Angola UN independent expert voices concerns over religious freedom

Asma Jahangir, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, wrapped up a week-long visit with a statement in which she noted that the country only emerged from 27 years of armed conflict in 2002, and that many people can practise their religion freely due to “a measure of tolerance within Angolan society.”But she pointed out that a law on “freedom of religion, consciousness and worship discriminates against religious minorities… It contains stringent requirements for registration including membership of 100,000 persons who are domiciled in Angola.”Ms. Jahangir said several Christian groups and the Muslim community have yet to be recognized, even though they have submitted registration applications. “Other religious minorities have no chance of recognition,” she noted.She urged the Government to reform the law, and said she had been encouraged by its openness to review the code’s provisions. The Rapporteur, who serves in a personal and unpaid capacity, acknowledged that the “Government’s invitation to me represents a commitment to transparency in the area I cover, and also allows outside scrutiny of its human rights record.”In the north-western province of Cabinda, security forces continue to violate human rights, she observed. “These violations and the intra-religious conflict within the Catholic Church are inter-related and represent challenges to the full enjoyment by all of the right to freedom of religion or belief.”Four men were arrested on 12 July for peacefully protesting against the newly-appointed bishop at a mass, and three of them were sentenced to suspended sentences “under a draconian Colonial Decree dating from 1911.”In the course of her visit, Ms. Jahangir received several reports of violence, intimidation, harassment and arrests by State agents of those seen to be associated with the crisis in the Catholic Church, she said.Angola is also affected by a “dominant global trend” linking Muslims to international terrorism, the Rapporteur said, with high-ranking Government officials reported to have stigmatized Islam’s followers in the media.In addition, she expressed concern about the negative impact of witchcraft, which is widespread and has a long history in Angola, with reports that children are sometimes accused by their families of being witches.Ms. Jahangir’s final report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next March. 28 November 2007Although the freedom of religion is enshrined in the Angolan constitution, an independent United Nations human rights expert today voiced concern that the right to practise religion or belief is infringed in the Southern African nation. read more

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