The Ministry of Islamic Affairs used the law regulating mosques to replace imams and temporarily close some mosques. Some imams reported being questioned by security services following sermons with strong political and social justice themes.
In July the government issued a decree executing a law on state control of mosques which converted the status of imams into civil service employees under the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and transferred ownership of mosque properties and other assets to the government. The Secretary General of the Ministry of Religious Affairs stated the decree aims to eliminate political activity from mosques and provide greater government oversight of mosque assets and activities. Government officials also indicated the law was designed to counter perceived foreign influence in mosques. Implementation of the decree was ongoing at year’s end.
In July the government closed the prominent al-Rahma mosque in Djibouti City and detained its imam for 48 hours. The mosque remained closed at year’s end. The government also relieved the imam of his position as a civil service employee under the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The Secretary General of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs said the government’s actions were triggered by remarks the imam made during Friday prayers, which were critical of a police directive that banned fully-veiled women from entering commercial and government properties. The ban was implemented shortly after a fatal terrorist attack in Djibouti City involving a fully-veiled woman who used her veil as a method of concealment. Several human rights groups as well as opposition figures reported alleged police discrimination against women wearing hijabs following this directive. Police arrested other religious leaders of the al-Rahma mosque, when they subsequently led Friday prayers in an open-air lot adjacent to the closed mosque, and police detained over a dozen worshippers. Most worshippers were released within 48 hours, though four women in the group were detained for several additional days. Worshippers were forced to relocate to mosques in neighboring communities.
The government continued to permit non-Islamic groups registered with the government to operate freely, including Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox churches. Religious groups not independently registered with the government, such as Ethiopian Protestant and Muslim congregations, operated under the auspices of registered groups. Smaller groups that did not fit under the umbrella of the registered groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Bahais, were unregistered with the government, but operated privately without incident.
The government issued visas to foreign Islamic and non-Islamic clergy and missionaries, but required they belong to registered religious groups before they could work in the country or operate nongovernmental organizations.
The government allowed non-Islamic religious groups to host events and encourage others to join their religion on the groups’ private property; in practice, groups refrained from proselytizing in public spaces. The government permitted a limited number of Christian missionaries to sell religious books and pamphlets.
The government legally recognized Islamic marriages conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and civil marriages conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Interior. It did not recognize non-Islamic religious marriages.