A series of violent clashes beginning in April between security forces and the Light of the World religious group, a breakaway group from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, resulted in 23 killed, including 10 police officers, and more than 110 arrests. According to an initial government report, on April 16, when police tried to enforce an arrest warrant in Huambo Province against the group’s leader, Jose Kalupeteka, members of the group launched a surprise attack on the first police officers on the scene and killed them. The government said that following these attacks the violence escalated, resulting in the death of nine police officers and 13 religious group members, and the immediate arrest of 90 group members including Kalupeteka and his son. Opposition parties had varied reports on the incident but stated the number of group members killed was much higher.
The government said that following the incident, the Ministry of Social Assistance and Reintegration provided assistance for 296 group members, 151 adults and 144 minors, to return to their homes. It also reported the recovery of weapons (firearms and machetes), munitions, vehicles, and political opposition documentation from the site. An official investigation into the events was still underway at year’s end.
Additional confrontations between security forces and Light of the World members before and after April 16 led to the death of one policeman, more than 21 arrests, and eight police injured. Although nearly all arrested members of the group were released, 15, including Kalupeteka, were still in police custody awaiting trial. Kalupeteka was accused of murder, aggravated murder, resisting authorities, and arms possession. The government stated it was concerned about the proliferation of religious “sects,” some of which the government said used methods that exploited the vulnerable, especially the poor, and threatened domestic stability. The government said the Light of the World group had been a concern because of practices the government considered destabilizing to social order, such as prohibiting schooling and vaccinations of its children, avoiding participation in the 2014 national census, and having members abandon their homes, sell all their belongings, and settle in isolated locations.
Muslim groups stated the national police harassed Muslims without just cause. According to reports, members of the national police stopped and demanded irregular payments from more than 30 Muslims during the year in houses, on the street, and in front of mosques to overlook documentation issues. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.
The government’s requirement for religious groups to apply and obtain legal status made it difficult for some unrecognized religious groups to function freely as religious organizations, and the requirements also reportedly discouraged unrecognized groups from seeking recognition. Religious groups not recognized by the state were allowed to operate but faced operational and organizational challenges, such as the denial of permits to hold public religious activities or the inability to rent venues for events. Some members of the Muslim community stated they believed the high threshold for obtaining recognition, combined with the fact that the majority of recognized religious organizations were Christian, indicated that the government opposed recognizing other religious groups. The government stated some practices allowed by Islam, such as polygamy, contradicted the constitution. The Bahai Faith and the Global Messianic Church were the only two non-Christian organizations legally registered; no Islamic groups were recognized. The state, which recognizes 83 religious groups, has not registered a new religious group since 2004, when it established the current registration requirements. No religious groups applied to register during the year.
The government identified more than 1,300 religious groups operating without legal status. Some of these groups had a national organizational structure and operated schools and medical facilities throughout the country. The government indicated some unrecognized religious groups had long-standing working relationships with provincial governments, even though they were not legally recognized by the state.
Government officials closed and demolished two mosques in the Zango and Catinton neighborhoods in Luanda Province. Media sources reported at least 52 Christian churches were closed by the government throughout the country. The government, as well as some religious leaders, stated the mosques and churches did not have the proper permits to operate as places of worship.
The Inter-ministerial Commission on Religious Affairs and the National Institute for Religious Affairs completed a comprehensive study on the state of religion in the country. This report was used in the formulation of a draft Law on Religious Freedom, Belief, and Worship proposed by the Ministry of Culture. The ministry held consultative sessions throughout the country to request feedback. According to a wide range of interested groups, while there were positive reforms in the proposed law, such as reducing the number of adherents required for recognition as a legal religious group, there were concerns with other proposals such as requiring Portuguese or national languages for religious services.