International Religious Freedom Report 2006
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected 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 religious groups 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 area of 481,351 square miles, and its population was approximately 13 million. Christianity was the religion of the vast majority of the population, with Roman Catholicism as the largest single denomination. The Catholic Church claimed 5 million adherents, but this figure could not be verified. The major Protestant denominations also were present, along with a number of Brazilian and indigenous African Christian denominations. The largest Protestant denominations, which included Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists (United Church of Christ), and Assemblies of God, claimed to have 3-5 million adherents. The largest syncretic religious group was the Kimbanguist Church, whose followers believe that mid-20th century Congolese pastor Joseph Kimbangu was a prophet. A small portion of the rural population practiced animism or traditional indigenous religions. There was also a small Islamic community, less than 1% of the population, mainly composed of migrants from West Africa and families of Lebanese extraction. There were few declared atheists in the country.

Foreign-based missionaries operated freely throughout 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. The government at all levels sought to protect this right in full and did not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The government requires religious groups to petition for legal status with the Ministries of Justice and Culture. Legal status gives religious groups the right to act as juridical persons in the court system and secures their standing as officially registered denominations. Groups must provide general background information to register. In March 2004 the national assembly unanimously approved a law establishing stricter criteria for the registration of religious organizations. According to the new law, a religious group must have at least 100,000 adult adherents to qualify for registration. All eighty-five previously registered groups retained their registration and legal status, regardless of the number of members. At the end of the period covered by this report, more than 800 groups had pending applications. The government did not shut down any religious groups with legal status during the period covered by this report, and no adverse action had been taken against groups with pending applications.

The Ministries of Justice and Culture recognize 85 denominations. There reportedly were more than 800 other religious organizations, many of which are Congolese- or Brazilian-based Christian evangelical groups that have not had action taken on their registration applications and were unlikely to meet the membership requirement of at least 100,000 members to receive legal status. Colonial-era statutes banned all non-Christian religious groups from the country; although those statutes have not been repealed, they are no longer enforced. Religious groups have the right to civil registration.

The Christian holy days of Christmas and Good Friday are national holidays with no negative impact on other religious groups.

Public schools in Angola do not require religious instruction. The government permits religious organizations and missions to establish and operate schools. In 2004 some members of the small Lebanese Muslim community in Luanda complained that they had been thwarted in efforts to establish an Islamic community school.

The country's religious leaders have taken an active role in promoting the peace and national reconciliation process, and President dos Santos has consulted with them on constitutional and electoral issues as well as social and development issues. In June 2005 the ecumenical Inter-Church Committee for Peace in Angola and the Ministry of External Relations cosponsored a conference on peace and reconciliation. This conference was widely attended by government, religious, and civil society leaders and was an important interfaith effort between the government and religious leaders to support national reconciliation.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion. In March 2004 the Minister of Justice again publicly warned that the colonial-era law banning non-Christian religions, while not regularly enforced, remained the law and could be enforced against any radical religious groups advocating terrorism or public disturbances.

Members of the clergy regularly use their pulpits to criticize government policies. In 2003 government officials sharply criticized Catholic Church-owned Radio Ecclesia's call-in programs in which participants criticized the government. However, Radio Ecclesia continued to broadcast these programs. In May 2004 President dos Santos stated publicly that Radio Ecclesia could operate nationwide. In April 2005 Radio Ecclesia's operators began taking steps to broadcast from five provincial capitals in addition to Luanda in order to meet the requirements of the new press law. The law, promulgated in May 2006, requires nonpublic radio networks to have provincial radio stations in order to broadcast nation-wide.

Seventeen religious groups remained banned in Cabinda on charges of practicing harmful exorcism rituals on adults and children accused of witchcraft, illegally holding religious services in residences, and not being registered. Members of these groups were not harassed, but two leaders were arrested for child abuse.

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.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom. There is a vibrant ecumenical movement, particularly in support of post-conflict peace and reconciliation efforts. Groups involved include the ecumenical Inter-Church Committee for Peace in Angola, the Council of Christian Churches in Angola, and the Catholic Pro-Peace movement.

In March 2005 several lay members of the Catholic Church in Cabinda displayed banners protesting the nomination of a non-Cabindan as bishop during an Easter season Mass celebrated by the archbishop of Luanda. Police did not interfere with the protest but stepped in to protect the archbishop when protesters threw rocks at him as he left the cathedral in Cabinda. In August 2005 individuals in Cabinda continuing protests against the nomination of the new bishop assaulted a priest who had recently been appointed apostolic administrator for Cabinda. Following the detention of two priests in connection with the assault, Catholic priests in Cabinda stopped holding mass throughout the province. Services resumed in December 2005, and the new bishop of Cabinda peacefully assumed office in June 2006.

In February 2006 three mosques were closed for holding services that authorities claimed disrupted public order by impeding the flow of traffic. By the end of the reporting period, one of the three mosques had been reopened. Public attitudes toward Islam were generally negative, and these sentiments were evident in statements by government officials that opposed Muslim proselytizing and in public commentaries by citizens in the media. While religious intolerance could have been an aspect of these attitudes, many citizens cited cultural differences as the basis for their negative views toward Islam. Muslim leaders submitted a second request for legal status in March 2006, since the first application submitted in 2004 was improperly prepared.

Governmental agencies and civil society organizations continued campaigns against traditional religions that involve shamans, employ animal sacrifices, or are identified as practicing witchcraft. There have been periodic reports of children being accused of witchcraft in some poor, rural areas and smaller cities. In some instances these accusations led to exorcism rituals that included willful neglect and physical abuse. In some cases deaths have been reported. Established church groups have organized education campaigns to combat these practices. Current cases remained under investigation; however, in the past authorities have arrested and prosecuted those who have abused, injured, or reportedly killed others accused of witchcraft.

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. U.S. embassy officials and official visitors from the United States routinely meet with the country's religious leaders in the context of peacekeeping, democratization, development, and humanitarian relief efforts. Church groups are key members of the country's civil society. Embassy officials, including the ambassador, maintained an ongoing dialogue with the leadership of the country's religious denominations. The ambassador gave interviews to newspapers and radio in which she specifically called for recognition of Muslims' right to worship in the country.

The U.S. Government provided financial support to Radio Ecclesia to increase its public affairs and news programming as an independent alternative source of information for citizens. In addition, the embassy funded dissemination of human and civil rights information through an ecumenical newsletter network.