São Tomé and Príncipe

Last Updated 31 August 2023

In the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa, the nation is a former Portuguese colony comprising two islands and several islets, which gained independence in 1975.

There are around 220,372 inhabitants of São Tomé and Príncipe. It is estimated that 56% are Catholics, 12% are Protestants, and 2% are Muslims. Accounting for 21% of the population the non-religious are the second largest religion or belief group.1https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/sao-tome-and-principe/#people-and-society

Severe Discrimination
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

The Constitution of São Tomé and Príncipe2https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Sao_Tome_and_Principe_2003 guarantees freedom of conscience, religion and worship (Article 27). The Constitution expressly emphasizes that all rights should be interpreted in sympathy with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 8 explicitly stipulates that São Tomé and Príncipe is a secular state and that all religious institutions are separated from state institutions.

Article 265 criminalizes “religious coercion” defined as coercing someone to participate or not to participate in religious worship, providing for up to six months imprisonment.3https://database.ilga.org/api/downloader/download/1/ST%20-%20LEG%20-%20Penal%20Code%20(2012)%20-%20OR-OFF(pt).pdf

Religious groups have to register with the government. The registration process does not appear to be onerous or obstructive. Registered religious groups receive the same benefits, such as tax exemptions, as registered nonprofit organizations.4https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/sao-tome-and-principe/

Education and children’s rights

According to Article 31(2) of the Constitution, “The State may not reserve for itself the right to plan education and culture according to any philosophical, political, ideological or religious policies.”

According to the US State Department’s 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom,5https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/sao-tome-and-principe/

“Religious education exists in the official curriculum but is not required. There were no reports of religious education being provided in public schools. There are two schools run by religious groups, one Catholic and the other Seventh-day Adventist. The Ministry of Education provides oversight on the curricula of religious schools, and both schools are open to church members and nonmembers. They provide a general education, as well as a religious education.”

There are no reported issues with religious schools or religion in schools.

Family, community and society

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica,6https://www.britannica.com/place/Sao-Tome-and-Principe/Government-and-society São Tomé and Príncipe “has a homogeneous creole culture, profoundly marked by centuries of blending elements of the dominant Roman Catholic Portuguese culture with various African influences.” It notes that despite over 500 years of Roman Catholicism, “local practices have been restricted largely to baptism and a few rites, such as processions and funerals. Various traditional African practices and beliefs have always coexisted with Roman Catholicism.”

Witchcraft-related persecution

Reports indicate that witchcraft-related persecution occurs on the archipelago, particularly against the elderly – the majority of whom are women – who are accused of witchcraft (or “fitxicêlu” in Forro).7https://www.telanon.info/sociedade/2017/01/02/23523/fitxicelu-um-documentario-de-sao-deus-lima/; http://www.africaeafricanidades.com.br/documentos/0100112019.pdf; https://www.publico.pt/2018/10/14/mundo/reportagem/o-ultimo-dos-roceiros-1847076 ; https://www.berghahnbooks.com/downloads/intros/AdinkrahWitchcraft_intro.pdf

In a case reported in 2017, a 50-year-old woman was killed by a cousin after a traditional healer had explained that the reason for their sickness was witchcraft in the family.8https://www.stp-press.st/2017/05/16/prima-mata-prima-acusada-de-bruxaria/

Research has suggested that the issue is exacerbated by a growing young population and economic factors.9https://www.publico.pt/2018/10/14/mundo/reportagem/o-ultimo-dos-roceiros-1847076; https://www.tsf.pt/internacional/cabelos-brancos-e-feiticaria-os-idosos-abandonados-de-sao-tome-9692460.html

Sexual health and reproductive rights

According to the US State Department in 2021,10https://ga.usembassy.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/217/saotomehumanrightsreport2021.pdf

“The government encouraged the use of contraception and family planning, but sociocultural barriers affected the use of family planning. There were reports that some men prevented their partners from using contraceptives, sometimes through intimidation.”

Humanists International could not find further information on the origins of the sociocultural barriers that affect access and use of family planning services.

LGBTI+ rights

According to the US State Department,11https://ga.usembassy.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/217/saotomehumanrightsreport2021.pdf

“The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct. Anti discrimination laws do not explicitly extend protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics. There were occasional reports of societal discrimination, primarily rejection by family and friends, based on an individual’s LGBTQI+ status. While there were no official impediments, LGBTQI+ organizations did not exist.”

Gay marriage remains unrecognized.12https://www.equaldex.com/region/sao-tome-and-principe

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

According to Freedom House,13https://freedomhouse.org/country/sao-tome-and-principe/freedom-world/2023

“Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed and largely respected in practice. Public media convey opposition views and grant some access to opposition leaders, but only a handful of private outlets are available, and a degree of self-censorship is reported at both public and private outlets. The public television, radio, and wire outlets are under the prime minister’s office.[…]There are no restrictions on freedom of expression, which is constitutionally guaranteed. The government is not known to engage in improper surveillance of personal communications or monitoring of online content. Social media is used to express private and political opinions.”


According to the US State Department, blasphemy, libel, and slander are treated as criminal offenses. In 2021, it said, “There were no cases of persons being arrested for or charged with libel or slander during the year. While blasphemy cases were alleged during past years, they were dismissed due to insufficient evidence.”14https://ga.usembassy.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/217/saotomehumanrightsreport2021.pdf

According to Article 264 of the Penal Code (as revised in 2012),15https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/95154/111930/F-134767008/STP95154.pdf anyone who “publicly mocks or offends another in such a way as to disturb public peace, on account of their beliefs or religious functions” may face up to one year in prison or a fine. The same penalty applies to those who publicly desecrate a place or object of religious veneration. Attempting to commit the above crimes is also a punishable offense. This law represents a de facto blasphemy law.

Further, under Article 267 of the Penal Code, “Whoever publicly mocks or vilifies an act of religious worship is punished with imprisonment of up to 1 year or a fine up to 100 days.”

The Penal Code also criminalizes the insults against a minister of any religion in the legitimate exercise of their ministry, penalties are those provided for under the “defamation” portion of the code multiplied by one-third.

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