in June 2003 for allegedly airing alarmist information about Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) attacks in Soroti District.

There were no developments in an ongoing case in which local authorities closed a religious institution for forbidding members from seeking medical treatment. The leader and members of the religious group "Jurwo Ni Mungu" (Believers in God), who were arrested in March 2002 for unlawful assembly, are still in prison awaiting trial.

There were reports that local officials dispersed a meeting of a religious group during the period covered by this report; however, it appears the intervention was related to an intracongregational dispute. In July 2003, armed antiriot police in Mbarara District dispersed over 50 worshippers in a church building occupied by the Mbarara Christian Fellowship, at the request of one of the church pastors, who claimed breakaway members of the congregation were holding an illegal assembly. A leader of the breakaway group reportedly sued eight members of the main church for calling the police to disrupt their meeting. The case is currently before the High Court.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

There were no reports that authorities arrested persons due to their membership in religious groups during the period covered by this report; however, the police temporarily detained one pastor for leading an illegal nighttime assembly. In July 2003, police in Rukungiri District temporarily detained Pastor Johnson Mugisha, a minister at United Pentecostal Church, for conducting night prayers. Such prayers had been outlawed in Rukungiri District in 2000 for reasons of security.

There has been no government response to a February 2003 petition by the Archbishop of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Uganda, Dr. John Wani, to forbid institutions of higher learning from holding exams on days of worship. Many Seventh-day Adventist students had reportedly missed exams held on Saturdays.

On March 18, armed gunmen at the Evangelical School of Technology in Yumbe District killed a missionary couple, Donna and Warren Pett, and a student, Isaac Juruga. Police initially arrested five persons suspected of participation in the murder. The motive for the killing is unknown but may be related to theft, local hostility to evangelical activity in a predominantly Muslim area, or a rivalry between two local clans. By the end of the reporting period, three suspects remained in custody with legal proceedings pending against them.

In April the Ugandan People's Defense Force (UPDF) asked the Uganda Human Rights Commission to investigate Father Carlos Rodriguez, a Spanish Catholic priest based in Gulu District, over allegations of involvement in clandestine activities helping the LRA. The UPDF reportedly also asked the Government to deport him for his alleged activities. By the end of the reporting period, the Government had taken no action against Rodriguez.

There were no developments in the case of the 12 followers of the Katula Kebise religious group arrested in March 2002 on charges of being disorderly.

There were reports that security forces harassed Muslims; however, the Government maintains that certain Muslim suspects were detained on charges of treason and terrorism, not on religious grounds. On March 25, antiterrorism police in Kampala arrested two Muslim religious leaders and five other suspects on treason charges. The Muslim religious leaders claim they were arrested for their religious beliefs, but the Government insists they were arrested for recruiting for the rebel group Allied Democratic Forces. The men were in detention awaiting trial at the end of the reporting period.

During the period covered by this report, some previously arrested Muslims were released. In December 2003, nine Tabliq Muslims were acquitted of treason charges after spending a year in prison on remand. Also in December, 22 other Tabliqs being held on treason charges were released on bail.

The LRA is responsible for killing an estimated 120,000 persons in the past 17 years, kidnapping more than 25,000 children, attacking religious leaders, destroying and stealing church property, and causing more than 1.5 million persons to flee their homes and move to makeshift refugee camps. During the period covered by this report, the Government continued its efforts to stop the LRA insurgency through a combination of military action against the LRA and provision of amnesty for rebels wishing to surrender.

The LRA attacked several Catholic and Anglican institutions in the northern part of the country. On June 12, 2003, LRA leader Joseph Kony reportedly ordered all his troops to target Catholic missions, nuns, and priests. However, during this reporting period, the number of specific LRA attacks against Catholic institutions significantly decreased from the last reporting period.

In July 2003, LRA rebels killed 3 persons and abducted 40 others during an attack on Aliwang Catholic Mission in Lira District.

In late July 2003, the UPDF reportedly recovered a LRA map of Catholic institutions in Katakwi District; however, there were no subsequent attacks on church facilities in the district.

On May 19, LRA rebels abducted the Anglican Bishop of Kitgum Diocese Benjamin Ojwang and six other persons from the bishop's home. The bishop was reportedly robbed and beaten with sticks before being freed along with the other captives by army forces.

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 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, there were isolated cases of tension between Muslims and evangelical Christians over the issue of slaughtering animals for public sale during the period covered by this report. Traditionally, public butchers in the country are Muslims who slaughter animals according to Islamic tradition. Recently, Christian groups have demanded the right to butcher and sell meat. Tensions over this issue resurfaced during July 2003; however, the matter was peacefully resolved through dialogue among religious leaders.

In April several Muslim leaders publicly complained of inflammatory comments made during a local language radio program concerning the prophet Muhammad.

During the period covered by this report, several religious alliances, including the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, Inter-Religious Council, Religious Efforts for Teso and Karamoja, and the Inter-Religious Program, continued efforts to ease religious tensions and find lasting solutions to civil unrest and the insurgency in the northern part of the country.

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; it is also active in sponsoring efforts to promote dialogue and harmony among religious groups.

During the period covered by this report, the Ambassador and other U.S. Government and Embassy officials met with leaders of various religious institutions, including representatives from the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council; the Church of Uganda; the Catholic Church; the National Fellowship of Born Again Churches of Uganda; the Baha'i Faith; the Abayudaya Jewish community; the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda; and the Uganda Joint Christian Council.

The U.S. Embassy used a Human Rights and Democracy Fund grant to sponsor a series of seminars promoting inter-religious harmony.

The U.S. Embassy sponsored several events to promote interfaith dialogue, forge interfaith coalitions to support peace building in conflict areas, and allow the Muslim population to voice its opinions on issues of bilateral interest. International Visitor grants allowed influential Muslim leaders to travel to the United States, where they shared their experiences with fellow Muslims. USAID and other development programs work with and through faith-based organizations to promote peace and reconciliation in conflict areas, to promulgate HIV/AIDS prevention messages, and to provide care and treatment for HIV-infected persons and their families.