DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Muslims in the western part of Central African Republic are being forced to hide their religion or convert to Christianity under threat of death, Amnesty International said Friday.
Central African Republic has been rocked by violence since the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition toppled the longtime president in 2013.
Widespread human rights abuses committed by Seleka led to the formation of a Christian militia known as the anti-Balaka, who have targeted Muslims and sent tens of thousands fleeing to neighboring countries.
Muslims told Amnesty International they've been forced to convert or hide practices.
"We had no choice but to join the Catholic Church. The anti-balaka swore they'd kill us if we didn't," said a 23-year-old man in the Sangha-Mbaere prefecture, whose name was not given to protect his security.
A Muslim trader said it was effectively illegal to pray.
"We have to hide, do it quickly, and do it by ourselves," he said.
Amnesty International said the bans are happening outside areas under the protection of United Nations peacekeepers and renewed efforts must be made to protect Muslims under threat and bring back those who have fled.
"Many of the tens of thousands of Muslim refugees who were expelled from the country in 2014 would one day like to return home, but are waiting until they can do so in a safe and sustainable manner," the report said.
A transitional government was put into place in January 2014. Presidential and legislative elections are slated for Oct. 18.