The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the law prohibits discrimination based on religious orientation. Federal law bans covering one’s face in public. On March 7, the Court of Assizes in Brussels (the highest criminal court) convicted French citizen Mehdi Nemmouche of murder in the killings of four persons at the Belgian Jewish Museum in 2014 and sentenced him to life in prison. Longstanding applications for government recognition by Buddhists and Hindus remained pending. As previously announced, the federal government’s termination of Saudi Arabia’s lease on the Great Mosque in Brussels became effective on March 31; the mosque remained open under management of the local Muslim community, pending a more permanent restructuring. The Flemish minister of interior withdrew the recognition of one mosque, reducing the number of recognized mosques nationally to 83. Pending responses to questions it posed to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the Constitutional Court postponed a ruling on challenges by Jewish and Muslim groups to laws in Wallonia and Flanders that came into effect during the year and that banned the slaughter of animals without prior stunning. In June the Liege prosecutor dropped discrimination charges against a man who in 2014 posted a sign outside his cafe saying dogs were welcome but Jews were not. In November the West Flanders public prosecutor’s office declined to prosecute four supporters of the soccer team Club Brugge for participating in anti-Semitic chants during a match in August 2018.
There were incidents of religiously motivated violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, and hate speech against Jews and Muslims. The government’s Center for Equal Opportunities, Unia, preliminarily reported for 2018, the most recent year for which data were available, 101 anti-Semitic incidents (109 in 2017), and 307 incidents (319 in 2017) against other religious groups, 90 percent of which targeted Muslims. Unia also reported a large increase in online hate speech during the first six months of the year, with 740 reported instances, compared with 369 in 2018 for the same period. In September a European Commission study found that 65 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country. In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey indicating 50 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem. Media reported that in March a driver attempted to run over two veiled Muslim sisters while they were picking up their children from school. According to Unia, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media, incidents of religious discrimination toward Muslims in both the workplace and educational institutions typically involved actions directed against women wearing headscarves and a failure to make accommodations for prayer, religious holidays, or dietary requirements. Jewish groups reported anti-Semitic statements and attitudes in media and in schools during the year, including ones related to the Holocaust. Media reported in March during the Aalst Carnival, a group displayed a float depicting negative Jewish stereotypes. During the campaign leading up to general elections in May, unknown individuals photoshopped or tagged on social media anti-Semitic statements or caricatures on the campaign material or photographs from several candidates, including Prime Minister Charles Michel.
U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with senior government officials in the Office of the Prime Minister and at the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Justice to discuss anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and discrimination. Embassy officials also discussed with government officials the continued efforts of Buddhist and Hindu groups to obtain recognition and the status of the government’s plans to encourage more mosques to apply for official recognition as places of worship. The Department of State Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with the Jewish and Muslim communities to discuss their concerns. The Ambassador and other embassy officials met with NGOs and religious leaders in Brussels and other communities to address anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and sentiment, and to promote religious tolerance.