An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Bolivia

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Members of the evangelical Protestant community again said several smaller religious communities forming congregations that observe prayer at unofficial worship locations continued to refuse to register their organizations because they preferred not to provide the government with access to internal personal information.  Sources stated that these unregistered groups still could neither own property nor have bank accounts in their name; however, the sources said the government did not interfere with these organizations for their refusal to comply with the law.

According to the MFA’s Office of Religion and Nongovernmental Organizations, there were approximately 440 registered religious groups, an increase from 434 in 2017.  Many religious groups continued to state that the complexity of the registration procedure, including registering the legal name of the organization, required them to seek legal assistance in order to comply.  This process generally took four to six months to complete.

Leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ and evangelical Protestant churches continued to work with the government on a legislative proposal exempting churches from the registration requirements for the next five years.

The Bolivian National Association of Evangelicals sent a letter to the foreign minister on September 27, raising what it said was governmental preferential treatment of indigenous groups and citing the fee structure difference to obtain operating licenses for spiritual and religious groups as an example.  The government did not respond to the letter during the year.

On December 24, after a meeting between evangelical Protestant leaders and President Evo Morales, Foreign Minister Diego Pary, and the previous president of congress, Jose Gonzalez, the government announced the congress would introduce a draft Religious Freedom law in February 2019.  In January the congress abrogated the revised penal code, which had included an article criminalizing recruitment into “religious organizations or cults.”  The action was reportedly in response to civil society protests of the revision, including from members of the evangelical Protestant community.

According to media reports and religious leaders, government leaders continued to criticize religious leaders who publicly commented on political issues.  Catholic representatives said the longstanding and public tensions between the Catholic community and the government continued.  According to media reports, in June the Bolivian Episcopal Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CEB) deputy general secretary, Father Jose Fuentes, stated that President Evo Morales’ politics excluded portions of the country’s population.  In response to these comments, President Morales accused the CEB of racism.  In November Archbishop of Sucre Jesus Juarez stated that the CEB backed the outcome of the 2016 referendum reaffirming term limits for the president and vice president.  On November 5, the CEB officially invited President Morales to the Assembly of Bishops.  The minister of the Presidency, Alfredo Rada, publicly released a letter rejecting the CEB’s invitation.  The letter, signed by Rada, stated that the Office of the President was surprised to receive the invitation because some bishops “attack” the current administration and “persist in using hard and false concepts” such as the accusation that the country’s democracy was at risk.

On December 2, the CEB commented on the November 2017 Plurinational Constitutional Court of Bolivia (TCP) ruling, which invalidated the referendum’s outcome by removing term limits for elected officials, thus allowing President Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term.  The CEB stated that the TCP decision “constitutes a serious damage to democracy, and ignores the popular will expressed in the referendum of February 21, 2016.”  Father Fuentes of the CEB further stated, “This precedent may undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the authorities and institutions called to preserve the democratic health of our country.  It could put us in a situation of violation of the constitutional order of unforeseeable consequences.”  President Morales responded to the CEB’s comments by stating that some bishops and other members of the Catholic Church were “inclined to support the powerful” and were “betraying Jesus” by supporting the opposition.

A representative from the Jewish community stated the Jewish community still had no contact with the president or any other kind of relationship with the Morales administration.

Evangelical Protestant leaders again said the government violated the constitution’s separation of religion and state by favoring an Andean spiritual philosophy, especially the philosophy of the ethnic Aymara community, over other religious beliefs, in public statements and ceremonies.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Officials publicly acknowledged the need to the address a 2009 decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) stating the country should amend its constitution to allow members of religious and other minorities, including Jews, to run for president and the parliament’s upper house, but they took no action during the year.  According to the ECHR ruling, observers said, by apportioning government positions and seats in the parliament only among Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks, the constitution discriminated against minority groups.  Individuals who were not members of the three major ethnic/religious groups reported they could not hold any of the proportionally guaranteed government positions, including the presidency.  There were reports of the various levels of government making little progress in resolving longstanding issues pertaining to religious freedom and rights.

NGOs, academics, and government agencies reported the continued association of each of the country’s major political parties with the religion practiced by the dominant ethnic group among its membership.  The biggest ethnic Bosniak parties continued to align with the IC, the biggest ethnic Croat parties with the Catholic Church, and the two largest ethnic Serb parties with the SOC.

NGOs continued to report that government authorities were not enforcing the 2015 decision by the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council prohibiting employees of judicial institutions from wearing any form of “religious insignia” at work, including headscarves.  During the year, the Border Police complied with a November 2017 state Constitutional Court ruling that declared their January 2017 regulation prohibiting beards for the police to be unconstitutional and ordering the police to abolish the regulation.

According to IC officials, the Presidency again did not approve an agreement, reached in 2015, between the state and the IC that addressed dietary restrictions in public institutions, employer accommodations for daily prayer, and time off to attend Friday prayers as well as to take a one-time trip to Mecca for the Hajj.  During the year, the Croat and Serb members of the Presidency refused to put this issue on the agenda of the Presidency sessions due to disputes over the proposed text of the agreement.

According to representatives of the Catholic Church, there had been no meeting of the joint commission for the implementation of the concordat with the Holy See since June 2016 due to a perceived lack of government interest.  Earlier agreements reached by the commission, including legislation on observing religious holidays, remained unimplemented by the government and parliament.

In December SOC officials reported the government had taken no steps to establish a commission to implement the government’s agreement with the SOC.

According to officials of religious groups that are in a local minority, authorities at all levels continued to discriminate against those groups with regard to the use of religious property and issuance of permits for new religious properties.  Drvar municipal authorities continued to refuse construction permits for a new Catholic church, despite repeated requests from the local Catholic priest, the Banja Luka Catholic Diocese, and representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which became directly engaged on the issue.  In pursuit of a solution, Drvar Catholics, led by their priest, began raising funds to purchase private land to build the church.

In December leaders of the four major religious communities in BiH lamented the lack of any BiH institution responsible for the rights of religious communities.  They said this lack hindered efforts on the part of the religious communities to resolve the issue of restitution for property confiscated and nationalized under communist rule from 1946 to 1965.

According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), provisions of the law regarding the religious education of returnee children remained unimplemented, particularly in segregated school systems, often at the behest of senior government authorities seeking to obstruct the process.  Parents of more than 500 Bosniak children, who returned to their prewar homes in several RS communities, continued to boycott public schools for a sixth year, choosing instead to send their children to alternative schools organized on the premises of the IC’s administrative buildings and supported by the Federation Ministry of Education.

Academic and NGO representatives reported continued social pressure on students from communities throughout the country to attend instruction in their respective religions.

Authorities continued to enforce selectively the rights of religious groups in areas where those groups constituted religious minorities.  These members of religious minorities reported discrimination regarding access to education, employment, health care, and other social services.  They stated that refugees returning to their original communities pursuant to the Dayton Peace Agreement were particularly subject to discrimination.  Leaders of religious minority communities and NGOs, particularly in Canton 10 in the western part of the Federation and several municipalities in eastern RS, reported the continued failure of authorities to provide government services and protections to minorities, including access to health care, pensions, other social benefits, and the transfer of student records between districts.  NGOs reported that representatives of minority communities in the Canton 10 municipalities of Drvar, Bosansko Grahovo, and Glamoc were discriminated against particularly when it concerned access to education in their mother tongue and employment in public companies.  The community leaders also said local authorities continued to discriminate when it came to providing police protection and investigating threats of violence, harassment, and vandalism.  While only a few cases were recorded, the IRC said law enforcement treated these cases as simple theft or vandalism, without taking into consideration the acts occurred at religious sites and could be categorized as hate crimes.  According to an annual report published by the IRC in May, only 45 percent of perpetrators were identified in these cases.  Because religion and ethnicity often are closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many actions as solely based on religious identity.

On March 6, the Sarajevo Canton Assembly annulled its 2016 decision to name an elementary school and a street in the town of Dobrosevici in the canton’s Municipality of Novi Grad after Mustafa Busuladzic, a World War II-era Ustasha figure who glorified Hitler and was known for his anti-Semitism.  As of the end of the year, the decision remained unimplemented.  The school’s website continued to list the school name as Mustafa Busuladzic, and the street was still named after him.  During the year, the president of the Jewish Community strongly condemned the continued use of the name.

In April seven individuals were convicted for a 2015 attack on a mosque in Tomislavgrad and sentenced to one and one-half years in prison, but their sentences were suspended pending two years of probation.  In 2017, a different defendant in the same case pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a similar one-year suspended prison sentence.

Botswana

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Optional religious education remained part of the curriculum in public schools; this curriculum continued to emphasize Christianity but also discussed other religious groups in the country.  Government regulation of private schools did not distinguish among Christian, Muslim, or secular schools.

In general religious groups reported little difficulty or delay in the registration process.

In July President Masisi said he would permit yearlong visas for missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ, who previously were permitted only short-term visits.  The Church president stated four missionaries were granted one-year stays in September.  The government reportedly remained concerned about unregulated churches (sometimes called “fire churches”) coming into the country to take advantage of local citizens by demanding tithes and donations for routine services or special prayers.  There were reports by some pastors from countries that normally allowed visa-free travel that the government required them to apply for visas to enter.  For example, the government reportedly put Shepherd Bushiri, the Malawian founder of the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG), on a visa-required list in April 2017.  That same year, on December 6, the Registrar of Societies notified the ECG it had canceled its registration effective the same day.  ECG subsequently appealed the decision and at year’s end awaited the determination of the Court of Appeal.  The church has 14 branches around the country.

Although it was common for government meetings to begin with a Christian prayer, members of non-Christian groups occasionally led prayers as well.

Brazil

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

According to media reports, on September 19, a court in Porto Alegre convicted three of 14 defendants of attempted homicide motivated by religious and racial discrimination related to a 2005 attack on three men wearing kippahs, Jewish head coverings.  The attack took place in Porto Alegre, capital of Rio Grande do Sul State, on May 8, 2005, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.  The three convicted defendants were members of a group called Carecas do Brasil (Skinheads of Brazil) that disseminates anti-Semitic and Nazi content on the internet.  The three sentences totaled 38 years and eight months in prison.  According to media sources, the other 11 defendants in the case would also stand trial; however, by year’s end the court had not set a date.

In September the Public Ministry of Sergipe State, in conjunction with COPIER, filed suit against the municipality of Aracaju for violation of the constitutional right to religious freedom.  The Public Ministry filed the case for reparation of collective moral damages on behalf of Yalorixa Valclides Francisca dos Anjos Silva, who was at the Rei Hungria terreiro when six police officers and one official from the Municipal Secretariat for the Environment (MSE) searched her building alleging she practiced black magic and abused animals.  Dos Anjos Silva stated she suffered emotional trauma.  The Public Ministry required the municipality to pay 50,000 reais ($12,900).  The MSE stated it did not have a policy of restricting the right to use animals for religious worship and ritual and that the inspection was an isolated event carried out without the proper authorization and knowledge of the municipal secretary of the environment or the director of the department of environmental control.

Rio de Janeiro State’s hotline, called “Dial to Combat Discrimination,” continued to respond to a growing number of incidents targeting practitioners and terreiros.  The state government signed cooperation agreements with local universities to assist victims of religious intolerance.  According to the State Secretariat for Human Rights, between June and September the hotline received 32 calls and assisted 88 victims; no comparable information was available for 2017 because the hotline started operations in August 2017.  The secretariat stated 74 percent of the callers were followers of Afro-Brazilian religions.  The state also established the Police Station for Racial Crimes and Incidents Related to Religious Intolerance, created in August and officially launched in December.

On January 21, municipalities around the country commemorated the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance.  In Rio de Janeiro, the state governor signed a bill on January 19 to create the State Council for Promotion and Defense of Religious Freedom.  The council consists of 32 members from civil society, state officials, members of the Brazilian Bar Association, and religious groups.  In Bahia State, practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions and Black Movement nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) organized a debate and cultural activities at Tumba Junsara terreiro, Engenheiro Velho de Brotas in the state capital Salvador.  Other cities, including Sao Paulo and Recife, also held events.

In February Brasilia-based ASDIR and SEPPIR launched a campaign entitled “Religious Diversity:  To Know, To Respect, To Value.”  The launch coincided with World Interfaith Harmony Week.  The campaign launch featured a showing of the short film “By My Side” (“Do Meu Lado”), a panel discussion on the theme “Dialogue for Diversity,” and the launch of two publications, “Religious Intolerance in Brazil” and “Secular State, Intolerance, and Religious Diversity.”

In March the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) prohibited political campaigning in churches and religious spaces as well as in all public spaces.  The TSE made its ruling ahead of national elections on October 7 and October 28.  Some religious and civil society groups said they did not follow the ruling and continued to campaign for the candidates they supported.

In April the Municipal Office for the Respect of Religious Diversity in Rio de Janeiro organized an interfaith seminar for practitioners of different religions in Rio.  Approximately 120 individuals attended the event.

In April the Rio de Janeiro State government launched a joint program between the State Secretariat of Education and the State Secretariat of Human Rights and Women’s Policies to incorporate discussions of religious intolerance into the curriculum of all public schools in the state.  According to media, students across the state watched a video on religious tolerance produced by students participating in the More Human Education Program at the Pedro II State High School in the northeastern part of the state.  This video was the first in a series of five short films; according to media sources, other public schools in the state would also produce original videos, which students could view at school and access on social media platforms.  Student discussion would follow video screenings.

In May the Ministry of Culture, with the Palmares Cultural Foundation and the University of Brasilia, released the results of the first ever mapping exercise of Umbanda and Candomble terreiros in the Federal District.  The study verified the existence of 330 terreiros, of which 87.8 percent are in urban areas.  The majority of the terreiros – 58 percent – are Umbanda, while 33 percent are Candomble and 9 percent both.

In May the Sao Paulo Legislative Assembly approved a bill to reduce prison sentences for prisoners who read the Bible.  Based on a general recommendation from the National Council of Justice (CNJ), the law reduced prison sentences for prisoners engaging in work, study, or reading.  The CNJ recommendation included reducing sentences by four days for every completed book with a limit of 12 books per year.  The Sao Paulo law allows prisoners to receive credit for each individual book in the Bible.  In June Federal Deputy Marco Antonio Cabral introduced similar legislation at the national level.

In June the Human Rights Commission of the Chamber of Deputies held a public hearing on the development of public policies to combat religious discrimination and intolerance.  Attendees recommended the creation of police stations in each state dedicated to investigating crimes of racism and religious intolerance, thorough implementation of a law requiring an Afro-Brazilian history and culture class in all schools, a nationwide mapping of violence against followers of Afro-Brazilian religions, and financial compensation for victims of racism and religious intolerance.  In August Rio de Janeiro State inaugurated a police station dedicated to investigating crimes of race and intolerance.  The Federal District, Parana State, and Mato Grosso do Sul State continued to operate similar police stations.

In June the Religious Diversity Parliamentary Front of the Federal District Legislative Assembly held a seminar on Rights, Public Policy, Religion, and Racism.  The seminar included sessions on racism and religion; racial crimes, hate crimes, and combating intolerance; and public policies on combating racism and religious intolerance.

The Supreme Court case on the right to practice animal sacrifice as an element of religious ritual began on August 9.  The Public Ministry in Rio Grande do Sul State brought the case before the court, challenging a state court ruling permitting practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions to perform animal sacrifices.  Adherents of Afro-Brazilian religions said the criticism of and challenges to the practice of animal sacrifice were motivated more by racism than concern for the welfare of the animals, stating the practice of animal sacrifice was in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights.  On August 8, the eve of the Supreme Court vote, demonstrators gathered in the capitals of Bahia and Pernambuco States to defend animal sacrifice as part of their religious beliefs.  Rapporteur Justice Marco Aurelio and Justice Edson Fachim voted to uphold the state ruling; however, Justice Alexandre de Moraes requested additional time to review the case, which indefinitely postponed the final vote of the 11-member court pending the completion of the review.

On September 28, the Federal Court in Santa Catarina State overturned a regulation of the capital city of Florianopolis that restricted the hours of operation of terreiros.  The existing regulation adopted in 2013 required terreiros to acquire business permits, similar to bars; terreiros without business permits had to close by 2 a.m. every day and could not use candles.

On October 23, the Federal District commemorated its third annual Day to Combat Religious Intolerance.  The Ministry of Human Rights in partnership with the Federal District Committee for Religious Diversity hosted an interfaith event in Brasilia entitled “Intergenerational Meeting for Respect for Religious Diversity.”  Participants discussed the creation of a working group to arrange for public officials to visit places of worship and schools to emphasize the importance of religious tolerance.

A religious diversity specialist at the Ministry of Human Rights said five of the country’s 26 states – Amazonas, Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo, Tocantins, and Rio de Janeiro – as well as the Federal District had committees for the respect of religious diversity.  The ministry also stated the 10-member National Committee for the Respect of Religious Diversity remained active, meeting four times during the year.

In May the State Secretariat of Human Rights launched the Itinerant Forum for the Promotion and Defense of Religious Freedom.  The forum assisted victims of religious intolerance in several municipalities in Rio de Janeiro State.  According to media, members of the forum visited the Afro-Brazilian terreiro Tenda Espirita Cabocla Mariana in Seropedica, Baixada Fluminense, and spoke to the terreiro priest who received death threats because of her religious leadership role.

Brunei

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Government-provided statistics indicated sharia courts prosecuted 123 cases resulting in 71 convictions between January and August.  The majority of convictions were for khalwat and illicit sex.  Additionally, two individuals were convicted for disrespecting the month of Ramadan.

The defendant in a long-running sedition case, accused of criticizing MORA’s halal policy, fled the country before his verdict in order to seek refuge in Canada.  In response, the prosecution obtained an arrest warrant and informed the court it intended to apply for judgment in absentia.

Public and private practitioners in the local legal community stated that the CPC does not fully address evidentiary standards for prosecution of corporal and capital punishment cases for phases two and three of the SPC.

MORA continued to provide texts for Friday sermons to all mosques, which were then required to deliver the approved texts, and the government required the sermons to be preached only by registered imams.

The Reporters Without Borders 2018 World Press Freedom Index for Brunei stated journalists in the country practiced self-censorship as a rule when reporting on religion.

There was no legal requirement for women to wear head coverings in public; however, religious authorities continued to reinforce social customs to encourage Muslim women to wear the tudong (a traditional Islamic head covering), and many women did so.  When applying for passports, drivers’ licenses, and national identity cards, Muslim females were required to wear a tudong.  Muslim women employed by the government were expected to wear a tudong to work, although some chose not to with no reports of official repercussions.  In government schools and institutions of higher learning, Muslim female students were required to wear a uniform that includes a head covering.  Male students were expected to wear the songkok (a traditional hat), although this was not required in all schools.  Women who were incarcerated, including non-Muslims, were required to wear a uniform that included a tudong.

Religious leaders and government officials did not officially warn citizens against publicly displaying symbols of religions other than Islam during Christmas and Chinese New Year, as they did last in 2016.  Many businesses still chose not to display decorations; however, Christmas decorations were on display for sale in many shops in popular malls.  As in past years, the government limited traditional Lunar New Year lion dance performances to a three-day period and restricted them to the Chinese temple, Chinese school halls, and private residencies of Chinese Association members.  Members of the royal family publicly attended Lunar New Year celebrations and lion dance performances during the allowed period, with front-page coverage in state-influenced media.

The government periodically warned the population about “outsiders” preaching non-Shafi’i versions of Islam, including both “liberal” practices and those associated with jihadism, Wahhabism, or Salafism.  In November while addressing an audience that contained international Islamic scholars and several senior government officials, the head of the Religious Teachers’ University College stated the ideas of liberalism and individual freedom in religion were dangerous.

According to a local press article, in May the head of the Traditions and Customs Council, Pengiran Aziz, told members of the Brunei-China Friendship Association that foreigners residing in the country must adopt the national philosophy, MIB, and described it as a concept of life and the foundation of national unity.

The government continued to enforce strict customs controls on importing non-Islamic religious texts such as Bibles, as well as on Islamic religious teaching materials or scriptures intended for sale or distribution.  Authorities generally continued to ban non-Islamic religious texts from import, and the censorship board continued to review Islamic texts to ensure they did not contain text that deviated from the Shafi’i school of Islam.  Personal packages entering the country continued to be checked by customs to ensure they did not contain anything of a non-Shafi’i Islamic or perceived sexual nature, such as magazines showing women in swimsuits.

Churches stated that a long-standing fatwa discouraging Muslims from assisting in perpetuating non-Muslim faiths continued to inhibit expansion, renovation, or construction of new facilities.  Christian religious groups said, however, authorities generally permitted churches and associated schools to repair and renovate buildings on their sites if required for safety.  This approval process remained lengthy and difficult, and there were continuing reports of the government stalling new construction projects for not meeting the complicated permit process requirements.  With only six approved churches in the country, facilities were often too small to accommodate their congregations without significant overflow seating outdoors.  Chinese Buddhist temples were also subject to the same fatwa, with only one official Chinese temple preserved as a cultural heritage site.  Government data from 2015, the latest available, indicated there were 99 registered mosques.  Christian worshippers continued to report difficulty accessing churches on many Sundays because of road closures by the government for official events, with some services being rescheduled to other times.

The minister of religious affairs reported there had been a significant increase in the number of students attending religious school since the implementation of the 2012 order on compulsory religious education.  The government reported many non-Muslim children elected to take courses on Islam.  Reportedly, those applying for government-funded scholarships believed having such courses could be advantageous.  Most school textbooks were illustrated to portray Islam as the norm, and women and girls were shown wearing the tudong.  There were no depictions of the practices of other religious groups in textbooks.

Authorities continued to prohibit non-Muslims and non-Shafi’i Muslims from receiving non-Shafi’i religious education in schools.  The government tolerated non-Islamic religious education in private settings, such as at home or in approved churches.  All church-associated schools were recognized by the MOE and remained open to students of any religion, although they were not permitted to offer religious instruction other than for Shafi’i Islam.

Throughout the year, the government enforced business hour restrictions requiring all businesses to close for the two hours of Friday prayers.  Religious enforcement officers continued to enforce a ban on restaurants serving dine-in food during the fasting hours of Ramadan and issued verbal warnings to those found in breach of the ban.  In May an article in Borneo Bulletin, citing the SPC, advised local eateries not to serve dine-in customers during daylight hours and cautioned the public not to eat, drink, or smoke in public places during daylight hours throughout Ramadan.  During Ramadan, a picture of government officials entering a restaurant and reportedly issuing a verbal warning for serving dine-in food during fasting hours went viral on social media platforms WhatsApp and Reddit.  In March the owner of a prominent restaurant was fined 825 BND ($610) for violating halal regulations by having alcohol and nonhalal meat products on his premises.  The government continued to enforce a ban on eating, drinking, or smoking in public during the fasting hours of Ramadan, which was applied to both Muslims and non-Muslims.

Authorities reportedly stepped up enforcement of anti-alcohol laws.  Law enforcement agencies raided two hotels and several private parties for serving alcohol illegally.  The government maintained a long-standing ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages and cigarettes, and a restriction against the import or consumption of alcoholic beverages by Muslims.  In March border enforcement agencies began more rigorous enforcement and increased the frequency of border inspections, specifically seeking out those with alcohol or cigarettes.  Religious authorities allowed nonhalal restaurants and nonhalal sections in supermarkets to operate without interference but continued to hold public outreach sessions to encourage restaurants to become halal.

The government offered incentives to prospective converts to Islam and the Shafi’i school, especially those from indigenous communities in rural areas, including help with housing, welfare assistance, or help to perform the Hajj.  During the year, Hajj participants received designer luggage from the government.  The government gave presentations on the benefits of converting to Islam that received extensive press coverage in state-influenced media.  According to government statistics, approximately 500 individuals converted to Islam during the year, similar to previous years.  Converts included citizens and permanent residents, as well as foreigners.  Official government policy supported Islam through the national MIB philosophy as well as through government pledges to make the country a zikir nation (a nation that remembers and obeys Allah).

Despite the absence of a legal prohibition of Muslims marrying non-Muslims, all Muslim weddings required approval from the sharia courts, and officiants, who were required to be imams approved by the government, required the non-Muslim party to convert prior to the marriage.

Most government meetings and ceremonies commenced with an Islamic prayer, which the government continued to state was not a legal requirement but a matter of custom.

The government required residents to carry identity cards that stated the bearer’s ethnicity, which were used in part to determine whether he or she was Muslim; for example, all ethnic Malays, including those traveling in the country, were assumed to be Muslim.  Malays were required to follow certain Islamic religious practices or potentially face fines, arrest, and imprisonment.  Religious authorities reportedly checked identity cards for ethnicity when conducting raids against suspected violators of sharia.  Visitors to the country were asked to identify their religion on their visa applications.

Speaking at the closing of the Legislative Council session in March, the minister of religious affairs stated, “If asked by anyone where the democracy of Brunei’s MIB is, answer assertively that our democracy is based on the teachings of Islam.  We will not export Brunei’s democracy, as it is a democracy that fits the land.”

In June As-Syahadah Muallaf Youth, a government-associated youth group, hosted a first of its kind multifaith iftar and invited non-Muslims to the event at one of the country’s biggest mosques.  Muhammad Yusri Hj Abdul Majid, one of the event organizers, stated the group hosted the iftar to foster understanding between Muslims and non-Muslim communities.  Following the occasion, local press reported MORA intended to make the multifaith iftar an annual event.

Bulgaria

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

On December 21, the National Assembly passed amendments to a 2002 religious denomination law that provide for increased government funding for the two largest religious groups, the BOC and the Muslim community, and require all religious groups to report to the government all places of worship they use.  The original version of the amendments, presented in the National Assembly in May and approved at first reading in October, imposed restrictions on foreign funding and foreign clergy activities.  They also prohibited preaching in a language other than Bulgarian, required denominations to prove they had at least 300 (subsequently increased to 3,000) members to obtain registration, and limited religious groups’ ability to open religious schools and conduct religious education.  All major religious groups in the country opposed the proposed amendments, stating they would restrict religious freedom under the guise of protecting national security and combating terrorism.  The religious groups also criticized the amendments as discriminatory toward smaller groups, stating they would violate the constitutional separation between religion and state and impose unprecedented government control on religious life.  In November and December, following protests by all major religious groups, the political parties in the National Assembly negotiated with their representatives and agreed on a revised version of the amendments, removing the discriminatory provisions by year’s end.

On March 30, the Plovdiv Appellate Court sentenced Ahmed Mussa to one year in prison for spreading Salafi Islam, which the prosecution characterized as an antidemocratic ideology, and for membership in an illegal radical organization.  The court levied fines on 11 other Muslims ranging between 1,500 and 2,000 levs ($880-$1,200).  The court found one individual not guilty.  In 2016 the Supreme Cassation Court had vacated the guilty verdict against Mussa and rescinded the fines against the 12 other Muslims, ordering the Plovdiv Appellate Court to retry the case.  By year’s end, Mussa continued to appeal the verdict in the Supreme Cassation Court.

A trial that began in 2016 of 14 Romani Muslims, including Ahmed Mussa, on charges of supporting ISIS, assisting foreign fighters, and propagating antidemocratic ideology and incitement to war continued at year’s end in the Pazardjik District Court.  Mussa remained free on bail, and the court released the other defendants on their own recognizance.

In April the High Muslim Council (HMC), representing Muslims in the country and led by Grand Mufti Mustafa Alish Hadji, issued a declaration protesting an interview in the online site Trafficnews.  In the interview, the prosecutor of the two cases involving Ahmed Mussa and others described Muslims as “an easy to manipulate … monolithic mass” and a threat to the country’s security.  The HMC accused the prosecutor of hate speech and called on authorities to take action against her.  The prosecutor said she had not given such an interview.  The prosecution service’s inspectorate concluded there had been no misconduct, and the Commission for Protection against Discrimination declined to open a case, citing lack of sufficient evidence.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community remained unregistered despite the June 2017 European Commission on Human Rights ruling that the government had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by denying its registration application.  In September the Ahmadis filed a new registration application with the Sofia City Court; the application was pending at year’s end.

In April the Shumen Regional Court issued a four-month suspended sentence and a public censure to brothers Rosen and Atanas Yordanov, also known as Yuzeir and Ali Yuzeirov, for using “OTOMAN” as an acronym for a political party named “Unity for Tolerance, Responsibility, Moral, and Alternative Progress.”  The court found that the party’s constituent assembly on the day of Christian observance of Good Friday, its wearing of fez hats, using a crescent on the new party’s flag, and performing a namaz prayer during a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument of a Bulgarian war hero who fought in the Balkan War against the Ottomans constituted preaching religious hatred.

On December 21, the Smolyan Regional Court began hearing the case against Efrem Mollov, charged with propagating discrimination and religious hatred in his book, Is There Future for Great Bulgaria or Why Pomak History Remains Hidden.  According to the indictment, the book distorted history by glorifying Pomaks at the expense of all other Bulgarians.  Mollov did not appear in court, but his attorney pled guilty on his behalf and requested a fast-track trial, meaning the court has to sentence him below the minimum penalty (up to four years’ imprisonment or probation and a fine of 5,000-10,000 levs ($2,900-$5,900)).  The court, however, postponed the case because a fast-track trial requires the defendant’s presence.

Former Grand Mufti Nedim Gendjev continued to challenge the legitimacy of Hadji as grand mufti.  At year’s end, an appeal against Hadji’s election at a regular Muslim conference in 2016 remained pending in court.

The national budget allocated a total of five million levs ($2.93 million) for the construction and maintenance of religious facilities and related expenses, including 3.8 million levs ($2.23 million) for the BOC; 400,000 levs ($234,000) for the Muslim community; and 60,000 levs ($35,100) each for the Catholic Church, AAOC, and the Jewish community.  The budget distributed 100,000 levs ($58,600) among seven other registered denominations that had applied for funds to the Directorate for Religious Affairs.  The directorate stated its goal was to make sure denominations that had not received funds previously received funding if they applied.  The government’s budget also allocated 300,000 levs ($176,000) for the maintenance of religious facilities of national importance, 55,000 levs ($32,200) for the publication of religious books and research, and 15,000 levs ($8,800) to the National Council of Religious Communities.  The budget kept 150,000 levs ($87,900) in reserve.  Throughout the year, as was customary, the government allocated more than two million levs ($1.17 million) in targeted funding for restoration or construction of BOC facilities.

Minority religious groups reported dozens of municipalities, including the regional cities of Kyustendil, Pleven, Shumen, and Sliven, had ordinances prohibiting door-to-door proselytizing and the distribution of religious literature.  Many municipalities, including the regional cities of Razgrad, Varna, and Vratsa, restricted the activities of unregistered religious groups.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported many municipalities continued to have ordinances restricting their religious activities, including ones preventing them from expressing their religious convictions in public and carrying out what the ordinances termed “religious agitation on city streets” by distributing free printed materials, and from visiting individuals at their homes, which was often characterized as “religious propaganda.”  They noted many of those municipalities did not enforce these ordinances, especially after the religious group started filing lawsuits.  They continued to cite instances in which police or local government officials fined, threatened, warned, or issued citations to individual Jehovah’s Witnesses for violating these ordinances.  On May 26, a police patrol approached two Jehovah’s Witnesses who were proselytizing in a Sofia neighborhood and told them engaging individuals in their homes was illegal, threatening to “take more serious measures” if they continued.  Jehovah’s Witness representatives stated, however, that such instances had decreased significantly since 2017.

There were continued instances of municipalities imposing fines on individual Jehovah’s Witnesses even though the city ordinances did not include restrictions on religious activities.  Courts generally annulled these fines when Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed them.  For example, on January 11, Varna municipal officials issued citations for unauthorized commercial activity to Jehovah’s Witnesses distributing religious literature, but the administrative court in Varna subsequently repealed them.

In February and July, the Supreme Administrative Court confirmed the lower courts’ decisions and ruled the Stara Zagora and Kyustendil municipalities’ ordinances restricting proselytizing had violated the country’s constitution, declaring the ordinances null and void.  Shumen Municipality’s appeal of a court ruling declaring provisions in its ordinance restricting proselytizing unconstitutional was pending at year’s end.

In March, the government secured funding and started a procedure for the restoration of the Makbul Ibrahim Pasa Mosque in Razgrad, a national cultural monument managed by the Ministry of Culture.  According to media publications, the government acted because of continued pleas by the regional mufti and requests for reciprocal maintenance of historic religious buildings by Turkey.

In May the Office of the Grand Mufti issued a protest declaration against the decision of the municipal council in Stara Zagora to replace more than 800 place names of Turkish and Arabic origin with Bulgarian names, stating that the “level of racism and intolerance regarding everything Muslim is critical.  It is an extremely dangerous process that could provoke a new line of division in society.”

Catholic community leaders continued to object to the Sofia municipality’s refusal to recognize the religious status of two monasteries there, treating them instead as residential buildings and imposing taxes that otherwise would be waived.  At year’s end, appeals were pending at the Sofia Administrative Court.

The Office of the Grand Mufti again reported there had been no progress by year’s end regarding its claim, lodged with the Sofia City Court, for succession to the properties of pre-1940s Muslim religious communities seized by the communist government.  Pending court review of who was the rightful successor to the confiscated properties, the government continued to suspend all restitution claims by the Office of the Grand Mufti.

According to the Catholic Church, authorities had returned approximately 50 percent of the properties for which it was seeking restitution since the restitution law entered into force in 1992; however, the government again did not restitute any additional properties during the year.

The United Evangelical Churches (UEC) – a group representing nine individual Protestant churches and three unions of Pentecostal, Baptist, and Congregational Churches – cited cases of small town mayors who pressured the chitalishta (local government-supported educational and cultural community centers) to refuse to rent their premises to Protestants for their religious activities because they were “sects.”  In April the mayor of the village of Erden told representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that she prohibited them from preaching in the village because it was populated only by Orthodox Christians.  She reportedly threatened them with “more serious” measures if they persisted.  The UEC, however, reported satisfactory cooperation with local authorities in large cities such as Sofia and Plovdiv.

In April the Stara Zagora Administrative Court ordered the prison administration to pay 1,000 levs ($590) in damages to a Muslim prisoner in Stara Zagora Prison because of its failure to provide pork-free meals.

The government continued to permit religious headdresses in official photographs for national identity documents as long as both ears and one centimeter (0.4 inches) of hair were visible.

In October Jewish organizations Shalom and B’nai B’rith protested the Ministry of Defense’s initiative to award a medal to Dyanko Markov, a former member of the anti-Semitic organization Union of Bulgarian National Legions that supported the deportation of Jews during World War II.  In May Shalom described an exhibition on the role of King Boris III and the government of Bogdan Filov in the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust as a “provocation” and “distortion of history” because it attempted to “prove” the pro-Nazi government rescued the Bulgarian Jews.  Speaking to a television reporter at the opening of the exhibition, then Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov blamed the rescued Jews for subsequently executing their rescuers after becoming part of the communist government.  In April Shalom protested a statement by prosecutor Ivan Geshev, who joked during a media briefing that the World Jewish Congress was watching and would step in if prosecutors did not strictly apply the procedures prescribed by law.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria and the Bulgarian National Movement (IMRO) parties, both members of the United Patriots coalition, did not actively continue their previous campaign against the religious group, which the Witnesses said was likely due to the absence of elections during the year.  At year’s end, two members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to appeal the Burgas District Court decisions before the Supreme Cassation Court, which dismissed their claims against IMRO regional leader Georgi Drakaliev over his alleged instigation and participation in a 2011 attack on the Jehovah’s Witnesses kingdom hall in Burgas.

In May President Rumen Radev hosted a traditional presidential iftar attended by religious leaders representing the six religions on the National Council, politicians, academics, diplomats, and refugees.  At the iftar, Radev told the participants the event symbolized the “abiding tolerance of the Bulgarian people” and demonstrated the “will of the state to work for greater understanding and mutual respect.”  In April Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva hosted a Passover dinner for local and regional members of the Jewish community, religious leaders, and diplomats from member countries of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

On November 29, the country became the 32nd full member of the IHRA.  Deputy Foreign Minister Georg Georgiev served as the national coordinator for combating anti-Semitism.

A Holocaust education program continued to train 20-25 history teachers annually, based on a 2016 memorandum between the Ministry of Education and Israel’s Yad Vashem.  On September 12-14, Shalom hosted a workshop for 50 history teachers from Bulgaria and Macedonia on the Holocaust in the Balkans and the fight against anti-Semitism and hate speech.

Burkina Faso

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The government allocated 75 million CFA francs ($132,000) each to the Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and traditional animistic communities.  Sources stated that this funding was meant to demonstrate equitable government support to all religious groups in the country.  The government also provided funding to registered Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim (commonly referred to as “Franco-Arabic”) schools through subsidies for teacher salaries, which were typically less than those of public school teachers.

In July the government allocated approximately one billion CFA francs ($1.76 million) to subsidize the costs of 8,100 Muslims for the Hajj.  The government continued to routinely approve applications from religious groups for registration, according to religious group leaders.

Burma

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Investigations of the 2017 ethnic cleansing in northern Rakhine State released during the year, including the UN Fact-Finding Mission’s final report, corroborated earlier accounts of a systematic abuses and a campaign against Rohingya civilians that involved extrajudicial killings, rape, and torture.  On September 17, the UN Fact-Finding Mission, established by the UN Human Rights Council, published its final report on the country, which detailed atrocities committed by the military in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States, as well as other areas, and characterized the “genocidal intent” of the military’s 2017 operations in Rakhine State.  The government denied the Fact-Finding Mission permission to enter the country and publicly disavowed the report.  The report also found the actions of the military in both Kachin (mostly Christian) and Shan States (mostly Buddhist) since 2011 amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The government established an independent Commission of Enquiry to investigate the 2017 violence in Rakhine State.  It is comprised of two international and two Burmese members, and chaired by Rosario Manalo, a former diplomat from the Philippines.  The commission did not make public any findings by year’s end.  Multiple government-led investigations into earlier reported abuses by security forces culminated in denials that abuses occurred and did not result in accountability.

In January Amnesty International (AI) reported three incidents of the military abducting Rohingya girls or young women.  One such instance occurred in January in Hpoe Khaung Chaung village, Buthidaung Township:  soldiers searched a house, held a man at gunpoint, and abducted a 15-year-old girl; the family has not seen the girl since.  AI also reported that security forces strip-searched Rohyingya women fleeing the country and robbed both women and men.

Two Reuters reporters, detained by the government in December 2017 and charged under the Official Secrets Act related to their investigation of security forces’ activities in northern Rakhine State, remained incarcerated throughout their trial and were sentenced on September 3 to seven years in prison.  Independent observers said the trial lacked due process.

UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee told the Human Rights Council in March that the government appeared to be using a policy of starvation in Rakhine State to force out the remaining Rohingya.  The country’s envoy to the council denied the charge and called for Lee’s dismissal.

In March AI reported increased “land grabs” and razing of formerly Rohingya villages by authorities in Rakhine State.  AI stated that the military and police built roads and structures over burned Rohingya villages and land, making it even less likely for refugees to return to their homes and “erasing evidence of crimes against humanity.”  According to satellite imagery, the military and police built at least three new security bases in northern Rakhine State.  Reportedly, some Rohingya who were living near the new construction fled to Bangladesh in fear.

In February AI reported military forces in Rakhine had denied Rohingya access to their rice fields in November and December 2017, a denial that amounted to forced starvation, and that many Rohingya fled to Bangladesh on account of the food shortages.  The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) reported that military forces imposed limits on how much rice displaced villagers in Rakhine could purchase per month, causing shortages.

An additional 13,764 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh between January and September.  The government prepared facilities to begin receiving some 2,000 of the 700,000 Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh in 2017.  In November amid efforts by the governments of Burma and Bangladesh to initiate returns, Rohingya refused to return, often saying they would be subject to human rights abuses if they returned without a guarantee of citizenship.  Bangladesh authorities said they would not force them to go back, and no one chose to return.

Several NGOs reported approximately 120,000 Rohingya remained confined to camps since violence in 2012.

In May Hla Phyu was arrested and convicted of false representation after attempting to leave an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Rakhine State, where she had been living since her displacement during violence in 2012, and travel to Rangoon.  The 23-year-old teacher, who is Muslim, had previously applied for official permission to travel without success, and eventually traveled without receiving permission.  A court sentenced her to a year in prison with hard labor.

The government continued to tightly restrict outside access, including UN and NGO humanitarian aid and media, to northern Rakhine State and portions of Kachin State during the year.  Reportedly, the military selectively permitted humanitarian access to IDPs in some conflict areas – granting access to local relief organizations associated with certain religious denominations while denying access to organizations associated with other religious denominations, which created intercommunal tension.  In August the human rights group Fortify Rights reported that the government’s travel-authorization process for aid groups in Burma effectively acted as a restriction on aid and humanitarian access to displaced populations in violation of international humanitarian law.  Authorities suspended humanitarian access to northern Rakhine State entirely in August 2017; during 2018, the Red Cross Movement, World Food Program, and several other organizations regained some degree of access.  According to Fortify Rights, from June 2017 to June 2018, authorities unconditionally approved only approximately 5 percent of 562 applications submitted by international humanitarian agencies seeking “travel authorization” to assist displaced communities in government-controlled areas of Kachin State.  On May 21, the government’s minister of security and border affairs for Kachin State sent a letter to the Kachin Baptist Convention – one of the largest providers of aid to displaced communities in Kachin Independence Army (KIA)-controlled areas – saying the group would be prosecuted for illegally delivering aid in areas under KIA control.

Sources stated that authorities singled out Rohingya in northern Rakhine State to perform forced labor and arbitrarily arrested them.  Authorities imposed restrictions that impeded the ability of Rohingya to construct houses or religious buildings.

Authorities in northern Rakhine reportedly prohibited Rohingya from gathering publicly in groups of more than five persons.

Fighting between the government and ethnic armed groups that restarted in Kachin and northern Shan States in 2011 continued.  UN Special Rapporteur Lee reported that in March the military started new ground offensives in Kachin State using heavy artillery.  The UN estimated that 107,000 persons remained displaced by conflict in Kachin and northern Shan States, where there are many Christians as well as other religious groups.  Christians in Kachin State, according to media and NGO reports, stated the military was carrying out a campaign to eliminate them similar to the situation in Rakhine State.  It was often difficult to categorize specific incidents as based solely on religious identity due to the close linkage between religion and ethnicity in the country.

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) reported that thousands of Kachin fled the military, including residents of more than 50 villages as of June.  The KIO stated the military destroyed or damaged more than 400 villages, 300 churches, and 100 schools in Kachin State since 2011.  In August, at the Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, several NGOs reported that government security forces encouraged the construction of Buddhist monasteries and temples in areas where they built new bases.  Minority religious communities said they perceived this effort to be part of a process of “Burmanization.”

According to a CHRO September report, the Chin people continued to face “institutionalized barriers to religious freedom.”  According to the report, the barriers usually involved local authorities blocking the ownership of land for Christian worship.  Christians have also faced mob violence by local communities, often “supported and even organized by local authorities and Buddhist-monks.”  The CHRO report said there were cases where police failed to investigate or hold perpetrators to account.

In Rakhine State, according to the UN and media reports, the government and security forces continued to restrict the movement of various ethnic and religious groups, particularly members of the Rohingya community.  Restrictions governing the travel of persons whom the government considers foreigners, including both Muslim and Hindu Rohingya, some other Hindus living in Rakhine State, and others between townships in northern Rakhine State, varied depending on the township, usually requiring submission of an immigration form.  The traveler could obtain this form only from the township of origin’s Immigration and National Registration Department and only if that person provided an original copy of a family list, temporary registration card, and two guarantors.  The form typically authorized travel for two to four weeks.  Authorities granted Muslims located outside of Rakhine State more freedom to travel, but they still faced restrictions on travel into and out of Rakhine State, and reportedly feared authorities would not allow them to leave Rakhine if they were to visit the state.

Such restrictions seriously impeded the ability of Rohingya to pursue livelihoods, access markets, hospitals, and other services, and engage other communities.  Sources stated that individuals stereotyped by security forces as appearing to be Muslim received additional scrutiny on movements in the region, regardless of their actual religion.  Obtaining these travel permits often involved extortion and bribes.

According to various religious organizations and NGOs, the process to register an NGO, whether religious in nature or not, remained lengthy and often went uncompleted due largely to bureaucratic inefficiency in local governments.  Organizations noted that lack of registration did not generally hinder the ability of groups and individuals to conduct religious activities, except in a few cases, although being unregistered left organizations vulnerable to harassment or closure by the government.

Religious groups throughout the country, including Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, and especially Muslims, reported difficulties and delays that could last for years in getting permits to allow construction of and repairs to religious buildings.  Buddhists, however, said getting such permission was harder for other groups.  Religious groups said the multiple permissions, unclear authority among government agencies, and interminable delays in responses to requests for permits led them to construct places of worship without the required permissions, leaving them vulnerable to future government action or to pressure by members of other religious groups.  Others said it was necessary to bribe authorities to obtain permits.

In areas with few or no mosques, Muslims often conducted prayer services and other religious practices, such as teaching, in private homes.  The Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs issued an order in June that restricted non-Buddhist religious teachings to government-approved religious buildings and prohibited prayer services and religious teaching in private homes.  The order also required that teaching materials, with an implicit focus on Islamic materials printed in Arabic, be in the Burmese language and submitted to the ministry in advance.  The General Administration Department, which has a significant leading role in all subnational administration aspects of daily life, issued notices in Yangon and Sagaing Divisions requiring compliance with the ministry’s order.  Authorities in Mandalay Division continued to enforce similar restrictions.

Local authorities closed 12 mosques and religious schools in Ayeyarwady, Mandalay, and Sagaing Divisions as well as in Shan State during the year, according to the Burman Human Rights Network (BHRN).  A 2017 ban on prayers in eight Islamic schools in Thakayta Township in Yangon Division and the closure of two remained in force.  Authorities prevented 14 mosques and religious schools in Yangon and Mandalay Divisions from operating in 2017 and they remained shuttered.  Human rights and Muslim groups reported that historic mosques in Meiktila in Mandalay Division, Hpa-An in Karen State, and other areas continued to deteriorate in part because authorities denied permits to perform routine maintenance.

Muslims in Mandalay Division reported continued obstacles to rebuilding mosques after anti-Muslim violence in 2014.  Authorities ordered that mosques be shut down after the 2013 anti-Muslim riots in Meiktila, and they remained closed, in addition to mosques in Bago and Mandalay Divisions.

According to a CHRO September report, Christian communities in Chin State reported applications to local authorities for property registration, construction, and renovation encountered delays spanning several years, or the applications were lost altogether.

The CHRO reported local authorities in Chin State continued to delay applications from Christian groups and churches to buy land in the name of their religious organizations.  Local authorities in Chin State also blocked Christian groups and churches from buying land in the name of their religious organizations for the purpose of worship.  Religious groups said individual members circumvented this requirement by purchasing land in their own names on behalf of the group, a practice the government tolerated.

In January, according to the CHRO, township administrators banned Christians from building a house for the local pastor in Magway Division and from worshipping in a residential house.  As of September local authorities had not responded to a March request to use the house as a church, according to the CHRO.  Christian and Muslim groups seeking to build small places of worship on side streets or other inconspicuous locations continued to be able to do so only with approval from local authorities, according to religious groups.

Sources stated that the government increased restrictions on both secular and religious civil society organizations holding public events in hotels and other venues, imposing new requirements for advance notice of events and participants, and civil society organizations sometimes turned to churches and other religious institutions in light of restrictions on the use of other venues.  Many religious and civil society organizations said they preferred to receive written authorization from ward, township, and other local authorities before holding events to avoid last-minute cancellations.

The government continued to give financial support to Buddhist seminaries and Buddhist missionary activities.  The government continued to fund two state sangha universities in Yangon and Mandalay that trained Buddhist monks under the purview of the SSMNC, as well as the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University in Yangon.  According to religious organizations, the Ministry of Religious Affairs financially supported the SSMNC and religious ceremonies.

Teachers at many government schools reportedly continued to require students to recite Buddhist prayers, although such practices were no longer a mandated part of the curriculum.  Many classrooms displayed Buddhist altars or other Buddhist iconography.

Several Christian theological seminaries and Bible schools continued to operate, along with several madrassahs, in Rangoon, Sagaing, and elsewhere.

Due to movement restrictions, many Rohingya could not access education in state-run schools, although observers reported some increased access during the year.  Authorities generally did not permit Rohingya high school graduates from Rakhine State and others living in IDP camps to travel outside the state to attend college or university.  Authorities continued to bar any university students who did not possess citizenship cards from graduating, which disproportionately affected students from religious minorities, particularly Muslim students.  These students were allowed to attend classes and take examinations, but could not receive diplomas unless they had a citizenship card, the application for which required some religious minorities to identify as a “foreign” ethnic minority.

According to one human rights organization, schools sometimes submitted citizenship applications on behalf of non-Muslim students while denying the same privilege to Muslim students.  Muslim students, after submitting the applications, sometimes had to pay bribes to immigration officials to obtain documentation.  According to BHRN, instructors reportedly made anti-Muslim comments in university classrooms and Muslim students typically were not permitted to join institutes for professional studies.  One human rights group documented the teaching of racist and anti-Muslim tenets in schools throughout the country.

Muslims said government authorities denied them permission to slaughter cows during the Eid al-Adha festival that marks the end of Ramadan.  Media and religious sources said local authorities in some villages restricted the licensing of and butchering of cattle by slaughterhouses, the vast majority owned by Muslims.  These restrictions negatively affected business operations and the ability of Muslim communities to celebrate Islamic holidays.

Sources stated that authorities generally did not enforce four laws passed in 2015 for the “protection of race and religion.”

A 2005 local order in Maungdaw Township in northern Rakhine State continued in effect, requiring residents, predominately Rohingya, to obtain local authorization to marry.  In addition, some Rohingya sources expressed concern about the two-child policy for Rohingya families, referring to a 2005 local order promulgated in northern Rakhine State and sporadically enforced.

Rohingya remained unable to obtain employment in any civil service positions.

Buddhists continued to make up nearly all senior officials within the military and civil service.  Applications for civil service and military positions required the applicant to list his or her religion.  According to one human rights organization, applications by Muslims for government jobs were largely rejected.

Buddhists continued to make up the vast majority of parliamentarians.  There were no Muslim members of parliament, and neither the ruling NLD nor the main opposition party ran any Muslim candidates during nationwide elections in 2015 or by-elections in 2017 and 2018.  Second Vice President Henry Van Thio, a Chin Christian, continued to serve in his position, and the speakers of the upper and lower houses of parliament were Christian.

Authorities required citizens and permanent residents to carry government-issued identification cards that permitted holders to access services and prove citizenship.  These identification cards usually indicated religious affiliation and ethnicity.  The government also required citizens to indicate their religion on certain official applications for documents such as passports, although passports themselves do not indicate the bearer’s religion.  Members of religious minorities, particularly Muslims, faced problems obtaining identification and citizenship cards.  According to Fox News, a local official said Christians in Karen State applied to the central government for identification cards identifying them as “Christians” but received cards identifying them as “Buddhist,” and officials refused to change the cards.  Some Muslims reported that they were required to indicate a “foreign” ethnicity if they self-identified as Muslim on applications for citizenship cards.

BHRN published a case study of Muslim migrant workers in Thailand who applied to Burmese immigration officials for a formal verification of their nationality, known as a Certificate of Identity (CI).  Respondents consistently reported that they had to provide more documentation than did other groups, or that authorities said, “We are not giving CIs to Muslims.”  BHRN’s case study found that twice as many Muslims were rejected as were accepted.

The government continued to call for Rohingya to participate in the government’s citizenship verification process and to apply for National Verification Cards (NVCs, the first step in the citizenship verification process).  Many Rohingya objected to the exercise, citing a fear of being identified as “Bengali,” fear of being designated a “naturalized” rather than “full citizen,” a lack of requisite change in their rights if they obtained the NVCs, and a general distrust towards the government.  The government said it no longer required all participants to identify as “Bengali” as a condition of participating in the process, although implementing officials reportedly continued to require participants to identify as “Bengali,” and those verified as a citizen reportedly had “Bengali” listed as their race on their citizenship scrutiny card.  Recipients of naturalized citizenship were ineligible to participate in some political activities and professions, although all citizens had the right to vote.  The government also pressured Rohingya to apply for NVCs, including by continuing a requirement to have an NVC in order to have a fishing permit.  Many Rohingya entering Bangladesh during the year cited the pressure campaign as a primary reason for leaving Burma.

State-controlled media frequently depicted military and government officials and their family members paying respect to Buddhist monks; offering donations at pagodas; officiating at ceremonies to open, improve, restore, or maintain pagodas; and organizing “people’s donations” of money, food, and uncompensated labor to build or refurbish Buddhist shrines nationwide.  The government published and distributed books on Buddhist religious instruction.

In November Minister of Religious and Cultural Affairs Aung Ko, speaking in nationally televised remarks at the funeral of a prominent Buddhist monk in Karen State, criticized “the followers of an extreme religion [who] take three of four wives and have families with 15 or 20 children.”  He added, “Devotees of other [non-Buddhist] religions will become the majority and we will be in danger of being taken over.”  His remarks were widely understood to refer to Muslims.

Sources stated that government officials circulated or advanced rumors and false information concerning Rohingya and other Muslims, including claims of a demographic takeover of Rakhine State by Muslims.  According to media reports, the military conducted a coordinated effort to spread anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya sentiment through dummy Facebook accounts and other social media.  The military in August published a book purporting to give a historic account of the Rohingya in northern Rakhine that included images from other areas and conflicts and falsely claiming to show a Rohingya influx into the country from Bangladesh before and after World War II.  Government officials distributed the book at formal meetings.  Also in August, government officials circulated anti-Rohingya videos to UN and other officials, and a military-linked think tank publicized such material at an event in Rangoon in October.

In November the Yangon Division Rakhine Ethnic Affairs Ministry organized a speaker event in Rangoon called “Hidden Truths of the Western Frontier in Rakhine State,” at which the Rakhine ethnic affairs minister gave remarks in which he blamed the Rakhine crisis on “Bengalis,” a term used to refer to Rohingya that is considered pejorative.

The government officially recognized a number of interfaith groups, including the Interfaith Dialogue Group of Myanmar, which organized monthly meetings and sponsored several religious activities promoting peace and religious tolerance around the country throughout the year.  The group’s leadership included Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, and Hindu leaders, as well as leaders from other religious groups.

The government generally permitted foreign religious groups to operate in a manner similar to nonreligious foreign aid groups.  Local religious organizations were also able to send official invitations for visa purposes to clergy from faith-based groups overseas, and foreign religious visitors acquired either a tourist or business visa for entry.  Authorities generally permitted Rangoon-based groups to host international students and experts.

Burundi

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Human Rights Watch reported the March 14 death of Simon Bizimana following his arrest and alleged physical mistreatment during a month-long detention in prison in Cankuzo Province for refusing to register as a voter, which is not a crime under federal law, ahead of the country’s May constitutional referendum.  A video of a local official questioning Bizimana prior to his arrest, during which he stated he would not participate in elections due to reasons of religious conscience, circulated widely on social media.  Bizimana was a member of a small Christian fellowship group.  A hospital certificate stated the cause of death was malaria, but witness accounts alleged his condition had been worsened by beatings with iron rods inflicted by police.

The Ministry of the Interior sometimes denied requests for registration from religious groups but did not make information available on the applicants who were refused or the reasons for refusal.  In May the minister of interior held a meeting with the leaders of religious groups to remind them that any group that did not comply with the law’s provisions for registration could be subject to suspension.

In April approximately 2,500 followers of Eusebie Ngendakumana, aka Zebiya, returned to the country after seeking asylum first in the DRC and later in Rwanda.  The members of the group departed the country in 2013 and 2014 following violent clashes with government security services and prosecutions of some members.  Representatives of the group stated they had not sought accreditation as a religious denomination because they viewed themselves as members of the Catholic Church, leading to scrutiny from the government and the closure of the group’s shrine in Kayanza Province.  The group primarily took refuge in the DRC but traveled from the DRC to Rwanda in March after refusing to comply with the requirements of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for biometric registration, which they stated they considered contrary to their beliefs.  They similarly objected to registration requirements, vaccination requirements, and processed food rations in Rwanda, leading to the arrest of approximately 30 members and their subsequent decision to return to the country in April.  Once back in the country, the government provided the group transportation to their home communes.  There were subsequent reports that some members of the group faced scrutiny from government and ruling party officials.  There were no reports of arrests or harassment as of the end of the year; a representative of the group stated that members had faced no significant harassment since their return, while articulating concern that the group continued to have no access to the Kayanza shrine.  Ngendakumana reportedly remained in exile as of the end of the year.

President Pierre Nkurunziza routinely employed religious rhetoric in the context of political speeches and invoked divine guidance for political decisions.  The government continued a campaign launched in 2017 promoting the “moralization of [Burundian] society.”  The president conducted events in provinces around the country attended by invited groups including government officials, ruling party members, religious leaders, and other local notables.  During the events, which were not recorded or open to media and during which participants were not allowed to take notes, he gave lengthy addresses highlighting a mix of religious, historical, and cultural themes.  The president also continued efforts begun in 2017, and connected rhetorically to the “moralization” campaign and invoking religious appeals, to require unmarried cohabitating couples to formalize their relationships as marriages.

National Assembly President Pascal Nyabenda participated in a ceremony in September to welcome 60 Muslim pilgrims returning from Mecca.  First Lady Denise Nkurunziza, herself pastor of a church, organized a workshop with religious leaders to increase their involvement in fighting against mother-to-child HIV transmission.  In August she organized a Christian prayer crusade in Kayanza Province, which government officials, ruling party members, and religious leaders attended.

During the year, the Ministry of the Interior appointed 11 members of a new religious monitoring body, of whom eight were religious leaders, including the president and vice president of the committee.  The committee included one Muslim representative, six representatives from Protestant denominations, and one Catholic representative, who resigned and was not replaced during the year.  The ministry announced the establishment of the new religious monitoring body in 2017, stating its purpose was to “monitor, regulate, and settle” inter- and intradenominational disputes and to ensure that religious organizations operated according to law.  The committee was also charged with tracking what were termed subversive or inflammatory teachings.  The committee reported extensive efforts to promote dialogue among and within religious denominations during the year.

The government continued to grant benefits, such as tax waivers, to religious groups for the acquisition of materials to manage development projects.  According to the Burundi Revenue Authority, the government also granted tax waivers to religious denominations for the import of religious materials such as printed materials, wines for masses, and equipment to produce communion wafers.

Cambodia

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

In November the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, sentenced Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan to life imprisonment related to charges of ethnic- and religious-based genocide against ethnic Vietnamese and the Cham population during the Khmer Rouge era from 1975 to 1979.

In February local authorities in Mondalkiri Province threatened to withhold public services or sign legal documents, including family registrations, land titles, and birth certificates, for ethnic Phnong, most of whom are animists, unless they pledged to vote for the ruling party in the July national election.

In January an ethnic Phnong community in Kratie Province accused local authorities and state soldiers of stealing more than 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of community land.  In February the Phnong ethnic minority in Mondulkiri Province submitted a petition with 792 signatures to the National Assembly requesting the government to dismiss Yung Sarom, Director of Rural Development in Mondulkiri Province.  They accused him of preventing the Phnong from celebrating their religious ceremony.  At year’s end, the National Assembly had not taken any action to investigate the charge against Yung Sarom.

The government refused to allow UNHCR to accept permanently a group of Christian Montagnards from Vietnam who came to the country to claim refugee status.  Of the estimated 200 Christian Montagnards who fled Vietnam and were in Cambodia in 2017, 29 remained in the country.  Two children were born to refugee families, bringing the total to 31.  The Phnom Penh Post newspaper reported an increase of police presence outside the residence of this group in March and April.  The government had said it would allow the 31 to move to a third country if UNHCR would speak to the Vietnamese government and obtain its approval.  UNHCR rejected the proposal, however, saying the Cambodian government should communicate with the Vietnamese government directly.

The government continued to promote Buddhist holidays by grants of official status and declarations of government holidays.  The government also provided Buddhist training and education to monks and laypersons in pagodas, and it gave financial support to an institute that performed research and published materials on Khmer culture and Buddhist traditions.  The government did not grant similar treatment to other religions or religious holidays.

In May Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany Hun Sen hosted an iftar in Phnom Penh for more than 5,000 members of the Muslim community.  In his remarks, Hun Sen thanked the Muslim community for trusting his leadership and for their contribution to the maintenance of peace.  According to Arab News, Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen, Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, sent a message saying the country was “a beacon of peace and tolerance” in Southeast Asia.  In August Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng attended the second Annual National Inter-Faith forum with an estimated 2,000 Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, and Muslims to promote harmony among different religious followers.

International Religious Freedom Reports
Edit Your Custom Report

01 / Select A Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future