Equatorial Guinea

International Religious Freedom Report 2007
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice; however, religious leaders avoided criticizing the Government in their sermons, and government officials sometimes monitored services.

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 10,827 square miles and a population of 551,200. Christians account for approximately 93 percent of the population, and 5 percent of the population practice traditional indigenous religious beliefs. Roman Catholicism is the principal religion, dating to the Spanish colonial period when almost the entire population was baptized into the faith, and until recently membership in the church was the primary way to register a birth. Catholics comprise approximately 87 percent of the population, and an estimated 6 percent belong to Protestant and independent denominations. Many Catholics reportedly also follow traditional beliefs. Although in the past there was little organized Christian worship in remote rural areas, both Catholic and Protestant churches have expanded into interior regions, and new roads have made worship centers accessible in practically all areas. Muslims, members of the Baha'i Faith, practitioners of other religious beliefs, and atheists each comprise less than 1 percent of the population. The number of Muslims is increasing probably due to the growing number of West African and Middle Eastern immigrants attracted by the country's oil wealth.

Foreign missionaries operate both on Bioko Island and the mainland.

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. However, the Government remains sensitive to any criticism, and church leaders usually avoid discussions that could be construed as critical of the Government or government officials.

The Government generally allows preaching, religious teaching, education, and practice by believers. The Government requires permission for any activities outside the confines of places of worship; however, in practice this requirement does not appear to hinder organized religious groups from holding retreats and other meetings. Door-to-door evangelism reportedly occurred without incident.

A 1992 presidential decree regulates the exercise of religious freedom. This decree maintains an official preference for the Catholic Church and the Reform Church of Equatorial Guinea, due to their traditional roots and pervasive influence in the social and cultural life of the populace. While the decree does not hinder the practice of other religious beliefs, its effect can be observed in many events throughout the country; for example, Catholic Masses serve as a normal part of any major ceremonial function, such as the October 12 National Day. In addition, Catholic and Reform church officials are exempt from airport entry and exit taxes.

The decree regulates the registration of religious groups. To register, churches must submit a written application to the Ministry of Justice, Worship, and Penitentiary Institutions. The Director General in the Ministry oversees compliance with the decree and the registration process. This application was not required of the Catholic and Reform churches.

The application and approval process may take several years, but such delay appears to be the result of bureaucratic inefficiency and not of policy designed to impede any religious group. Groups that provide beneficial social programs, such as health projects or schools, reportedly are approved more quickly. Enforcement of registration requirements is inconsistent. Unregistered groups which operate can be fined. Such fines are rarely applied, but the Government periodically announced over the radio that any unregistered church was subject to fines or closure and should register as soon as possible.

Religious study is required in schools and is usually, but not exclusively, Catholic.

Foreign missionaries worked throughout the country, generally without impediment.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

In the past, the Government and President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo's ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) reacted defensively to any criticism by the clergy. The Government continued unofficially to restrict freedom of expression of the clergy by emphasizing that the role of religion is spiritual, not political. Permission was granted for a new radio station to operate and broadcast religious programming, but for unknown reasons this did not occur during the period covered by this report.

Government agents, including the President, occasionally make official and unofficial visits to observe church services, request a timetable of church activities, or participate. The Government requires permission for any religious or faith-based social assistance activity outside the confines of places of worship.

While there was no reported workplace discrimination against any particular faith, some non-Catholic pastors who also worked for the Government as civil servants maintained a low profile in the workplace with regard to their religious affiliation. Some reported that supervisors informed them of the requirement to participate in religious activities related to their government positions, including attending religious events such as Catholic Masses at government functions.

The fundamental law on religion states that each person is free to study his or her religion and should not be forced to study another faith. Children of all religious groups are allowed to enroll in schools where Catholicism is taught; however, they are expected to participate in daily Catholic religious lessons and prayers. In practice, for non-Catholics, access to study in one's own faith in these schools generally is not possible. Some Protestant denominations have their own schools and are allowed to operate freely.

Catholic missionaries reportedly receive residence permits shortly after their arrival; other persons receive permits after a delay of 2 to 3 months.

As part of a national strategy to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, a 2007 presidential decree restricted traditional healers from offering treatments for the disease. (Officials directed those who tested positive for HIV/AIDS to free treatment from government hospitals.)

There were no confirmed reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country. The Archbishop of Canterbury protested the continuing imprisonment of Protestant Reverend Bienvenido Samba Momesori, who has been held without charge in Evinayong prison since 2003. It is believed that the detention was politically motivated, and there was no indication that it was due to religious oppression.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who were 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

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice. However, some non-Catholic religious groups reported that they continued to fear license rescission and tried to avoid any reference to government or political affairs in church activities. In practice, the Government has not closed down any places of worship in the last few years.

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 in Malabo reopened in late 2003, and in 2006 a resident Ambassador was appointed and credentials accepted.