There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom; however, the government imposed some restrictions that affected members of minority religious groups.
Through its direct support from the government, the Orthodox Church maintained an exclusive institutionalized link to the Ministry of Education, Lifelong Learning, and Religious Affairs. Several other religious groups reported difficulties dealing with authorities on a variety of administrative matters. Some groups, such as the Jewish community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Bahais, requested treatment equal to that of the Orthodox Church with regard to legal status and financial support from the government. Leaders of non-Orthodox religious groups argued that taxes on their organizations were discriminatory because the government subsidized Orthodox Church activities and did not tax its property revenues. The Catholic Church continued to seek government recognition of its canon law.
The Ministry of Education, Lifelong Learning, and Religious Affairs issued 14 house-of-prayer permits to “known religions” and did not reject any applications for permits. However, leaders of some religious groups stated that the system of house-of-prayer permits administratively constrained freedom of religion. They noted that under the existing legal framework, unregistered religious groups were illegal and therefore subject to government prosecution, although there were no reports of prosecutions.
Members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to be underrepresented in public sector employment and in state-owned industries and corporations. At year’s end, three members of the Muslim minority from Thrace held seats in the 300-seat parliament. In Xanthi and Komotini, Muslims held seats on the prefectural and town councils and served as local mayors.
The government continued to claim that auqafs in Thrace owed interest on their tax debt, totaling approximately one million euros ($1.3 million). The government wrote off the principal, but members of the Muslim minority lobbied for the interest to be written off as well.
The muftis in Xanthi and Komotini began serving in 1991 and 1985, respectively. During the year the government extended their terms indefinitely. Some members of the Thrace Muslim minority continued to lobby for direct election of muftis by the community without proscribing their judicial powers. The government maintained it had the right to appoint muftis because the government appointed all judges, and the muftis performed judicial Sharia functions. Some Thrace Muslims accepted the authority of the government-appointed muftis, while others chose two unofficial muftis to serve their communities. The government did not recognize these two muftis, who did not have civil authority. Some Muslims also pressed for direct election of official imams.
The National Human Rights Committee (an autonomous government advisory body), human rights organizations, and some media commentaries argued that the government should limit the powers of the muftis in Thrace to religious duties only. These observers stated that by recognizing and allowing the use of Sharia law, the government restricted the civil rights of some citizens, especially women, in child custody, divorce, and inheritance cases. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern regarding impediments faced by Muslim women in Thrace under Sharia. Sharia law for the most part was not translated into Greek, limiting the ability of government courts to provide judicial oversight.
Construction of a government-funded mosque in Athens approved by the parliament in 2011 did not begin, although the government took steps to create an architectural model and secure permits and funds. Muslim leaders in Athens criticized the absence of a government-funded mosque and the lack of recognized Muslim clergy in the city. Muslims in Athens worshipped in approximately 120 informal (unregistered) mosques operating in legal cultural halls, but traveled to Thrace for official Islamic marriages and funerals. None of the informal mosques in Athens applied for a house-of-prayer permit.
Under the authority of the secretary general for religions at the Ministry of Education, Lifelong Learning, and Religious Affairs, the government provided space free of charge to some groups of Muslims in Athens whose members had requested places of worship for Ramadan and other religious occasions. The secretary general publicly underscored the right of Muslims to worship.
Some Muslim leaders expressed concern about the lack of an Islamic cemetery in Athens, stating that municipal cemetery regulations requiring exhumation of bodies after three years contravened Islamic religious law. Muslims in Athens and other cities traveled to Thrace for Islamic burial of deceased relatives or had the remains repatriated.
Members of several religious groups complained about the lack of crematory facilities. A 2006 law permits the establishment of crematory facilities, as does a 2011 presidential decree, but the government did not implement the decree due to objections by some Greek Orthodox Church officials to cremation and because of a perceived general lack of demand for cremation services.
In May voters elected members of Golden Dawn, an openly anti-Semitic and xenophobic political party, to the national parliament for the first time, with almost 7 percent of the vote. Party leader Nikos Michaloliakos publicly and repeatedly denied the Holocaust and often gave Nazi salutes at public events. During an October plenary session of parliament, a member of Golden Dawn read passages from the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” In October the parliament voted to lift the immunity of three Golden Dawn members of parliament so that they could be investigated for criminal offenses. Law enforcement authorities suspected the party spokesperson of involvement in a 2007 armed robbery, and suspected two other members of property damage during September attacks against immigrants.
The government publicly condemned some anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents, such as vandalism and destruction of religious monuments. However, observers such as the European Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League called on the authorities to do more to counter Golden Dawn’s anti-Semitic rhetoric and violent actions. Human Rights Watch and other groups alleged the police took little action to curb violent Golden Dawn activities.
The government invoked the law against blasphemy in two cases. In September the cyber-crime police arrested a 27-year-old man and charged him with blasphemy and insulting religion for setting up a Facebook page using a name that played on the name of a legendary Mount Athos monk. No trial date had been set at year’s end. In November the Metropolitan of Piraeus filed a blasphemy complaint against the director and actors of the theatrical play “Corpus Christi,” which portrayed Jesus and the Apostles as gay men. An Athens prosecutor pressed charges, but no trial date was set. The theater cancelled performances of the play a few days after its October premiere due to violent protests by some Greek Orthodox priests and Golden Dawn supporters. Several Golden Dawn members of parliament blocked the entrance of the theater and clashed with police on opening night. Police charged one member of parliament with intervening in the arrest of a protestor.
Some religious groups stated that the discrepancy between the length of mandatory service for conscientious objectors and for those in the military forces was discriminatory.
The General Secretariat of Youth, in collaboration with the General Secretariat of Religious Affairs and the Jewish Museum of Greece, organized seminars in the fall for primary and secondary school teachers on teaching students about the Holocaust in order to address and prevent racism and violence.
In October the Council of Europe, Aristotle University, and the municipality of Thessaloniki jointly sponsored conferences on the Holocaust and on “Cultures and Religions in Dialogue” in Thessaloniki.
Government-funded restoration of the Catholic Cathedral of Athens, damaged in a 1998 earthquake, continued.