Comoros’s volatile political history includes coups and attempted coups, though some recent presidential and legislative elections were reasonably well administered. A controversial 2018 referendum introduced major systemic changes, and opponents of the referendum were severely persecuted. Since winning the referendum and securing reelection in 2019, President Azali Assoumani has consolidated power by cracking down on the opposition and limiting press freedom. Systemic corruption and poverty remain problems.
- In February, the government launched a national dialogue intended to build consensus on political and socioeconomic topics. The Inter-Comorian National Dialogue, which concluded in March, was boycotted by a great majority of the opposition, who did not believe that it would provide an opportunity for genuine political engagement.
- In March, the former governor of Anjouan, Abdou Salami Abdou—who had been in pretrial detention since his October 2018 arrest—was tried and sentenced to 12 years in prison for allegedly participating in an insurrection, disturbing public order, and undermining national unity. Observers have called the former governor a political prisoner.
- Former president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, who was arrested for corruption-related crimes in 2018, was brought to trial in November; Sambi refused to attend the trial after the first day, calling the proceedings “illegitimate.” Though Sambi was initially charged with corruption, at his trial, he was sentenced to life in prison for the crime of “high treason.”
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||1.001 4.004|
Under the 2001 constitution, the president was directly elected for a single five-year term, with eligibility rotating among the main islands of Grande Comore (Ngazidja), Anjouan, and Mohéli. However, a new constitution, approved in a controversial 2018 referendum that was boycotted by the opposition, allows the president to run for two consecutive five-year terms, and abolished the system of rotating power among the islands. The referendum allowed President Azali Assoumani of the Convention for the Renewal of the Comoros (CRC) party to contest and win the March 2019 presidential election, which was also boycotted by the opposition. Azali was sworn in for a second presidential term in May 2021.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) and the Supreme Court agreed that Azali won the election in the first round. Twelve opposition candidates rejected the results. Observers, including from the African Union (AU), said the contest was marred by irregularities.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||2.002 4.004|
The unicameral Assembly of the Union consists of 24 directly elected members who serve five-year terms. Another 9 members were previously selected by the three islands’ assemblies, but those seats were eliminated via a 2019 ordinance.
The 2020 legislative elections, held in two rounds in January and February, were boycotted by the major opposition parties. Progovernment candidates won every seat; the CRC won 20, the allied Orange Party won 2, and progovernment independent candidates won the remaining 2. AU monitors who observed the January round called the contest generally peaceful, but noted a lack of public interest due to the opposition boycott.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||2.002 4.004|
The CENI, while historically able to run credible elections, has faced more recent accusations of bias and corruption.
The 2018 constitutional referendum was marred by an opposition boycott. Opposition groups denounced it as an unconstitutional power grab by Azali, and said Azali’s dismissal of the Constitutional Court ahead of the vote rendered it illegal. There were also allegations of voter intimidation and fraud.
Among other things, the new constitution allows the president to run for two consecutive terms, abolished the system of rotating power among the islands, and abolished the three vice-presidential posts (one representing each island). The new constitution also transferred the competencies of the Constitutional Court, which was considered impartial in deciding electoral matters, to a new Supreme Court chamber.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||2.002 4.004|
Political parties are mainly formed around specific leaders and draw on island or ethnic bases of support. In the past, parties generally operated freely, though the government occasionally disrupted opposition parties’ activities by denying them meeting and assembly space.
The authorities systematically cracked down on opposition figures who publicly criticized the 2018 constitutional referendum. The former governor of Anjouan, Abdou Salami Abdou, who had been in pretrial detention since his October 2018 arrest, was tried and sentenced to 12 years in prison in March 2022 for allegedly participating in an insurrection, disturbing public order, and undermining national unity. Observers have called the former governor a political prisoner.
Presidential candidates Achmet Said Mohamed and Soilihi Mohamed were briefly detained in March 2019, though both were later released. Soilihi, who led a National Transitional Council (CNT) that unsuccessfully attempted to force Azali from office through civil disobedience and industrial action, agreed to refrain from further involvement after his release that April.
In February 2022, the government launched a national dialogue intended to build consensus on political and socioeconomic issues. The Inter-Comorian National Dialogue, which concluded in March, reportedly submitted a number of recommendations to the government, including on political reforms. The dialogue was boycotted by a majority of the opposition, some of whom likened participation in the dialogue to offering President Azali a “blank check” to pursue his own political agenda.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||1.001 4.004|
In the past, numerous opposition parties had a realistic chance of gaining power through elections, though they were impeded by occasional government interference. Allegations of misuse of state resources by incumbents were not uncommon. However, the arrests, convictions, and harsh sentences against opposition leaders who spoke out against the 2018 constitutional referendum hampered the ability of opposition parties to compete in elections. The 2020 legislative elections, which were marred by an opposition boycott, ended with progovernment candidates winning every seat.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2.002 4.004|
While individuals are generally free to exercise their political choices, the influence of Comoros’s powerful army—which cracked down on dissent during the 2018 constitutional referendum—as well as of religious authorities can place pressure on voters and candidates.
The army was used to intimidate and detain opposition figures during and after the 2019 presidential campaign. Gendarmes arrested Soilihi after he announced his CNT involvement that March. Gendarmes also interrogated the spouse of presidential candidate Achmet, who served as a CNT spokesperson, that April.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
There are no laws preventing various segments of the population from enjoying full political rights and electoral opportunities. However, traditional attitudes discourage women from participating in politics. Only four women won legislative seats in the 2020 polls. Legal and societal discrimination against LGBT+ people makes political advocacy for LGBT+ rights difficult.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
According to the constitution, the president decides on the policies of the state, which are executed by the government. However, irregular legislative activity hampered representative policymaking in previous years.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
There are reports of corruption at all levels, including within the judiciary, civil service, and security forces. The Azali administration dissolved the National Commission for Preventing and Fighting Corruption in 2016.
In 2018, former president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi was arrested for corruption, embezzlement, and forgery in connection with a passport-sales scheme. A parliamentary report that year revealed that the scheme cost Comoros as much as $971 million. Sambi was convicted of “high treason” for his role in the scheme and sentenced to life in prison in a November 2022 trial.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1.001 4.004|
Government operations are characterized by opacity. Various reform initiatives have been unsuccessful. Financial asset disclosures by public officials are not released to the public. Comoros provides no opportunities for public engagement in the budget process.
|Are there free and independent media?||1.001 4.004|
The constitution and laws provide for freedom of speech and of the press. However, the use of censorship laws to prosecute legitimate journalistic work, and other pressure, has prompted widespread self-censorship. Press freedom was restricted in 2018 with the closings of private radio stations as criticism of Azali and the constitutional referendum gained traction.
Journalistic activity remained restricted throughout 2022, and journalists continue to face harassment and intimidation, including from government officials. Arrests of journalists and bloggers are common.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||2.002 4.004|
Some 98 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim. Sunni Islam was made the state religion in 2018, resulting in wariness of the government among adherents of minority religions. Previously, the state religion had been “Islam”; some observers suggested the change reflected Azali’s efforts to bring Comoros closer to Saudi Arabia and to counter the influence of former president Sambi, who is seen as close to Iran.
Anti-Shia sentiments have been publicly expressed by some government figures, while many Christians keep their faith private to avoid harassment. Proselytizing and public religious ceremonies are prohibited for all religions except Sunni Islam.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
Comoros has two types of schools: madrassas, where the Quran is integral, and state-run schools with French instruction. Academic freedom is generally respected, though the education system is sometimes affected by unrest from student protests and teacher strikes. Self-censorship on political topics is reportedly common within the education system.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||2.002 4.004|
Private discussion is generally free. However, the legacies of the country’s volatile political history—which involves coups and attempted coups, the opposition crackdown during the 2018 constitutional referendum, authorities’ monitoring of social media during the 2019 presidential campaign, and a one-day shutdown of telecommunications services that March—can discourage people from openly discussing politics in some situations.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||1.001 4.004|
Freedoms of assembly and association are constitutionally protected, but these freedoms have been inconsistently upheld, and have deteriorated significantly since 2018. Opposition rallies held before and soon after the March 2019 presidential election were violently dispersed. Public gatherings were banned under COVID-19-related measures in 2020; such measures remained in effect during much of 2021 and 2022.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||2.002 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) sometimes face bureaucratic interference, including requirements to secure permits from high-level officials to visit prisons. Some NGO representatives have spoken out against the atmosphere of repression in recent years, but did so at some risk in light of the broad crackdown on dissent.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Workers have the right to form unions, bargain collectively, and strike. In cases of national interest, the government may require essential personnel to return to work. No law prohibits antiunion discrimination or protects workers from retribution for striking. There are some laws that impose mandatory arbitration processes for labor disputes.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
The judicial system is based on both Sharia (Islamic law) and the French legal code. Though the law establishes mechanisms for the selection of judges and attorneys, the executive often disregards these and simply appoints people to their positions. Court decisions are not always upheld.
The 2018 referendum abolished the Constitutional Court and established a new constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court. This chamber ruled in favor of the government during the March 2019 election period by barring several candidates from running and by validating the results, despite widespread concerns over voting irregularities.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
All defendants have the right to a fair public trial, but they often face lengthy delays. Due-process rights are affected by corruption.
Political figures, including candidates, have been denied due process. Former president Sambi’s legal pretrial detention period ended in April 2019, but he remained under house arrest until his trial in November 2022. Sambi refused to attend the trial after the first day, calling the proceedings “illegitimate”; some observers have called Sambi a political prisoner. Though Sambi was initially charged with corruption, at his trial, he was sentenced to life in prison for the crime of “high treason”—a crime his lawyers claim does not exist in Comorian law.
In May 2020, Inssa “Bobocha” Mohamed was arrested for allegedly attacking President Azali in an unsuccessful bombing the previous month. Bobocha remained in pretrial detention until escaping from prison that November; he was returned to custody in January 2021. He was allegedly held as a “secret prisoner” before his March 2022 trial, after which he was sentenced to eight years in prison for “criminal association and conspiracy.”
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
The law prohibits the illegitimate use of physical force, but security agents have engaged in excessive force, and are generally not held accountable for such behavior. There are questions about the will or capacity of the army to identify and punish abuses within its ranks.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
The law provides for equality of persons. However, same-sex sexual activity is illegal, with punishments of a fine and up to five years’ imprisonment. Few women hold positions of responsibility in business outside of elite families. Laws requiring that services be provided for people with disabilities are not well enforced.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
Internal and external freedom of movement is constitutionally and legally protected. While these rights are generally respected in practice, poverty frequently prevents travel between the islands as well as access to higher education.
The authorities introduced COVID-19-related movement restrictions in March 2020, suspending travel to the French territories of Mayotte and Réunion. An overnight curfew was imposed in February 2021 and remained in effect until June 2022.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
In accordance with civil and some customary laws, women have equal rights in inheritance matters. Local cultures on Grande Comore and Mohéli are matrilineal, with women legally possessing all inheritable property. However, this is complicated by the concurrent application of Sharia, interpretations of which can limit gender equality. In addition, a poor land-registration system and women’s difficulties in securing loans hampers their right to own land.
Endemic corruption and a lack of transparency hampers normal business activity.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||1.001 4.004|
Early and forced marriages have been reported in Comoros. The law prohibits domestic violence, but courts rarely fine or order the imprisonment of convicted perpetrators, and women and children rarely file official complaints. Sexual violence and workplace harassment are believed to be widespread, but are rarely reported to authorities.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1.001 4.004|
The Comorian economy, which is primarily agricultural, relies heavily on remittances from Comorian citizens in France. Many young people struggle to find sustainable opportunities for employment. Poverty has driven many people to attempt the dangerous trip to Mayotte.
Government efforts to identify and prosecute human trafficking are minimal, and trafficking cases, if addressed, are often done so through informal mediation processes. These mechanisms have sometimes facilitated the return of trafficking victims to traffickers. However, in August 2021, Comoros ratified the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Forced Labour Protocol, which is designed to “eliminate forced labor,” and requires the government to take legal action against traffickers.
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Global Freedom Score42 100 partly free