The supreme court upheld the appellate court’s reversal of a death sentence handed down to four individuals convicted of the 2015 mob killing of a woman who allegedly had burned a Quran. The court ordered a review of one-year prison sentences given to seven police officers in the case, which resulted in the appellate court increasing their punishments. As in the past two years, there were no reported prosecutions for apostasy or blasphemy, but individuals who converted from Islam continued to state they feared government punishment as well as reprisals from family and society. Members of the Hindu and Sikh communities reported they continued to avoid settling disputes in the courts for fear of retaliation. They preferred to settle disputes through community councils. Representatives of minority religions continued to report the courts denied non-Muslims the same rights as Muslims. A small number of Sikhs and Hindus continued to serve in government positions. Although some Shia held senior positions in the government, Shia leaders said the number of official positions held by Shia did not reflect the country’s demographics.
In March the supreme court upheld an appellate court’s 2015 decision to reduce four death sentences handed down in the case of a woman killed by a mob in March 2015 for allegedly burning a Quran to 20 years imprisonment. The supreme court upheld the 16-year prison sentences given to eight other civilian suspects in the case, but rejected the sentences of seven police officers who had received suspended one-year prison terms. The court ruled the suspended sentences were too lenient. The court also called on the attorney general’s office to investigate the acquittals of 11 more officers who had been indicted in the case. The supreme court did not release the reasoning for its ruling or provide guidance to the appellate court. On August 7, the appellate court changed the one-year suspended sentences for the seven police officers to two-year suspended sentences, stipulating the police officers would not serve any prison time as long as they maintained clean records and committed no further crimes. The appellate court also sentenced a civilian who had not been sentenced in the initial decision to 16 years in prison.
Individuals who converted from Islam continued to report they risked annulment of their marriages, rejection by their families and communities, loss of employment, and possibly the death penalty.
As in the previous two years, there were no reports of prosecutions for blasphemy or apostasy during the year, including of Bahais who, although labeled infidels, were not considered to be converts and as such not charged with either crime. One individual convicted of blasphemy in 2013 remained in prison serving a 20-year sentence.
The Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs (MOHRA) continued to be responsible for managing pilgrimages (Hajj and Umrah), revenue collection for religious activities, acquisition of property for religious purposes, issuance of fatwas, educational testing of imams, sermon preparation and distribution for government-supported mosques, and raising public awareness of religious issues. The government continued to permit both Sunnis and Shia to go on pilgrimages, with no quota on either group. MOHRA also facilitated pilgrimages for Hindus and Sikhs to India, but did not collect any revenue for or from non-Muslims.
MOHRA estimated between 4,800 and 5,000 mullahs were registered with and worked directly for MOHRA out of a total of approximately 300,000 mullahs in the country as of the end of 2015, the last year for which data was available. The mullahs continued to receive an average monthly salary of 4,700 afghanis ($69) from the government. MOHRA continued to require mullahs who applied to be prayer leaders in MOHRA-registered mosques to hold at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, verified by the Ministry of Higher Education According to MOHRA, approximately 50,000 of the approximately 150,000 to 160,000 mosques in the country were registered, including the registration of an additional 700 mosques during the year. MOHRA said the ministry continued to lack the financial resources to create a comprehensive registry of mullahs and mosques in the country.
MOHRA continued to allocate a portion of its budget for the construction of new mosques. Local groups continued to pay the largest portion of the costs for new mosques and continued not to be required to inform the ministry about the new construction unless they wished to request financial or other assistance.
According to Hindus and Sikhs, the government continued not to restrict them from training other Hindus and Sikhs to become clergy, but per the law punishing conversion, they could not proselytize. The government continued not to hinder their communities from building places of worship.
According to Sikh and Hindu community members, they continued not to pursue land disputes through the courts for fear of retaliation, particularly when powerful local leaders occupied their property.
MOHRA reported there were 5,000 registered madrassas and “Quran learning centers” throughout the country. While the government did register some madrassas during the year, it did not report how many. More than 340,000 students were enrolled in the madrassas, mostly in Kabul, Balkh, Nangarhar, and Herat provinces, according to the latest available estimate from 2015.
The registration process continued to require a school to demonstrate it had suitable buildings, classrooms, accredited teachers, and dorms if students lived on campus. MOHRA registered madrassas collocated with mosques, while MOE registered madrassas not associated with mosques. In MOHRA-run madrassas, students received individual instruction, with one imam teaching approximately 50 to 70 children studying at various levels. Registration did not mean the government controlled a madrassa, but qualified the madrassa’s diplomas and certificates for government recognition. Only certificates issued by registered madrassas allowed students to pursue higher education at government universities.
MOHRA did not offer data on the number of unregistered madrassas, but estimated registered madrassas “far outnumbered” unregistered madrassas following the registration effort. The MOE had the authority to close unregistered madrassas, but ministry officials said in practice it was almost impossible to close any due to local sensitivities. The ministry officials reported the government did not close any madrassas during the year due to the potential for negative societal repercussions. They said the government was attempting to raise awareness within the madrassa community of the benefits of registering madrassas, including recognition of graduation certificates and financial and material assistance, such as furniture or stationery.
MOHRA did not operate primary level madrassas; mosques provided primary-level religious studies instead. While MOHRA operated no madrassas offering standard two-year degree programs, there were 80 madrassas registered with the MOE offering two-year degree programs. There were 1,200 public and 200 private madrassas registered with the MOE.
According to government authorities, the legal requirement for registered madrassas to route private or international donations through the MOE allowed the government to monitor financial assistance to institutes of learning, but the MOE seldom imposed a ban for failing to comply with this requirement. The tendency to make cash donations directly to the madrassas made it difficult, they said, for the government to track funds coming from private sources or abroad. Despite this, the government continued its efforts to solicit donations from other Muslim countries and from private individuals to support the madrassas. The MOE also continued to require independent madrassas to be accredited and disclose their funding sources.
Registered madrassas continued to follow the standardized curriculum provided by the MOE’s Department of Islamic Education. This curriculum specified 60 percent of the subjects taught in madrassas had to be religious in nature, while the other 40 percent consisted of mathematics, history, geography, and Dari literature.
There remained one government-sponsored school for Sikh children, located in Kabul. The government continued to provide the same proportionate funding to cover staff salaries, books, and maintenance as it did for other schools. The MOE also continued to provide the curriculum for the Sikh school, except for religious studies. The community appointed a teacher for religious studies, and the MOE paid the teacher’s salary.
The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, a Swedish NGO, continued to support a privately-funded Sikh school in Jalalabad. A few Sikh children continued to attend private international schools. Hindus did not have separate schools but sometimes sent their children to Sikh schools. There continued to be no Christian schools.
According to observers, the courts relied primarily on statutory law in both civil and criminal cases. In some instances, however, members of minority religious groups reported the courts used Hanafi jurisprudence, even where such law conflicted with the country’s international commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons.
The Ulema Council, a group of senior Sunni and Shia scholars, imams, and Muslim jurists, continued to advise the president on Islamic legal issues. It met with the president every two months, discussing topics such as support for the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and peace negotiations with insurgent groups. The Ulema Council also continued to advise the parliament and ministries on the formulation of new legislation and the implementation of existing law. In November the council voiced its support for the peace agreement between the government and the insurgent group Hizb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Although the Ulema Council remained officially independent from the government, its members continued to receive financial support from the state. The council also continued to advise some provincial governments, although in villages and rural areas scholars, NGO representatives and government officials said decisions continued to be based mostly on local interpretations of Islamic law and tradition.
Representatives of minority religions continued to report the courts did not apply protections provided to them by the law and denied non-Muslims the same rights as Muslims, even when the non-Muslims were legally entitled to those same rights. Members of minority religious communities said the state, including the courts, continued to treat all citizens as if they were Muslims, and some basic citizenship rights of non-Muslims were not codified. As a result, they said, non-Muslims continued to risk being tried according to Hanafi jurisprudence.
Sikhs and Hindus stated their community members continued not to take civil cases to court because they continued to feel unprotected by dispute resolution mechanisms such as the Special Land and Property Court. Instead, their members continued to prefer to settle disputes within their communities.
Leaders of both Hindu and Sikh communities stated they continued to face discrimination, including long delays to resolve cases in the judicial system. The most common judicial issues concerned illegal appropriation of Sikh properties. In one case reported by a Sikh community leader, a high-ranking Ministry of Interior official reportedly occupied a piece of land owned by a member of the Sikh community who was still a resident of the country. In another instance, according to the Sikh community leader, a National Directorate of Security (NDS) official reportedly stole the land of a Sikh who had emigrated to Germany and threatened the owner’s proxy at gunpoint when the proxy went to claim the land. Court proceedings continued in both cases, albeit very slowly according to the plaintiffs.
A small number of Sikhs and Hindus continued to serve in government positions, including one at the municipal level, one at the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries, and one as a presidentially appointed member of the upper house of parliament. Although Shia Muslims held senior positions in government, they said appointments to government administrative bodies continued not to reflect the country’s demographics based on their estimate of the percentage of Shia in the country’s population. Sunni members of the Ulema Council stated Shia were overrepresented in government based on Sunni estimates of the percentage of Shia in the population.
Shia leaders stated the law placed no restrictions on their participation in public life, but the government continued to neglect security in majority-Shia areas.
Although four Ismailis continued to serve as members of parliament, members of the Ismaili community continued to raise concerns about what they called the exclusion of Ismailis from other positions of political authority.
Judicial, constitutional, and human rights commissions composed of members of different Islamic religious groups (Sunni and Shia) and supported by the government continued to meet to work towards Muslim intrafaith reconciliation. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and MOHRA continued to work together toward the stated goal of allowing women to attend mosques. The government funded Moderation Center of Afghanistan continued to promote what the government viewed as a moderate interpretation of Islam. The center continued educational exchanges to send Shia and Sunni clerics to Kuwait for training, and then appointed them as teachers in various provinces to train other clerics. Other organizations continued to work on intrafaith reconciliation as well, including the Ulema Council, the Islamic Brotherhood Council, and the MOHRA.
The ONSC continued to work on addressing religiously-motivated violent extremism as part of its effort to develop an overall strategy to counter violent extremism (CVE). Beginning in September, the ONSC sponsored a series of provincial-level conferences on religiously-motivated violent extremism to collect data to use in this effort. Concurrently, the ONSC established an inter-ministerial working group to coordinate the efforts of relevant government institutions and NGOs to implement the strategy.