Two students from Lautem district were reportedly expelled from their public schools for refusing to attend school on Saturday because of their religious beliefs. The public school week runs from Monday through Saturday, which conflicts with observance of the Sabbath for some religious groups. This was the third year in a row that such expulsions occurred. In Oecusse, a Protestant religious leader said teachers in two schools threatened students with expulsion for participating in Protestant classes outside of school hours and premises. In the Oecusse case, the government responded by ensuring the students were allowed to remain in school and reprimanding the teachers for their threats.
Religious leaders reported ongoing incidents of individual public servants refusing service to minority religious members. For example, police officers sometimes did not reply to minority religious members’ attempts to report threats and violence. In addition, clerks sometimes refused to register students from minority religious groups at schools.
Religious organizations reported no difficulties in registering with the government through either the Ministry of Justice or the Ministry of Interior.
The government provided an annual budget allocation to each of the three Catholic dioceses. The direct budget allocations to the dioceses caused some resentment among non-Catholic religious organizations, according to religious leaders. Religious organizations could apply, along with other organizations, for government funding set aside for civil society organizations.
The government coordinated an interreligious forum for religious leaders. Minority religious leaders stated participation in the forum provided a mechanism for raising issues of religious freedom both with other religious groups and with government interlocutors and had proven valuable for addressing concerns in a timely manner, including the threatened expulsion of students in Oecusse. Some leaders, however, indicated they were not aware of the forum. Others said the forum had become overly politicized and too focused on the funding available to religious organizations.
Minority religious leaders reported the government continued to reject marriage and birth certificates from religious organizations other than the Catholic Church as supporting documentation for registering for schools and other official acts.