The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and the right to worship subject to “compliance with the law, public order, public morality, and the rights of others.” It stipulates the right to religious freedom cannot be abrogated even when the government declares a state of emergency or siege.
The law regulates the establishment and operation of religious groups. According to the law, the government may legally recognize, suspend recognition of, or dissolve religious groups. The government grants tax-exempt status to recognized religious groups. Nonprofit organizations, including religious groups, foreign and domestic, must register with the government to obtain official recognition by submitting a copy of their bylaws and constitution. Religious groups must register only once for the group as a whole, but nonprofit organizations affiliated with a religious group must register separately. Upon submission, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (MOJ) issues a provisional approval and, within six months, a permanent approval or rejection. Unless the ministry specifically rejects the application, the group is considered approved and registered after six months even if the ministry has not issued a final determination. Applications coming from international headquarters of religious organizations must be approved by the presidency after submission through the MOJ. The law requires officially recognized religious groups to operate as nonprofits and respect the general public order. It also permits religious groups to establish places of worship and train clergy. The law prescribes penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment and/or 200,000 Congolese francs (CDF) ($165) for groups which are not properly registered but receive gifts and donations on behalf of a church or religious organization.
The constitution allows public schools to work with religious authorities to provide religious education to students in accordance with students’ religious beliefs, provided the parents request it.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Because religious and political issues overlap, it was difficult to categorize some incidents as being solely based on religious identity.
In March a dozen armed men wearing FARDC uniforms killed Rev. Vincent Machozi, a Catholic priest, at a gathering of tribal and religious leaders in North Kivu. Machozi was a member of the Augustinians of the Assumption religious order and operated a website documenting atrocities committed against ethnic Nande (Yira) people. In October armed assailants shot and killed another Catholic priest, Rev. Joseph Milimbi Nguli, in Lubumbashi. Milimbi had previously preached in favor of respect for presidential term limits and respect for the constitution. Authorities arrested three FARDC soldiers in connection with the killing, but there was no information on their status at year’s end.
Authorities arrested several local imams in Beni territory along with dozens of ADF members following an August 13-14 ADF attack in Luhanga that killed approximately 50 people. Several imams were charged with involvement with the armed militia group. Separately, the government arrested and sentenced one imam to death, which was commuted to life in prison, in an expedited trial for recruiting youth to join “terrorist” groups.
Some religious organizations criticized the government’s failure to hold constitutionally mandated elections during the year and there were reports of retaliatory political intimidation. Two Catholic priests were arrested during antigovernment protests on September 19-20, but were released several days later. The ANR arrested Protestant minister Remy Flame Manguamba on September 15 during a civil society workshop hosted by his church, and held him incommunicado and without charge until he was released on October 17.
Some representatives of the Catholic Church, which publicly urged the government to abide by constitutionally mandated electoral deadlines, stated they were subjected to verbal harassment and government interference based on their political advocacy.
In conjunction with government military operations in North Kivu against the ADF, there were reports that in the Beni and Goma areas the national police and army harassed members of the Muslim community, particularly those dressed in a way that identified them as Muslim. According to reports, this usually involved demanding money or property such as cell phones. Leaders of the Muslim community reported they kept in frequent contact with the government to share information regarding the ADF.
The MOJ has not issued final registration permits for religious groups since 2014, reportedly due to an internal investigation into registration practices resulting in fraud. In the interim, however, groups have been presumed approved and have been permitted to organize, and unregistered domestic religious groups reported they operated unhindered. The MOJ estimated over 2,000 registration applications for both religious and nonreligious NGOs remained pending. Foreign religious groups reported they operated without restriction after receiving registration approval from the government.
Leaders of all major denominations reported their members practiced their faith without interference from the government or local authorities and fully participated in their communities without religious discrimination. Aside from tension over electoral issues, Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, and Kimbanguist religious leaders stated they had a good relationship with the government, and the government continued to rely on religious organizations to provide public services such as education and healthcare throughout the country. According to the Ministry of Education, approximately 72 percent of primary school students and 65 percent of secondary school students attended government-funded schools administered by religious organizations.
Muslim community leaders said the government did not afford them some of the same privileges as larger religious groups. The government continued to deny Muslims the opportunity to organize chaplains to provide services for Muslims in the military, police force, and hospitals, despite a complaint filed the previous year with the president and his cabinet.
One of the civil society positions on the Independent National Electoral Commission continued to be reserved for a member of the clergy.