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Executive Summary

The constitution states Islam is the state religion and sharia shall be “a main source” of legislation. The constitution guarantees the freedom to practice religious rites in accordance with “the maintenance of public order and morality.” Religious groups must register with the government to acquire property, raise funds, or hold bank accounts. Sunni and Shia Muslims and eight Christian denominations constitute the only registered religious groups in the country. Unregistered religious groups are illegal but generally may practice their faith privately. In the wake of the severing of relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and continuing security concerns for Qatari citizens in Saudi Arabia, the government discouraged citizens and residents from taking part in the Hajj or Umra. The law provides for prison sentences for blasphemy against Islam, Christianity, or Judaism and criminalizes proselytizing on behalf of any religion other than Islam with a punishment of up to 10 years in prison. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) continued occasionally to provide thematic guidance for Friday sermons and reviewed content but did not require clerics to obtain prior approval of their sermons. The eight registered Christian denominations worshipped freely at the Mesaymeer Religious Complex. The government allowed unregistered churches to worship there as well, but only under the patronage of one of the eight recognized denominations. The government said it was open to considering the creation of dedicated worship spaces for Hindus, Jews, and Buddhists. The government reviewed, censored, or banned print and social media religious material it considered objectionable.

Media based in the country periodically published anti-Semitic material. In June the government-funded Al-Jazeera English website posted and then deleted a Twitter message featuring an anti-Semitic cartoon claiming a Jewish plot to deny climate change. In June privately owned Al-Raya newspaper published a cartoon showing a witch with a Star of David wand causing inter-Arab disputes. In July Al-Raya also printed a cartoon depicting an octopus with the Star of David on its forehead trying to devour the Aqsa Mosque. In December, after the announcement that the United States would relocate its embassy, Al-Watan newspaper published a cartoon caricature of an orthodox Jew standing in front of the Arabic word for “Jerusalem.” In December cartoons published in a local media outlet used anti-Semitic imagery in its criticism of a Bahraini nongovernmental delegation to Israel as an act of betrayal of Arab nationalism.

In July embassy officials met with the MEIA to discuss ways to deepen bilateral exchanges on religious topics and to discuss the rights of minority groups. Embassy officials discussed faith, registration restrictions, promotion of religious tolerance, and anti-Semitism issues with quasi-governmental organizations such as the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue (DICID), academics focused on interfaith dialogue, and religious minority communities including Christians and Hindus.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population as 2.3 million (July 2017 estimate). Citizens make up approximately 11.6 percent of the population, while noncitizens account for approximately 88 percent. Reliable figures are unavailable, but estimates based solely on the religious composition of expatriate source countries suggest Muslims, while they are the largest religious group, likely make up less than half of the total population. Most citizens are Sunni Muslims, and almost all of the remainder are Shia Muslims. The breakdown of the noncitizen population between Sunni, Shia, and other Muslim groups is not available.

Other religious groups in descending order of size include Hindus, almost exclusively from India and Nepal; Roman Catholics, primarily from the Philippines, Europe, and India; and Buddhists, largely from South, Southeast, and East Asia. Smaller groups include Anglicans and other Protestant denominations, Egyptian Copts, Bahais, and Greek and other Eastern Orthodox.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares Islam to be the state religion and states sharia shall be “a main source” of legislation. The constitution guarantees the “freedom to practice religious rites” to all persons “in accordance with the law and the requirements of the maintenance of public order and morality.” It prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. According to the constitution, the emir must be Muslim.

Conversion to another religion from Islam is defined by the law as apostasy and illegal, although there have been no recorded punishments for apostasy since the country’s independence in 1971.

The law provides for a prison sentence of up to seven years for defaming, desecrating, or committing blasphemy against Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. The law stipulates a seven-year prison term for producing or circulating material containing slogans, images, or symbols defaming these three religions. The law also prohibits publication of texts provoking social discord or religious strife, with punishment if convicted of up to six months in prison.

To obtain an official presence in the country, non-Muslim religious groups must apply to register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) Department of Consular Affairs. All mosques and Islamic institutions in the country must be registered with the MEIA. The only registered religious groups are Sunni and Shia Muslims and eight Christian denominations. Protestant denominations other than those among the registered eight denominations, including nondenominational house churches, may be registered with the government with the support of the Church Steering Committee – an umbrella organization consisting of representatives of the eight already registered denominations. In practice, nearly all are registered under the aegis of the Anglican Church. Non-Christian groups must apply for registration through the MFA. The only religions registered to have their own places of worship are Islam and Christianity. Registered groups may hold bank accounts in the organization’s name, apply for property to build worship space (or have already built structures such as private villas recognized as worship spaces to avoid any problems with authorities), import religious texts, and publish religious newsletters or fliers for internal distribution, whereas unregistered entities are unable to open accounts, solicit funds, worship in private spaces legally, acquire religious texts from outside the country, publish religious-themed newsletters or pamphlets, or legally hire staff.

The government maintains an official list of previously registered Christian denominations, consisting of the Catholic, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic, Lebanese Maronite, evangelical Protestant, and Indian Churches. Sunni and Shia mosques are registered with the MEIA.

According to the law, unregistered religious groups (i.e., those not registered or under the patronage of one of the registered groups) that engage in worship activities are illegal, and members of those groups are subject to deportation.

The law restricts public worship for non-Islamic faiths. It prohibits non-Muslim religious groups from displaying religious symbols, which includes banning Christian congregations from advertising religious services or placing crosses outdoors where they are visible to the public. The law criminalizes proselytizing on behalf of an organization, society, or foundation of any religion other than Islam and provides for punishment of up to 10 years in prison. Proselytizing on one’s own accord for any religion other than Islam can result in a sentence of up to five years’’s imprisonment. The law calls for two years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 Qatari riyals ($2,700) for possession of written or recorded materials or items that support or promote missionary activity. The law allows importation of religious holy books, such as Bibles.

The government regulates the publication, importation, and distribution of all religious books and materials. The government reviewed, censored, or banned foreign newspapers, magazines, films, and books for objectionable sexual, religious, and political content. Religious groups may publish newsletters without government censorship but may only distribute them internally within their respective communities. To import religious materials, groups must submit one copy to the Ministry of Culture and Sports and receive written approval before making large orders or risk having the entire shipment confiscated.

The law designates the minister of endowments and Islamic affairs as the final authority for approving Islamic religious centers. Non-Islamic houses of worship are approved by the MFA in coordination with the private office of the emir.

While a non-Muslim woman is not required by law to convert to Islam when marrying a Muslim, the law considers offspring of such a marriage to be Muslim. A non-Muslim man marrying a Muslim woman must convert to Islam.

Islamic instruction is compulsory for Muslim and non-Muslim students attending state-sponsored schools. Non-Muslims may provide private religious instruction for their children at home or in their faith services. All children may attend secular and coeducational private schools. These schools must offer optional Islamic instruction; non-Islamic religious education is prohibited.

A unified civil court system, incorporating sharia and secular law, has jurisdiction over both Muslims and non-Muslims. The unified court system applies sharia in family law cases, including those related to inheritance, marriage, divorce, and child custody. For Shia Muslims, a judicial panel decides cases regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other family matters utilizing Shia interpretations of religious law. In other religious matters, the country’s family law applies across all branches of Islam. Non-Muslims are subject to sharia in cases of child custody, but civil law covers other personal status cases, including those related to divorce and inheritance.

Criminal law is based on the principles of sharia. The type of crime determines, however, whether those convicted receive a sharia-based sentence. There are certain criminal charges, such as alcohol consumption and extramarital sex, in which Muslims are punished according to sharia principles, including court-ordered flogging. Sharia-based punishments may also apply to non-Muslims in these cases. The government often commutes harsher punishments mandated by sharia. Muslim convicts may earn a sentence reduction of a few months by memorizing the Quran while imprisoned. Secular law covers dispute resolution for financial service companies. The law approves implementing the Shiite interpretation of sharia upon the agreement and request of the parties involved in the dispute.

The Regulatory Authority for Charitable Activities must approve all religious charitable activities by local charities, including religious ones, in advance. The MFA’s Department of International Cooperation is in charge of supervising donations to, and charitable activities of, foreign religious groups. Because of changes begun in July, the only charities now authorized to disburse funding abroad are Qatar Charity and Qatar Red Crescent.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government continued to state it would consider requests from nonregistered religious groups to acquire a place of worship if they applied to register but said none had done so. Unregistered groups continued to worship in private.

The government continued to permit adherents of unregistered religious groups, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Bahai Faith, and unregistered small Christian congregations, to worship privately in rented villas, their homes, workplaces, and with others.

Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais, and other unregistered religious groups continued to lack authorized facilities in which to practice their faiths. The director of the Department of Consular Affairs within the MFA continued to state the ministry was open to considering the creation of dedicated worship spaces for Hindus, Jews, and Buddhists, and that any organized, non-Muslim religious group could use the same process as Christians to apply for official registration. Members of at least one group reportedly filed for land in previous years to build their own complex but received no response from the government.

The MEIA reported it continued to hire clerics and assign them to specific mosques. The ministry continued to provide on an ad hoc basis thematic guidance for Friday sermons, especially on certain domestic or international occasions such as Sports Day or during certain international awareness-raising events such as antidrug campaigns. The ministry reviewed content but did not require clerics to obtain prior approval of their sermons. The government reserved the right to take judicial action against individuals who did not follow the guidance.

The MEIA continued to issue a decree during Ramadan describing its view of the correct way for Muslims to perform their religious duties. The decree also stipulated that non-Muslims seen eating or drinking during daylight hours were subject to arrest. All restaurants not located in hotels are required to close in daylight hours during Ramadan.

The government discouraged Qatari citizens and residents from taking part in the Umra or annual Hajj due to the severing of relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Officials at the MEIA stated the decision was made due to concerns for pilgrims’ security given the lack of diplomatic representation or coordination with Saudi religious and security authorities.

Although the law prohibits Christian groups from advertising religious services, Christian churches continued to post hours of services and other information on publicly accessible websites; however, they were not permitted to publish such information in local newspapers or on public bulletin boards.

The government maintained its policy of reviewing, censoring, or banning newspapers, magazines, books, and social media for “objectionable” religious content, such as an attack on Islamic values or depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. More commonly, journalists and publishers reportedly practiced self-censorship regarding material the government might consider contrary to Islam.

The government continued to permit non-Muslim religious groups and individuals to import religious publications, such as Bibles, and other religious items for personal or congregational use, provided they first applied for and received written approval.

The Mesaymeer Religious Complex, also known as “Church City,” continued to provide worship space for the eight registered Christian denominations. The government allowed unregistered churches to worship there as well, but only under the patronage of one of the eight recognized denominations. The Anglican Center within the Mesaymeer Religious Complex housed a number of other smaller denominations and offered space to 76 congregations of different denominations and languages.

The Church Steering Committee continued to meet to consider the concerns of registered non-Muslim religious groups, including the legal status of churches and contracts governing the residency of foreign religious workers in the country.

Christian leaders reported a continued lack of communication with the government throughout the year. New leadership within the MFA, however, worked to re-engage and reported direct contact and dialogue with the Church Steering Committee concerning the desire of the Christian community to develop a positive relationship with the MFA and develop channels of communication for addressing concerns such as the impact of security restrictions. The head of the MFA Human Rights Department expressed willingness to visit the church complex for a tour in early 2018. The government continued to enforce strict security measures at the Mesaymeer Religious Complex, including closing parking lots, setting a curfew on church access, and using metal detectors.

The government prohibited the slaughter of animals outside of licensed facilities – a measure it said was intended to ensure hygienic conditions. In practice, individuals were able to conduct ritual slaughter in private.

Church leaders and religious groups continued to state that individuals practiced self-censorship when expressing religious views online and relied mostly on word of mouth, church websites, social media platforms, and email newsletters to distribute information about religious groups’ activities.

Church leaders stated their ability to collect and distribute funds for charity continued to be limited by the government’s restrictions on the number and type of bank accounts churches could hold, as well as reporting requirements on contractors doing business with churches and on donors. Some smaller unregistered churches continued to use the personal accounts of religious leaders for church activities.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Private media in the country published anti-Semitic material. In June the government-funded Al-Jazeera English tweeted a post featuring an anti-Semitic cartoon claiming a Jewish plot to deny climate change. It showed a character representing a Jew saying: “He, he, he, my global warming, uh, I mean, climate change scam is working out perfectly for our long-term Talmudic plan of world domination!” The tweet was later deleted. In June the privately owned Al-Raya newspaper published a cartoon showing a witch with a Star of David wand causing two Arab men to fight one another in a crystal ball. In July Al-Raya also printed a cartoon depicting an octopus with the Star of David on its forehead trying to devour the Aqsa Mosque. In November local newspaper Al Arab published a cartoon depicting a dark scorpion with a Star of David and the words “Balfour Declaration” in Arabic threatening the people of Palestine. In December, after the announcement by President Trump that the United States would relocate its embassy, Al-Watan newspaper published a cartoon caricature of an orthodox Jew standing in front of the Arabic word for “Jerusalem.” In December cartoons published in a local media outlet used anti-Semitic imagery in its criticism of a Bahraini nongovernmental delegation to Israel as an act of betrayal of Arab nationalism.

The government-funded DICID, which operated independently, hosted discussions on the freedom to worship within one’s home and how seminars and roundtable discussions on religious tolerance could be used to resolve intercommunal strife. The center also hosted discussions on difficulties faced by non-Muslim groups. Publications released by DICID during the year included essays from authors of non-Abrahamic faiths and covered topics ranging from the origins of religious violence to the role of religion in the modern age and the importance of pluralism. During National Day celebrations held at Katara Cultural Village, DICID arranged a prominent display declaring “Qatar Always Tolerates All Religions,” visible to pedestrians walking through the festival.

In October the Doha-based Arab Center for Research and Political Studies held a two-day conference on “Christian Arabs in the Greater Mashreq: Determinants of Continuity, Emigration, and Forced Emigration.” Although it did not touch upon the conditions of Christians in Qatar or the Gulf Cooperation Council and focused only on Christians in the Levant, Egypt, and Iraq, conference participants, mostly from overseas, spoke openly about the challenges facing Christians in the Middle East and highlighted forms of persecution that force Christians to leave the region.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Charge d’Affaires and embassy officers continued to meet with relevant government bodies, including the Department of Consular Affairs at the MFA, the Ministry of Interior Department of Human Rights, and the MEIA, as well as quasi-governmental religious institutions, concerning the rights of religious minorities, Sunni-Shia relations in the country, interest in international exchange programs for imams and Awqaf officials, and government efforts to prevent the spread of extremist ideologies within mosques. The embassy worked to broker re-engagement between the MFA and the leadership of the Church Steering Committee of the Mesaymeer Religious Complex after a prolonged lack of engagement. They also met with representatives of Christian groups in the country. The embassy worked with DICID in planning a February 2018 interfaith conference that would involve participants from each of the Abrahamic religions. The head of DICID worked with the embassy to engage newspaper cartoonists and editors on the need to promote religious tolerance and discuss which kinds of images and statements could be viewed as anti-Semitic content.

Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The constitution states that the country is secular, prohibits religious discrimination, provides for freedom of religion, bans the use of religion for political ends, and stipulates impositions on freedom of conscience stemming from “religious fanaticism” shall be punishable by law. A government decree bans individuals from wearing full-face Islamic veils in public.

There were reports of increased societal tensions stemming from the rapid growth of the Muslim community in the country. According to Catholic, Muslim, and Christian leaders, however, there were no reports of religiously motivated incidents or actions directed against their respective communities.

The U.S. embassy continued to promote religious freedom and tolerance in engagements with leaders in government, the diplomatic community, and civil society groups. During the year, two religious leaders took part in a U.S. government-funded program that supported community engagement, countering violent extremism, and women’s empowerment. Embassy officials met separately with Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim leaders to discuss the state of religious tolerance and cooperation.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.0 million (July 2017 estimate). A 2012 survey by the Ministry of Economy, Planning, Territorial Management, and Integration estimates 55 percent of the native-born population is Protestant (of whom approximately 33 percent belong to evangelical Christian churches), 32 percent Roman Catholic, and 2 percent Muslim. Another 9 percent belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ on Earth through the Prophet Simon Kimbangu (Kimbanguist), the Celestial Church of Christ, Salvation Army, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). An estimated 2 percent of the population is atheist. A significant portion of the population combines traditional beliefs and practices with Christianity or other religious beliefs.

Many residents not included in government statistics are foreign workers from predominantly Muslim countries, primarily in West Africa. Over the past few years, there has been an influx of Muslim refugees, particularly from the Central African Republic (CAR). According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 31,000 refugees from the CAR live in the country, of whom 15 percent are Muslim.

The exact size of the Muslim community is difficult to ascertain. Government sources indicate that the size of the Muslim community ranges 8-10 percent – between 360,000-450,000 persons. The High Islamic Council of Congo (CSIC) reported that the Muslim community is nearly 12 percent of the population, or 540,000 persons. An official government census is expected in 2018.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states the country is secular, provides for freedom of belief, prohibits religious discrimination, and makes forced impositions on conscience based on “religious fanaticism,” such as forced conversion, punishable by law. The constitution bans the use of religion for political ends and political parties affiliated with a particular religious group.

A decree bans individuals from wearing the full-face Islamic veil, including the niqab and the burqa, in public places. The decree also bans Muslims from foreign countries from spending the night in mosques.

All organizations, including religious groups, must register with, and be approved by, the Ministry of Interior. Religious group applicants must present a certification of qualifications to operate a religious establishment; a title or lease to the property where the establishment is located; the exact address where the organization will be located; bylaws; and a document that clarifies the mission and objectives of the organization. Penalties for failure to register include fines and potential confiscation of goods, invalidation of contracts, and deportation of foreign group members.

The law prohibits religious instruction in public schools. Private schools may provide religious instruction. The law requires that all public and private schools respect all philosophical and religious doctrines. The constitution protects the right to establish private schools.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government granted Christians and Muslims access to public facilities for special religious events. For example, on September 1, the Muslim community celebrated Eid al-Adha in a stadium on the grounds of the presidential residence. The Ecumenical Council celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation at the same stadium on November 12.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to NGOs and religious leaders, the general population, including Muslims, broadly supported the 2015 ban on full-face Islamic veils, viewing the ban as a preemptive counterterrorism measure.

During the year, there were reports of increased societal tensions stemming from the rapid growth of the Muslim community in the country. Reports from private citizens regularly expressed concern about the potential for rising tensions because of the rapid growth of the Muslim population, especially in Pointe-Noire, the country’s second largest city and economic center. Muslim leaders stated, however, that they had not received any reports of religiously motivated incidents or actions directed against the Muslim community.

According to the CSIC, the organization would formally notify the government when it knew of Muslims traveling out of country to participate in religious education or for activities sponsored by the CSIC.

According to leaders of the Catholic and non-Catholic Christian communities, there were no reports of religiously motivated incidents or actions directed against their respective communities during the year.

The Ecumenical Council, representing the Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist Churches, met at least biweekly, discussing a range of topics, including peace and tolerance. The Revivalist Council, representing evangelical Protestant churches, and the Islamic Council each met at least twice during the year for discussions on humanitarian efforts, social action, and assistance to vulnerable persons. In October the Ecumenical Council organized an Interfaith Week that brought religious organizations together to promote mutual understanding, interreligious dialogue, and tolerance.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. embassy raised the issue of countering religious extremism, in addition to promoting the value of religious tolerance, during meetings held with high-ranking officials at the Ministries of Justice, Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action, and Interior. The embassy used public diplomacy tools, including social media platforms, to highlight religious engagement and the promotion of religious tolerance.

Embassy officials met with civil society and religious groups to enhance interreligious cooperation. In January the embassy sponsored a female pastor for an exchange visit to the U.S. with a focus on women’s empowerment, countering violent extremism, and peacebuilding. In April the embassy sponsored an imam for an exchange visit to the U.S. centered on community engagement and countering extremism. In May embassy officials visited a medical clinic for Muslims to reinforce engagement with Muslim community leaders. In August the embassy hosted a roundtable discussion with Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim community leaders to discuss societal issues, such as shifting demographics, religious tolerance, and interfaith dialogue. In May, September, and October, embassy officials met separately with Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim leaders to discuss the state of religious tolerance, encourage cooperation, and seek new methods of collaboration.


Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits restrictions on freedom of conscience and belief, as well as forcing an individual to espouse a religious belief contrary to the individual’s convictions. It stipulates all religions are independent from the state and have the freedom to organize “in accordance with their own statutes.” According to law, the state recognizes the “important role” of the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC) in the history of the country. The law specifies a three-tiered classification of religious organizations, although civil associations wishing to perform religious functions may organize under a separate provision of the law. Religious organizations recognized as religious denominations under the law receive state support and permission to minister to persons in the armed forces, hospitals, retirement homes, public schools, mass media, penitentiaries, and orphanages. Religious minorities continued to report registration requirements limited their ability to function and restricted where they could bury their dead. There were continued reports of the slow pace of restitution of confiscated properties, especially to the Greek Catholic Church and the Jewish community. As of December the government rejected 980 restitution claims for confiscated religious properties and approved 26. Minority religious groups continued to state that the national and local governments gave preference to the ROC, to report incidents of discrimination against them, and to object to government implementation of laws regarding religious instruction in schools. The naming of some streets, organizations, schools, and libraries after persons convicted of war crimes or crimes against humanity continued. Holocaust education remained optional in schools. Government leaders continued to speak out against anti-Semitism.

In October self-declared anti-Muslim activists interrupted a performance in the Cluj-Napoca Opera House during the recital of the Islamic call to prayer. Several mainstream media outlets depicted refugees and asylum seekers as Muslim “invaders.” Minority religious groups reported continued harassment of their congregations by ROC priests and adherents, including the denial of access to cemeteries. According to a report on hate speech, a considerable number of users and groups on social media advocated for the extermination of Jews or other violent acts. Members of the ROC praised convicted war criminals and Legionnaires. The media and the Jewish community reported several instances of vandalism of Jewish religious properties, including the destruction by unidentified vandals of 10 tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in Bucharest.

In meetings with the general secretary of the government, U.S. embassy officials raised continued concerns about the slow pace of the restitution process and the low number of properties restored to minority religious groups. Embassy officials facilitated meetings between the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) and government officials to help speed the processes of property restitution and pensions for Holocaust survivors. The embassy supported the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania (Wiesel Institute) and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in their efforts to establish a museum of Jewish history. The Ambassador participated in commemorations of the Holocaust, speaking out against the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the country. Embassy representatives continued to meet with Greek Catholic priests to discuss ROC-Greek Catholic relations and incidents of discrimination. The Ambassador hosted several events for religious leaders to facilitate interreligious dialogue and understanding.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 21.5 million (July 2017 estimate). According to a 2011 government census, ROC adherents constitute 86.5 percent of the population and Roman Catholics almost 5 percent. According to the census, there are approximately 151,000 Greek Catholics; however, Greek Catholics estimate their numbers at 488,000. Other religious groups include Old Rite Russian Christians; Protestants, including Reformed Protestants, Pentecostals, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and other Protestant denominations; Jews; Muslims; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Bahais; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons); Zen Buddhists; members of the Family (God’s Children); the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church); and the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. Atheists and nonbelievers represent less than 1 percent of the population.

According to the census, Old Rite Russian Christians are mainly located in Moldavia and Dobrogea. Most Muslims live in the southeast around Constanta. Most Greek Catholics reside in Transylvania. Protestants of various denominations and Roman Catholics reside primarily in Transylvania. Orthodox and Greek Catholic ethnic Ukrainians live mostly in the north. Orthodox ethnic Serbs are primarily in Banat. Members of the Armenian Apostolic Church are concentrated in Moldavia and the south. Virtually all members of the Protestant Reformed and Unitarian Churches of Transylvania are ethnic Hungarians. More than half of the Roman Catholic and evangelical Lutheran churches in Transylvania are composed of ethnic Hungarians. Approximately 40 percent of the country’s Jewish population of 3,400 resides in Bucharest.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits restricting freedom of thought, opinion, conscience or religious beliefs, as well as forcing individuals to espouse a religious belief contrary to their convictions. It stipulates all religions are independent from the state and have the freedom to organize “in accordance with their own statutes” under terms defined by the law. The law specifies the state’s recognition of the “important role of the Romanian Orthodox Church” as well as the role of “other churches and denominations as recognized by the national history” of the country.

The constitution also states religious denominations shall be autonomous and enjoy state support, including the facilitation of religious assistance in the army, hospitals, penitentiaries, retirement homes, and orphanages. The law forbids public authorities or private legal entities from asking individuals to specify their religion, with the exception of the census.

The provisions of the law devoted to religion stipulate a three-tier system of religious classification with “religious denominations” at the highest level, followed by “religious associations,” and “religious groups” at the most basic level. Organizations in the top two tiers are legal entities, while religious groups are not. Under separate provisions of the law governing associations and foundations, civil associations may also engage in religious activities and have the status of legal entities.

By law, there are 18 religious organizations recognized as “religious denominations,” all of which were in existence at the time the specific law on religion was enacted in 2006. They include the ROC; Orthodox Serb Bishopric of Timisoara; Roman Catholic Church; Greek Catholic Church; Old Rite Russian Christian (Orthodox) Church; Reformed (Protestant) Church; Christian Evangelical Church; Romanian Evangelical Church; Evangelical Augustinian Church; Lutheran Evangelical Church; Unitarian Church; the Baptist Church; Pentecostal Church; Seventh-day Adventist Church; Armenian Apostolic Church; Federation of Jewish Communities; Muslim Denomination (Islam); and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

For additional organizations to obtain recognition as religious denominations, the law specifies they must demonstrate 12 years of continuous activity since the law’s passage, which cannot occur before 2018. After it demonstrates 12 years of continuous activity, a religious association is eligible to apply for the status of religious denomination if it has a membership of 0.1 percent of the population (approximately 21,500 persons) or more.

The law defines a religious association as an organization of at least 300 citizens who share and practice the same faith and that has attained legal status through registration with the Registry of Religious Associations in the office of the clerk of the court where the main branch of the association is located. To register, religious associations must submit to the government their members’ personal data (e.g., names, addresses, personal identification numbers, and signatures), which the law says may not be shared with other public institutions or used in any other way. To operate as religious associations, organizations also require approval from the National Secretariat for Religious Denominations, which is subordinated to the Prime Minister’s Office. At year’s end, 33 entities with diverse religious affiliations were registered as religious associations, up from 27 in 2016.

The law defines a religious group as a group of individuals who share the same beliefs. Religious groups do not have to register to practice their religion and do not need approval from the national secretariat to operate.

Civil associations engaged in religious activities function like secular associations and foundations; however, they do not receive the same benefits as religious denominations or religious associations. Civil associations may not qualify under the numerical/administrative criteria (300 members) for recognition as religious associations or may choose not to apply for such recognition. These associations do not require approval from the National Secretariat for Religious Denominations to operate. Their registration falls under the provisions of law governing the establishment of foundations, associations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which require a minimum membership of three individuals. Such civil associations are not required to submit their members’ personal data.

Religious denominations are eligible for state financial and other support. They have the right to teach religion classes in public schools, receive government funds to build places of worship, partially pay clergy salaries with state funds, broadcast religious programming on radio and television, and apply for broadcasting licenses for their own stations. Under the law, the amount of state funding a denomination receives is determined by the number of adherents reported in the most recent census, as well as by “the religious denomination’s actual needs.”

Religious associations do not receive government funding, but both they and religious denominations receive tax exemptions on income and buildings used for religious, educational, or other social purposes. Religious groups do not receive either government funding or tax exemptions.

Both religious denominations and religious associations may own or rent property, publish or import religious literature, proselytize, establish and operate schools or hospitals, own cemeteries, and receive tax exemptions on income and buildings used for religious, educational, or other social purposes. Religious groups have no legal status to engage in such activities; however, they may practice their religious beliefs, including in public.

Civil associations engaged in religious activities may engage in religious worship. While they do not receive the same tax exemptions or other benefits granted to religious denominations and religious associations, they may receive the tax advantages and other benefits accruing to civil associations and foundations.

Legal provisions allow local authorities to fund places of worship and theological schools belonging to religious denominations, including providing funding for staff salaries and building maintenance, renovation, and conservation or construction of places of worship. No similar provisions exist for religious associations or other associations engaged in religious activities; however, these associations may receive funding through legal provisions for civil associations and foundations.

The law entitles all types of religious organizations to bury their deceased members in cemeteries belonging to other religious organizations – with the exception of Jewish and Muslim cemeteries – in localities where they do not have cemeteries of their own and where there is no public cemetery. Public cemeteries must have separate sections for each religious denomination if requested by the denominations operating in the locality.

The law allows clergy from recognized religious denominations to minister to military personnel. This includes the possibility of clergy functioning within the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, Intelligence Service, Foreign Intelligence Service, Protection and Guard Service, Special Telecommunications Service, and General Directorate for Penitentiaries. Under various other arrangements, clergy of recognized religious denominations, and in some cases religious associations, may enter hospitals, orphanages, and retirement homes to undertake religious activities. Religious denominations and religious associations may undertake activities in penitentiaries, subject to approval by the director of the detention facility.

The law provides for the restitution of religious properties confiscated between 1940 and 1989, during World War II (WWII) and the ensuing communist regime, as long as the properties are in the possession of the state. These two regimes confiscated the property of both individuals and religious denominations. The Jewish community was forced to “donate” property during WWII and afterward. In accordance with communist-era legislation on the status of religions, if the majority of a “local community of believers” changed their religion, the properties of the church they had left followed them to the new church. The communist regime also outlawed the Greek Catholic Church, forced church members to convert to Orthodoxy, and confiscated all church property. It transferred all places of worship and parish houses to the ROC and most other properties (land and buildings) to the state.

Under the law, if a confiscated property is used “in the public interest,” such as for a school, hospital, or museum, and is returned to its previous owner, the current occupants are allowed to stay in it for 10 years after the restitution decision and pay a capped rent. The law does not address the general return of properties currently used as places of worship. Although the provisions of the law on restitution state a separate law will be adopted to address such cases, to date there is no such law.

A separate statute on the reinstatement of the Greek Catholic Church regulates the restitution of properties to the Greek Catholic Church from the ROC. Restitution decisions are made by a joint commission representing the two churches and based on “the will of the believers from the communities that possess these properties.” The Greek Catholic Church may pursue court action if attempts to obtain restitution of its properties through dialogue are unsuccessful.

The law establishes a points system of compensation in cases where in-kind restitution is not possible. Religious groups may use the points only to bid on other properties in auctions organized by the National Commission for Real Estate Compensation (NCREC). The NCREC also validates compensation decisions of other local or central authorities, including those of the Special Restitution Commission (SRC), which decides on restitution claims filed by religious denominations and national minorities. The law establishes a 240-day deadline by which claimants must submit additional evidence in their cases at the specific request of the entity in charge of resolving their restitution claim. If a claimant does not meet the deadline, the administrative authority may reject the case. The authority may extend the deadline by an additional 120 days if the claimants prove they made a concerted effort to obtain the evidence, usually in the possession of other state authorities, but were unable to do so.

The law nullifies acts of forced “donations” of Jewish property during WWII and the communist era, and lowers the burden of proof for the previous owners or their heirs to obtain restitution. The law designates the present-day Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania as the legitimate inheritor of forfeited communal Jewish property and accords priority to private claims by Holocaust survivors. The law does not address heirless or unclaimed property left by Holocaust victims.

By law, religious education in schools is optional. Each of the 18 legally recognized religious denominations is entitled to offer religion classes, based on its own religious teachings, in schools. A denomination may offer classes regardless of the number of students adhering to the denomination in a school. The law allows for exceptions where the right of students to attend religion classes cannot be implemented “for objective reasons,” without specifying what these reasons may be.

Under the law, parents of students under 18 years of age are required to request their children’s participation in religion classes, while students 18 and older may themselves ask to attend religion classes. Although a student normally takes a school course based on the religious teachings of the denomination to which the student belongs, it is also possible for a student to take a religion course offered by his or her denomination outside the school system and bring a certificate from the denomination to receive academic credit.

Religion teachers are government employees, but each religious denomination approves the appointment and retention of the teachers of its religion classes.

The law forbids religious proselytizing in schools. If teachers proselytize, the school management decides the punishment based on the conclusions of an internal committee.

The law states the religion of a child who has turned 14 may not be changed without the child’s consent, and from age 16 an individual has the right to choose her/his religion.

The law bans discrimination on religious grounds in all areas of public life. It also bans religious defamation and stirring conflict on religious grounds, as well as public offenses against religious symbols. Penalties may include fines varying from 1,000 to 100,000 lei ($260 to $25,800), depending on whether the victim is an individual or a community.

The law prohibits establishment of fascist, Legionnaire, racist, or xenophobic organizations, which it defines in part as groups that promote violence, religiously motivated hatred, or anti-Semitism. Penalties for establishing such organizations range from three to 10 years’ imprisonment and the loss of certain rights. Criminal liability is waived if the person involved in establishing such an organization informs authorities before the organization begins its activity; penalties are halved if the individual helps authorities with the criminal investigation. Legislation also makes manufacturing, selling, distributing, owning with intent to distribute, and using Legionnaire symbols illegal. Penalties range from three months’ to three years’ imprisonment.

Publicly denying, contesting, approving, justifying, or minimizing, in an “obvious manner” as determined by a judge, the Holocaust is punishable by six months’ to three years’ imprisonment or by a fine, depending on circumstances, of up to 200,000 lei ($51,500). Publicly promoting the cult of persons convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes may incur fines and prison terms ranging from six months to three years and from six months to five years if done online. The same penalties apply to publicly promoting fascist, Legionnaire, racist, or xenophobic ideas, worldviews, or doctrines.

The law allows religious workers from legally recognized religious organizations to enter and remain in the country under an extended-stay visa. Visa applicants must receive approval by the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs and submit evidence they represent religious organizations legally established in the country. The secretariat may extend such visas for up to five years.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). On May 25, the government approved a memorandum to clarify how the government would include the working definition of anti-Semitism into professional training programs and in the civics studies curricula, adopted by consensus at the IHRA Plenary meeting in Bucharest one year earlier.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Summary paragraph: The government approved recognition of several religious groups as religious associations but rejected the applications of others. Minority religious groups, in particular, continued to object to the legal classification system for religious organizations. There were continued reports of the slow pace of restitution of confiscated properties, especially reports from the Greek Catholic Church and the Jewish community, and the number of agency and court decisions returning properties remained low. Minority religious groups continued to state that the national and local governments gave preference to the ROC, to report incidents of discrimination against them, and to object to government implementation of laws regarding religious instruction in schools. The naming of some streets, organizations, schools, and libraries after persons convicted of Nazi-era war crimes or crimes against humanity continued. Prosecutions for anti-Semitic speech and Holocaust denial remained rare, while Holocaust education remained optional in schools. Government leaders continued to speak out against anti-Semitism, and the government transferred property to the Wiesel Institute to establish a museum on the history of Romanian Jewry.

As of December, the government approved six applications for religious association status during the year, all of which were Christian associations. In one case, the National Secretariat for Religious Denominations did not issue an advisory opinion because the submitted documentation did not meet the criteria established by law. The establishing act and the statute of the association that did not receive the advisory opinion expressed the will of only seven members and not 300, as required by law, and the official name of the association was not used consistently in all the documents submitted. Groups whose applications were rejected could reapply once they had prepared the necessary documents to complete their applications.

Bahai leaders continued to seek amendment of the law to include provisions for the burial of deceased persons who did not belong to one of the 18 recognized denominations; Bahais were registered as a religious association and not as a denomination.

Religious groups continued to state they viewed the 300-person membership requirement and the need to submit their members’ personal data for registration as a religious association as discriminatory because other types of associations only required three members and did not have to submit the personal data of their members. They also continued to criticize the three-tier classification system for religious organizations.

In May the media reported two persons found dead in their home in Dobresti, a village in Dolj County, were swiftly buried without any religious ceremony following a decision by the mayor. The vice mayor reportedly transported the bodies in plastic bags via bulldozer and dumped them into an unmarked grave on the outskirts of the cemetery. The mayor stated he was concerned about health risks associated with decaying bodies and there was not enough time to call a priest or buy a coffin and a cross.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that in several areas of the country, some members encountered opposition to their activities and threats from ROC priests, police, and public authorities. In July the mayor of Balilesti village in Arges County and a local ROC priest threatened representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and forced them out of the village. Following a complaint, police instructed the mayor and the priest to respect the law on religious freedom. In July an ROC priest from the village of Tonea, Calarasi County, accused two members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses of distributing religious “propaganda” and threatened to use physical violence against them.

The same month two ROC priests from the village of Radacineni, Valcea County, said to members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses the priests would “protect their parish with their own blood” and threatened to use a sword against them if they came again to the village. Following complaints submitted by Jehovah’s Witnesses, police fined the priests. The Jehovah’s Witnesses also said a local police agent from Margineni, Prahova County, had asked two members of the religious group to identify themselves and said in front of a crowd gathered by an ROC priest the two could be terrorists. After escorting the members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to police headquarters, the Jehovah’s Witnesses said a police agent disapproved of their “activity” and took no measures when the ROC priest threatened to force them out of the village with the help of locals. The prosecutor’s office attached to the Prahova Tribunal dismissed the criminal complaint submitted by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the case. Jehovah’s Witnesses also reported that in the village of Raucesti, Neamt County, agents of the National Police urged two of the religious group’s representatives to leave the village and told them they needed a permit from local authorities to carry out religious activities. Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a criminal complaint regarding this case. At the end of the year, the case remained pending before the prosecutor’s office attached to the Neamt Tribunal.

A Roman Catholic official said the National Audio-Visual Council, a government-appointed entity that monitors broadcast content and issues broadcasting licenses, repeatedly rejected requests for local radio licenses to allow the Catholic “Radio Maria” network to expand the number of stations on which it broadcast.

In 2016, a former city hall candidate, Catalin Berenghi, filed a court case to annul the 2015 government decision transferring land in Bucharest to the Muslim community in order for it to build a mosque. Beginning in May, an online campaign generated approximately 8,000 motions from individuals desiring to become additional plaintiffs in the court case, thereby delaying the court’s consideration of the original motion. As of December, the case was pending before the Bucharest Court of Appeal.

In May the Roman Catholic Archbishopric of Bucharest criticized the mayor’s office for not enforcing court rulings to demolish a 19-story building constructed within the protected zone around the Roman Catholic Saint Joseph Cathedral, a designated historical monument. According to media reports, Mayor Gabriela Firea stated on a television show she would ask the residents of Bucharest, via an opinion poll, if they agreed to spend millions of euros to demolish the building.

In September the Bucharest City Council allocated one million euros ($1.2 million) for the continued construction of the Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral, the patriarchal cathedral of the ROC. The president of Save Romania Union in Bucharest criticized the decision, stating the cathedral did not represent a priority for Bucharest due to more pressing needs, such as addressing the city’s traffic congestion; several journalists agreed with her opinion.

As of December, the National Authority for Property Restitution (NAPR), the government agency responsible for overseeing the restitution process, reported the SRC had approved the restitution of three “immovable properties” (land or buildings) to religious denominations, approved compensation in 26 cases, and rejected 980 other claims during the year. In 231 cases, the filers withdrew, redirected, or attached their claims to other files. According to data provided by NAPR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the number of cases NAPR reviewed decreased 37 percent from 1,955 in 2016 to 1,227.

According to the NAPR, as of December religious groups appealed 85 decisions by the SRC to the courts during the year. The Roman Catholic Church made 31 appeals; the ROC made 16; the Greek Catholics made eight appeals; the Reformed Church made four appeals; and the Jewish community made 12 appeals. Information concerning court decisions on these cases was unavailable.

The NAPR reviewed 744 claims submitted by the Greek Catholic Church during the year but did not restore any property to the church or grant it compensation in any cases. The NAPR continued to report the reason for the SRC’s rejection of some claims for restitution of Greek Catholic properties was that the previous transfer of those properties to the ROC occurred under the communist regime. According to the NAPR, these properties did not belong to the state and therefore the state could not return them.

The Greek Catholic Church reported continued court delays on restitution lawsuits. Two court decisions on Greek Catholic restitution cases were reported during the year. In both cases, the courts rejected restitution claims, but a final decision was pending at year’s end.

Restitution of a property in Bixad, previously restored to the Greek Catholic Church by the government and confirmed by earlier court decisions, continued to be delayed while courts considered the case anew, following a 2016 decision by the Alba Tribunal, a county-level court, allowing the Satu Mare County Council to revive its claim for ownership of the property. At year’s end, the case was still pending.

Two cases filed in 2016 by the Greek Catholic Church with the European Court of Human Rights for restitution of churches in Bistrita and Breb remained pending. In each case, the Church’s complaint concerned court decisions awarding Greek Catholic property to the ROC based on census data showing Greek Catholics as a minority.

Although the government did not issue regulations for implementing new property restitution legislation passed in 2016, which granted priority to cases involving Holocaust survivors, the NAPR approved priority status for the 50 such applications it had received by August. The NAPR awarded compensation to Holocaust survivors in two cases and requested additional documents for the remaining 48 cases.

The Caritatea Foundation, the NGO established by the Federation of Jewish Communities and the WJRO to oversee Jewish communal property claims, reported the SRC had approved nine pending claims as of August – all via compensation – and rejected 107 others. In 62 other cases, claimants withdrew their requests. No new claims were submitted during the year. The foundation stated the SRC continued to fear assuming responsibility for restitution and preferred to pass decisions on to the courts. The foundation also continued to state the claims procedure was overly bureaucratic and unreasonable, in particular because the SRC often requested the submission of numerous additional documents, giving Jewish claimants little time to meet the 120-day deadline for document submission.

The Caritatea Foundation also said the NCREC continued to invalidate previous positive decisions for compensation by the SRC, citing the case of a Jewish community property in Galati, which remained pending following the NCREC’s denial of previously awarded compensation due to a name change of the street where the property had been located.

The Reformed, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, and Evangelical Lutheran churches said the government continued to reject their restitution claims on the grounds the entities registered as the former property owners were not the contemporary churches. Church leaders said the communist regime had dismantled the former church entities while confiscating their property, meaning the former property owners no longer existed as such but the contemporary churches, as the successors to the dismantled churches, were in effect the same entities whose property had been seized. Fifty claims submitted by the Roman Catholic Church were resolved as of year’s end. The government decided to grant compensation in three cases, 38 claims were denied, and in nine cases the claimants renounced, redirected their claims, or annexed them to other files. Twenty-five claims submitted by the Reformed Church were reviewed and 17 were denied; in seven cases, the plaintiffs either renounced, redirected their claims, or annexed them to other files; in one case, the government granted compensation. During the year, the government reviewed and denied the four pending claims of the Unitarian Church. One claim for restitution filed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church was resolved as of December, and the government granted compensation.

The Roman Catholic Church’s appeal of the SRC’s 2015 rejection of its claim for restitution of the Batthyaneum Library and an astronomical institute in Alba Iulia remained pending with the court. Greek Catholic priests continued to state that local authorities did not grant construction permits for places of worship, even though there were no apparent legal grounds for denying them. Greek Catholics attributed the delayed issuance of permits to pressure from the ROC.

The percentage of schoolchildren opting to take religion classes remained at almost 90 percent and, according to the media, NGOs, and parents’ associations, continued to be the result of manipulation and pressure by the ROC as well as the failure of school directors to offer parents alternatives to the religion classes. Observers reported school inspectorates did not enforce a ministerial order mandating annual submission of requests to take religion classes and instead considered children’s initial requests to be valid for an entire four-year study cycle.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church reported schools continued to schedule exams on Saturdays without providing the option for Seventh-day Adventist students, for whom Saturday is the Sabbath, to take the exams on another day.

In September, 20 NGOs sent a public letter to the Ministry of Education requesting a ban on religious services during the opening of the school year. The NGO letter stated children were “forced” to take part in religious services organized in schools, which represented a “serious violation of religious freedom.”

Minority religious groups, including the Christian Evangelical Church, reported authorities continued to allow only the ROC to play an active role in the annual opening ceremonies at schools and other community events and usually did not invite other religious groups to attend such ceremonies.

In public speeches, some politicians and the media continued to equate Romanian Orthodoxy with national identity. A National Liberal Party deputy, Daniel Gheorghe, said in October that the Orthodox Church was the “spinal column of the Romanian nation.”

Religious groups reported military chaplains continued to be ROC priests with the exception of one Roman Catholic priest and one pastor from the Evangelical Alliance.

The government-established Elie Wiesel Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania reported prosecution of anti-Semitic speech and Holocaust denial remained a rare occurrence. According to statistics released by the government, during the year, the national-level Prosecutor General’s Office compiled a list of 42 cases to be resolved. Of those cases, the office reportedly resolved one case through a waiver of criminal prosecution (defined as there being no public interest in prosecution) and dropped 12 other cases.

According to the Wiesel Institute, the delay in the prosecution of cases continued due to lengthy investigations. As of October, Gorj police, under the supervision of the Targu Jiu prosecutor’s office, continued to investigate a case from 2014 based on a complaint from the Center for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism (MCA), an independent NGO, concerning a lampshade posted for sale online and advertised as being made of “Jewish skin.”

The Wiesel Institute reported local authorities continued to name some streets, organizations, schools, and libraries after persons convicted of Nazi-era war crimes or crimes against humanity and to allow the erection of statues and busts depicting persons convicted of war crimes. The Wiesel Institute asked city authorities in Cluj-Napoca to rename a street named after Radu Gyr, a commander of the Legionnaire movement and apologist for anti-Semitism who was convicted of war crimes. As of December the local government had not changed the name of the street.

According to the Wiesel Institute, the committee for renaming streets within the Bucharest prefect’s office recommended against the renaming of a street honoring Mircea Vulcanescu, a cabinet member in the government of WWII leader Ion Antonescu who supported anti-Semitic policies and was convicted as a war criminal. In May the Bucharest Tribunal ruled Vulcanescu’s conviction for war crimes in 1948 was politically motivated because he had opposed the communist regime. Several academics criticized the tribunal’s decision, stating Vulcanescu’s original conviction was based on his activity as a member of the Antonescu cabinet and not on his opposition to the communist regime. In October the Ministry of Finance appealed the decision; the case remained pending in the Court of Appeal at the end of the year.

The government continued to implement the recommendations of the 2004 International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania (Wiesel Commission) Report and to cooperate with the USHMM in promoting Holocaust education. The Wiesel Institute continued to organize training sessions for history teachers, carry out educational activities for students, and inform the public about the Holocaust.

Despite the government’s commitment to cooperate with the USHMM to promote Holocaust education, observers reported the general history curricula continued not to provide a mandatory class on the country’s Holocaust history. The high school course “History of the Jews – The Holocaust” remained optional. During the 2016-17 school year, 2,894 students in 75 schools enrolled in this course, a number that observers considered extremely low when compared with the total student population.

In May the Wiesel Institute took possession of a building in central Bucharest transferred to it by the Bucharest General Council for establishment of a new museum on the history of the country’s Jewish community. The Ministry of Defense promised to facilitate the transfer of historical artifacts to the Wiesel Institute for use in the museum.

Pursuant to its pledge to implement the recommendations of the 2004 International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania (Wiesel Commission) Report, the government again commemorated the annual National Holocaust Remembrance Day in October, marking the day when the Romanian authorities began deporting the country’s Jews to Transnistria, with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial in Bucharest. The president and other government officials made public statements against anti-Semitism during the year.

Following vandalism at a Jewish cemetery in Bucharest in April, then-Prime Minister Grindeanu said, “I firmly condemn the serious act of vandalism that occurred at the beginning of this week in the greatest Jewish cemetery in Bucharest. Anti-Semitic acts and vandalism are unacceptable.” In June President Iohannis participated in an awards ceremony in the United States hosted by the Global Forum of the American Jewish Committee. After receiving the “Light Unto the Nations” distinction, he said, “We cannot allow Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism to affect the health of democracies.”

The Wiesel Institute continued to organize training courses on the history of the Holocaust for teachers, police officers, and other professionals. In April the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized a conference on the recently adopted working definition of anti-Semitism by the IHRA. During the conference, NGO representatives, leaders of the Jewish community, and academics discussed the implications of the working definition and the way law enforcement, academics, and educators can use it. On May 25, the government approved a memorandum stipulating measures to be taken by the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, law enforcement authorities, and Ministry of Education to include the working definition in their professional training programs and in the civics studies curricula.

In an article published by the privately owned Adevarul newspaper, Radu Preda, who is the executive president of the government-sponsored Institute for Investigating Communist Crimes, which studies the former communist regime, said the dismantling of the Greek Catholic Church by Stalin was “God’s pedagogy.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In October anti-Muslim activist Calin Marincus and several members of the New Right Party interrupted an artistic performance of a mass in the Cluj-Napoca Opera House, which also included the recital of the Islamic call to prayer. The media reported the activists started singing the Romanian national anthem and Marincus made statements opposing the construction of any “mega-mosque” on Romanian soil. Police removed the protesters from the building and fined them.

Greek Catholic priests said ROC priests continued to harass and intimidate Greek Catholics, especially in rural areas, and to encourage ROC members to try to prevent individuals from joining the Greek Catholic Church.

According to non-Orthodox religious groups, ROC priests continued not to allow them to bury their dead in ROC or public cemeteries or otherwise continued to restrict such burials by requiring the burials take place in isolated sections of a cemetery or follow Orthodox rituals during the funeral services. According to the Greek Catholic Church, in the village of Tiur, the ROC representatives who managed the local cemetery did not allow a Greek Catholic priest to bury a deceased person. The Christian Evangelical Church (CEC) reported that in the village of Sarulesti Gara, the ROC priest refused the burial of persons belonging to other religious denominations in the local cemetery. According to the CEC, there were two cases when the same priest forcefully entered the house of the deceased persons and buried them according to the Orthodox ritual, contrary to the families’ request for burial next to CEC members. The CEC also said ROC priests forced former Orthodox believers who converted to the evangelical Christian faith to give up their graves leased from the local cemetery managed by the ROC. Non-Orthodox religious groups continued to report difficulties in obtaining land to establish cemeteries. The CEC reported that in the village of Cosesti, the mayor’s office rejected the request for land to establish a cemetery and did not approve the establishment of a cemetery next to the local church, citing the local ROC priest’s opposition.

According to Greek Catholic leaders, the ROC, in conjunction with local authorities, continued to deny the Greek Catholic Church and its followers access to the ROC cemetery in Sapanta, which had previously belonged to the Greek Catholic Church.

Bahais reported an ROC priest in one neighborhood in Bucharest repeatedly told parents and residents the purpose of an after-school program owned by a member of the Bahai community was “dangerous” for their children and was to “manipulate and twist their children’s minds.”

A survey by Kantar TNS, commissioned by the Wiesel Institute and released in October, found that while 68 percent of the 1,014 adults 18 years and older surveyed had heard of the Holocaust, only 41 percent believed the Holocaust had occurred in the country. Approximately 55 percent of the respondents blamed the Holocaust on Nazi Germany, while 22 percent considered the wartime government of general Ion Antonescu responsible. Of the respondents, 44 percent considered Antonescu a hero; 46 percent of those interviewed agreed with the statement “it would be better for Jews to go live in their country.”

Material promoting anti-Semitic views and glorifying Legionnaires appeared in both print and social media. According to a report released in April on hate speech on social media during 2016 by the Wiesel Institute, 59 percent of the recorded hate speech incidents targeted Jews. The report stated 2 percent of recorded hate speech repeated longstanding accusations against Jews, such as declaring the Talmud a “satanic Bible” or characterizing Jews as being part of a plot to bring the anti-Christ to earth. The report found 22 percent of the recorded hate speech posted by users and groups on social media advocated the extermination of Jews or other violent acts.

According to the MCA, in May the Ion I. Bratianu Cultural Foundation, a Bucharest-based NGO that organizes cultural and scientific events, hosted the launch of an anti-Semitic book, The Nazi Zionism, by retired general Radu Theodoru. The MCA stated it had informed the prosecutor’s and mayor’s offices about the book launch before it took place, but the authorities did not intervene.

Observers reported members of the ROC continued to make public statements praising convicted war criminals and members of the Legionnaire Movement. In the context of the ROC’s Commemorative Year Dedicated to the Defenders of Orthodoxy During Communism, ROC Spokesperson Vasile Banescu stated Mircea Vulcanescu was among those who should be honored because they “sacrificed themselves for the defense of national and Christian values.”

In September the media reported hundreds of individuals participated in a march recreating Elie Wiesel’s deportation journey as a protest against anti-Semitism.

Several mainstream media outlets depicted refugees and asylum seekers as Muslim “invaders,” while conspiracy theories and antagonistic speech against Muslims appeared frequently on social networks. In August during a World Cup qualification match against Armenia, observers reported Romanian supporters displayed a banner reading “No to Islamization.” An article published by the Evenimentul Zilei news site in August regarding the recent flow of migrants was titled, “The Migrant Invasion: Muslims Storm Romania’s Borders.”

In April vandals destroyed 10 tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in Bucharest, according to the MCA. Police identified three underage individuals who allegedly were responsible for the crime. Although the vandalism took place on Holocaust Remembrance Day, observers reported the police investigation found the perpetrators had acted without a specific reason. At year’s end, the case remained pending before a Bucharest district court.

In June the Jewish community in Cluj-Napoca notified police about anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial messages painted on the exterior wall of the Memorial Temple of Deported Jews synagogue in Cluj-Napoca. A police investigation remained pending at the end of the year.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The embassy raised its continued concerns about the slow pace of religious property restitution with the general secretary of the government. The embassy also continued to facilitate meetings between the WJRO and the government to help speed the processes of property restitution and pensions for Holocaust survivors.

Embassy officials and representatives of the USHMM continued discussions with government ministers, officials in the education ministry, and heads of the major political parties. They stressed the importance of full official recognition of the Holocaust in the country, the necessity of expanding Holocaust education for both students and civil servants, and the need for complete implementation of the recommendations of the Wiesel Commission.

The embassy continued to assist the USHMM’s effort to access the country’s national archives by engaging with various ministries and agencies. Embassy officials also continued to support the Wiesel Institute in establishing a museum on the history of Romanian Jews by raising the project in meetings with key ministries, engaging the Ministry of Defense on the transfer of historical artifacts to the Wiesel Institute for use by the museum, and by the Ambassador’s participation on the museum’s consultative committee.

Embassy officials met with a regional leader of the Greek Catholic Church in Bucharest to discuss its relations with the ROC, incidents of discrimination by local authorities, and its relationship with the national government. The Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to hold meetings with Muslim and Jewish community leaders to discuss ways of promoting religious diversity and curbing religious discrimination. The Ambassador and embassy officers also continued to meet with the Romanian Orthodox Patriarch to discuss their shared interest in maintaining regional stability, encouraging progress on rule of law reform efforts, and combatting trafficking in persons.

In late June the Ambassador traveled to Iasi to participate in the 76th anniversary commemoration of the Jewish pogrom there. The Ambassador recited a poem by a Jewish writer before laying a wreath at the Jewish cemetery. In October at a ceremony for National Holocaust Commemoration Day, the Ambassador spoke about the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the country and laid a wreath.

During the year, the Ambassador hosted an iftar and other events that gathered religious leaders of various faiths to facilitate interreligious dialogue and understanding.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, equal rights irrespective of religious belief, and the rights to worship and profess one’s religion. The law states government officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association for violating public order or engaging in “extremist activity.” The law lists Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country’s four “traditional” religions and recognizes the special role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). The law distinguishes between “religious groups,” which have the right to conduct worship services but may not engage in many other activities, and two categories of “religious organizations,” which obtain legal status through registration with the government to conduct a full range of religious and civil functions. The Supreme Court ruled to criminalize the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist,” effectively banning their activities and literature, and ordered their headquarters property to be liquidated. Authorities continued to detain and fine members of minority religious groups and minority religious organizations for alleged extremism. In one case, there were reports that authorities tortured an individual in a pretrial detention facility. Authorities convicted and fined several individuals for “public speech offensive to religious believers.” The government prosecuted individuals of many denominations for unauthorized missionary activity under the amendments to antiterrorism laws passed in 2016, known as the Yarovaya Package. Police conducted raids on the private homes and places of worship of religious minorities. Religious minorities said local authorities used the country’s anti-extremism laws to add to the list of banned religious texts. Local officials continued to prevent minority religious organizations from obtaining land and denied them construction permits for houses of worship. There were reports of Jehovah’s Witnesses facing discrimination from school officials following the organization’s ban. The government continued to grant privileges to the ROC not accorded to any other church or religious association, including the right to review draft legislation and greater access to public institutions. The government increasingly fined and issued deportation orders for foreign nationals engaging in religious activity, including a rabbi, four Korean citizen Baptists, and an Indian citizen Pentecostal pastor.

Media, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and religious groups reported a number of attacks on individuals based on their religious identity. There were physical assaults on Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims, as well as other attacks on individuals, possibly based on both their ethnicity and religion. NGOs reported overall there were fewer instances of violence based on religious identity than in prior years. In separate instances, arsonists attacked a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ home and place of worship. Acts of vandalism motivated by religious hatred continued to occur, including against Jewish, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, and Buddhist religious sites.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officials met with a range of government officials to discuss the treatment of religious minorities, particularly the use of the law on extremism to restrict the activities of religious minorities, and the revocation of registration of some minority religious organizations. Embassy officials raised consular cases with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs involving the discriminatory enforcement of the law against U.S. citizens who had engaged in religious activity, including preventing them from obtaining legal counsel, not allowing them to speak in their own defense at legal hearings, and not providing adequate translation into English. Consular officers attended several court hearings involving a U.S. citizen accused of violating the law on missionary activities. The Ambassador met the patriarch and the head of external relations of the ROC, the Chief Rabbi of Russia, the head of the Russian Jewish Congress, and the papal nuncio to discuss interfaith cooperation and ways to promote religious tolerance. Embassy officers met regularly with ROC clergy and staff and with representatives of minority religious groups, including rabbis, muftis, Protestant pastors, Catholic priests, U.S. missionaries, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as with NGOs and civil society leaders, to discuss religious legislation and government practices with regard to religious minorities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 142.2 million (July 2017 estimate). The most recent figures from a 2015-2016 poll by the Pew Research Center report 71 percent of the population consider themselves Orthodox, while 10 percent identify as Muslim. Religious groups constituting less than 5 percent of the population each include Buddhists, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, members of The Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, Bahais, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), pagans, Tengrists, Scientologists, and Falun Gong adherents. The 2010 census estimates the number of Jews at 150,000; however, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities (FEOR) stated in February 2015 the actual Jewish population is nearly one million, most of whom live in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Immigrants and migrant workers from Central Asia are mostly Muslim. The majority of Muslims live in the Volga Ural region and the North Caucasus. Moscow, St. Petersburg, and parts of Siberia also have sizable Muslim populations.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates the state is secular and provides for religious freedom, freedom of conscience, and freedom of religious worship, including the right to “profess, individually or jointly with others, any religion, or to profess no religion.” It provides the right of citizens “to freely choose, possess, and disseminate religious or other beliefs, and to act in conformity with them,” and provides equality of rights and liberties regardless of attitude to religion. The constitution also bans any limitation of human rights on religious grounds and prohibits actions inciting religious hatred and strife. The constitution states all religious associations are equal and separate from the state. The law acknowledges Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country’s four “traditional” religions, constituting an inseparable part of the country’s historical heritage. The law recognizes the “special contribution” of Russian Orthodox Christianity to the country’s history as well as the establishment and development of its spirituality and culture.

The law states the government may restrict religious rights only to the degree necessary to protect the constitutional structure and security of the government; the morality, health, rights, and legal interests of persons; or the defense of the country. It is a violation of the law to force another person to disclose his or her opinion of a religion or to participate or not participate in worship, other religious ceremonies, the activities of a religious association, or religious instruction.

The law states those who violate religious freedom will be “held liable under criminal, administrative, and other legislation.” The administrative code and the criminal code both punish obstruction of the right to freedom of conscience and belief with imprisonment of up to three years and fines of up to 200,000 rubles ($3,500) or 500,000 rubles ($8,600), depending upon which code governs the offense.

Incitement of “religious discord” is punishable by up to four years in prison. Under the criminal code, maximum fines and prison sentences for “actions directed to incite hatred or enmity” on the basis of religion may be punished by fines of 300,000 to 500,000 rubles ($5,200 to $8,600), compulsory labor for up to four years, or imprisonment for up to five years. If these actions are committed with violence, by a person with official status (a term which applies to anyone working for the government or state-owned entities, as well as people in management roles at commercial or nongovernment entities), or by a group of individuals, the punishment is 300,000 to 600,000 rubles ($5,200 to $10,400), compulsory labor for up to five years, or imprisonment for up to six years.

The law criminalizes offending the religious feelings of believers; actions “in public demonstrating clear disrespect for society and committed with the intent to insult the religious feelings of believers” are subject to fines of up to 300,000 rubles ($5,200), compulsory labor for up to one year, or imprisonment for up to one year. If these actions are committed in places of worship, the punishment is a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($8,600), compulsory labor for up to three years, or a prison sentence of up to three years.

By law officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association on grounds such as violating public order or engaging in “extremist activity.” The law criminalizes a broad spectrum of activities as extremism, including incitement to “religious discord” and “assistance to extremism,” but the law does not precisely define extremism or require that an activity include an element of violence or hatred to be classified as extremism.

Being a member of a banned religious association designated as extremist is punishable by up to six years in prison for individuals and up to 12 years for persons with official status. First time offenders who willingly forsake their membership in banned religious organizations are exempt from criminal liability if they committed no other crimes.

Local laws in the regions of Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan ban “extremist Islamic Wahhabism.”

The law creates three categories of religious associations with different levels of legal status and privileges: groups, local organizations, and centralized organizations. Religious groups or organizations may be subject to legal dissolution or deprivation of legal status by a court decision on grounds including violations of standards set forth in the constitution or public security.

In June 2016 the Russian Supreme Court upheld a 2014 order liquidating the Moscow branch of the Church of Scientology (COS) on the grounds it did not qualify as a religious organization.

The “religious group” is the most basic unit and does not require state registration; however, when a group first starts its activities, it must notify authorities in the “location of the religious group activity,” typically the regional Ministry of Justice (MOJ) office. A religious group may conduct worship services and rituals (but the law does not specify where or how) and to teach religion to its members. It does not have legal status to open a bank account, own property, issue invitations to foreign guests, publish literature, receive tax benefits, or conduct worship services in prisons, state-owned hospitals, or the armed forces. Individual members of a group may invite foreigners as personal guests to engage in religious instruction, and may import religious material. According to the law, a religious group may use property bought for the group’s use by its members, or residential property owned or rented by its members, or public spaces rented by its members, to hold services.

A “local religious organization” (LRO) may register with the MOJ if it has at least 10 citizen members who are 18 or older and are permanent local residents. LROs have legal status and may open bank accounts, own property, issue invitation letters to foreign guests, publish literature, receive tax benefits, and conduct worship services in prisons, hospitals, and the armed forces.

“Centralized religious organizations” (CRO) may register with the MOJ at the regional or federal level by combining at least three LROs of the same denomination. In addition to having the same legal rights as LROs, centralized organizations also may open new LROs without a waiting period.

Registration of an LRO or CRO requires an association provide the following: a list of the organization’s founders and governing body, with addresses and passport information; the organization’s charter; the minutes of the founding meeting; certification from the central religious organization (in the case of LROs); a description of the organization’s doctrine, practices, history, and attitudes towards family, marriage, and education; the organization’s legal address; a certificate of payment of government dues; and a charter or registration papers of the governing body in the case of organizations whose main offices are located abroad. The law imposes reporting requirements on CROs and LROs receiving funding from abroad. They are required to report an account of their activities, a list of leaders, the source of foreign funding, and plans for how the organization intends to use any funds or property obtained through foreign funding. Reports are annual by default, but the MOJ may require additional ad hoc reports.

Foreign religious organizations (those created outside of the country under foreign laws) have the right to open offices for representational purposes, either independently or as part of religious organizations previously established in the country, but they may not form or found their own religious organizations in the country and may not operate houses of worship. Foreign religious organizations able to obtain the required number of local adherents may register as local religious organizations.

The government (the MOJ or the Prosecutor General’s Office) oversees a religious organization’s compliance with the law and may review its financial and registration-related documents when conducting an inspection or investigation. The government may send representatives (with advance notice) to attend a religious association’s events, conduct an annual review of compliance with the association’s mission statement on file with the government, and review its religious literature to decide whether the literature is extremist. The law contains ongoing reporting requirements on financial and economic activity, funding sources, and compliance with antiterrorist and anti-extremist legislation. The government may obtain a court order to close those associations that do not comply with reporting or other legal requirements.

The law allows the government to limit the places where prayer and public religious observance may be conducted without prior approval. LROs and CROs may conduct religious services and ceremonies without prior approval in buildings, lands, and facilities owned or rented by these associations, as well as in cemeteries, crematoria, places of pilgrimage, and living quarters. Baptism ceremonies in rivers and lakes, as well as services conducted in parks, open spaces, or courtyards, do not fall under this exemption. In these cases, LROs and CROs must seek government approval at least one week in advance and provide the government with the names of organizers and participants as well as copies of any written materials to be used at the event.

A Ministry of Defense chaplaincy program requires members of a religious group to comprise at least 10 percent of a military unit before an official chaplain of that group is appointed. Chaplains are not enlisted or commissioned, but are classified as assistants to the commander. Chaplains are full-time employees of the Ministry of Defense, paid out of the defense budget. The program allows for chaplains from the four traditional religions only, and calls for at least 250 chaplains.

The Yarovaya Package also amends federal law with regard to missionary activity, which the law defines as the sharing of one’s beliefs with persons of another faith or nonbelievers with the aim of involving these individuals in the “structure” of the religious association. According to this law, in order to share beliefs outside of officially sanctioned sites (which include buildings owned by a religious organization, buildings whose owners have given permission for activities to take place, pilgrimage destinations, cemeteries and crematoria, and indoor spaces of educational organizations historically used for religious ceremonies), an individual must have a document authorizing the individual to share beliefs from a religious group or registered organization. This letter must be provided to the authorities and the individual must carry a copy of it. The law explicitly bans any beliefs from being shared in residential buildings without such documentation (unless in the form of a religious service, rite, or ceremony), or on another organization’s property without permission from that organization. Materials disseminated by missionaries must be marked with the name of the religious association providing the authorization.

Engaging in missionary activity prohibited by the amended law carries a fine of 5,000 to 50,000 rubles ($86 to $860) for individuals and 100,000 to 1,000,000 rubles ($1,700 to $17,300) for legal entities (which includes both LROs and CROs). Foreign citizens or stateless persons who violate restrictions on missionary activities may be fined 30,000 to 50,000 rubles ($520 to $860) and are subject to administrative deportation.

Several regional governments have their own restrictions on missionary activity.

Republics in the North Caucasus have varying policies on wearing the hijab in public schools. Hijabs are banned in public schools in Stavropol and Mordovia, rulings that have been upheld by the Russian Supreme Court. In March the Chechen parliament adopted amendments to the regional law on education to allow schoolgirls to wear hijabs.

The law does not provide precise criteria on how written religious materials may be classified as “extremist.” Within the MOJ, the Scientific Advisory Board reviews religious materials for extremism. Composed of academics and representatives of the four traditional religions, the board reviews materials referred to it by judicial or law enforcement authorities, private citizens, or organizations. If the board identifies material as extremist, it issues a nonbinding advisory opinion, which is then published on the MOJ website and forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation. In addition to the Scientific Advisory Board, regional experts also may review religious materials for extremism.

Prosecutors may take material to a court and ask the court to declare it extremist, but materials introduced in court during the consideration of administrative, civil, or criminal cases may also be declared extremist sua sponte (i.e., of their own accord). By law publications declared extremist by a federal court are automatically added to the federal list of extremist materials. Courts may order internet service providers to block access to websites containing materials included on the federal list of extremist materials. There is no legal procedure for removal from the list even if a court declares an item no longer classified as extremist, but lists are reviewed and re-issued on a regular basis and publications may be dropped from lists. The law makes it illegal to declare the key texts, or “holy books” of the four traditional religions to be extremist.

According to the administrative code, mass distribution, production, and possession with the aim of mass distribution of extremist materials by private individuals may result in 15 days’ imprisonment or a fine of 1,000 to 3,000 rubles ($17 to $52), or 2,000 to 5,000 rubles ($35 to $87) for public officials, as well as the confiscation of these materials. Courts may suspend for 90 days the operations of legal entities found to be in possession of extremist materials and fine them 100,000 to 1,000,000 rubles ($1,700 to $17,300). Individuals who produce materials later deemed extremist may not be punished retroactively but must cease production and distribution of those materials.

The law allows the transfer of state and municipal property of religious significance to religious organizations, including land, buildings, and movable property. The law grants religious organizations using state historical property for religious purposes the right to use such state property indefinitely. The law prohibits the transfer of living quarters for religious use and the use of living quarters for missionary activity unless the activity is a part of a “religious service, rite, or ceremony.”

Religious education or civil ethics classes are compulsory in all secondary schools, public and private. Students may choose to take a course on one of the four traditional religions, a general world religions course, or a secular ethics course. Regional and municipal departments of education oversee this curriculum at the local level in accordance with their capacity to offer the courses, and according to the religious makeup of the given location. There is no requirement for representatives of religious organizations to be licensed to conduct religious education in Sunday schools and home schooling. Religious instructors in any other state or private school must be licensed to teach religious courses.

The Office of the Director of Religious Issues within the Office of the Federal Human Rights Ombudsman handles complaints about the government dealing with religious freedom. The ombudsman may intercede on behalf of those who submit complaints; however, the ombudsman may not compel other government bodies to act or directly intervene in complaints not addressed to the government.

The law entitles individuals and organizations to take religious freedom cases to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. The state must pay compensation to a person whose rights were violated as determined by the ECHR and ensure his or her rights are restored to the extent possible. The Constitutional Court determines whether judgments by international and regional courts, including the ECHR, are consistent with the constitution.

There is compulsory military service for men, but the constitution provides for alternative service for those who refuse to bear arms for reasons of conscience, including religious belief. The standard military service period is 12 months, while alternative service is 18 months in a Ministry of Defense agency or 21 months in a nondefense agency. Failure to perform alternative service is punishable under the criminal code, with penalties ranging from an 80,000 ruble ($1,400) fine to six months in prison.

By law religious associations may not participate in political campaigns or the activity of political parties or movements, or provide material or other aid to political groups. This restriction applies to religious associations and not to their individual members.

The ROC and all members of the Public Chamber (a state institution made up of representatives of public associations) are granted the opportunity to review draft legislation pending before the State Duma on a case-by-case basis. No formal mechanism exists for permanent representation of religious organizations in the Public Chamber. Individuals may be invited into the Public Chamber from both traditional religions and other religious groups.

The law states foreigners or stateless individuals whose presence in the country is deemed “undesirable” are forbidden to become founders, members, or active participants in the activities of religious organizations. The same is true for individuals whose activities are deemed extremist by the courts or who are subject to prosecution under the law on combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

The government, through its visa regulations, has increasingly limited the ability of non-Russian citizens to engage in religious activity. Religious work is no longer permitted on humanitarian or missionary visas. Those engaging in religious work now require both a contract with a legally registered religious organization and a work visa.

Under the criminal code, an individual convicted of committing an act of vandalism motivated by religious hatred or enmity may be sentenced to up to three years of compulsory labor or prison.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Summary paragraph: Authorities continued to detain and fine members of minority religious groups and organizations for alleged extremism. In one case, there were reports that authorities tortured an individual in a pretrial detention facility. The Supreme Court ruled to criminalize the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist,” and ordered their headquarters property be liquidated. In various cities across the country authorities dissolved or disbanded minority religious associations, often on grounds they were conducting “extremist activity.” The authorities convicted and fined individuals for public speech they said was offensive to religious believers. Police continued to raid the private homes and places of worship of religious minorities, disrupting religious services. Under the Yarovaya Package, the government continued to prosecute individuals of several denominations. Religious minorities continued to state local authorities used the country’s anti-extremism laws to add to the list of banned religious texts. Local officials continued to prevent minority religious organizations from obtaining land and denied them construction permits for houses of worship. As in prior years, the government granted privileges to the ROC accorded to no other church or religious association, including greater access to public institutions such as schools, hospitals, prisons, police, and the military forces. The government also fined and deported several foreign nationals engaging in religious activity including a rabbi, four Korean citizen Baptists, and an Indian citizen Pentecostal pastor.

According to the NGO Forum 18, the federal government increasingly restricted the exercise of freedom of religion since the re-election of President Vladimir Putin in 2012, enacting laws and prosecuting individuals for exercising their freedom of religion or belief.

In its yearly October report, the NGO Memorial published a list of political prisoners in the country that included 70 persons (at least three of whom are Crimean Tatars) persecuted because of their religion. According to Memorial, more than half its reported number of political prisoners in the country were imprisoned because of their religious activities, though it stated the overall list was incomplete, and the total number may be two to three times larger. The report noted an increase in political prisoners in recent years in connection to religious freedom. It stated none of the individuals on the list used violence, called for violence, or planned violent acts. The majority on the list are Muslims, many of whom were accused of participating in the organization Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami, as well as followers of Turkish theologian Said Nursi. Jehovah’s Witnesses joined the list of victims persecuted for religious reasons following the Supreme Court ban.

According to Forum 18, authorities continued to pursue multiple cases against Muslims on extremism charges for reading the works of the Turkish theologian Said Nursi. On December 8, Forum 18 reported that during the year, at least 12 Muslims were on trial or under investigation for being members of “Nurdzhular,” an organization banned as extremist reportedly based on Nursi’s teachings. Others reported that no such organization existed.

In November Forum 18 reported Yevgeny Kim was tortured while in pretrial detention in 2015. The report stated he suffered an attempted rape, was beaten, and had multiple ribs broken. On June 19, the Blagoveshchesk City Court found him guilty of organizing activities of a banned extremist organization and inciting hatred for meeting to study the works of Said Nursi. The court sentenced him to three years and nine months in a penal colony.

In the December 8 article, Forum 18 reported that, on December 7, a court sentenced three Dagestani Muslims to prison terms, Ziyavdin Dapayev to a four-year term and Sukhrab and Artur Kaltuyev to three-year terms. They were being held without bail pending appeals. The government stated they and other Nursi readers belong to the banned organization Nurdzhular, which the government deemed extremist. The court also ordered the destruction of many of Nursi’s works. A Turkish company, Sozler, which published Nursi’s works in Russian, accused law enforcement agencies of falsifying witness testimony and appealed to the General Prosecutor’s Office to investigate.

Additionally, the December 8 Forum 18 article said there were two separate, ongoing criminal cases in Krasnoyarsk against Muslims Andrei Dedkov and Andrei Rekst on extremism charges related to studying Nursi readings. Authorities accused Dedkov of organizing gatherings to study Nursi works and accused Rekst of participating in the gatherings. On December 8, Forum 18 reported there already had been eight hearings in Dedkov’s case and 13 in Rekst’s case. Authorities held Dedkov in pretrial detention from April 2016 until March 3, and he was under house arrest and under travel restrictions at year’s end. Rekst remained free on bail at year’s end.

In the same article, Forum 18 reported six other cases in Novosibirsk for alleged participation in the banned “extremist” organization Nurdzhular – two that authorities closed, two investigations that remained in progress, and two awaiting court hearings. On November 15, the October District Court in Novosibirsk closed the cases of pensioner Uralbek Karaguzinov and undergraduate student Mirsultan Takhir-ogly Nasirov after fining them each 90,000 rubles ($1,500). Two other Muslims remained under investigation, but they were unavailable to stand trial. One was abroad and the whereabouts of the other was unknown. The two awaiting court hearings included Uzbek citizen Bobirjon Tukhtamurodov, whom authorities originally treated as a witness but formally charged on October 31. Forum 18 reported Tukhtamurodov had refugee status in Russia but if found guilty, could lose this protection and be forced to return to Uzbekistan.

On April 19, police arrested Ilgar Vagif-ogly Aliyev in a nighttime raid in Dagestan. Authorities accused him of holding classes involving a group of Nursi adherents. He faced up to 10 years in prison.

On December 22, the Oryol Regional Court denied an appeal to release Dennis Christensen, a Danish citizen and elder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Oryol Congregation detained on “extremist activity” charges on May 25, when at least 15 armed persons, including Federal Security Service (FSB) personnel, raided the religious services of the congregation. On September 28, the Oryol Regional Court had denied a similar appeal. In June authorities dissolved the Oryol LRO on extremism charges. On July 20, the Sovietskiy District Court extended Christensen’s pretrial detention to November 23 and on November 20 the court again extended his pretrial detention until February 23, 2018. If convicted, Christensen faced six to 10 years in prison. On September 4, the ECHR began an examination of the case after Christensen appealed to it.

On May 11, Ruslan Sokolovsky, a blogger from Yekaterinburg, received a 3.5-year suspended sentence, during which time he is banned from attending mass gatherings. Since his arrest he was in pretrial custody twice and otherwise under house arrest. In September 2016 authorities arrested him for “inciting enmity and hatred” and “offending the feelings of believers” by playing the game Pokemon Go in an Orthodox church and posting antireligious videos online. Authorities added other criminal charges in January.

According to COS representatives and media, on December 4, the Nevskiy District Court extended the pretrial detention of five COS leaders in St. Petersburg to March 2018. Authorities arrested the five on June 6, when security services raided the St. Petersburg COS branch and homes of its leaders as part of a probe into what they said was possible “illegal entrepreneurship” (i.e., selling religious books), extremism, and incitement of hatred; these charges were punishable by six to 10 years’ imprisonment. Police arrested, interrogated, and detained the Church employees, four of whom received two months’ pretrial detention; the fifth was put under house arrest. On October 19, the court changed the pretrial detention conditions to house arrest for two of the individuals. The prosecution appealed the ruling for house arrest for one of them, Sahib Aliyev, and on November 22, he was taken back to prison. At year’s end, the executive director of the religious group, Ivan Matsitsky, and Aliyev remained in prison.

The COS petitioned the ECHR following the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision upholding a 2014 order liquidating its Moscow branch on the grounds it did not qualify as a religious organization. The case before the ECHR was pending at the end of the year.

In March media reported that the Moscow District Military Court sentenced Imam Makhmud Velitov of Moscow’s Yardam Mosque to three years in a prison colony on terrorism charges for a 2013 sermon at a funeral in which he publicly advocated the “doctrine of political Islam,” said to be a characteristic of the Hizb ut-Tahrir organization, which was banned by the government as a terrorist organization in 2003.

According to Eurasianet, in January the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Imam Magomed Nabi Magomedov but reduced his sentence by six months. The nonprofit SOVA Center for Information and Analysis reported that in October 2016, the Caucasus Regional Military Court found Magomedov guilty of making statements in a sermon justifying terrorism and hatred and sentenced him to five years in prison. Memorial said it studied the sermon and did not find it to contain any calls to acts of violence or terrorism.

In November police detained approximately 25 mosque attendees in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan, according to the online news site Caucasian Knot. They were subsequently released. According to an eyewitness, police stopped both drivers and pedestrians near the mosque. Those detained were brought to the police station and divided into two groups. Those whose names had previously been included in the police extremism-prevention registration lists were questioned, photographed, and released. Those whose names had not been on the lists were questioned for a longer time. Authorities recorded their personal data, including information about their family members, and put them on the police extremism-prevention registration lists. In June Caucasian Knot reported the Ministry of Internal Affairs confirmed that Dagestan removed from the police extremism-prevention registration lists followers of “unconventional Islamic concepts.”

On November 27 the Kurgan City Court acquitted for a second time Imam Ali Yakupov of the Kurgan Mosque on charges of inciting hatred. According to the SOVA Center, on June 22 the Kurgan Regional Court granted an appeal from the prosecutor’s office to overturn an April acquittal, and returned the case to the Kurgan City Court.

In August the Central District Court of Sochi found Viktor Nochevnova guilty of insulting the feelings of believers and fined him 50,000 rubles ($860) for reposting seven cartoon depictions of Jesus on his social media vKontakte page.

In February a court in Stavropol dismissed a criminal case against atheist blogger Viktor Krasnov whom authorities charged in March 2016 with offending the feelings of believers for comments he posted on a website in 2014 describing the Bible as a “collection of Jewish fairytales” and denying the existence of God.

Media reported in October First Deputy Chairman of the Duma Committee on Public Associations and Religious Organizations Ivan Sukharev requested the prosecutor general to take action against the Satanic Church of the Russian Federation. According to Sukharev, the organization’s activities offended the religious sensibilities of those adhering to traditional faiths. The Moscow Times reported the Satanic Church of Russia was established in 2013 and received legal recognition in May 2016.

Media, NGOs, and religious minorities reported continued attempts by authorities to dissolve minority religious associations, often on the grounds they were conducting extremist activity.

On August 17, the MOJ formally placed the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ parent organization in the country and 395 related LROs on its list of “extremist” groups, a procedural move following the Supreme Court’s decision on April 20, upheld by the Appellate Chamber of the Supreme Court on July 17, which criminalized the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The decision terminated all activity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal entities throughout the country, effectively banning their worship.

A court on December 6 ordered the confiscation of the St. Petersburg headquarters of the Jehovah’sWitnesses (25 acres of real estate in the town of Sestoresk), in a decision based on the April 20 Supreme Court ruling. Since 2010 the property was owned by U.S. citizens based in Pennsylvania. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had a month to appeal in the St. Petersburg City Court and said they would take their case to the ECHR. On December 14 authorities broke into the Kolomyazhskiy Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg, cordoned off the building, and took control of the property. According to, no Jehovah’s Witnesses in the hall were injured during the raid, and the building appeared to be undamaged. Prior to the April Supreme Court ruling, authorities continued to disband Jehovah’s Witnesses communities across the country. In addition to communities in Taganrog, Samara, Abinsk, Belogorod, Stary Oskol, Elista, and Orel, which had been ruled extremist and dissolved in previous years, authorities disbanded the Jehovah’s Witnesses community in Birobidzhan following a February 9 Supreme Court ruling, and ordered the liquidation of the community in Cherkessk, Karachai-Cherkessia on February 10. Forum 18 also reported that in January the Arkhangelsk Jehovah’s Witness community voluntarily dissolved after heavy pressure from authorities and ROC Moscow Patriarchate (ROC-MP) “antisect” activists.

According to the SOVA Center, in August the ECHR accepted eight complaints related to the ban or denial of registration of several religious organizations and prosecution for religious activities. The court took the complaints, filed between 2011 and 2017, into consideration simultaneously. Among them was a complaint from nine followers of Said Nursi for the banning of several Nursi texts and extremism charges.

In some cases, it was difficult for minority religious organizations to obtain state registration. In October the SOVA Center reported that since April the parish of St. Maria Gatchinskaya in the Leningrad Region unsuccessfully tried three times to register with the local authorities. The parish belonged to the Suzdal Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church.

According to the MOJ, in 2015, the most recent year for which figures were provided, the government approved 1,335 new registrations of religious organizations, most of which were ROC-affiliated.

Unlike previous years, the government did not designate any religious groups or organizations as “foreign agents.”

In addition to the order that criminalized the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist” and ordered their headquarters property to be liquidated, individual Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 19 cases of interference in church members’ private lives. In most of these cases, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, officers of government agencies raided the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses, often carrying out unauthorized and illegal searches and seizure of private belongings, such as in Novouzensk, Saratov Region on January 19. In at least six cases, large numbers of officers took part in the raids; in at least five cases, officers reportedly planted “extremist” literature to fabricate charges against the Witnesses, such as on February 21 in Mikhaylovsk, Stavropol Territory. Authorities also broke into homes, often did not declare their purpose or show a court order, and ordered people around at gunpoint.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 25 cases of police raids on Kingdom Halls or on other meeting places. In almost all cases, the police officers disrupted religious services in progress or denied the Witnesses the opportunity to conduct their scheduled services. In many cases, the officers questioned those in attendance, recorded their identification information, and photographed or video recorded them. On May 4, the prosecutor’s office issued a warning to the chairman of the Krymsk Jehovah’s Witnesses LRO, stating the chairman and members of the LRO could be subject to administrative and criminal liability for holding religious services. According to, as of June 16, at least five other LROs had received similar warnings since the Russian Supreme Court ruling to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On May 8, an independent foreign Baptist preacher, who had lived in Oryol since 2005, and his wife left the country permanently, according to his website. In May he had filed an appeal with the ECHR after the Supreme Court denied his appeal January 20 of a 2016 conviction for allegedly advertising and holding religious services in his home. At year’s end the ECHR had not ruled on the appeal.

Caucasian Knot reported that on June 2 the Lazarevskoe District Court of Sochi found former chairman of the Board of Elders of the Circassians-Shapsugs Ruslan Gvashev guilty of organizing an unsanctioned action, a prayer service, on the Adygs’ Memory Day, and fined him 10,000 rubles ($170). (The Adygs are a mostly Sunni Muslim people of the northwest Caucasus region.) On May 21, Gvashev took part in a mourning prayer at the Tulip Tree, a place considered sacred by the Adygs. According to witnesses, 67-year-old Gvashev was taken to court in a state of hypertensive crisis and the judge would not postpone the session despite a doctor’s recommendation he be hospitalized. In October the Krasnodar Territorial Court dismissed a complaint filed by Gvashev. According to his defense attorneys, the Tulip Tree is a place of worship and the Memory Day mourning for Adygs who suffered during the Caucasian War is a ritual action not requiring approval.

Authorities issued Aleksei Presbyter of the Evangelical Christian Baptists an administrative fine for holding religious meetings in the village of Chara. Presbyter had not sent the MOJ notification of either the place and or the start of the religious activity. On March 10, the Uritsky District Court of Orel Oblast (province) fined three representatives of the Evangelical Christian Baptists 5,000 rubles ($86) each for violating the law on missionary activity. The court convicted them of illegally distributing religious literature and inviting people to their religious meetings, without notifying the MOJ as required by law.

NGOs and religious figures criticized Education Minister Olga Vasilyeva for her January call to ban hijabs in public schools across the country.

Regional governments continued to restrict missionary activity, with officials often citing concerns about missionaries as sources of foreign influence.

Representatives of minority religious associations and NGOs continued to state that the Yarovaya Package, enacted for the stated purpose of enhancing the country’s antiterrorism capability, gave the authorities a range of powers to limit civil society. They said the broad definition of “missionary activity” in the legislation meant it included not only proselytizing, but also disseminating religious materials, preaching, and engaging in interfaith discussions about religion, including in private residences without prior authorization.

In January the chairman of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, a consultative body to the president, released the council’s draft expert conclusion that the Yarovaya Package restricted the constitutional rights of citizens and the restrictions were disproportionate to their effectiveness in combating terrorism. The council also said the law was arbitrarily enforced, with a focus on Protestants.

Authorities continued to pursue cases under the Yarovaya Package during the year. According to Forum 18, there were 193 legal cases against 136 individuals and 57 religious communities for unauthorized missionary activity between July 2016 and July 2017. Religious communities and individuals involved included Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Baptist Union, the Council of Churches, ISKON, Muslims, individuals associated with the Bible distribution organization the Gideons, Seventh-day Adventists, the Federation of Jewish Communities, a Kabbalah teacher, Buddhists, the Salvation Army, the Administrative Center of the New Apostolic Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Lutheran Church, the Mormons, the Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church, and the ROC abroad. Of these, 143 cases resulted in initial convictions, with 140 fines imposed. Of the foreigners prosecuted, five were ordered deported, the first in February, and one had the deportation order overturned on appeal. Authorities in more than half the regions in the country initiated at least one prosecution under this law. The individuals charged with unauthorized missionary activity reportedly were prosecuted for activities such as holding prayer meetings at home, posting worship times on a religious community’s website, and giving a lecture on yoga. In these cases, authorities confiscated religious literature from 11 religious communities. In three of the cases, judges ordered the literature destroyed, although two of these rulings were subsequently overturned. Those convicted were fined from 5,000 to 100,000 rubles ($86 to $1,700). According to Forum 18, authorities did not initiate charges against any individuals or communities associated with the ROC-MP.

Between September 2016 and August, Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 58 cases in which police officers arrested Witnesses for talking to others about their beliefs. In most cases, they were detained for a time at the police station and police often initiated an administrative case for engaging in missionary activity. On March 22 the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy Jehovah’s Witnesses community unsuccessfully appealed a February 10 Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy Court ordered fine of 100,000 rubles ($1,700) for carrying out illegal missionary activity aimed at public dissemination of information about their beliefs among people who were not participants. According to Forum 18, authorities also accused the group of “activity with extremist goals” because of the alleged presence of materials from the federal list of extremist material.

Forum 18 reported that on May 24, a Tomsk court fined the Northern Tomsk Jehovah’s Witnesses community 100,000 rubles ($1,700) for carrying out illegal missionary activity. The community allegedly held a worship meeting where nonmembers were present. On June 19, the October District Court of Tomsk rejected the community’s appeal without consideration.

According to Forum 18, on May 23, the Kurchatov District Magistrate’s Court in Chelyabinsk fined ISKON leader Aleksandr Kulikov 5,000 rubles ($86). The court accused Kulikov of missionary activity among underage children without parental permission after his group’s religious procession reportedly passed nine-year-olds.

On March 13, as reported in independent media outlet Dozhd, the Smolny District Court of St. Petersburg denied a February appeal by a police officer of a ruling that yoga teacher Dmitry Ugay was not a missionary. In January the judge had dropped the case, in which Ugay was charged with illegal missionary activity under the Yarovaya legislation for giving a talk about the philosophy behind yoga at a festival in St. Petersburg.

Religious minorities said local authorities used the country’s anti-extremism laws to ban sacred religious texts and other books relating to religion. According to the SOVA Center, during the first half of the year authorities added seven nonviolent texts criticizing the ROC and religion, and one text by a Christian human rights organization criticizing Islam to the MOJ’s list of extremist materials. The list grew to 4,345 entries at the end of the year from 4,015 at the end of 2016. Forum 18 reported that other texts added during the year, included the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation of the Bible, other Jehovah’s Witnesses and Islamic books, several Jewish texts, two Christian books, and an atheist slideshow. According to Forum 18, on August 31, the ECHR began considering two cases brought against the government by Aslambek Ezhayev and Sozler, publishers of Islamic religious texts ruled “extremist.”

On July 14, the MOJ added Jewish author Markus Leman’s book The Forcibly Baptized to its list of extremist materials. According to Interfax, on March 22 the Central District Court of Sochi ruled the book extremist because it contained information aimed at inciting hatred of Christians and propagating the superiority and exclusiveness of Judaism over Christianity. FEOR spokesman Borukh Gorin condemned the ruling, stating it was part of a judicial policy in Sochi to limit the growth of Jewish spiritual life.

On December 20, the Leningrad District Court upheld a Vyborg City Court August 17 ruling that the Jehovah’s Witnesses New World Translation of the Bible is “extremist literature.” Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said members who use the Bible therefore could be subject to criminal prosecution. In court, lawyers for the Jehovah’s Witnesses said the expert panel should recuse itself, and presented evidence that the three expert panel members (a mathematician, a linguist, and a political scientist whose study was the basis for the August 17 ruling) had previously published opinions prejudicial toward the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the December case, the expert panel also determined the New World Translation was not a Bible. The head of the Leningrad District Court rejected the premise that the experts should recuse themselves and allowed the proceeding to continue.

A court confiscated Nizhny Tagil Evangelical Christian Church’s Bibles (including an edition used by the ROCMP) and ordered their destruction. In the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region, a court ordered the destruction of Hindu texts, including the Bhagavad Gita.

Internet providers throughout the country continued to block access to the website.

The Salsk District Court fined the Salsk Jehovah’s Witnesses community 40,000 rubles ($690) and confiscated literature on April 27 for carrying out activities of a religious organization without displaying its full official name on its building. The community argued it did not own the building and therefore could not alter its facade.

On May 12 the Lenin District Magistrate’s Court fined the Moksha-Erzyan Evangelical Lutheran Church 30,000 rubles ($520) for not displaying a sign showing its full official name.

Reports persisted that local officials continued to prevent minority religious organizations from obtaining land and continued to deny construction permits for houses of worship.

Muslim leaders continued to state Moscow’s four mosques were inadequate for the city’s Muslim population. In August media reported Mufti Albir Krganov announced a fifth mosque would be built in Moscow in the future and land allocation was being discussed. In December the mufti told media that he had discussed the issue with Moscow city officials.

In the fall, the Muslim community in Kaliningrad went to court seeking compensation for its financial losses following a court-ordered halt to the construction of its mosque in 2013. The community stated it had been trying to build a mosque since 1993. At the September 19 hearing, the city administration recognized the validity of the Muslim community’s claims, but it disputed the requested monetary compensation. According to the New Kaliningrad news, the Muslim community revised its claim from 98 million rubles ($1.7 million) to 85 million rubles ($1.5 million), while the city administration said the damages amounted to 60 million rubles ($1 million). The community also appealed to the ECHR against the city administration for blocking the mosque. Media reported in December the Central District Court awarded the Muslim community 66 million rubles ($1.1 million) in compensation. The head of the organization told media that the community did not need money, but rather a mosque.

In a long-running case, Forum 18 reported the demolition of a Buddhist monastery on top of Kachkanar Mountain (in the Ural Mountains approximately 125 miles north of Yekaterinburg) was tentatively scheduled for some time in the winter of 2017-18. According to Forum 18, on September 25 the senior Sverdlovsk Region bailiff said demolition would be postponed until the region received federal funding to cover the costs. In a November article, Interfax reported that authorities denied the Buddhists of Kachkanar Mountain registration as a religious organization.

In September the Supreme Court dismissed a suit brought by the ISKON for compensation for the 2014 loss of a temple near Dinamo metro station in Moscow. In October a lawyer for the ISKCON told Forum 18 the religious group had abandoned plans to build more places of worship in the country. “We are not building temples in the traditional Indian style now, because it is very difficult to get permission. After the fiasco with our temple in Molzhaninovo District [in Moscow], we do not undertake such projects.” He referred to the Moscow Property Department’s unilateral termination of the group’s lease in 2013 resulting in the group’s inability to proceed with building its new temple and the subsequent refusal to overturn the decision in 2015. The Moscow authorities did not offer any alternative sites, according to the community’s lawyer, nor did courts approve financial compensation for the approximately 73 million rubles ($1.3 million) the community said it already spent on the project. The community’s lawyer said it was renting space for worship and had not experienced any problems.

While difficulties remained, religious organizations said there was some movement in reclaiming former properties confiscated during the Soviet era. On October 25, in an official ceremony that included the President of Germany, the government returned the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul to the Lutheran Church. The occasion coincided with the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

On November 14, the Supreme Court confirmed a recommendation to “abridge the parental rights of people who involved children in sects, extremist organizations, or terrorist organizations.” The court order specified that it was parental abuse to involve a child in activity of a public or religious association which has been banned.

According to media accounts, there were cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses facing discrimination in schools. In the village of Bezvodnoye in Kirov Oblast, a teacher reportedly humiliated two young students whose mother is a Jehovah’s Witness. The teacher justified her actions by stating that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned in the country. On May 17 in the Moscow Region, a school principal issued a written warning to the parents of an eight-year-old student who had spoken about God to a classmate. The document referred to the April Supreme Court decision and prohibited on school grounds “all actions that do not relate to the educational process.” The principal threatened to report the matter to the police and “to raise the issue of transferring the child to another form of training.”

On May 15, the management of a chemical factory in the Smolensk Region dismissed all of its Jehovah’s Witnesses employees. According to, management said they received an order from the FSB to dismiss all of the Witnesses because “extremists” cannot work at the factory.

According to the SOVA Center, on October 24, it became known that prosecutors in Blagoveshchensk asked students of the College of Culture and Arts whether their teachers attended the New Generation Church. The students had to answer in writing questions about whether they were inclined to join the church and, if they were members, whether they were forced to raise money for the needs of the church. The questionnaire also identified which teachers and students attended church meetings.

According to Russian Religion News, public schools in the country became more receptive to religious teaching, specifically of the ROC. Minister of Education and Research Igor Skubenko of Arkhangelsk Oblast welcomed in August the involvement of the ROC in all spheres of life, including in education, stating, “When the Church is nearby that is healthy. In this way the people are cleansed from an alien ideology.”

In February media reported the deputy head of the Federation Council’s Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Development, Yelena Mizulina, would lead a working group to fight the influence of more than “500 destructive sects” operating in the country. Mizulina noted the existing legislation lacked a definition of the term “sect.” She said the MOJ reported 52 sects were banned and dissolved in the country in 2015 and 2016, but “such a large-scale spread of sectarian organizations clearly shows that something is wrong with the existing legislation.” According to the SOVA Center, the working group included several “experts on sects” from the Russian Association of Centers for the Study of Religions and Sects, including its president Alexander Dvorkin; representatives of the ROC-MP; representatives of the security services, including the FSB; and Larisa Astakhova, head of the religious studies department at Kazan Federal University, whose expert testimony on the activities of the Moscow COS served as one of the grounds for liquidating it.

As in years past, according to NGOs, the government continued to cooperate more closely with the ROC than with other religious organizations. Although neither the constitution nor the law explicitly accorded privileges or advantages to the ROC, they said the ROC continued to benefit from a number of formal and informal agreements with government ministries, giving it greater access than other religious organizations to public institutions such as schools, hospitals, prisons, the police, and the military forces. The government also continued to provide the ROC patriarch with security guards and access to official vehicles, a privilege accorded to no other religious organization

There were reports of multiple denials of religious minorities’ members’ requests for alternative civil service. According to Forum 18, a draft commission in the Chuvash Republic rejected Jehovah’s Witness Avel Lukin’s plea for alternative civil service. The commission cited the Supreme Court’s decision to liquidate the religious organization. The Shumerlya District Court rejected Lukin’s appeal on July 4, but Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that he would continue to challenge the decision. According to, he was drafted into the strategic missile forces. The status of any appeal was unknown at year’s end.

Human rights activists and Jewish community leaders criticized as anti-Semitic comments made by officials regarding protests against the handover of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg to the ROC. On January 23, Duma Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy criticized the protests, stating protesters were “continuing the work” of their descendants, “who destroyed our cathedrals … with revolvers in 1917.” Deputies of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly condemned the “disgusting phenomenon of anti-Semitism” by Tolstoy. FEOR leaders condemned the statement as an anti-Semitic reference to conspiracy theories about Jews fomenting the Bolshevik Revolution. Tolstoy expressed surprise and stated he was “misunderstood.” On February 12 while criticizing opponents of the transfer, Duma Deputy Vitaly Milonov stated, “Christians survived despite the fact that the ancestors of Boris Vishnevsky and Maksim Reznik boiled us in cauldrons and fed us to animals.” Russian Jewish Congress president Yury Kaner told media: “It is clear …that these lawmakers [Vishnevsky and Reznik] are of Jewish descent and that he means Jews by his statement.” FEOR spokesman Borukh Gorin told media “for a State Duma deputy, it is unacceptable to make such irresponsible statements.” State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin backed Tolstoy, while head of the Presidential Human Rights Council Mikhail Fedotov criticized the remarks by expressing surprise at hearing a “respected parliamentarian repeating a favorite thesis of anti-Semites.” The government did not censure or punish Tolstoy, although St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly member Boris Vishnevskiy announced plans to refer Tolstoy’s comments to the Investigative Committee for possible extremist content. On January 27, three days after his remarks, Tolstoy was appointed head of the country’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The SOVA Center reported that on October 17, the television station Zvezda, owned by the Russian Ministry of Defense, aired a film called Espionage under the Guise of Religion. The program used examples of Scientologists and Jehovah’s Witnesses as “proof” that some representatives of religious minorities and “sects” were closely associated with intelligence agencies in the United States.

MOJ official Marina Molodtsova, special investigator on a committee investigating the 1918 killings of Czar Nicholas II and his family, stated on November 28 that her committee would investigate claims that the family was killed in a “ritual murder,” which Jewish community members reported gave new life to an old conspiracy that Jews killed the family in a ritual murder. Russian Orthodox Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov stated he believed these claims. Alexander Boroda, president of the FEOR said, “Accusing Jews of a ritual killing is one of the most ancient anti-Semitic slanders.”

In March President Putin met separately with Metropolitan Kornily, leader of the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church, and with Central Muslim Spiritual Board head and Chief Mufti Talgat Tajuddin to discuss the communities’ activities. The presidential press secretary said the president has “regular communication with members of Russian religious denominations …”

According to international media, on January 25, the Supreme Court of Tartarstan denied the appeal of Pentecostal Pastor Victor-Immanuel Mani, an Indian national, against deportation; he left the country. In December 2016 the Naberezhniye Chelny City Court in Tartarstan had fined Mani 30,000 rubles ($520) and ordered his deportation for illegal missionary activity under the Yarovaya Package. According to Forum 18, Mani held religious meetings in rented premises and advertised them on the church’s social network vKontakte page without necessary authorization documents from the local religious organization. His wife and child were Russian citizens. On November 11, the Russian Supreme Court overturned the deportation order of the lower court but left the fine in place.

On April 3, a foreign rabbi left the country after a March 23 Krasnodar regional court ordered his deportation, upholding a February order by authorities. In December 2016 the Ministry of Internal Affairs had canceled his residency permit on the grounds that he posed a risk to national security.

In early July four Korean Baptists left the country. According to reports, at the end of June, two men and two women arrived from Irkutsk to a village in the Republic of Buryatia. Media reported that none of the four Baptist communities registered in Buryatia issued a document authorizing them to carry out missionary work. According to the Slavic Center for Law and Justice, a court in Buryatia fined and ordered their deportation for illegal missionary activity and violation of the rules for entry into the country.

The Constitutional Court reviewed the appeal of two foreign Mormon volunteers who were fined 2,000 rubles ($35) and deported, along with four other volunteers, in August 2016 because they were registered at the location of the Mormon Church instead of at their rented apartment. The court ruled in favor of the two volunteers.

According to independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, since the Yarovaya Package was implemented, evangelical Christian and Baptist churches often came under the scrutiny of law enforcement. In one case, the Ukrainian pastor of the evangelical Restoration Christian Center and his wife were pulled over “two or three times a day” by police in Moscow and twice fined for an illegible license plate. According to Novaya Gazeta, the Federal Migration Service refused the pastor’s residency permit (his temporary residency permit expires in December 2018) and informed him that documents for his deportation were already prepared. In August he was summoned to an interrogation and threatened with arrest. Novaya Gazeta suggested this harassment was related to a criminal case against the church’s charitable foundation, Restoration, which operated rehabilitation centers for drug addicts. In January authorities filed a criminal case against organizers of the foundation, alleging the organizers illegally held six drug addicts and kidnapped two others, despite other drug addicts at the center testifying they were there voluntarily. Authorities detained five of the center’s Russian employees, three of whom were later released and placed under house arrest. The residents of the rehabilitation centers told media that during their interrogation, investigators demanded they give evidence against the organizers of the center and against the head of Restoration Christian Center.

Between January and April Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 27 negative television reports about their religion. They said state-controlled media regularly reported stories critical of the group, which the Jehovah’s Witnesses said negatively influenced public opinion towards them.

The Jewish community again reported fewer government restrictions on their religious activities.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Media, NGOs, and religious groups reported physical assaults related to religious identity during the year, although according to data collected by the SOVA Center, there were fewer recorded instances of violence based on religious identity than in prior years. SOVA recorded three acts of violence directed against religious groups compared to 21 such acts in 2016. SOVA also separately recorded 13 acts of violence against Central Asians and individuals from the Caucasus during the same period compared to 31 in 2016. Because ethnicity and religion are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many of these incidents as being solely based on religious identity. The media also attributed some of these attacks to the political or human rights activities of the victims.

On May 2, the SOVA Center reported that in April in Penza Oblast, three unidentified persons beat an imam in his home. The assailants kicked him and hit him with a bat.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses there were 12 cases of physical assaults, one of which included a threat of murder, on adherents between September 2016 and August. In March a man with a dog threatened to set the animal loose on attendees during a religious service in a Kingdom Hall in St. Petersburg. He attacked one individual, shouted insults, and damaged the building. The same month in Moscow, a man threatened two Jehovah’s Witnesses with a knife, injuring one of them.

The SOVA Center reported that on August 17, in Nikonovsky village in the Moscow region, a local resident shouted insults and physically attacked a 56-year-old Jehovah’s Witness. According to the report, the attacker approached three Jehovah’s Witnesses sitting on a bench and holding a Bible in their hands. The attacker shouted, “Get out! You are banned!” and struck one of the Witnesses on the head with a glass jar before scattering the contents of her bag. The victim suffered a concussion and was taken to the hospital. The victims filed a police report, but the results of the case were not known.

The Slavic Center for Law and Justice reported two armed men broke into a Pentecostal church in January, beat two parishioners, and threatened them at knifepoint. The assailants demanded to see a list of church members, identified themselves as “native Orthodox,” and promised to eradicate all “sectarians.” The assailants reportedly had been known for prior antigovernment internet posts.

Following the March 31 adoption by the Chechen Parliament of amendments to the local law allowing students to wear clothes reflecting their religious beliefs, the head of the ROC-MP legal service said it violated “the principle of secular education in state schools,” and should be adjusted. She said “the federal law does not give students the right to wear clothes ‘in accordance with religious beliefs.’” According to the presidential press secretary, the Kremlin had not yet taken a position on the legislation. In January the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion reported that according to a poll, 47 percent of Russians saw nothing offensive in the practice of Muslim girls wearing hijabs in schools, compared to 35 percent in 2012. Forty-seven percent were against this practice, down from 53 percent in 2012.

The Press Secretary of the ROC-MP, Patriarch Kirill, said in June it would be desirable to include study of the basics of the Church Slavonic language in the school curriculum for cultural purposes. Earlier in the year, the president of the Russian Academy of Education, Professor Liudmila Verbitskaia, called for consideration of teaching Church Slavonic in schools.

Media and NGOs reported attempted arson attacks by critics of the film Matilda, which premiered in October and depicted Tsar Nicholas II, when he was an unmarried crown prince, romantically involved with a ballerina. The Orthodox Church canonized Nicholas II in 2000 and some Orthodox critics called the film blasphemous. According to the news outlet Znak, one individual in Yekaterinburg ran his car filled with containers of gasoline into a theater screening the film. According to media outlets, on September 11, arsonists set fire to two cars outside the law firm representing the film’s director. Interfax reported that on September 12, the Cinema Park and Formula Kino network of movie theaters announced they would not screen the film due to threats against the theaters. There were calls to ban the film by government officials, including head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov. In a letter to the minister of culture posted online on August 8 by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, Kadyrov stated that tens of thousands of believers of different faiths requested the film not be allowed to air in the country because they regard it as deliberate mockery of the feelings of believers.

The SOVA Center reported 26 acts of vandalism motivated by religious, ethnic, or ideological hatred during the year (compared to 28 such acts in 2016). The majority of the sites belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which the SOVA Center attributed to the Supreme Court ban on the organization. Acts of vandalism included the defacement of 11 Jehovah’s Witnesses buildings, eight Orthodox monuments, a Protestant church, and a Pentecostal building. In August in the Murmansk region, unidentified vandals desecrated a Buddhist stupa.

Between September 2016 and August, Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 16 attacks on Kingdom Halls, including one resulting in damage from arson, with at least nine of these cases following the April Supreme Court ban. On April 30 in Lutsino, Moscow Oblast, the home of a Jehovah’s Witnesses family was burned to the ground, along with the adjoining home of their elderly parents. On May 24, in Zheshart in the Komi Republic, arsonists caused significant damage to a building used by Jehovah’s Witnesses for religious services. According to the SOVA Center, the first instance of vandalism occurred within hours of the Supreme Court’s decision on April 20, when a group of unidentified men in two cars drove up to a Jehovah’s Witnesses building in St. Petersburg and blocked the vehicle exit. One of the assailants shouted threats and threw rocks at the building’s glass windows and door.

According to the SOVA Center, on February 3, in Saransk four unidentified men riding a bus yelled obscenities at a Tatar girl wearing a hijab and threatened to hit her with a glass bottle. Witnesses report she exited the bus following the incident.

According to, on May 11 a group of men interrupted Jehovah’s Witnesses religious services in Tyumen and threatened to harm the attendees.

The ROC called Jehovah’s Witnesses a dangerous, totalitarian, and harmful sect and supported its ban by the government. “The decision on the ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a positive step in the fight against the spread of cultist ideas, which have nothing in common with the Christian religion…Their doctrine contains a multitude of false teachings…and therefore they cannot in any way be called Christian,” the head of the ROC synod’s Department for External Church Relations, Metropolitan of Volokolamsk Hilarion, said on the program Church and World on the Rossiia-24 television channel.

According to a study published by the SOVA Center and the Fare Network in June, soccer fans often displayed neo-Nazi symbols at championships hosted by the Amateur Football League and many other amateur competitions. The 2016-17 season was also marked by the appearance of banners featuring anti-Semitic stereotypes and caricatures. The report noted soccer league and law enforcement agencies were making efforts to curb the presence of far-right symbolism at matches.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and embassy representatives met with a range of government officials to discuss the treatment of religious minorities and the revocation of the registration of some religious organizations. Embassy officials raised consular cases with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs involving the discriminatory enforcement of the law against U.S. citizens who had engaged in religious activity, including preventing them from obtaining legal counsel, not allowing them to speak in their own defense at legal hearings, and not providing adequate translations into English so they could understand the nature of the proceedings against them. Embassy officials attended hearings in the Supreme Court case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Consular officers attended hearings of a U.S. citizen accused of violating laws on missionary activities.

On November 21, in commemoration of the International Day for Tolerance, the Ambassador hosted a group of religious leaders for an interreligious dialogue promoting tolerance.

The Ambassador met with ROC Patriarch Kirill in November and Metropolitan Hilarion in February to discuss ROC-state relations, interfaith cooperation, religion in society, and ways to promote religious tolerance.

In November the Ambassador met with Rabbi Berel Lazar, the Chief Rabbi of Russia, to discuss the state of the Jewish community in the country. The Ambassador had similar meetings throughout the year with representatives of the Russian Jewish Congress.

In November the Ambassador met with Papal Nuncio Archbishop Celestino Migliore.

On October 27, in conjunction with International Religious Freedom Day, the Ambassador engaged with the Russian public in a question and answer video on the importance of religious freedom, which was posted to the embassy’s social media pages.

Representatives from the embassy and Consulates General in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok met regularly with the ROC, rabbis and leaders of the Jewish community, muftis and other Islamic leaders, Protestant pastors, Catholic priests, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. These discussions covered developments related to religious legislation, government practices, and specific religious freedom cases.

Embassy and other U.S. government officials also met with civil society and human rights leaders to discuss religious legislation, government practices, and country-specific cases of religion and religious freedom. The groups included religious charities, members of the Russian Civic Chamber, the Slavic Center for Law and Justice, and the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis.

Embassy officers met with U.S. missionaries and religious workers to inquire about their experiences with immigration, registration, and police authorities, as well as with local populations, as a gauge of religious freedom.


Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws prohibit religious discrimination and provide for freedom of religion and worship. In contrast with the previous year, there were no reported arrests or shootings of Muslims or Muslim leaders, and Muslim community leaders reported effective collaboration with police and local authorities. Compulsory service in night patrols and reciting the pledge of allegiance to the nation while holding the national flag during certain civil ceremonies continued to be required of all citizens, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, despite their religious objections. Five Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested after refusing to serve in night patrols and pay security fees, and 24 Jehovah’s Witnesses teachers were threatened with dismissal for objecting to hold the national flag while taking their oath.

Local media reported two attacks on members of a Pentecostal church in the Huye District of Southern Province. One day after six church members were attacked and severely beaten (leaving one in a coma as a result), an armed mob attacked the church at night, injuring 25 church members. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported Catholic schools required all students to attend Mass regardless of personal faith. Christian leaders reported Islamic schools required all female students to wear headscarves in class as well as on their way to and from schools until they reached their homes. Religious leaders reported numerous faith-based groups and associations contributed to greater understanding and tolerance by participating in interfaith meetings, launching an interfaith religious leaders forum, and collaborating on community development projects.

Embassy representatives engaged the government and religious leaders on religious freedom and hosted interfaith events, including an iftar, where religious freedom and tolerance were among the key messages.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.9 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2012 census, the population is 44 percent Roman Catholic; 38 percent Protestant denominations, including Anglican, Pentecostal, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, and “born-again” churches; 12 percent Seventh-day Adventist; 2 percent Muslim; and 0.7 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses. Several other small religious groups, together constituting less than 1 percent of the population, include animists, Bahais, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and a small Jewish community consisting entirely of foreigners. Approximately 2.5 percent of the population holds no religious beliefs. The head office of the Rwanda Muslim Community (RMC) stated Muslims could constitute as much as 10 percent of the population. The majority of Muslims are Sunni, with a small number of Shia (200-300), according to the RMC. While generally there are no concentrations of religious groups in certain geographic areas, residents of the Nyamirambo district of Kigali, known as “the Muslim Quarter,” are mainly Muslim. There is no significant correlation between religious affiliation and socioeconomic status.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship and its public manifestation even when the government declares a state of emergency. Exercising these rights may be subject to limitations in order to ensure respect of others’ rights and good morals, public order, and social welfare. The constitution bars political parties based on religious affiliation. The penal code stipulates religious discrimination is punishable by five to seven years in prison and fines of 100,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($120 to $1,200).

Under the law governing religious groups, all groups “whose members share the same beliefs, cult, and practice” must register with the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) to acquire legal status. According to the law, a faith-based organization (FBO) must submit the following in order to register: an application letter addressed to the RGB chief executive; authenticated statutes governing its organization, including provisions stipulating its activities; general information including the location of its head office and the names of its legal representative and his/her deputy, their duties, full address, curricula vitae, and criminal records; a document certifying the legal representative and his/her deputy were appointed in accordance with its statutes; a brief statement describing its major doctrines; the minutes of the group’s general assembly that approved the statutes of the organization; and an action plan for the fiscal year. The law allows FBOs to operate with an endorsement letter from district authorities pending final registration by the RGB.

The law covering religious groups does not address nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) associated with religious groups. Domestic NGOs associated with religious groups are required to register with the RGB, but under a different law governing NGOs. The law details a multistep NGO registration process and requires annual financial and activity reports and action plans.

The government grants legal recognition only to civil marriages.

New public servants are required by law to take an oath of loyalty “in the name of God almighty” and touch the flag while reciting the oath. Those who do not fulfill the requirement forfeit their position. The law does not make accommodations for religious minorities whose faith does not permit them to comply with this requirement.

The law establishes fines of 20,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($24 to $1,200) and imprisonment from eight days to five years for anyone who hinders the free practice of religion; publicly humiliates rites, symbols, or objects of religion; or insults, threatens, or physically assaults a religious leader.

The law regulates public meetings, including assemblies for religious reasons, that may disturb public order or are deemed politically sensitive, and establishes fines of 100,000 to five million Rwandan francs ($120 to $5,800) and imprisonment of eight days to three years for unauthorized public meetings. District mayors are required to respond within 15 days to FBO requests to hold special meetings in public. FBOs are not required to seek authorization for routine meetings.

For nighttime meetings, including religious meetings, local authorities often require advance notification, particularly for ceremonies involving amplified music and boisterous celebrations. Laws prohibit excessive noise that disrupts neighborhoods and undermines property values, and impose fines for violations ranging from 10,000 to 100,000 Rwandan francs ($12 to $120). Nighttime noise disturbances may be punished by imprisonment of eight days to two months and/or a fine of 50,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($58 to $1,200). Religious organizations are required to conform to laws protecting public security, public health, good morals, and human rights.

Unregistered religious groups may congregate after informing local authorities and may be granted a temporary registration certificate while the legal application process, which might last well over a year, is pending.

All students in public primary school and the first three years of secondary education must take a religion class that discusses various religions. The Ministry of Education establishes the curriculum. The law does not specify either opt-out provisions or penalties for not taking part in the class. The law allows parents to enroll their children in private religious schools.

The government subsidizes some schools affiliated with different religious groups. A presidential order guarantees students attending any government-subsidized school the right to worship according to their beliefs during the school day, as long as their religious groups are registered in the country and the students’ worship practices do not interfere with learning and teaching activities. The order does not stipulate any procedure for arranging special accommodations.

The law prohibits religious groups from engaging in activities designed to achieve political power, defined as supporting political organizations or candidates for public office.

Every foreign missionary must have a temporary resident permit and a foreign identity card. Specific requirements to obtain the permit (valid for two years and renewable) include a signed curriculum vitae, an original police clearance from the country of residence, an authorization letter from the parent organization, and a fee of 100,000 Rwandan francs ($117).

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

During the year, police arrested five Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to participate in night patrols or pay security fees. All were released after detention ranging from several hours to two days. Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report local officials’ retaliation against members who refused to sing the national anthem in school, take an oath while holding the national flag, or participate in community night patrols and government-sponsored “solidarity” civil and military training. Between January and October, 67 Jehovah’s Witnesses students were punished, including dismissal from school, for not attending religious services at school or not participating in military and patriotic activities at school. Jehovah’s Witnesses schoolteachers were threatened with dismissal for objecting to holding the national flag while taking an oath. These included 18 teachers in Ngororero District 4, four teachers in Huye District, Maraba Sector, and two teachers in Karongi District. Jehovah’s Witnesses also reported that the government applied the law on the oath of loyalty retroactively, at times dismissing from office civil servants who had begun service before 2011, when the requirement was codified.

In contrast with the previous year, there were no reported arrests or shootings of Muslims or Muslim leaders. The Muslim community leadership reported working collaboratively with the Rwanda National Police (RNP) in combating extremism and radicalization in the Muslim community. The trial of approximately 40 Muslim individuals arrested in 2016 and accused of being associated with al-Shabaab, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations remained in progress at year’s end.

Unregistered religious groups received a significant degree of government scrutiny of their leadership, activities, and registration application until they obtained FBO registration under the law. Small religious congregations sometimes temporarily affiliated with larger registered organizations in order to operate.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to pursue judicial remedies for civil servants, including more than 200 teachers dismissed since 2011 for refusing to swear an oath on the flag. Of the 36 Jehovah’s Witnesses who took their cases to court on the grounds of alleged violations of their religious beliefs and illegal dismissal, only one case was decided in favor of the plaintiff, and the decision hinged on technical rather than substantive grounds. Three cases remained pending before the High Court, and Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed 16 cases to the Supreme Court during the year. Jehovah’s Witnesses leadership also reported difficulties in securing appointments with authorities to discuss a range of legal requirements imposing certain limitations on their religious practices and beliefs.

Both Christian and Muslim places of worship were affected by noise ordinance restrictions and were required to decrease the volume on their sound equipment. There were no reports of religious organizations being cited under the ordinance during the year.

Government officials presiding over wedding ceremonies generally required couples to take a pledge “in the name of God almighty” while touching the national flag, a legal requirement. Jehovah’s Witnesses stated this made it difficult to marry legally since few officials were willing to perform the ceremony without the flag oath; Jehovah’s Witnesses objected to the practice on religious grounds. For some Jehovah’s Witnesses, placing their hands on a Bible on top of the flag was an acceptable alternative. Jehovah’s Witnesses were not able to obtain a waiver and reported difficulties in getting an appointment with relevant authorities. Of the approximately 800 Jehovah’s Witnesses who were reportedly refused marriage registration, 760 reported “having to apply workarounds” (i.e. bribes) in order to obtain marriage licenses.

On April 11, a district authority in Rwamagana denied Jehovah’s Witnesses permission to hold a memorial commemorating Jesus’s death and sent security agents to prevent the memorial from being held. The memorial coincided with the week of commemoration of the Rwandan genocide. On April 9, the Mayor of Rwamagana told the Jehovah’s Witnesses that the event could be held if he could address the audience. The national office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Rwanda wrote to the mayor to explain that this would interfere with their freedom of religion.

In May the RNP arrested four senior leaders of the Association of Pentecostal Churches of Rwanda on embezzlement charges, a prosecution that some church members said they believed was politically motivated. According to observers, the Pentecostal Church maintained a complicated relationship with the government, with some branches very close to the government, while others are more critical. Some congregations reported government interference in church operations.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In February local media reported two attacks on members of a Pentecostal church in the Huye District of Southern Province. One day after six church members were attacked and severely beaten (leaving one in a coma as a result), an armed mob attacked the church at night, injuring 25 church members. Local authorities conducted community outreach and reportedly launched an investigation into the attack, but no arrests were reported by year’s end.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported Catholic schools, both government-subsidized and not, required all students to attend Mass regardless of their personal faith. Christian leaders reported Muslim schools required all female students to wear headscarves in class as well as on their way to and from schools until they reached their homes, regardless of their personal faith.

Religious leaders reported numerous religious groups and associations contributed to greater religious understanding and tolerance by participating in interfaith meetings and collaborating on community development projects, such as providing assistance to HIV/AIDS patients and supporting government development initiatives. During the year, a retired Anglican bishop who heads the Rwanda National Reconciliation Commission launched the Rwanda Religious Leaders Forum. The organization, under the joint leadership of the Grand Mufti of Rwanda and Protestant, Catholic, Anglican, and evangelical Christian leaders, stated its aim was to strengthen interfaith collaboration on education, combating gender-based violence, socioeconomic development, and unity and reconciliation. Jehovah’s Witnesses did not attend interfaith meetings and did not join the interfaith forum.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy representatives engaged with government officials, including RGB staff responsible for FBO and NGO registration, and urged the government to simplify the process and increase transparency. U.S. embassy representatives raised the concerns of Jehovah’s Witnesses with senior government officials and shared best practices on religious accommodations.

The U.S. embassy hosted interfaith discussions focused on religious diversity and included members of different religious groups in numerous public outreach programs it conducted in Kigali and throughout the country. In May the Ambassador visited the Islamic secondary school in Murambi with the Grand Mufti of Rwanda. In her remarks, the Ambassador emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and education in developing future leaders. In June the Ambassador hosted an interfaith iftar, which was attended by more than 75 guests, including the Deputy Mufti of Rwanda, the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops Conference, the head of the Evangelical Restoration Church, a representative from the Pentecostal Church, the Anglican deputy to the archbishop, as well as 25 RMC members. In her remarks, the Ambassador emphasized the importance of the faith communities’ commitment to uphold the richness of religious diversity and defend the rights of all of their fellow citizens. The Ambassador and embassy officers also engaged religious leaders through the Rwanda Religious Leaders Forum.

The embassy underscored the value of religious diversity and inclusion at key community events, including during the genocide commemoration, which featured interfaith prayers, and at the embassy’s Independence Day celebration.

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