China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Executive Summary


Reports on Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet are appended at the end of this report.

The constitution states citizens have freedom of religious belief but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” and does not define “normal.” The government continued to exercise control over religion and restrict the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents when the government perceived these as threatening state or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interests, according to nongovernmental organization (NGO) and international media reports. Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant) are permitted to register with the government and officially permitted to hold worship services. There continued to be reports the government tortured, physically abused, arrested, detained, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices, including members of unregistered Christian churches (also known as “house churches”). Falun Gong reported dozens of its members died in detention. Although Chinese authorities continued to block information about the number of self-immolations of Tibetan Buddhists, including Buddhist monks, media reported on six self-immolations and one instance in which a man in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) committed suicide by slitting his throat. Reportedly, a Buddhist monk self-immolated in Haikou City due to a land requisition dispute involving a Buddhist temple. Multiple media outlets reported an increase in control over religious activities in advance of the 19th Party Congress in October. The government continued to cite concerns over the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” as grounds to enact and enforce restrictions on religious practices of Muslims in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), including Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui, and Tajiks. In addition to the national Counterterrorism Law that addressed “religious extremism,” Xinjiang enacted a separate counterextremism law, effective April 1, which spelled out many of the behaviors deemed “extremist.” Authorities in Xinjiang punished university students for praying and barred them from participating in religious activities, including fasting during Ramadan. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims have been forcibly sent to re-education centers, and extensive and invasive security and surveillance practices have been instituted. The government sought the forcible repatriation of Uighur Muslims from foreign countries and detained some of those who returned, leading many to seek asylum overseas on the grounds of religious persecution. In several cases, there are reports that returnees died while in detention or disappeared. During the year, the government passed new regulations scheduled to come into effect in February 2018 to govern the activities of religious groups. Religious leaders and groups stated that the 2018 regulations would increase restrictions on their ability to practice their religions, including a new requirement for religious group members to seek approval to travel abroad and a prohibition on “accepting domination by external forces.” Christian churches stated the government increased monitoring even before the new regulations came into effect, causing many churches to cease their normal activities. Authorities continued to arrest and harass Christians in Zhejiang Province, including by requiring Christian churches to install surveillance cameras to enable daily police monitoring of their activities. An ongoing campaign of cross removals and church demolitions continued during the year, reportedly on a more limited basis than in previous years.

Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists reported severe societal discrimination in employment, housing, and business opportunities. In Xinjiang tension between Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese continued.

The Secretary of State, Ambassador, and other embassy and consulates general representatives repeatedly and publicly expressed concern about abuses of religious freedom. On August 15, the Secretary of State said, “In China, the government tortures, detains, and imprisons thousands for practicing their religious beliefs.” He said dozens of Falun Gong members died in detention in 2016, and policies that restrict Uighur Muslims’ and Tibetan Buddhists’ religious expression increased in number. U.S. officials consistently urged the government to adhere to internationally recognized rights of religious freedom and urged the release of those imprisoned for their religious beliefs. Embassy officials met with members from diverse religious communities and protested the imprisonment of individuals on charges related to religious freedom.

Since 1999, China has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On December 22, the Secretary of State redesignated China as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation: the existing ongoing restriction on exports to China of crime control and detection instruments and equipment, under the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1990 and 1991 (Public Law101-246), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.4 billion (July 2017 estimate). According to the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), there are more than 200 million religious believers in the country. Many experts, however, believe that official estimates understate the total number of religious adherents. The U.S. government estimates there are 658 million religious believers in the country, including 251 million Buddhists, 70 million Christians, 25 million Muslims, 302 million observers of folk religions, and 10 million observers of other faiths, including Taoism. According to a February estimate by the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House, there are more than 350 million religious believers in the country, including 185-250 million Chinese Buddhists, 60-80 million Protestants, 21-23 million Muslims, 7-20 million Falun Gong practitioners, 12 million Catholics, 6-8 million Tibetan Buddhists, and hundreds of millions who follow various folk traditions. According to 2016 data from the Jewish Virtual Library, the country’s Jewish population is 2,600.

The 2014 Blue Book of Religions, produced by the Institute of World Religions at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a research institution directly under the State Council, reported the number of Protestants to be between 23 and 40 million. Among these, there are 20 million Protestant Christians affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the state-sanctioned umbrella organization for all officially recognized Protestant churches, according to information on TSPM’s website in March. According to a 2014 SARA statistic, more than 5.7 million Catholics worship in sites registered by the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), the state-sanctioned organization for all officially recognized Catholic churches. Accurate estimates on the numbers of Catholics and Protestants as well as other faiths are difficult to calculate, however, because many adherents practice exclusively at home.

According to SARA, there are more than 21 million Muslims, with 10 ethnic minorities practicing Islam. Other sources indicate almost all of the Muslims are Sunni. The two largest Muslim ethnic minorities are Hui and Uighur, with Hui Muslims concentrated primarily in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces. SARA estimates the Muslim Hui population at 10.6 million. Uighur Muslims live primarily in the XUAR. The State Council’s 2015 White Paper on Xinjiang reports Hui, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uighur, and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities constitute 14.63 million residents in Xinjiang, 63 percent of the total population.

While there is no reliable government breakdown of the Buddhist population by branch, the vast majority of Buddhists in China are adherents of Mahayana Buddhism, according to the Pew Research Center.

Prior to the government’s 1999 ban on Falun Gong, the government estimated there were 70 million adherents. Falun Gong sources estimate that tens of millions continue to practice privately, and Freedom House estimates 7-20 million practitioners.

Some ethnic minorities retain traditional religions, such as Dongba among the Naxi people in Yunnan Province and Buluotuo among the Zhuang in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Media sources report Tibetan Buddhism is growing in popularity among the Han Chinese population.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states citizens have “freedom of religious belief,” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities.” The constitution does not define “normal.” It says religion may not be used to disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens, or interfere with the educational system. The constitution provides for the right to hold or not to hold a religious belief, and states that state organs, public organizations, and individuals may not discriminate against citizens “who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.” The law does not allow legal action to be taken against the government on the basis of the religious freedom protections afforded by the constitution. Criminal law allows the state to sentence government officials to up to two years in prison if they violate a citizen’s religious freedom.

CCP members and members of the armed forces are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practice. Members found to belong to religious organizations are subject to expulsion, although these rules are not universally enforced. The vast majority of public office holders are CCP members, and membership is widely considered a prerequisite for success in a government career. These restrictions also apply to retired CCP cadres and party members.

Certain religious or spiritual groups are banned by law. The criminal law defines banned groups as “cult organizations,” and those belonging to them can receive sentences of up to life in prison. There are no published criteria for determining, or procedures for challenging, such a designation. A national security law explicitly bans “cult organizations.” The CCP maintains an extralegal, party-run security apparatus to eliminate the Falun Gong movement and other such organizations. The government continues to ban Falun Gong, the Guanyin Method religious group (Guanyin Famen or the Way of the Goddess of Mercy), and Zhong Gong (a qigong exercise discipline). The government also considers several Christian groups to be “evil cults,” including the Shouters, The Church of Almighty God (also known as Eastern Lightning), Society of Disciples (Mentu Hui), Full Scope Church (Quan Fanwei Jiaohui), Spirit Sect, New Testament Church, Three Grades of Servants (San Ban Puren), Association of Disciples, Lord God religious group, Established King Church, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Family of Love, and South China Church.

The Counterterrorism Law describes “religious extremism” as the ideological basis of terrorism that uses “distorted religious teachings or other means to incite hatred, or discrimination, or advocate violence.” Xinjiang has its own counterterrorism law containing similar provisions regarding “religious extremism” as the national law. Xinjiang also enacted a separate counterextremism law, which took effect April 1. The law bans the wearing of long beards, full-face coverings, giving “abnormal” names to children, expanding halal practice beyond food, and “interfering” with family planning, weddings, funerals, or inheritance, among other provisions.

Regulations require religious groups to register with the government. Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” are permitted to register with the government and legally hold worship services. These five associations operate under the direction of the CCP United Front Work Department. Other religious groups, such as Protestant groups unaffiliated with the official patriotic religious association or Catholics professing loyalty to the Vatican, are not permitted to register as legal entities. The government does not recognize Judaism. The country’s laws and policies do not provide a mechanism for religious groups independent of the five official patriotic religious associations to obtain legal status.

All religious organizations are required to register with SARA or its provincial and local offices. Registered religious organizations are allowed to possess property, publish approved materials, train staff, and collect donations. According to regulations, religious organizations must submit information about the organization’s historical background, members, doctrines, key publications, minimum funding requirements, and government sponsor, often a “patriotic religious association.” According to SARA, there are more than 360,000 clergy, 140,000 places of worship, and 5,500 registered religious groups in the country.

Religious regulations also vary by province; many provinces updated their regulations during the year following the National Work Conference on Religion in April.

In September the State Council issued revisions to the 2005 Regulations on Religious Affairs (RRA), scheduled to take effect on February 1, 2018. These revised regulations will allow members of unregistered religious groups to seek approval from authorities to participate in religious activities. Individuals who do not participate in religious activities through a registered organization or those that have not been approved by authorities will be considered to have engaged in “illegal religious activities,” and doing so carries potential criminal or administrative penalties. The revisions will require religious groups to register with the government, increase penalties for conducting or “providing facilities” for unauthorized religious activities, and restrict contact with overseas religious institutions, including a new requirement for members of religious groups to seek approval to travel abroad and a prohibition on “accepting domination by external forces.” The revisions include new registration requirements for religious schools. They also place new restrictions on religious groups conducting business or making investments. Additionally, the revisions require that religious activity “must not harm national security.” While the current regulations stipulate the obligations of religious groups to abide by the law and safeguard national unity, the new revisions specify steps to take strong measures on “religious extremism.” The new regulations also place limits on the online activities of religious groups, requiring activities to be approved by the provincial Religious Affairs Bureau.

In addition to the five nationally recognized religions, local governments permit certain religious communities and practices, such as Orthodox Christianity in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and Heilongjiang, Zhejiang, and Guangdong provinces. The government classifies worship of Mazu, a folk deity with Taoist roots, as “cultural heritage” rather than religious practice.

The government and the Holy See do not have diplomatic relations, and the Vatican has no representative in the country. The CPA does not recognize the authority of the Holy See to appoint Catholic bishops. The Regulation on the Election and Consecration of Bishops requires candidate bishops to pledge publicly support for the CCP.

SARA states through a policy posted on its website that family and friends have the right to meet at home for worship, including prayer and Bible study, without registering with the government.

According to the law, inmates have the right to believe in a religion and maintain their religious beliefs while in custody.

Tibetan Buddhists in the country, including outside the TAR, are not free to venerate the Dalai Lama openly. While there is no public law expressly forbidding it, authorities view as suspect any display of the Dalai Lama’s photo by businesses or individuals and treat those seen as loyal to him as a separatist threat.

Proselytizing in public or meeting in unregistered places of worship is not permitted.

Religious and social regulations permit official patriotic religious associations to engage in activities, such as building places of worship, training religious leaders, publishing literature, and providing social services to local communities. The CCP’s United Front Work Department, SARA, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs provide policy guidance and supervision on the implementation of these regulations.

An amendment to the criminal law and a judicial interpretation by the national Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the Supreme People’s Court published in November 2016 criminalize the act of forcing others to wear “extremist” garments. Neither the amendment nor the judicial interpretation defines what garments or symbols are considered “extremist.” Regulations in Urumqi, Xinjiang, prohibit residents from wearing veils that cover the face, forbid residents from homeschooling children, and forbid men from growing “abnormal beards.” A separate regulation approved by the Xinjiang People’s Congress Standing Committee in 2016 bans the practice of religion in government buildings and the wearing of clothes associated with “religious extremism.”

In February authorities in Xinjiang defined 26 religious activities, including some practices of Islam, Christianity, and Tibetan Buddhism, as illegal without government authorization. These regulations, which came into force April 1, stipulate that no classes, scripture study groups, or religious studies courses may be offered by any group or institution without prior government approval. No religious group is permitted to carry out any religious activities, including preaching, missionary work, proselytizing, and ordaining clergy, without government approval. The pronouncement forbids the designation of reincarnations of Tibetan Buddhist teachers without government approval. It also bans editing, translation, publication, printing, reproduction, production, distribution, sale, and dissemination of religious publications and audiovisual products without authorization.

National printing regulations restrict the publication and distribution of literature with religious content. Religious texts published without authorization, including Bibles and Qurans, may be confiscated, and unauthorized publishing houses closed. The government allows some foreign educational institutions to provide religious materials in Chinese, which are used by both registered and unregistered religious groups.

The government offers some subsidies for the construction of state-sanctioned places of worship and religious schools.

By regulation, if a religious structure is to be demolished or relocated because of city planning or construction of key projects, the party responsible for demolishing the structure must consult with its local Bureau of Religious Affairs (administered by SARA) and the religious group using the structure. If all parties agree to the demolition, the party conducting the demolition must agree to rebuild the structure or provide compensation equal to its appraised market value.

National regulations permit parents to instruct children under the age of 18 in the beliefs of officially recognized religious groups, and children may participate in religious activities. Xinjiang officials, however, require minors to complete nine years of compulsory education before they may receive religious education outside of school. Also in Xinjiang, regulations forbid minors from participating in religious activities and impose penalties on organizations and individuals who “organize, entice, or force” minors to participate in religious activities. According to press reports, a regulation in effect since November 2016 further bans any form of religious activity in Xinjiang schools and stipulates parents or guardians who “organize, lure, or force minors into religious activities” may be stopped by anyone and reported to police. The new Xinjiang law also amends its regional version of the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency Law to require children taking part in religious activities go to “specialized schools for correction.” In April Xinjiang authorities banned naming children with any name having an Islamic connotation, and in June stated all children under the age of 16 with such names must change their names.

The teaching of atheism in schools is mandated, and a CCP directive provides guidance to universities on how to prevent foreign proselytizing of university students.

The law states job applicants shall not face discrimination in hiring based on factors including religious belief.

Birth limitation policies stating all married couples may have no more than two children, with no exceptions for ethnic or religious minorities, remain in force.

The law currently permits domestic NGOs, including religious organizations, to receive donations in foreign currency. The law requires documented approval by SARA of donations from foreign sources to domestic religious groups of more than one million renminbi (RMB) ($154,000). This amount is expected to change in February 2018 with the implementation of the new religious regulations that will require government approval for donations of more than 100,000 RMB ($15,400).

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). With respect to Macau, the national government notified the UN Secretary General, in part, that residents of Macau shall not be restricted in the rights and freedoms they are entitled to, unless otherwise provided for by law, and in case of restrictions, the restrictions shall not contravene the ICCPR. With respect to Hong Kong, the national government notified the secretary general, in part, that the ICCPR would also apply to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Government Practices

Summary paragraph: Throughout the country, there continued to be reports of deaths in detention of religious adherents as well as reports the government physically abused, detained, arrested, tortured, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices. Religious affairs officials and security organs scrutinized and restricted the religious activities of registered and unregistered religious groups, including assembling for religious worship, expressing religious beliefs in public and in private, teaching youth, and publishing religious texts. Falun Gong reported that dozens of its members died in detention. Reportedly, a Buddhist monk self-immolated in January in Haikou City, due to a land requisition dispute involving a Buddhist temple. International media reported an increase in control over religious activities in advance of the 19th Party Congress in October. Religious leaders and groups stated the 2018 regulations would increase restrictions on their ability to practice their religions, including a new requirement for religious groups to seek approval to travel abroad and a prohibition on “accepting domination by external forces.” The government continued to cite concerns over the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” as grounds to enact and enforce restrictions on religious practices of Muslims in Xinjiang, including Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui, and Tajiks. The government’s repression of religious freedom remained most severe in Xinjiang and in Tibetan areas, according to media and NGO sources. According to reports, the government continued to extract unpaid labor, conduct indoctrination sessions, and closely monitor and restrict the movements of Uighurs to counteract what it considered “religious extremism” in Xinjiang.

According to Minghui, a Falun Gong-affiliated organization, during the year 42 practitioners died in custody or following release from prison due to injuries sustained while in custody. Minghui reported Han Hongxia died in March while in police custody. Officials of the Da’an City Domestic Security Office in Jilin Province arrested her in October 2016. Guards at the Baicheng City Detention Center reportedly tortured her for refusing to renounce her beliefs in Falun Gong. Minghui also reported that Falun Gong practitioner Yang Yuyong died in July in police custody. Authorities in Tianjin arrested him in December 2016. He reportedly suffered severe abuse while in custody, including sexual abuse involving 13 inmates who pinched his genitals and bit his nipples. By the time authorities took him to receive medical care, he was already suffering complete organ failure. His family reported his body as being black and blue and having traces of bamboo sticks under his toenails. Yang’s wife, Meng Xianzhen, was arrested with him and remained in custody at year’s end.

On January 10 in Haikou City, Hainan Province, Buddhist monk Shi-Wu Zong self-immolated and died in front of witnesses from the local ethnic and religious affairs bureau as well as officials from the social stability office. Bowen Press said his action was due to a land requisition dispute. Since the end of 2016, Shi-Wu Zong had protested an alleged illegal land transaction between government authorities and a local real estate developer. The real estate contractor hired workers to demolish a Buddhist temple to make way for new construction. Authorities accused Shi-Wu Zong of criminal disturbance of social order before he self-immolated.

On June 15, Radio Free Asia reported ethnic Kazakh Imam Akmet (one name only) died on June 4 in police custody in Xinjiang. According to sources in the region, authorities had detained him a week before for unknown reasons and said he had hanged himself. Sources reported authorities detained more than 100 of his supporters who spoke out about his death online. Earlier in the year, Radio Free Asia also reported that a Kaba (Habahe) County court sentenced an ethnic Kazakh Imam Okan (one name only) to 10 years in prison for performing traditional funeral prayers in accordance with Islamic customs.

According to July articles by ChinaAid and in Express, TSPM Nanle County Church Pastor Zhang Shaojie’s daughter said authorities beat him nearly to death after he appealed his 12-year sentence following four years of imprisonment. Zhang’s relatives said prison guards had tortured him, using methods including sleep deprivation as well as slowly starving him by giving him very little to eat. Zhang is a pastor in Xinxiang, Henan Province, in prison for “swindling” and “assembling a crowd to disrupt public order” for leading a group of Christians to Beijing to file a petition concerning his church’s land dispute with local officials.

In January The South China Morning Post and Radio Free Asia reported Christian Pastor Yang Hua (also known as Li Guozhi) of the unofficial Livingstone Church in Guizhou Province was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for divulging state secrets. The documents in question reportedly concerned a “crackdown” on his church. Authorities detained the pastor in 2015, and he spent more than a year in jail prior to his sentencing. Yang’s lawyers said authorities tortured him, did not treat his serious medical conditions, and threatened to kill him and his family. In late August authorities fined the Livingstone Church seven million RMB ($1.1 million) for illegally establishing a religious space. Pastor Su Tianfu and lawyer Huang Sha filed an application with the Guiyang Municipal Ethnic and Religious Committee requesting reconsideration of the decision. In 2016, authorities arrested Su and released him pending trial, but security services continued to follow him and pressured him to plead guilty to disclosing state secrets and to relinquish to the government the space the church purchased. Authorities released church deacon Zhang Xiuhong in August on a five-year suspended sentence. Reportedly, authorities targeted church leaders because they were unwilling to register the church under the TSPM. Authorities had previously shut down the church in 2015.

In a May court hearing, a judge ordered prosecutors to gather further evidence in the case of Chen Huixia, a Falun Gong practitioner in Hebei Province charged with “using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement.” Amnesty International said detention center officials tortured her and held her without access to family or lawyers since 2016.

According to Christian NGO ChinaAid and religious groups, as part of the government’s ongoing campaign of “Sinicization,” religious organizations reported a continued increase in detentions and arrests, especially of those not affiliated with a government-backed patriotic association. The most common charges included “illegal religious activities” and “disrupting social stability.”

Multiple media outlets reported an increase in authorities’ control over religious activities in advance of the 19th Party Congress in October. These controls included detaining persons for participating in religious rituals outside of officially sanctioned religious sites, arresting persons for disturbing public order, and increasing surveillance of religious sites and communities.

Human rights groups said the vague definition of “terrorism” and “religious extremism” in the Counterterrorism Law that took effect in 2016 and in the revised religious regulations that are scheduled to come into force in 2018 could be used to criminalize peaceful expressions of religious belief. Authorities often failed to distinguish between peaceful religious practice and criminal or terrorist activities, according to human rights organizations. It remained difficult to determine whether particular raids, detentions, arrests, or judicial punishments targeted those pursuing political goals, the right to worship, or criminal acts.

The Political Prisoner Database maintained by human rights NGO Dui Hua Foundation contained the following number of religious prisoners at year’s end: 308 Protestants, 277 Almighty God Church members, 107 Muslims, 30 Buddhists, and nine Catholics, compared with 207 Protestants, 366 Almighty God Church members, 66 Muslims, 21 Buddhists, and 23 Catholics at the end of 2016. The Political Prisoner Database listed 3,516 Falun Gong practitioners imprisoned at year’s end, compared with 3,322 at the end of 2016. Dui Hua defined religious prisoners as “people persecuted for holding religious beliefs that are not officially sanctioned.”

Falun Gong reported significantly higher numbers of its members being arrested and sentenced, stating on Minghui authorities sentenced almost 1,000 practitioners to imprisonment during the year for practicing Falun Dafa. During the year, authorities arrested and charged at least 50 persons with “using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement.” International Falun Gong-affiliated NGOs and international media reported detentions of Falun Gong practitioners continued to increase around “sensitive” dates. Authorities instructed neighborhood communities to report Falun Gong members to officials and offered monetary rewards to citizens who informed on Falun Gong practitioners.

Radio Free Asia reported authorities in Burultokay (Fuhai) County, Xinjiang, sentenced ethnic Kazakh Manat Hamit to 16 years in prison on an ethnic hatred charge at a May secret trial after authorities found audio files of Quranic recitations on his computer. Authorities reportedly refused to provide his family information regarding his trial and did not accept the lawyer hired for his appeal, which a court rejected in July.

According to ChinaAid as reported by The Christian Post in January, individuals reportedly connected to the government beat a group of Christians from Fuxing Church in Hebei Province after the church refused local officials’ pressure to sign a land transfer that would remove the congregation from the space. Several of the Christians were subsequently hospitalized.

In January authorities detained more than 80 Christians affiliated with the Protestant house church network Fangcheng Fellowship across Xinjiang Province for worshipping in house churches, according to The Christian Post. Some of those arrested were charged with “engaging in religious activities at nonreligious sites.”

According to The Christian Post, local authorities in Xinjiang arrested Ma Huichao in January for holding a Bible study in her home. They charged her with “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” and sentenced her to three years in prison. In October Radio Free Asia reported that Xinjiang authorities had detained three grandchildren of Qurban Barat, a deceased ethnic Uighur imam in Hotan (Hetian) Prefecture. Authorities charged them with “religious violations” and possession of illegal religious material, sentencing two to six years in prison and the third to five and a half years. They had given a fourth grandson an eight-year prison sentence in 2015 for the same charges.

In January authorities formally arrested Pastor Gu “Joseph” Yuese, the former pastor of Chongyi Church in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, one of the country’s largest TSPM churches, on embezzlement charges his supporters said authorities fabricated to punish him for publicly opposing Zhejiang’s cross demolition campaign. On December 24, prosecutors withdrew the charges and released Gu. Authorities barred him from returning to his pastoral duties after his release. This was the second time authorities detained Gu on embezzlement charges in as many years. In January 2016 authorities had removed Gu from his pastoral duties and placed him under criminal detention for suspected embezzlement of church funds, but released him on bail in March 2016.

According to ChinaAid, authorities jailed five Christians in March in Liaoning Province and subsequently sentenced them to three to seven years in prison for buying and selling “officially forbidden Christian devotional books.” Although their church, Chaoguang Village Christian Gathering Place, is officially registered with the TSPM, authorities said they were conducting illegal business because they intended to make a profit from their activities. Authorities closed the church.

ChinaAid said police detained two Christians, Zhou Jinxia from Dalian, Liaoning Province, and Shi Xinhong from Bengbu, Anhui Province, after they attempted to pray at the Great Hall of the People at the beginning of the National People’s Congress on March 5. Authorities detained Zhou for 10 days in 2016 for holding religious signs outside CCP headquarters.

In March authorities detained at least 14 members of a 90-member house church in Langzhong City, Sichuan Province, for 15 days. According to ChinaAid, authorities also confiscated items belonging to the house church. Police charged the members with the crime of “illegal congregation.”

In April authorities in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, briefly detained a group of Christian worshippers and Taiwan Pastor Xu Rongzhang for singing a Christian song – an activity authorities said was illegal. According to ChinaAid, police released Xu the same day, but kept his identification for a two more days. Police forced the local Christians to write letters of confession and told Xu not to hold gatherings of more than 10 persons.

According to a Voice of America report, after ISIS in Pakistan killed two Chinese missionaries sometime in May or June, Chinese authorities reportedly detained four church leaders from Zhejiang Province who had assigned the two to travel overseas. The families of the missionaries said after the arrest the government used their killings to suppress underground churches and Christians in the area. Civil society reported authorities told the families of the missionaries they should feel shame for how the negative publicity from the killings affected the country’s international image.

According to ChinaAid, police arrested Pastor Chen Shixin of Caili Church in Anhui Province in May and detained him for one month before formally charging him with “intentionally sabotaging public and private property.” On November 29, Chen pleaded innocent at his trial. During the trial, the prosecution said Chen damaged trees on a plot of land belonging to persons from the neighboring village. Chen said the land belonged to his church.

The Telegraph and BBC reported that in June authorities detained 18 suspected members of The Church of Almighty God (also known as Eastern Lightning), regarded by the government as an illegal demonic cult. In August 2016 authorities in Anhui Province detained 36 members of the group, accusing them of creating and distributing video content for the group.

According to ChinaAid, in July Guangdong police detained Pastor Tang Lili of Renyi, a five-year-old Protestant house church mainly serving migrant workers in a village in Jiangmen’s Xinhui District, and shut down the church. Police later searched Tang’s apartment and confiscated all religious items.

According to press reports, nearly every week government-backed groups in Ezhou, Hubei Province, harassed Christian house church members who met outdoors after local authorities confiscated the chairs and desks of their former indoor space on January 10. Also in January, according to ChinaAid, authorities detained six women from the church, including Hao Zhiwei, one of the church’s pastors, and a court sentenced each to 10 to 15 days of detention on charges of organizing unauthorized religious activities. Hao told Radio Free Asia reporters on August 14 authorities detained four Christians and beat them for five to seven days. On August 22, the government-backed groups beat five or six of the church members. Attackers dumped buckets of mud on the Christians, shot firecrackers at them, and beat one woman unconscious. One of the attackers reportedly told the church members, “Beating people up is my job.” Local police reportedly refused to intervene to stop the attackers or to press charges. In December 2016 local authorities warned the house church members their group violated the Regulation on Religious Affairs because it organized religious activities without the government’s approval, and said they should cease their religious activities.

In Shanxi Province, dozens of Catholics reportedly sustained injuries in August when trying to block bulldozers from destroying their church building, which belonged to the local diocese, part of the officially recognized CCPA. Local officials announced the church and surrounding plaza would be demolished “to enrich the life of the people,” despite the issuance of formal appeals by parishioners, according to news reports.

In September authorities in Sichuan Province prevented “unofficial” Protestant house Pastor Wang Yi from traveling to Hong Kong. Wang said border guards had told him that he was detained because he represented a “threat to national security,” according to Radio Free Asia.

In September authorities in Zhejiang Province arrested Pastor Xu Shizhen, along with her daughter and three-year-old grandson, after the women performed religious services in public parks and squares, according to Christianity Today. Reports from October indicated that Xu and her daughter were transferred to other facilities while the grandson was held at the police station. Christian advocates reported Xu and her daughter’s whereabouts remained unknown. Authorities seized Xu’s former church in 2012 and handed it over to the government-sanctioned church.

The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) reported Father Lu Danhua of Lishui Diocese of eastern Zhejiang Province went missing on December 29. UCAN said officials of SARA took him from a priests’ dormitory and, according to a witness, the officials said they were going for a brief chat. On December 30, the witness went to SARA’s office where officials said they already released Lu, but he remained missing and his mobile phone unanswered at the end of the year. A source told UCAN that authorities had said Lu needed to go to Wenzhou for “re-education” on new religious regulations scheduled to come into effect in February 2018.

On August 9, Radio Free Asia reported there was no sign of ethnic Kazakh Imam Nurjan Mehmet whose expected release from prison was July 31. According to sources in the region, authorities had arrested him in August 2016 when a Muslim couple registering their marriage said he led a traditional Muslim nikah wedding ceremony for them. A source said, “This may be a local policy unique to Xinjiang. You have to first apply for a marriage certificate and then carry out the Islamic practice of nikah. The imams aren’t allowed to perform nikah if there is no marriage certificate, or they will be sent to prison.” Reports said Mehmet was serving a four-year jail term instead of the original one-year sentence.

According to Radio Free Asia, sources estimated authorities in Xinjiang detained hundreds of ethnic minority Kazakhs in the months leading up to December for “extremist” behavior that included normal Islamic practices. In December Radio Free Asia reported authorities in Xinjiang detained five Kazakhs for disseminating “terrorist audio and video” online. A regional official of the Cyberspace Administration said they detained 37-year-old Wu (full names not provided) on November 1 for possessing “terrorist video” materials on a cellular phone, 31-year-old Zhu for “making comments that promote ethnic divisions,” and 26-year-old “A,” 36-year-old Ye, and 26-year-old Tuo for “incitement to ethnic hatred.” Radio Free Asia said regional officials had recently investigated 10 similar cases in which they detained suspects for “promoting, storing, and disseminating text, images, audio, and video related to terrorist violence, religious extremism, ethnic separatism, and false rumors.” Radio Free Asia said authorities detained six Uighurs on similar charges in November.

Authorities reportedly continued to harass and detain human rights lawyers defending religious adherents, often forbidding client meetings and threatening revocation of their professional licenses. During the year, authorities tried and convicted several prominent Christian legal rights activists and lawyers on charges of subversion of state power. Authorities also harassed or detained the family members, including children, of religious leaders and religious freedom activists. Authorities placed some of the family members under travel bans, restricting their movement.

Police in Jiangmen, Guangzhou Province, arrested human rights activist and Catholic Church member He Lin after he participated in a seaside memorial for human rights activist Liu Xiaobo on July 19. According to He Lin, authorities offered to release him if he were willing to sign a “repentance statement.” Lin refused the offer and told his lawyer he would rather sit in jail than violate his faith by signing a false statement.

In September police detained human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who had defended members of religious groups, including Christians and Falun Gong members. Gao had previously released a memoir published in Taiwan detailing reported abuses he had suffered during six years of harassment from authorities, including abductions, followed by five years of detention and physical abuse in prison, such as beatings to his face with an electric baton. Gao and his family said that after his release in 2014, government agents continued to subject him to intrusive visits at home and deny him permission to travel for medical treatment.

Relations between the Vatican and the government reportedly improved early in the year before stagnating, while media and observers reported many cases of authorities surveilling, harassing, and detaining unregistered bishops and priests.

In January overseas media reported the Shanghai chapter of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) announced Shanghai Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin as a “supplemental member” of its executive committee, but listed him as “Father Ma Daqin” – not as a bishop. Ma reportedly remained under house arrest in Sheshan Seminary after resigning from the CCPA during his episcopal ordination in 2012. In 2016, there were reports that Ma had written a blog post saying it was a mistake to leave the CCPA.

According to several news sources, in April, before Catholics marked Holy Week, security officials took Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin away from his Wenzhou Diocese, marking the fourth time authorities detained him since September 2016. Authorities in Wenzhou City, Zhejiang Province, originally detained Shao, whom the Vatican recognized but who was not a member of the CCPA, in 2016 to prevent him from assuming control of Wenzhou Diocese following the death of Bishop Vincent Zhu Weifang. In September a photo of Shao in a Beijing hospital began circulating on social media. According to overseas media, the photo was taken at Beijing Tongren Hospital where the bishop was to have ear surgery. In October prior to the start of the Communist Party’s 19th Party Congress in Beijing, authorities moved Shao to Xining in Qinghai Province in the west of the country. Media reports said authorities pressured Shao to sign an agreement stating that he would support SARA and the state’s authority to appoint bishops, but Shao reportedly did not agree with the terms. According to reports, authorities continued to detain him at year’s end.

In Fujian Province, AsiaNews reported “underground” Catholic Bishop Guo Xijin was missing for a few days after meeting with authorities from the Religious Affairs Office on April 6. According to AsiaNews, the head of public security in Ningde said the Bishop “needs to study and learn” and would remain in custody for 20 days. Guo’s followers said he might have been pressured into joining the government-affiliated CCPA.

The Catholic Herald reported authorities raided an “underground” Catholic Mass at a community hall in Heilongjiang Province on April 20 to prevent an “illegal religious activity.” Videos taken at the scene showed police attempting to arrest the parish priest and the community’s lay preacher, as well as arguing with parishioners.

According to the UCAN, on September 17, a court in Gaizhou City, Liaoning Province, sentenced Catholic priest Fei Jisheng to 18 months’ imprisonment for stealing funds from a charity money box at a home for the elderly. The trial was not public, and court records were unavailable. Authorities had arrested or detained Fei multiple times in 2016 for conducting religious work outside his own diocese. In October 2016 authorities detained Fei on charges of stealing charity funds. Catholic community members said the real reason for his arrest was due to his work with the Apostolic Class, an illegal evangelical Christian organization. Authorities released Fei after five weeks of detention and a week of ideological retraining. Fei hired a local lawyer after his arrest, but the lawyer reportedly quit due to pressure from local authorities. Local sources stated Liaoning police authorities planned to punish Fei severely to regain the trust of the central government, which was lost when local authorities failed to stop a large underground gathering of Catholics in 2015.

While authorities officially abolished “re-education through labor camps” in 2013, advocacy groups and international media continued to report some camps had been relabeled and continued to house members of religious and spiritual groups.

In Xinjiang human rights groups and others reported hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims were forcibly sent to re-education camps, and extensive and invasive security and surveillance practices were instituted. According to Human Rights Watch, restrictions on religious dress and expression came into effect in April along with restrictions on giving children names with religious connotations. Authorities increasingly restricted travel for religious purposes, and continued to bar Uighur children from participating in religious activities. Radio Free Asia reported that officials stayed with some families for up to 15 days during Ramadan to ensure they did not fast or pray.

Authorities in Xinjiang implemented a campaign to force Uighur Muslims returning from abroad into re-education camps. According to Radio Free Asia, the director of public security in Korla’s Qara Yulghun village said those in the camps had to express appropriate remorse for traveling abroad before authorities allowed them to return to “general re-education” studies, and eventually allowed them to leave. Other reports said officials in Hotan (Hetian), largely populated by Uighurs, confirmed that higher authorities gave them a target of sending nearly half the area’s residents to re-education camps throughout Xinjiang. Many of these camps have been registered as “career development centers” to circumvent legal problems. Reports indicated authorities sent Muslims and some Christians from ethnic minority groups to re-education.

The government continued to seek the forcible return of thousands of Uighur Muslims living outside the country, many of whom had sought asylum from religious persecution, according to human rights organizations. The government continued to claim that Uighurs were criminals and not refugees, and some countries, including Egypt, complied with the government’s requests for the forcible return of Uighur asylum seekers.

Government authorities focused forced repatriation efforts on Uighur religious students studying at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. The Financial Times reported Chinese government officials sent these students messages in May telling them to return home. Authorities arrested some of the students’ families in China in an attempt to compel them to return. Since July the Egyptian police reportedly arrested more than 200 Uighur students in Cairo, and the Egyptian government repatriated at least 22 to China.

Uighur Islamic scholar and professor Dr. Hebibulla Tohti received a 10-year prison sentence in May. According to Radio Free Asia, authorities compelled him to return from study in Egypt in 2016 to register with authorities in Xinjiang. Authorities said he conducted illegal activities by teaching religion to Uighur students in Egypt without approval, participating in a religious conference in Saudi Arabia without approval, and emphasizing the distinctive nature of Uighur culture in his doctoral dissertation. The government-sanctioned China Islamic Association provided financial support for his graduate studies and previously lauded his work publicly.

Radio Free Asia reported in November that authorities in some parts of Xinjiang had recently issued orders for ethnic Kazakh Chinese nationals to hand in their passports and Kazakh residence permits. Reportedly, authorities detained hundreds of ethnic Kazakhs returning from overseas study or family visits to Kazakhstan and sent them for indefinite terms to “re-education” facilities. One ethnic Kazakh in Tekes County said authorities placed him on a “wanted” list, along with some 60 other ethnic Kazakhs, for “returning to China after a long absence.”

According to Minghui, authorities continued to successfully force some prisoners and detainees to recant their beliefs, particularly Falun Gong practitioners, whom the government reportedly subjected to “transformation through re-education.” Authorities also failed to provide prisoners with adequate access to religious materials, facilities, or clergy. Prison authorities reportedly subjected detained Falun Gong practitioners to various methods of physical and psychological coercion, such as sleep deprivation, in attempts to force them to renounce their beliefs.

Religious groups continued to report the CCP interfered in matters of doctrine, theology, and religious practice in “patriotic religious associations.” Local authorities pressured religious believers to affiliate with patriotic associations and used administrative detention, including confinement and abuse in administrative detention centers, to punish members of unregistered religious or spiritual groups. Patriotic religious associations regularly reviewed sermons and sometimes required church leaders to attend education sessions with religious bureau officials. They also closely monitored and sometimes blocked the ability of religious leaders to meet freely with foreigners.

Due to the difficulty of fulfilling registration requirements, many religious organizations remained either unregistered or registered as commercial enterprises. Unregistered groups reported they were vulnerable to coercive and punitive action by SARA, the Ministry of Public Security, and other party or government security organs. In some areas local authorities allowed or at least did not interfere with the activities of some unregistered groups, while in other areas, local officials restricted events and meetings, confiscated and destroyed property, physically assaulted and injured participants, or imprisoned leaders and worshippers, according to reports.

SARA continued to maintain statistics on registered religious groups. According to statistics released in February, there were 21 officially recognized Protestant seminaries, 48,000 pastors, and 56,000 churches and other meeting places. According to civil society, there were 12 CPA seminaries; however, the government was reportedly in the process of closing the ones in Shanghai and Chengdu, Sichuan Province. Although there were two CPA seminaries in Beijing, civil society regarded one of them to be primarily used as the CPA’s propaganda for international visitors. There were 72 CPA-affiliated Catholic bishops, eight of whom the Vatican did not recognize, and three of those eight were excommunicated. An outside source estimated approximately 37 Catholic bishops remained independent of the CPA and continued to operate unofficially. In some locations, however, local authorities reportedly pressured unregistered Catholic priests and believers to renounce all ordinations approved by the Holy See. SARA also estimated there were 40,000 mosques, 50,000 imams, and 10 Quran Institutes.

It remained unclear how strictly authorities would enforce the revised RRA. Some experts noted while the text of the revisions appeared to indicate a harsher line towards religious activity, the last revision of the RRA was in 2005, and thus the revisions could serve to formalize policies and practices already in place, in addition to adding new regulations.

The government did not recognize house or unregistered churches, and continued to closely monitor their activities. Some officials reportedly still denied the existence of house churches or unregistered churches. Although SARA declared family and friends had the right to worship together at home – including prayer and Bible study, without registering with the government – authorities still regularly harassed and detained small groups that did so.

Officials across Zhejiang Province forcibly entered churches to install “antiterrorism” surveillance cameras, according to Radio Free Asia and The South China Morning Post. In some cases where church followers resisted, officials cut off water and electricity to the churches. Authorities beat some of those who resisted to the extent that they required hospitalization. The churches targeted for installation of cameras were often the same ones previously targeted for removal of unapproved crosses.

More than 10 government officials broke up a group of Christians praying at Olive Church in Guangdong Province on March 19 and accused the congregation of conducting religious activities without legal authorization. ChinaAid reported the police detained approximately 20 church members, releasing them later that day. ChinaAid also reported public security and religious affairs bureaus combined forces to target Huaqiangbei Bible Guizheng Church in Shenzhen during the year, confiscating church property. In response, the congregation dispersed to several satellite locations.

On April 20, police raided the Buji Church in Shenzhen, stating the church was operating illegally, detained Zhang Rongxian – the wife of Pastor Zhang Fei – and interrogated her for 15 hours. The police also conducted frequent fire inspections of church facilities and pressured the property owner to evict the pastor and his wife, according to ChinaAid.

ChinaAid reported on several actions in May. On May 3, Dongguan local police raided the Zhong Fu Wan Min “underground” Catholic Church during its worship service, which two U.S. citizens attended. Police took 30 congregants in for questioning. Authorities released them the next day. Police officers beat Pastor Li Peng at the church and kept him in custody at the local police station. ChinaAid reported this was the second time in a year local police raided the Zhong Fu Wan Min Church.

On May 4, the “underground” Guang Fu Church’s landlord requested the church to move out of one of its locations in Baiyun District, Guangzhou. Local police also denied Pastor Ma Ke and some of his church members’ applications for residency permits.

On May 12, in Xiamen, local authorities banned the River of Life Berean Church and the Berean Research Institute of Theology, accusing them of having Korean connections and setting up illegal religious meeting places. The local Huli District Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau also confiscated 1,345 yuan ($210) donated to the church, claiming it was illegal income.

On July 26, officials from the Guangzhou Municipal Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau summoned Ma Ke, Pastor of Guangfu Church, to the police station and told him the church could either become a member of the TSPM church or consent to “special personnel” monitoring the congregation. The pastor refused the first option, citing a belief that house churches and TSPM churches followed a different theology. The pastor said Guangfu Church had been a constant target of government harassment and surveillance over the past few years.

Security officials frequently interrupted the outdoor services of the unregistered Shouwang Church in Beijing and detained individuals attending services for several days without charge. Security services continued to closely monitor and harass church Pastor Jin Tianming, according to reports from advocacy groups.

Despite an overall tightening in spaces for unregistered churches to operate, in some areas, members of unregistered churches said they had more freedom than in the past to conduct religious services, as long as they gathered only in private and kept congregation numbers low. In some areas, however, authorities shut down churches that tried to maintain a low profile. Some unregistered churches reported authorities harassed and pressured their landlords to break property leases with the churches. Civil society reported authorities in one city forbade vacation Bible sessions for children during school breaks – a change from the previous year, while authorities refused to allow weekend religious education programs in numerous other cities across the country.

Churches nationwide continued to report stricter requirements on sermon content, design of buildings, and management of finances. Some local governments continued to restrict the growth of unregistered Protestant church networks and cross-congregational affiliations.

In Xinjiang, the government continued to cite concerns over the “three evils” as a reason to enact and enforce repressive measures against the religious practices of Uighur Muslims. Authorities typically characterized these operations as targeting “separatists” or “terrorists.” Police raids and restrictions on Islamic practices were part of “strike hard” campaigns, which began in 2014 and continued throughout the year. Local observers said, however, many incidents related to pressure on Uighurs went unreported to international media or NGOs.

Radio Free Asia reported in February that an official at the Xinjiang Religious and Ethnic Minority Affairs Bureau confirmed the government banned all Christian activities not linked to state-approved churches.

In January and February local authorities conducted a series of raids and arrests targeting Christian house churches in Xinjiang. Media reports indicated authorities used short-term administrative sentences in an attempt to pressure house church members to join government-sanctioned congregations.

On November 16, Radio Free Asia reported authorities in Tekes County, Xinjiang, searched the homes of 30,000 members of the mostly Muslim Kazakh ethnic group over several weeks, confiscating religious items they had ordered families to hand over in September.

During Ramadan in May and June, local authorities throughout Xinjiang imposed policies intended to disrupt Muslims’ observance of the fast. According to The Independent, these included mandatory 24-hour shifts for local government employees, the requirement that restaurants remain open during the day, and mandatory sports activities and patriotic film sessions for students on Fridays throughout the month. There were reports of authorities prohibiting university students from fasting during Ramadan.

Throughout Ramadan, authorities in Hotan (Hetian) Prefecture, Xinjiang implemented the “Together in Five Things” campaign during which authorities assigned local party cadres to stay in local residences. They observed families throughout the day and ensured they did not pray or fast. According to Radio Free Asia, an official said “During this period, [officials] will get to know the lives of the people, assist in their daily activities – such as farming – and propagate laws and regulations, party and government ethnic and religious policies, and so on.” Authorities required all Uighur cadres, civil servants, and pensioners to sign a pledge stating they would not fast and would seek to dissuade their families and friends from doing so.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to deny international media reports stating authorities banned Uighur Muslims from Ramadan fasting, and said that religious freedom for Uighurs was guaranteed by the country’s constitution. Reports published on the official websites of local governments in Xinjiang, however, indicated authorities restricted or banned certain groups of Uighurs from observing Ramadan, including CCP members, their relatives, students, and the employees of state-owned enterprises and state-run organizations, and instead hosted education events about the dangers of “religious extremism.” Authorities also hosted morning sessions in order to ensure students and workers ate breakfast. Authorities ordered restaurants and grocery stores to remain open and serve alcohol during Ramadan, according to the website of the Qapqal County, Yili (Ili) Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture government.

Restrictions across Xinjiang that required worshippers to apply for mosque entry permits remained in place. Beginning in October 2016, authorities in several prefectures in Xinjiang further restricted movement by requiring residents turn their passports in to their local police station for an annual review. Ethnoreligious minorities also reported increased screening at airport, train station, and roadside security checkpoints.

The government facilitated participation in the Hajj, and Muslims applied online or through local official Islamic associations. Media reported authorities punished pilgrims attempting to perform the Hajj through routes other than government-arranged ones. Approximately 12,800 Chinese Muslims participated in the Hajj during the year, according to SARA, almost 2,000 fewer than in 2016. The China Islamic Association reported in 2016 Saudi Arabia imposed an annual quota on the number of pilgrims from China that was lower than those for other countries such as India, which was granted 175,025 during the year. Chinese state media said Xinjiang provided nearly a quarter of pilgrims, although independent sources say only 1,400 Uighur Muslims were able to participate. These figures included China Islamic Association members and security officials sent to monitor Muslim citizens and prevent unauthorized activities. Uighur Muslims reported difficulties taking part in state-sanctioned Hajj travel due to the China Islamic Association’s criteria for participation in the official Hajj program. The government confiscated the passports of Uighurs in Xinjiang, and Uighurs reported near universal failure in efforts to regain possession of travel documents. Age restrictions limiting Hajj travel to Uighurs over 60 years old also reduced the number traveling to Mecca, according to media reports. Those selected to perform state-sanctioned Hajj travel were required to undergo political and religious “education,” according to SARA and media reports. Uighurs allowed to attend the Hajj were also reportedly forced to participate in political education every day during the Hajj. Organizations reported the government favored Hui Muslims over Uighur Muslims in the Hajj application process. Muslims that chose to travel outside of legal government channels reportedly often risked deportation when they tried to travel through third countries.

Radio Free Asia reported the CCP on March 23 demoted a CCP official from Chira (Cele) County, Hotan (Hetian) for her having a Muslim wedding ceremony (nikah) in her home. A local Han Chinese official reportedly said the majority Muslim region’s regulations clearly stated weddings should not be at one’s own house, and that the village party branch secretary and a specially appointed religious leader must attend, because not doing so “might promote deviant views that contradict ethnic unity and the sovereignty of the country.”

Authorities continued to prevent any “illegal” religious activities in Xinjiang and prioritize Chinese language and culture over Uighur language and culture under the rubric of ethnic unity. Authorities promoted loyalty to the Communist Party as the most important value. Reportedly, authorities encouraged thousands of Uighurs to participate in ceremonies wearing traditional Han Chinese clothing, performing tai chi, and singing the national anthem.

According to media reports, in August authorities in Xinjiang arrested more than 20 ethnic Kazakh Muslim university students because they were wearing religious clothing and reciting daily prayers. Security forces closely monitored university students and forbade religious activity.

The government pressured students in northwestern Xinjiang to report information on their family’s religious practices to teachers, including identifying those in the family who prayed, attended religious ceremonies, or wore a hijab or beard. Teachers conducted these surveys annually and passed them to security authorities as a means to stop religious ideology from entering schools, according to media reports.

Hui Muslims in Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai, and Yunnan Provinces continued to engage in religious practice with less government interference than did Uighurs, according to local sources. Hui Muslims reported they were free to practice as they wished with regard to family customs such as fasting during Ramadan, clothing, prayer, and performing the Hajj. They reported, however, they did not receive special accommodations for time to pray during their workday and were not given time off for Islamic holidays. They said they were treated the same as others in their community.

SARA conducted training for Muslim leaders at the local and national levels on religious regulations and their rights under the constitution. SARA officials stated they acknowledged the importance of cultivating the talents of religious leaders to promote the country’s social development.

Authorities continued to restrict the printing and distribution of religious materials. The government limited distribution of Bibles to CPA and TSPM/Chinese Christian Council entities such as churches, church bookshops, and seminaries. Individuals could not order Bibles directly from publishing houses. Members of unregistered churches reported the supply and distribution of Bibles was inadequate, particularly in rural locations. There were approximately 11 provincial TSPM Christian publishers. Authorities only allowed the national TSPM to publish the Bible legally. According to reports, while there were no independent domestic Christian booksellers, publishers not religiously-affiliated could publish Christian books. Approximately 20 distribution centers and bookstores were linked to the national TSPM. In addition, authorities reportedly allowed churches with more than 2,000 members to sell books at their church facilities. Approximately 700 churches had such bookstores. During the year, authorities continued to limit the number of Christian titles that could be published annually, with draft manuscripts closely reviewed. Authorities also restricted the ability of some bookstores to sell Christian books. Christian organizations seeking to use social media and smartphone applications to distribute Christian materials, however, reported the government did not generally censor such materials.

As part of the ongoing “Three Illegals and One Item” campaign, international media reported authorities in Xinjiang continued to confiscate Qurans and prayer rugs as illegal religious items. The campaign also included confiscating items containing religious symbols.

On March 2, Radio Free Asia reported local police intimidated Xu Lei, the spouse of detained Guangfu Protestant Family Church member Li Hongmin, after she petitioned the government in Beijing regarding her husband’s case. Xu had appealed on behalf of her husband, whom authorities charged with conducting illegal business operations for printing Bibles. Xu’s landlord evicted her at the end of March.

On September 14, officials in Shangqiu County, Henan Province, shut down a Christian-run academy for youth, saying it was “brainwashing” young persons. Officials also confiscated books and seized a computer and other materials from the academy, according to ChinaAid.

In October Radio Free Asia reported Beijing authorities closed an Islamic bookstore and publishing house. They also arrested the owner, a member of the Dongxiang minority group, on terrorism charges. The publishing house specialized in the production of materials related to Hui Muslims.

The People’s High Court, Public Security Bureau, Bureau of Culture, and Bureau of Industry and Commerce in Xinjiang continued to implement restrictions on video and audio recordings the government defined as promoting terrorism, religious extremism, and separatism. Authorities prohibited dissemination of such materials on the internet, social media, and in online marketplaces. As part of these measures, police randomly stopped individuals to check their mobile phones for any sensitive content.

There were reports authorities restricted the acquisition or use of buildings for religious ceremonies and purposes. Authorities continued to arrest and harass church leaders in Zhejiang Province where the government continued to conduct its “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign, according to news reports. The campaign, which the Zhejiang provincial government announced in 2013, involved the demolition of church buildings authorities said were “illegal” structures. Christian communities reported many targeted churches had building permits and other official documents showing that the proper authorities had approved their building.

Numerous church officials, journalists, and commentators said the “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign focused on demolishing buildings used by Christians. Church pastors and members of their congregations openly continued to resist official cross removals, including by forming human chains and replacing or reattaching crosses, resulting in repeated clashes and standoffs with police. Some observers estimated the government demolished as many as 2,000 crosses and buildings in Zhejiang Province since 2014 when the campaign began. LaCroix International reported that on September 20, local officials in Tanghe County, Henan Province, forcibly demolished the cross on top of the Holy Grace Protestant Church, an officially registered church. The cross caught on fire during the demolition. On August 3, officials in Jiangxi Province’s Shangrao City forcibly dismantled a cross from a church that was still under construction. This was the most recent of 10 cross removals in Jiangxi, according to reports.

In January individuals in Henan Province reportedly hired by the government raided the state-recognized Dali Christian Church, locked several church officials in an office, confiscated their mobile phones and threw away their phone cards, smashed and looted church property, and demolished part of the church with a front-end loader, according to ChinaAid.

In April the Guizhou Provincial Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau reported in 2016 it shut down 79 Buddhist and Taoist congregation sites and 254 Christian congregation sites in Guizhou Province, referring to these sites as illegal establishments and operations.

According to the Catholic News Agency, on May 5, 300 police officers in Shangqiu City, Henan Province, demolished a church, beat and shoved to the ground worshippers who tried to stop the demolition, and detained 40 worshippers. Local officials referred to the church as an “illegal structure” and ordered its demolition. They also said the church had not paid a “road usage fee” demanded by other villagers. Authorities detained the church’s pastor when he tried to discuss the issue with officials.

In June the Bazhong municipal government in Sichuan Province announced it shut down 10 religious congregation sites for failure to register properly with the government in accordance with the law.

In December authorities demolished a Catholic church in Xi’an’s Huyi District, Shaanxi Province, according to Radio Free Asia. Three hundred parishioners protested the action.

The government continued to restrict religious education in institutions across the country. Muslims and Christians also reported restrictions on their ability to speak about their faith among university students; the government strictly banned meetings of student religious organizations. Local public security bureau officials regularly warned religious student groups against meeting.

Individuals seeking to enroll at an official seminary or other institution of religious learning had to obtain the support of the official patriotic religious association. The government continued to require students to demonstrate “political reliability,” and political issues were included in examinations of graduates of religious schools. Protestant representatives reported that in TSPM-controlled seminaries, officials directed faculty to engage in “theological reconstruction” to make the Protestant doctrine conform to socialism. Both registered and unregistered religious groups reported a shortage of trained clergy due in part to government controls on admission to seminaries.

Baptist Press reported authorities in Zhejiang and Henan provinces notified churches they forbade religious education of minors, including Sunday school and church summer camps. Henan authorities reportedly said they prohibited church summer camps due to the potential health risk of excessive heat. In August authorities notified more than 100 churches in Zhejiang Province they banned minors from entering churches or participating in religious activities.

Officials continued to hold “anticult” education sessions and propaganda campaigns affecting schoolchildren and their families. Some officials required families to sign statements guaranteeing they would not take part in unregistered churches and “cult organization” activities related to Falun Gong as a prerequisite for registering their children for school. The media reported authorities forced government employees in Xinjiang to sign guarantees they would refrain from religious or political expression. The penalty for not signing could be a ban on their children entering university or an administrative investigation of the employees.

Authorities continued to allow some patriotic religious association-approved Catholic and Protestant seminarians, Muslim clerics, and Buddhist monks to travel abroad for additional religious study. Religious workers not affiliated with a patriotic religious association stated they faced difficulties in obtaining passports or official approval to study abroad.

Official media outlets often linked the ongoing anticorruption campaign to the religious or superstitious beliefs of fallen officials. These beliefs ranged from mainstream religious beliefs to fortune telling or soothsaying.

In May officials in a rural part of Zhumadian, Henan Province, banned gatherings of a house church and accused it of being part of a cult and practicing “heresy,” according to ChinaAid.

According to human rights groups, on June 12, police officers followed Ruan Haonan, who hosted Jiangmen Fengle Church Christian gatherings in his home, and detained him and fellow church members at the local police station. Officials interrogated them and ordered them to confess they had participated in an “evil cult” – a charge reportedly often levied against Christians for their church activities. Later that day, police forcibly entered Ruan’s apartment and arrested his pregnant wife Luo Caiyan. Police did not show her family any documents authorizing the arrest. Despite not mentioning any “cult” activities, police forced church members to sign a document as a condition of their release, asserting they participated in a cult. On July 13, police released Jiangmen Fengle Family Church Pastors Li Wanhua and Ruan Haonan on bail. On June 15, police arrested the church’s other pastor, Li Wanhua, on the charge of “sabotaging implementation of the law by organizing and using cults.”

Government policy continued to allow religious groups to engage in charitable work. Regulations specifically prohibited faith-based organizations from proselytizing while conducting charitable activities. Authorities required faith-based charities, like all other charitable groups, to register with the government. Once registered as an official charity, authorities allowed them to raise funds publicly and to receive tax benefits. The government did not permit unregistered charitable groups to raise funds openly, hire employees, open bank accounts, or own property. According to several unregistered religious groups, the government required faith-based charities to obtain official cosponsorship of the registration application by the local official religious affairs bureau. Authorities often required these groups to affiliate with one of the five patriotic religious associations.

Authorities allowed certain overseas faith-based aid groups to deliver services in coordination with local authorities and domestic groups. Some unregistered religious groups reported local authorities placed limits on their ability to provide social services.

Foreign residents belonging to religious groups not officially recognized by the government reported authorities permitted them to worship. According to policy, however, foreigners could not proselytize, conduct religious activities at unregistered venues, or conduct religious activities with local citizens at religious venues. In many cases, authorities prohibited citizens from attending the services of religious organizations permitted to operate for foreign residents. In some cases, authorities reportedly expelled foreign residents who attempted to conduct religious activities with Chinese citizens without government approval. Some foreign residents whose appeals for registration the government denied still met without government approval. On several occasions, police raided those meetings, with increased pressure reported during sensitive holidays.

In February international media reported authorities arrested and detained two South Korean pastors in Liaoning Province for assisting North Korean defectors in China. According to media reports, authorities also stepped up a campaign to arrest and deport Christian missionaries. Previously, authorities often issued missionaries a warning and allowed them one month to leave the country. Security services in the northeastern provinces more often arrested and detained missionaries, seizing their electronic devices as they did so, according to international media sources.

The government continued its efforts to restrict the movement of the Dalai Lama. In June the Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested the Dalai Lama’s series of lectures and his commencement speech at the University of California San Diego. After the Dalai Lama’s commencement speech, the China Scholarship Council announced it would no longer fund programs for visiting Chinese scholars intending to study or do research at the University of California San Diego.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion, culture, and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of societal discrimination as being solely based on religious identity. Religious and ethnic minority groups such as Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims experienced institutionalized discrimination throughout the country because of both their religious beliefs and their status as ethnic minorities with distinct languages and cultures.

Anti-Muslim speech in social media remained widespread, although in September the government announced it would censor some anti-Islamic expression on the internet. According to the South China Morning Post, many social media articles criticized Hui Muslims in Shadian, Yunnan Province, and said the local government was too tolerant of them. Some individuals boycotted a food delivery service that offered halal meals, according to media reports. Individuals criticized what some perceived as too favorable treatment toward Muslim populations and associated all Muslims with terrorism. National Public Radio reported a Han Chinese resident of Urumqi’s suburbs as saying, without the new security measures, “each time I see a face that doesn’t look like mine, I might wonder if they’re terrorists from outside the country.” In Xinjiang, policies discriminating against Uighurs, as well as greater access to economic opportunities for Han Chinese, exacerbated tensions between Uighur Muslims and both the Han Chinese and the government.

Despite labor law provisions against discrimination in hiring based on religious belief, some employers openly discriminated against religious believers. Some Protestant Christians reported employers terminated their employment due to their religious activities. Muslims in Xinjiang faced discrimination in hiring, lost their positions, and were detained by authorities for praying in their workplaces. There were also reports from Falun Gong practitioners that employers dismissed them for practicing Falun Gong. In some instances, landlords discriminated against potential tenants based on their religious beliefs.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Secretary of State, Ambassador, and other embassy and consulates general representatives repeatedly and publicly expressed concerns about abuses of religious freedom. On August 15, the Secretary said, “In China, the government tortures, detains, and imprisons thousands for practicing their religious beliefs.” He said dozens of Falun Gong members died in detention in 2016 and police policies that restrict Uighur Muslims’ and Tibetan Buddhists’ religious expression increased.

Embassy officials met regularly with a range of government officials managing religious affairs, both to advocate for greater religious freedom and tolerance and to obtain more information on government policy on the management of religious affairs, including regarding the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, urged government officials at the central and local levels, including those at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Council, to implement stronger protections for religious freedom and to release prisoners of conscience. The Ambassador highlighted religious freedom in private diplomacy with senior officials. The Department of State, the embassy, and the consulates general regularly called upon the government to release prisoners of conscience, including individuals imprisoned for religious reasons.

The Ambassador, the Consuls General, and other embassy and consulate general officials met with religious groups as well as academics, NGOs, members of registered and unregistered religious groups, and family members of religious prisoners to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom. Embassy and consulate general officials hosted events around religious holidays and conducted roundtable discussions with religious leaders to convey the importance of religious pluralism in society and learn about issues facing religious communities. The embassy supported a number of religious leaders and scholars to participate in exchange programs related to the role of religion and religious tolerance. The embassy arranged for the introduction of religious officials to members of U.S. religious communities and U.S. government agencies that engaged with those communities. The embassy and consulates general regularly hosted events for the public to promote understanding and tolerance, such as an academic discussion about the relationship between religion and the state, as well as events highlighting ethnoreligious minority communities.

Authorities continually harassed and intimidated religious leaders to dissuade them from speaking with U.S. officials. Authorities regularly prevented members of religious communities from attending events at the embassy and consulates general, and security services questioned individuals that did attend.

Since 1999, China has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On December 22, the Secretary of State redesignated China as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation: the existing ongoing restriction on exports to China of crime control and detection instruments and equipment, under the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1990 and 1991 (Public Law 101-246), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.


China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Hong Kong

Executive Summary


The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), as well as other laws and policies, states residents have freedom of conscience; freedom of religious belief; and freedom to preach, conduct, and participate in religious activities in public. The Bill of Rights Ordinance incorporates the religious freedom protections of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Religious groups are exempt from the legal requirement that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) register, but they may apply for subsidies and concessional terms to run schools and lease land if they register. Falun Gong practitioners reported generally being able to operate openly, but they reported harassment from groups they said were connected to the Communist Party of China.

Religious leaders reported hosting and participating in interfaith activities, such as a local mosque hosting a visitor exchange with a local Jewish synagogue.

The U.S. consulate general affirmed U.S. government support for protecting freedom of religion and belief in meetings with the government, including the Home Affairs Bureau. The Consul General and consulate general officials met regularly with religious leaders and community representatives to promote religious equality.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 7.2 million (July 2017 estimate). According to SAR government statistics, there are approximately two million Buddhists and Taoists; 480,000 Protestants; 379,000 Roman Catholics; 100,000 Hindus; 20,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons); 12,000 Sikhs, and 5,000-6,000 Jews. Local Muslim groups estimate the SAR has approximately 300,000 Muslims. Small communities of Bahais and Zoroastrians also reside in the SAR. Confucianism is widespread, and in some cases, elements of Confucianism are practiced in conjunction with other belief systems. The Falun Gong estimates there are approximately 500 Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong.

There are approximately 50 Protestant denominations, including Anglican, Baptist, Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Church of Christ in China, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Seventh-day Adventists. The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong recognizes the pope and maintains links to the Vatican.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Under the Basic Law, the Hong Kong SAR has autonomy in the management of religious affairs. The Basic Law calls for ties between the region’s religious groups and their mainland counterparts based on “nonsubordination, noninterference, and mutual respect.” The Basic Law states residents have freedom of conscience; freedom of religious belief; and freedom to preach, conduct, and participate in religious activities in public. The Basic Law also states the government cannot interfere in the internal affairs of religious organizations or restrict religious activities that do not contravene other laws.

The Bill of Rights Ordinance incorporates the religious freedom protections of the ICCPR, which include the right to manifest religious belief individually or in community with others, in public or private, and through worship, observance, practice, and teaching. The Bill of Rights Ordinance states persons belonging to ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities have the right to enjoy their own culture, profess and practice their own religion, and use their own language. The ordinance also protects the right of parents or legal guardians to “ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.” These rights may be limited when an emergency is proclaimed and “manifestation” of religious beliefs may be limited by law when necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals, or the rights of others. Such limitations may not discriminate solely on the basis of religion.

Religious groups are not legally required to register with the government; however, they must register to receive government benefits, such as tax-exempt status, rent subsidies, government or other professional development training, the use of government facilities, or a grant to provide social services. To qualify for such benefits, the group must prove to the satisfaction of the government that it is established solely for religious, charitable, social, or recreational reasons. The government determines whether a religious group’s application for tax-exempt status is accepted. Registrants must provide the name and purpose of the organization, identify its office holders, and confirm the address of the principal place of business and any other premises owned or occupied by the organization. If a religious group registers with the government, it enters the registry of all NGOs, but the government makes no adjudication on the validity of any registered groups. Religious groups may register as a society and/or tax-exempt organization as long as they have at least three members who hold valid SAR identity documents; the registration process normally takes approximately 12 working days. Falun Gong is not classified as a religious group under the law, as it is registered as a society, under which its Hong Kong-based branches are able to establish offices, collect dues from members, and have legal status.

The Basic Law allows private schools to provide religious education. The government offers subsidies to schools built and run by religious groups, should they seek such support. Government subsidized schools must adhere to government curriculum standards and may not bar students based on religion, but they may provide nonmandatory religious instruction as part of their curriculum. Teachers may not discriminate against students because of their religious beliefs. The public school curriculum mandates coursework on ethics and religious studies, with a focus on religious tolerance; the government curriculum also includes elective modules on different world religions.

Religious groups may apply to the government to lease land at concessional terms through Home Affairs Bureau sponsorship. Religious groups may apply to develop or use facilities in accordance with local legislation.

The only direct government role in managing religious affairs is the Chinese Temples Committee, led by the secretary for home affairs. The SAR chief executive appoints its members. The committee oversees the management and logistical operations of 24 of the region’s 600 temples and provides grants to other charitable organizations. The committee provides grants to the Home Affairs Bureau for disbursement, in the form of financial assistance to needy ethnic Chinese citizens. The colonial-era law does not require new temples to register to be eligible for Temples Committee assistance.

An approximately 1,200-member Election Committee elects Hong Kong’s chief executive. The Basic Law stipulates that the Election Committee’s members shall be “broadly representative.” Committee members come from four sectors, divided into 38 subsectors, representing various trades, professions, and social services groups. The religious subsector is comprised of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, the Chinese Muslim Cultural and Fraternal Association, the Hong Kong Christian Council, the Hong Kong Taoist Association, the Confucian Academy, and the Hong Kong Buddhist Association. These six bodies are each entitled to 10 of the 60 seats for the religious subsector on the Election Committee. The religious subsector is not required to hold elections under the Chief Executive Election Ordinance. Instead, each religious organization selects its electors in its own fashion. Each of the six designated religious groups is also a member of the Hong Kong Colloquium of Religious Leaders.

Government Practices

During the year, Falun Gong practitioners reported generally being able to operate openly and engage in behavior that remained prohibited elsewhere in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), such as distributing literature and conducting public exhibitions. The group had an ongoing lawsuit against the Hong Kong government in 2012 to contest a requirement to obtain government approval for the display of posters; the retrial was scheduled for March 2018. In April Falun Gong practitioners conducted public protests against the treatment of fellow practitioners in Mainland China. In June Falun Gong practitioners displayed banners and posters calling on visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping to stop the persecution of Falun Gong and to bring Jiang Zemin, former head of the Chinese Communist Party, to justice. The Hong Kong Falun Gong Association said that it suspected that the Communist Party of China funded private groups that harassed its members at public events by surrounding them and yelling at them. The association also reported continuing difficulties renting venues for meetings and cultural events from both government and private facilities. The association suspected the cause of this difficulty was the central government’s pressure on venue owners.

According to the Falun Gong-affiliated Epoch Times, immigration authorities barred 43 Falun Gong practitioners from Taiwan from entering at the Hong Kong International Airport in July. The immigration authorities ordered the practitioners to return to Taiwan without explanation. The practitioners had intended to join an annual parade in Hong Kong peacefully protesting the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in Mainland China.

Some religious groups expressed concern that new PRC religious affairs regulations entering into force in February 2018 could have a negative impact on exchanges and interactions with counterparts in the Mainland.

A variety of government and media sources reported that faith leaders continued to be able to meet with detainees and prisoners of all nationalities. The Home Affairs Bureau functioned as a liaison between religious groups and the government.

Senior government leaders often participated in large-scale events held by religious organizations. The SAR government and legislative council representatives participated in Confucian and Buddhist commemorative activities, Taoist festivals, and other religious events throughout the year.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religious groups, some of which received government funding, provided a wide range of social services open to those of all religious affiliations including welfare, elder care, hospitals, publishing services, media and employment services, rehabilitation centers, youth and community service functions, and other charitable activities.

Religious leaders reported hosting and participating in interfaith activities. For example, a local mosque hosted a visitor exchange with a local Jewish synagogue, and Jewish leaders hosted Holocaust awareness public events.

Clergy from Hong Kong accepted invitations from state-sanctioned patriotic religious associations on the Mainland to teach at religious institutions. There were also student exchanges between state-sanctioned religious groups on the Mainland and Hong Kong-based religious groups.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Consulate general officials, including the Consul General, stressed the importance of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue in meetings with Hong Kong government officials, including representatives of the Home Affairs Bureau.

Consulate general representatives also met with religious leaders, NGOs, and community representatives. The Consul General and other consulate officials met with Buddhist, Catholic, Taoist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, and Sikh religious leaders to emphasize the importance of religious freedom and tolerance and to receive reports about the status of religious freedom both in Hong Kong and in the Mainland.

Throughout the year, consulate general officials showed respect for religious traditions by marking traditional religious holidays and visiting local Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist temples. The Consul General hosted an annual iftar at his residence, and consulate officers participated in other festival celebrations with the Buddhist and Muslim communities. Consulate general officials also participated in Holocaust commemorations. At all these events, consulate general officials stressed in public and private remarks the importance of religious freedom, tolerance, and diversity.


China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Macau

Executive Summary


The Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) grants residents freedom of religious belief, freedom to preach and participate in religious activities in public, and freedom to pursue religious education. The law also protects the right of religious assembly and the rights of religious organizations to administer schools, hospitals, and welfare institutions and to provide other social services. The law states the government does not recognize a state religion and explicitly states all religious denominations are equal before the law. The law stipulates religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad. Falun Gong continued to hold rallies, including protesting the visit of a high-ranking Communist Party official from the Mainland, but reported difficulty renting venues for events.

Many religious groups, including Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Bahais, continued to provide diverse social services to anyone, regardless of religious affiliation.

The staff of the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau stressed the importance of religious freedom and tolerance for all religious groups, and they discussed religious communities’ relations with their coreligionists on the Mainland and in Hong Kong, in meetings with Macau SAR government officials and civil society representatives.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 602,000 (July 2017 estimate). The SAR Government Information Bureau reports nearly 80 percent of the population practices Buddhism. There are approximately 30,000 Roman Catholics, of whom more than half are foreign domestic workers and other expatriates, and more than 8,000 Protestants. Protestant denominations include the Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian Churches. Evangelical Christian and independent local nondenominational churches, some of which are affiliated with Mainland churches, are also present. Muslim groups estimate there are approximately 12,000 Muslims. Smaller religious groups include Bahais, who estimate their membership at above 2,000, and Falun Gong practitioners, who estimate their membership at 50 persons.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Macau Basic Law states residents have freedom of religious belief and the freedom to publicly preach as well as conduct and participate in religious activities. These rights may be limited in extreme situations for national security reasons. The Basic Law further stipulates that the government shall not interfere in the internal affairs of religious groups or in their relations with their counterparts outside Macau. It bars the government from restricting religious activities that do not contravene the laws of the Macau SAR.

Under the Basic Law, the government of the Macau SAR, rather than the central government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is charged with safeguarding religious freedom in the SAR.

The law states the Macau SAR government does not recognize a state religion and stipulates all religious denominations are equal before the law. The law further provides for freedom of religion, including privacy of religious belief, freedom of religious assembly, freedom to hold religious processions, and freedom of religious education.

Religious groups are not required to register in order to conduct religious activities, but registration enables them to benefit from legal status. Religious groups register with the Identification Bureau, providing their names, identification card numbers, and contact information, as well as the group’s name and a copy of the group’s charter to register. To receive tax-exempt status or other advantages, religious groups register as charities with the Identification Bureau by submitting the same information and documents as are required to register.

The law guarantees religious organizations may run seminaries and schools, hospitals, and welfare institutions and provide other social services.

Schools run by religious organizations may provide religious education under the law. No religious education is required in public schools.

By law, religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad. The Catholic Church in Macau, in communion with the Holy See, recognizes the pope as its head. The Vatican appoints the bishop for the diocese.

Government Practices

Falun Gong members continued to hold rallies and set up informational sites at public venues without incident. For example, a Falun Gong-related civil society organization reported that in May, Falun Gong members participated in a public rally during a visit from Zhang Dejiang; one of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee members, for what they said was his role in persecuting Falun Gong members on the Mainland. Falun Gong practitioners, however, reported difficulty renting venues for large events, a situation they suspected was a result of Communist Party pressure.

Some religious groups reported the Central Government Liaison Office supported their activities and exchanges with coreligionists on the Mainland. Others said the government acknowledged and did not obstruct charity work conducted on the Mainland. Religious groups said they retained their ability to conduct activities on the Mainland by working through official channels and officially recognized churches.

The Catholic Diocese of Macau continued to run most educational institutions, only 10 of 77 schools were public, according to government statistics from the 2016-17 school year.

The government provided financial support, regardless of religious affiliation, for the establishment of schools, child-care centers, clinics, homes for the elderly, rehabilitation centers, and vocational training centers run by religious groups. The government also continued to refer victims of human trafficking to religious organizations for the provision of support services.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Many religious groups, including Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Bahais, provided social services to individuals of all faiths.

There were reports Mainland students were no longer able to attend local seminaries.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. consulate general officials, including the Consul General, stressed the importance of religious diversity and discussed religious communities’ relations with their coreligionists on the Mainland in meetings with Macau SAR officials and civil society interlocutors, including the Catholic Bishop of Macau, a Catholic nongovernmental organization, Muslim organizations, and Protestant clergy.


China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Tibet

Executive Summary


The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties in other provinces to be part of the People’s Republic of China. The constitution of the People’s Republic of China states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” without defining “normal.” In the TAR and other Tibetan areas, authorities continued to engage in widespread interference in religious practices, especially in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. There were reports of forced disappearance, physical abuse, prolonged detention without trial, and arrests of individuals due to their religious practices. Travel restrictions hindered traditional religious practices and pilgrimages. Repression increased around politically sensitive events, religious anniversaries, and the Dalai Lama’s birthday, according to numerous sources. Self-immolations, which led to life-threatening injuries or even death, in protest of government policies continued, and at least six individuals set themselves on fire during the year, including two monks. Another report stated a man in Lhasa died after he slit his own throat in protest near the Jokhang Temple. As part of an ongoing multi-year project, according to local sources, during the year authorities continued to evict at least 11,500 monks and nuns from Buddhist institutes at Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, destroying as many as 6,000 homes where they resided and subjecting many of them to “patriotic re-education.” The government routinely denigrated the Dalai Lama, whom most Tibetan Buddhists revere as their most important spiritual leader, and forbade Tibetans from venerating him and other religious leaders associated with him. Authorities often justified their interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by claiming the religious institutions engaged in separatist or pro-independence activities, and undermined the leadership of the Communist Party of China.

Some Tibetans encountered societal discrimination when seeking employment, engaging in business, or when traveling for pilgrimage, according to multiple sources. Because expressions of identity and religion are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religion.

The U.S. government repeatedly pressed Chinese authorities to respect religious freedom for all faiths and to allow Tibetans to preserve, practice, teach, and develop their religious traditions and language without interference from the government. U.S. officials expressed concerns to the Chinese government at the highest levels about the severe restrictions imposed on Tibetans’ ability to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom and cultural rights. Embassy and other U.S. officials urged the Chinese government to re-examine the policies that threaten Tibet’s distinct religious, cultural, and linguistic identity, including the continuing demolition campaign at the Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute. U.S. officials underscored that decisions on the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should be made solely by faith leaders. While diplomatic access to the TAR remained tightly controlled, three U.S. visits occurred: one consular visit in July and visits by the U.S. Consul General in Chengdu in April and November. U.S. officials emphasized to TAR officials during the April and November visits the importance of respecting religious freedom in Tibet. In July the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor met with the Gyalwang Karmapa to highlight continued U.S. support for religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

According to official data from China’s most recent census in November 2010, 2,716,400 Tibetans make up 90 percent of the TAR’s total population. Han Chinese make up approximately 8 percent. Other ethnicities make up the remainder. Some experts, however, believe the number of Han Chinese and other non-Tibetans living there is significantly underreported. Outside of the TAR, official census data show Tibetans constitute 24.4 percent of the total population in Qinghai Province, 2.1 percent in Sichuan Province, 1.8 percent in Gansu Province, and 0.3 percent in Yunnan Province, although the percentage of Tibetans is much higher within jurisdictions of these provinces designated as autonomous for Tibetans.

Most Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, although a sizeable minority practices Bon, a pre-Buddhist indigenous religion, and small minorities practice Islam, Catholicism, or Protestantism. Some scholars estimate there are as many as 400,000 Bon followers across the Tibetan Plateau who follow the Dalai Lama, and some of whom consider themselves Tibetan Buddhist. Scholars also estimate there are up to 5,000 Tibetan Muslims and 700 Tibetan Catholics in the TAR. Other residents of traditionally Tibetan areas include Han Chinese, many of whom practice Buddhism (including Tibetan Buddhism), Taoism, Confucianism, traditional folk religions, or profess atheism; Hui Muslims; and non-Tibetan Catholics or Protestants.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China states citizens enjoy “freedom of religious belief,” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” without defining “normal.” The constitution bans the state, public organizations, and individuals from compelling citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion. It says religion may not be used to disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens, or interfere with the educational system. The constitution states religious bodies and affairs are not to be “subject to any foreign control.” The constitution also stipulates the right of citizens to believe in or not believe in any religion. Only religious groups belonging to one of five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant), however, are permitted to register with the government and legally hold worship services or other religious ceremonies and activities.

Regulations issued by the central government’s State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) codify its control over the selection of Tibetan religious leaders, including reincarnate lamas. These regulations stipulate that, depending on the perceived geographic area of influence of the lama, relevant administrative entities may deny permission for a lama to be recognized as reincarnated and the entities must approve reincarnations. The State Council has the right to deny the recognition of reincarnations of high lamas of “especially great influence.” The regulations also state that no foreign organization or individual may interfere in the selection of reincarnate lamas, and all reincarnate lamas must be reborn within China. The government maintains a registry of officially recognized reincarnate lamas.

Within the TAR, regulations issued by SARA assert state control over all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, including religious venues, groups, and personnel. Through local regulations issued under the framework of the national-level Management Regulation of Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries, governments of the TAR and other Tibetan areas control the registration of monasteries, nunneries, and other Tibetan Buddhist religious centers. The regulations also give the government formal control over the building and management of religious structures and require monasteries to obtain official permission to hold large-scale religious events or gatherings.

In September the central government’s State Council issued revisions to the Regulations on Religious Affairs, slated to take effect on February 1, 2018. The revisions require religious groups to register with the government, increase penalties for “providing facilities” for unauthorized religious activities, and restrict contact with overseas religious institutions, including a new requirement for religious groups to seek approval to travel abroad and a prohibition on “accepting domination by external forces.” The revisions increase regulations for religious schools and place new restrictions on religious groups conducting business or investments. Additionally, the revisions require that religious activity “must not harm national security.” While the existing regulations stipulate the obligations of religious groups to abide by the law and safeguard national unity, the new revisions specify steps to respond to “religious extremism.” The new regulations also place limits on the online activities of religious groups, requiring activities be approved by the provincial Religious Affairs Bureau.

To establish places of worship, religious organizations must receive approval from the religious affairs department of the relevant local government both when the facility is proposed and again before any services are held at that location. Religious organizations must submit dozens of documents in order to register during one or both approval processes, including detailed management plans of their religious activities, exhaustive financial records, and personal information on all staff members. Religious communities not going through the formal registration process may not legally have a set facility or worship meeting space. Therefore, each time they want to reserve a space for worship, such as by renting a hotel or an apartment, they need to seek a separate approval from government authorities for each service. Worshipping in a space without pre-approval, either through the formal registration process or by seeking an approval for each service, is considered an illegal religious activity, which may be criminally or administratively punished.

The TAR government has the right to deny any individual’s application to take up religious orders. The regulations also require monks and nuns to obtain permission from officials in both the originating and receiving counties before traveling to other prefectures or “county-level cities” within the TAR to “practice their religion,” engage in religious activities, study, or teach. Tibetan autonomous prefectures outside of the TAR have similar regulations.

At the central government level, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee’s Central Tibet Work Coordination Group, the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), and SARA are responsible for developing religious management policies, which are carried out with support from the five “patriotic religious associations” (Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic, Islamic, and Taoist). At local levels, party leaders and branches of the UFWD, SARA, and the state-controlled Buddhist Association of China (BAC) are required to coordinate implementation of religious policies in monasteries, and many have stationed party cadres and government officials, including public security agents, in monasteries in Tibetan areas.

CCP members, including Tibetans and retired officials, are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practices. CCP members who belong to religious organizations are subject to expulsion, although these rules are not universally enforced.

Government Practices

Summary Paragraph: Across the Tibetan Plateau there were reports of forced disappearance, physical abuse, prolonged detention, and arbitrary arrest of persons due to their religious practice, as well as forced expulsions from monasteries, restrictions on religious gatherings, and destruction of monastery- related dwellings, according to media reporting and human rights organizations. There were six cases of self-immolation and one reported suicide by other means in protest of government policies. Human rights advocates stated authorities continued to use intimidation, including collective punishment of family or community members for acts of dissent, to compel acquiescence with government regulations and to attempt to reduce the likelihood of antigovernment demonstrations, thereby projecting an image of stability and the appearance of popular support. Security forces maintained a permanent presence at some monasteries, sometimes dressing in monastic clothing. As part of an ongoing multi-year project, according to local sources, during the year authorities continued to evict at least 11,500 monks and nuns from Buddhist institutes at Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, destroying as many as 6,000 homes where they resided and subjecting many of them to “patriotic re-education.” In many Tibetan areas police detained monks and laypersons who called for freedom, human rights, and religious liberty, or who expressed support for the Dalai Lama or solidarity with individuals who had self-immolated. Several monks were detained without formal criminal charges. For example, in February authorities detained Lobsang Tsultrim, a monk from Kirti Monastery, for shouting slogans supportive of Tibetan freedom and the Dalai Lama. Restrictions on religious activities were particularly severe around politically and religiously sensitive anniversaries and events. Tibet scholars stated the Chinese government’s ban on minors entering monasteries and nunneries and restrictions on travel of monks and nuns threatened the traditional transmission and practice of Tibetan Buddhism. According to human rights organizations, authorities scrutinized and sought to control monastic operations and restricted travel for religious purposes, including to neighboring countries such as India and Nepal. According to reports, Bon members were subject to many of the same restrictions as Tibetan Buddhists.

As in previous years there were cases of self-immolation as a means of protest against government policies. During the year, six Tibetans reportedly self-immolated, as compared to three individuals in 2016, seven in 2015, 11 in 2014, and 26 in 2013. Some experts attributed reports of the continued relatively low number of self-immolations to tighter controls by authorities. Local authorities prosecuted and imprisoned an unknown number of Tibetans whom authorities said had aided or instigated self-immolations, including family members and friends of self-immolators, according to press reports. Authorities also reportedly took measures, including threatening anyone who shared this information with foreigners with up to 15-year prison sentences, to limit news of self-immolations and other protests from spreading within Tibetan communities and beyond. There were also numerous reports of officials shutting down or restricting local access to the internet and cellular phone services for this purpose.

The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and other groups reported 16-year-old Chagdor Kyab set fire to himself in Bora (Bola) Township of Xiahe (Sangchu) County, Gansu Province, in May while calling for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama. According to a number of local sources, following the self-immolation, prefecture police detained Chagdor’s parents and other family members for interrogation and threatened them with “severe consequences” should they fail to cooperate with security officials. As of December, local sources reported authorities had released Chagdor’s parents, but instructed them not to discuss the incident.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that on March 18, a 24-year-old Tibetan farmer named Pema Gyaltsen, from Nyagrong, set himself ablaze in Kardze in protest of government policies. His fate remained unclear.

RFA also reported that on April 15, another Nyagrong resident, Wangchuk Tseten, a 39-year-old father of four, set himself ablaze in Kardze. As he burned, RFA’s sources said he called for a long life for the Dalai Lama. The source added there seemed to be little chance that Tseten survived.

Jamyang Losel, a 22-year-old monk at Gyerteng monastery, self-immolated on May 19, close to a hospital in Kangsta (Gangcha) county in Qinghai’s Tsojang (Haibei) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. A source cited in an RFA article said, “He did not survive his protest,” but that police who took away Losel’s body refused to give his remains to family members who requested it.

A 63-year-old Tibetan monk named Tenga, from a monastery in Kardze (Ganzi) county, reportedly died of his injuries after he set himself on fire November 26. While burning, Tenga called out for freedom for Tibet. Afterwards, there reportedly was a heavy security lockdown in the area, and Tenga’s family members in Dando village were placed under watch by Chinese police.

RFA reported that a former Kirti monastery monk named Konpe set himself ablaze on December 23. Konpe self-immolated on the main road in Ngaba, a site of numerous other self-immolations and protests calling for Tibetan freedom. Detailed information on Konpe’s identity and condition were delayed, reportedly due to a clampdown imposed by Chinese authorities in the area. Konpe was approximately 30 years old and joined the monastery as a young child but later disrobed. Konpe’s father was reportedly detained by authorities who talked to him about his son’s medical costs.

In June reported that a Tibetan man died after slitting his own throat near the Jokhang Temple in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. The man shouted “We don’t have freedom and rights” before he took his own life. Authorities referred to the event as a suicide and did not mention any form of protest.

In February Nyima Lhamo, the niece of prominent reincarnate lama political prisoner Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, testified at the 9th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy that Chinese authorities denied her uncle a fair trial and medical parole even as his health deteriorated. Nyima Lhamo recounted what she said were mysterious circumstances leading to the Rinpoche’s death in prison in 2015 and the government’s denial of permission for his family to perform post-death Buddhist rites and for his religious order to seek his reincarnation. According to Nyima Lhamo, her family remained in Tibet until 2016, and Chinese authorities continued to harass and threaten them with prosecution for Nyima Lhamo’s continued advocacy for her late uncle. She reported other local Tibetans seeking justice for the Rinpoche were arrested and “sustained injuries from gunshots” from authorities.

The government continued to insist that Gyaltsen Norbu, whom it selected in 1995, was the Panchen Lama’s true reincarnation, and not Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. According to numerous Tibetan Buddhist monks and scholars, UFWD and Religious Affairs Bureau officials frequently pressured monks and laypersons, including government officials, to attend religious study sessions presided over by Gyaltsen Norbu, including ordering every Tibetan family in Chamdo (Changdu) city to send family members to a September teaching session in order to ensure hundreds of thousands of people paid him respect. Authorities have installed Gyaltsen Norbu in Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse (Xigaze), a prefecture-level city in the TAR, the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama. Chinese authorities detained Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama, who is recognized by the Dalai Lama and most Tibetans, and his parents in 1995 when he was six years old and have not responded to requests by international observers to visit him. Members of the Tibetan community inside the country and in exile consider him to be forcibly disappeared by the Chinese government, and have been unsuccessful in their attempts to visit him for more than two decades. His and his parents’ whereabouts remain unknown. The Panchen Lama is the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism’s second-most prominent teacher after the Dalai Lama.

The government continued to exercise its authority over the approval of reincarnations of Tibetan Buddhist lamas and the supervision of their religious education. In addition, authorities closely supervised the education of many key young reincarnate lamas. In a deviation from traditional custom, government officials, rather than religious leaders, continued to manage the selection of the reincarnate lamas’ religious and lay tutors in the TAR and some other Tibetan areas. Religious leaders reported as part of the interference by authorities in reincarnate lamas and monks’ religious education, authorities were incentivizing these young men to voluntarily disrobe by emphasizing the attributes of secular life as compared to the more disciplined and austere religious life. These and other interferences continued to cause concern to religious leaders about the ability of religious traditions to survive for successive generations. According to media reports, as of December, the government added seven additional “living buddhas” below the age of 16 to last year’s list of more than 1,300 approved “living buddhas.” The new additions continued to undergo training on patriotism and the Chinese Communist Party’s socialist political system. The BAC announced its database of 1,311 “living buddhas” that it deemed “authentic” was nearly complete. Neither the Dalai Lama nor Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was on the list.

The government placed restrictions on the size of Buddhist monasteries and other institutions. According to local sources, at Larung Gar, Kardze (Ganzi), Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, site of the world’s largest Tibetan Buddhist institute, during the year the government evicted approximately 9,000 monks and nuns from a population that was at least 20,000 in 2016, and demolished an estimated 4,000 residences. According to Chinese press reports, the government stated the demolition was to prevent fires and promote crowd control. Rights groups said that if safety were the primary motivator for this government action, then other provisions, such as building additional housing that met fire safety codes, could be a way to resolve the issue instead of large scale demolitions and expulsions. Local sources stated the destruction was to clear the way for tourist infrastructure and to prevent nuns, monks, and laypersons from outside the area, particularly ethnic Han, from studying at the institute. Reportedly in hopes of saving the institute, Larung Gar’s monastic leadership continued to advise residents not to protest the demolitions.

According to local sources, during the year authorities destroyed at least 2,000 residences and evicted approximately 2,500 monks and nuns from an estimated population of 10,000 religious practitioners in Yachen Gar, also in Kardze (Ganzi) Prefecture. Local sources reported monks and nuns from Yachen Gar who returned to their hometowns in the TAR were told they were prohibited from joining any other monastery or nunnery there or participating in any public religious practices.

In a 2016 letter to Chinese authorities that was made public in March before the UN Human Rights Council, six UN special rapporteurs, including the special rapporteur for religious freedom and belief wrote: “While we do not wish to prejudge the accuracy of these allegations, grave concern is expressed over the serious repression of the Buddhist Tibetans’ cultural and religious practices and learning in Larung Gar and Yachen Gar.”

Chinese authorities targeted centrally or conveniently located monasteries or temples to make it more difficult for Tibetan Buddhists to worship. For example, local sources reported Chinese authorities recently demolished Bagar (Baiyanshan) Monastery in Linzhi, TAR – the main worship place for Buddhists in Linzhi city and a popular tourist destination – citing transportation safety concerns.

There were reports of the arbitrary arrest and physical abuse of religious prisoners and prolonged detention of religious figures without criminal charges. In February authorities detained Lobsang Tsultrim, a monk from Kirti Monastery, for shouting slogans supportive of Tibetan freedom and the Dalai Lama and holding his photo in public. Local sources reported police severely beat Tsultrim. His condition and whereabouts remained unknown following his detention in Aba (Ngaba) Prefecture.

In March authorities reportedly arrested Lobsang Dhargyal, a young monk from Kirti Monastery, for staging a solo protest against the Chinese government in Aba (Ngaba) Prefecture. Police detained Dhargyal shortly after his protest, and his whereabouts remained unknown.

In May authorities reportedly detained Gonpo (only name given), a monk from the Oephung Monastery in Nyagrong (Xinlong) County, Kardze (Ganzi) Prefecture, Sichuan Province, after local authorities suspected he had disseminated information regarding local protests to outside contacts. The protests reportedly involved Wangchuk Tseten and Pema Gyaltsen, who self-immolated earlier in the year. Gonpo’s whereabouts remained unknown.

In May Chinese police in Machu County of Gansu Province detained Khedup, a 50-year-old Tibetan doctor and monk from the Mura Monastery, for the second time. According to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, authorities accused Khedup of posting the Dalai Lama’s teachings on social media, writing and reposting blog posts that expressed support for the monks and nuns displaced from Larung Gar, and advocating for religious freedom and cultural rights for Tibetans. Khedup’s condition and whereabouts remained unknown.

According to the Tibet Post, on July 29 Chinese authorities released Lobsang Kelsang from Deyang Prison. Police originally detained Kelsang, a Kirti Monastery monk, in 2011 following his self-immolation in protest against Chinese repressive rule. Following his release, the Tibet Post’s source stated Kelsang was under strict surveillance at his home in northeastern Tibet. There was no additional information regarding his condition. On March 28, authorities released another Kirti monk named Lobsang Kunchok from Deyang Prison in Sichuan Province after he had served more than six years in prison for staging a self-immolation protest. His leg was amputated in prison. After his release Kunchok remained under strict surveillance in his Meruma home.

The condition and whereabouts of Lobsang Tsering, a monk from Kirti Monastery whom authorities reportedly detained in 2016 in Aba (Ngaba) County following a solo protest against Beijing’s rule in Tibet, remained unknown. During the protest he wore a ceremonial scarf and carried a photo of the Dalai Lama, calling for his long life. Prison officials reportedly beat him in custody.

In addition, the condition and whereabouts of Ven Pagah and Geshe Orgyen, the abbot and a monk from the Chongri Monastery in Kardze (Ganzi) Prefecture, Sichuan Province, remained unknown. Authorities detained them in 2016 after the monastery helped organize a mass prayer for the recovery of the Dalai Lama, who was then undergoing medical treatment in the United States.

Limited access to information about prisoners made it difficult to ascertain the exact number of Tibetan prisoners of religious conscience, determine the charges brought against them, or assess the extent and severity of abuses they suffered. The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China’s Political Prisoner Database included records of 1,414 political or religious prisoners known or thought to be in custody as of November 5. A later accounting specific to Tibet included 512 Tibetan political prisoners who had been detained by December 29, and who were presumed to remain detained or imprisoned. Of the 512 political prisoners, 506 were detained on or after March 2008, the start of a wave of political protests that spread across the Tibetan areas of China. Tibetan Buddhist monks, nuns, and teachers made up 212 cases of the 506 persons serving known sentences.

According to reports, authorities continued “patriotic re-education” campaigns at many monasteries and nunneries across the Tibetan Plateau, forcing monks and nuns to participate in “legal education,” denounce the Dalai Lama, express allegiance to the government-recognized Panchen Lama, and study Mandarin as well as materials praising the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system. Human Rights Watch reported a video circulated on social media that showed what appeared to be 25 young Tibetan nuns with shaven heads, dressed in military jackets and standing at attention, in rows inside a police or government office. Authorities had reportedly expelled the group from the Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute. The women chanted in unison, “The Tibetans and the Chinese are daughters of the same mother, the name of the mother is China.” Another video reportedly showed Tibetan nuns singing and dancing to a Communist Party song. Since Buddhist nuns vow to refrain from singing, dancing, and viewing entertainment, the report suggests these performances were coerced as part of political re-education.

According to many observers, primary sources of grievances among Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns included the requirement that all monks under the age of 18, who are legally unable to join monasteries and Buddhist religious institutions, undergo “patriotic education”; strict controls over religious practice; and intrusive surveillance of many monasteries and nunneries, including the permanent installation of CCP and public security officials and overt camera surveillance systems at religious sites and monasteries. Senior monks at some monasteries continued to report informal agreements with local officials whereby resident monks would not stage protests or commit self-immolation as long as the government adopted a hands-off approach to the management of their monasteries.

The CCP continued to forbid its members from participating in religious activities of any kind, despite reports that many Tibetan government officials and CCP members held religious beliefs.

Government officials regularly denigrated the Dalai Lama publicly and accused the “Dalai Clique” and other outside forces of instigating Tibetan protests, stating such acts were attempts to “split” China. In February new TAR Party Secretary Wu Yingjie called for monks and nuns in the region to “resolutely fight against the ‘Dalai Clique’ and defend the unity of the motherland.” In September Wu instructed various party and government organs to reduce “negative religious influence” and ensure religious figures in the region were aware they needed to draw a clear line between themselves and the “14th Dalai Lama clique.” Authorities in the TAR continued to prohibit registration of children’s names that included parts of the Dalai Lama’s name or names included on a list blessed by the Dalai Lama.

Although authorities permitted some traditional religious ceremonies and practices, they continued to maintain tight control over the activities of religious leaders and religious gatherings of laypersons, confining many religious activities to officially designated places of worship, restricting or canceling religious festivals, and preventing monks from traveling to villages for politically sensitive events and religious ceremonies. The government suppressed religious activities it viewed as vehicles for political dissent. For example, local authorities again ordered many monasteries and laypersons not to celebrate or organize any public gatherings for celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s 82nd birthday in July, the anniversary of the March 10, 1959, Tibetan uprising, or the March 14, 2008, outbreak of unrest across the Tibetan Plateau. TAR authorities banned monks and nuns from leaving their monasteries and nunneries during such celebrations. According to local sources, Sichuan provincial authorities patrolled major monasteries in Tibetan areas and warned that those holding special events or celebrations would face severe consequences.

During Lunar New Year celebrations in January and February, ICT reported the authorities, among other measures, imposed “intimidating” military force at a prayer ceremony at Kumbum Monastery; hosted a series of meetings in Lhasa telling monks and nuns to comply with party policy; and inspected “armed forces” and cadres at Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. They deployed troops to monitor prayer festivals elsewhere in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. In early November the government banned the annual Dechen Shedrub prayer festival from occurring in Larung Gar, citing overcrowding and unfinished reconstruction. The ban marked the second consecutive year the government did not allow the 21-year-old festival to take place.

Multiple sources reported open veneration of the Dalai Lama, including the display of his photograph, remained prohibited in almost all areas. Local officials, many of whom considered the images to be symbols of opposition to the CCP, removed pictures of the Dalai Lama from monasteries and private homes during visits by senior officials. The government also banned pictures of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom the Dalai Lama and the overwhelming majority of Tibetan Buddhists recognize as the 11th Panchen Lama. Punishments in certain counties inside the TAR for displaying images of the Dalai Lama included closing of venues, expulsion from monasteries, and criminal prosecution.

The TAR government maintained tight control over the use of Tibetan Buddhist religious relics and declared them, religious buildings, and religious institutions to be state property.

Sources continued to report security personnel targeted individuals in religious attire, particularly those from Nagchu (Naqu) and Chamdo (Changdu) Prefectures in the TAR and Tibetan areas outside the TAR, for arbitrary questioning on the streets of Lhasa and other cities and towns. Many Tibetan monks and nuns reportedly chose to wear nonreligious garb to avoid such harassment when traveling outside of their monasteries and around the country.

In many areas, monks and nuns under the age of 18 were forced to leave their monasteries. In July in Draggo (Luhuo) County in Kardze (Ganzi) Prefecture, sources reported the government had removed minors from local monasteries following a January 2015 provincial mandate to remove all monks and nuns under the age of 18 from monasteries and Buddhist schools to receive “patriotic education.”

According to a December 18 report from the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, authorities told parents of an eight-year-old girl in Manchu County, Gansu Province, she would not be allowed to attend school because her father, who was reportedly tortured and denied medical assistance in prison, had participated in protests for Tibetan freedom.

The traditional monastic system reportedly continued to decline as many top Buddhist teachers remained in exile or died in India or elsewhere, and some of those who returned from India were not allowed to teach or lead their institutions. The heads of most major schools of Tibetan Buddhism – including the Dalai Lama, Karmapa, Sakya Trizin, and Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche (who died in 2015), as well as Bon leader Gyalwa Menri Trizin (who died in September) – all resided in exile.

Multiple sources also reported that during the past three years the Chinese government increasingly restricted Tibetan Buddhist monks from visiting Chinese cities to teach. For example, prominent Larung Gar Buddhist Institute religious leaders Khenpo Tsultrim Lode and Khenpo So Dargey, who both previously taught in Chinese cities, were no longer allowed to do so. Authorities also restricted Tibetans’ travel inside China, particularly for Tibetans residing outside the TAR who wished to visit the TAR, during sensitive periods. During the year, many religious figures reported it was very difficult for them to enter the TAR to teach or study. The government also restricted the number of monks who could accompany those who received permission to travel to the TAR. Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns stated these restrictions have negatively impacted the quality of monastic education. Many monks expelled from their TAR monasteries after the 2008 Lhasa riots and from Kirti Monastery after a series of self-immolations from 2009 to 2015 had not returned, some because of government prohibitions.

Many Tibetans, including monks, nuns, and laypersons, continued to encounter difficulties traveling to India for religious purposes. In many cases, Public Security Bureau officials refused to approve their passport applications. In other cases, prospective travelers were able to obtain passports only after paying bribes to local officials, or after promising not to travel to India or to criticize Chinese policies in Tibetan areas while overseas. Numerous Tibetans in Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan Provinces waited for up to five years before receiving a passport, often without any explanation for the delay, according to local sources. There were also instances of authorities confiscating and canceling previously issued passports as a way of preventing Tibetans from participating in religious events involving the Dalai Lama in India. Restrictions also remained in place for monks and nuns living in exile, particularly those in India, that made it difficult or impossible for them to travel into Tibetan areas.

Authorities reportedly often hindered Tibetan Buddhist monasteries from delivering religious, educational, and medical services.

According to government policy, newly constructed government-subsidized housing units in many Tibetan areas were located near township and county government seats or along major roads. These new housing units had no nearby monasteries where resettled villagers could worship, and the construction of new temples was prohibited. Traditionally, Tibetan villages were clustered around monasteries, which provided religious and other services to members of the community. Many Tibetans continued to view such measures as CCP and government efforts to dilute religious belief and weaken the ties between monasteries and communities.

Authorities continued to justify interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by associating the monasteries with “separatism” and pro-independence activities, as reported in state media. General administrative affairs in TAR monasteries, which traditionally were managed by monks, were instead overseen by Monastery Management Committees and Monastic Government Working Groups, both of which were composed primarily of government officials and CCP members, together with a few government-approved monks. Since 2011 China has established such groups in all monasteries in the TAR and in many major monasteries in other Tibetan areas, such as Sichuan Province’s Kirti Monastic Management Committee.

In August Deputy Chief of the Public Security Bureau of Kardze (Ganzi), Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province, Zha Ba was appointed to serve concurrently as party secretary general and president of Larung Gar Buddhist Academy, the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the world. In addition to Zha Ba, six other party cadres were appointed to various positions in the monastery, including deputy party secretaries, vice presidents, and deputy managing directors.

In accordance with official guidelines for monastery management, the leadership of and membership in the various committees and working groups remained restricted to “politically reliable, patriotic, and devoted monks, nuns, and party and government officials.” The TAR CCP committee and government required all monasteries to display prominently the PRC flag and the portraits of five CCP chairmen from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping.

Provincial, prefectural, county, and local governments continued to station CCP cadres in, and established police stations or security offices adjacent to or on the premises of, many monasteries. For example, the TAR had more than 8,000 government employees working in 1,787 monasteries, according to local sources and Chinese government reporting in September. Security forces continued to block access to and from important monasteries during politically sensitive events and political religious anniversaries.

Authorities hindered Tibetan Buddhist monasteries from carrying out environmental protection activities, an important part of traditional Tibetan Buddhist practices, out of fear such activities could create a sense of pride among Tibetans, particularly children, and an awareness of their distinctness from Chinese culture, according to local sources.

In some cases, authorities enforced special restrictions on Tibetans staying at hotels inside and outside the TAR. Police regulations forbade some hotels and guesthouses in the TAR from accepting Tibetan guests, particularly monks and nuns, and required other hotels to notify police departments when Tibetan guests checked in, according to an RFA report confirmed by several hotels.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because expressions of identity and religion are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religion. Tibetans, particularly those who wore traditional and religious attire, regularly reported incidents in which they were denied hotel rooms, avoided by taxis, and discriminated against in employment opportunities or business transactions.

In July some Tibetan scholars and monks reportedly tried to organize an informal event to discuss current trends of Tibetan language education in a hotel in Chengdu, but the hotel refused to rent the conference room and told the organizers that “religious and ethnic minority gatherings” required advance approval from relevant government departments. As a result, the event was held in a tea shop.

Many Han Buddhists were interested in Tibetan Buddhism and donated money to Tibetan monasteries and nunneries. Tibetan Buddhist monks frequently visited Chinese cities to provide religious instruction to Han Buddhists. In addition, a growing number of Han Buddhists visited Tibetan monasteries, although officials sometimes imposed restrictions that made it difficult for Han Buddhists to conduct long-term study at many monasteries in Tibetan areas.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. government officials, including the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, the U.S. Consul General and other officers in Chengdu, and officers at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing continued sustained and concerted efforts to encourage greater religious freedom in Tibetan areas.

The Office of the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues continued to coordinate U.S. government programs to preserve Tibet’s distinct religious, linguistic, and cultural identity as well as efforts to promote dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama. U.S. officials repeatedly raised Tibetan religious freedom issues with Chinese government counterparts at multiple levels, such as the Chinese government’s refusal to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama and the ongoing demolition campaign at the Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute. In addition to raising systemic issues, such as passport issuance to Tibetans, U.S. officials expressed concern and sought further information about individual cases and incidents of religious persecution and discrimination.

In April officials from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu met with Chairman of the TAR People’s Congress Lobsang Gyaltsen and TAR Governor Qi Zhala. U.S. officials emphasized the importance of upholding cultural and religious rights in Tibet, and expressed concern about the TAR government’s failure to protect the rights of local Tibetans to worship freely and assemble in public places.

U.S. officials regularly expressed concerns to the Chinese government at the highest levels regarding severe restrictions imposed on Tibetans’ ability to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom and cultural rights.

In July the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor met with the Gyalwang Karmapa, who along with the Dalai Lama leads two of the four major religious schools in Tibetan Buddhism, to highlight continued U.S. support for religious freedom. Also in July, U.S. officials met with Arjia Thubten Lobsang Rinpoche, one of the highest-ranking reincarnate lamas to flee into exile, following his opposition to becoming the tutor of the Chinese government-appointed Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu. In November the Consul General in Chengdu met with various TAR government officials, including TAR Executive Vice Chairman and TAR Standing Committee Member Norbu Dhundrup (Luobu Dunzhu), TAR National People’s Congress Standing Committee Vice Chairman Ju Jianhua, and Nyingchi (Linzhi) Party Secretary Ma Shengchang. The Consul General called for the TAR government to respect the Tibetan people’s right to practice their religion freely.

U.S. officials maintained contact with a wide range of religious leaders and practitioners as well as NGOs in Tibetan areas to monitor the status of religious freedom, although travel and other restrictions made it difficult to visit and communicate with these individuals. Although diplomatic access to the TAR remained tightly controlled, U.S. officials did receive access during the year, with authorities granting one U.S. consular visit in July, and two Consul General visits in April and November.



Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion; mandates a secular state; requires the state to treat all religions impartially; and prohibits discrimination based on religion. It also states citizens must practice their faith in a way that does not adversely affect public order, morality, or health. Out of 29 states, eight have legislation restricting religious conversion, with laws in force in five of those states. Authorities often did not prosecute violence by vigilantes against persons, mostly Muslims, suspected of slaughtering or illegally transporting cows or trading in or consuming beef. Members of civil society and religious minorities stated that under the current government, religious minority communities felt increasingly vulnerable due to Hindu nationalist groups engaging in violence against non-Hindu individuals and their places of worship. Representatives of religious minority communities stated that, while the national government sometimes spoke out against incidents of violence, local political leaders often did not, and at times made public remarks individuals could interpret as condoning violence. On April 2, Chhattisgarh’s Chief Minister Raman Singh said anyone who killed a cow in his state would be hanged. Some longstanding legal cases involving religiously motivated violence and riots continued to advance slowly. In May the Kerala High Court annulled a marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man based on third-party allegations the woman was forcibly converted to Islam, despite her denial she was forced; the Supreme Court’s review of the case continued at year’s end. On August 22, the Supreme Court ruled the practice through which a Muslim man could divorce his wife instantly by saying the word “talaq” (Arabic for divorce) three times was unconstitutional. On May 23, the central government banned the sale of cattle for slaughter through animal markets; in July the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the order across the country for three months. Following protests from farmers, beef consuming states, and the adverse Supreme Court ruling, the government considered making certain changes to make the rules more acceptable; however, no updates were available at year’s end. The government continued its challenge to the minority status of Muslim educational institutions, which affords them independence in hiring and curriculum decisions, in the Supreme Court.

There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism, and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs and proselytize. There were several violent incidents by so-called “cow protection” groups against mostly Muslim victims, including killings, mob violence, assaults, and intimidation. Authorities often failed to prosecute those committing the attacks. On June 22, assailants on a train in Haryana accused 16-year-old Junaid Khan of being a “beefeater,” fatally stabbed him, and threw him off the train. Authorities investigated the railway police officer’s reported failure to intervene. On April 1, Hindus beat a Muslim man to death for carrying cattle in the back of a truck. Hindus threatened and assaulted Muslims and Christians and destroyed their property. In December a Hindu man posted an online video of his hacking, burning, and killing a Muslim laborer over religious differences. On October 8, the head of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), described by media as a Hindu nationalist organization, stated Christian missionaries must leave the country, or else would be forced to do so. According to figures compiled by local partners of international nongovernmental organization (NGO) Open Doors, during the first six months of the year, Christians were harassed, threatened, or attacked for their faith in 410 reported incidents, compared with 441 incidents in all of 2016. Incidents included assaults on missionaries and attacks on churches and private property. From January through May, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) reported 296 conflicts between religious communities, resulting in 44 deaths and 892 injuries.

Senior U.S. government officials underscored the importance of respecting religious freedom and promoting tolerance throughout the year. The U.S. embassy and four consulates general continued to discuss religious freedom and tolerance issues with the ruling and opposition parties, religious leaders belonging to various faith communities, including representatives of the Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Parsi communities, and with civil society and religious freedom activists. Embassy officials also engaged officials from the National Commission for Minorities and the National Human Rights Commission, political leaders, state and local officials, religiously affiliated organizations, and civil society groups from all religious communities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.28 billion (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2011 national census, the most recent year for which disaggregated figures are available, Hindus constitute 79.8 percent of the population, Muslims 14.2 percent, Christians 2.3 percent, and Sikhs 1.7 percent. Groups that together constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians (Parsis), Jews, and Bahais. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs officially classifies more than 104 million members of Scheduled Tribes – indigenous groups historically outside the caste system who often practice animism and indigenous religious beliefs – as Hindus in government statistics. Approximately one-third of Christians also are listed as part of Scheduled Tribes.

According to government estimates, there are large minority Muslim populations in the States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Telangana, Karnataka, and Kerala. Muslims constitute 68.3 percent of the population in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the only state in which they constitute a majority. Slightly more than 85 percent of Muslims are Sunni; most of the rest are Shia. Christian populations are found across the country but in greater concentrations in the northeast, as well as in the southern States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Goa. Three small northeastern states have large Christian majorities: Nagaland (90 percent of the population), Mizoram (87 percent), and Meghalaya (70 percent). Sikhs constitute 54 percent of Punjab’s population. The Dalai Lama’s office estimates there are significant resettled Tibetan Buddhist communities in Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, and Delhi. According to a 2009 parliamentary report, the MHA estimates the total number of Tibetan Buddhists to be 110,000.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Subject to considerations of public order, morality, and health, the constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to profess, practice, and propagate religion freely, and mandates a secular state. It prohibits government discrimination based on religion, including with regard to employment, as well as any religion-based restrictions on individuals’ access to public or private facilities or establishments open to the general public. The constitution states religious groups have the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, manage their own affairs in religious matters, and own, acquire, and administer property. It prohibits compelling anyone to pay taxes to promote or maintain any specific religion. National and state laws make freedom of religion “subject to public order, morality, and health.” The constitution stipulates the state shall endeavor to create a uniform civil code applicable to members of all religions across the country.

Federal law empowers the government to ban religious organizations that provoke intercommunal tensions, are involved in terrorism or sedition, or violate laws governing foreign contributions.

Eight of the 29 states have legislation restricting religious conversion: Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Rajasthan. Five of these states enforce the laws. There is no implementing legislation for the anticonversion law in Arunachal Pradesh. Rajasthan passed a bill in 2006 that has yet to be signed into law. In August Jharkhand also passed an anticonversion bill, which was pending the governor’s approval at year’s end. Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh prohibit religious conversion by the use of “force,” “allurement,” or “fraudulent means” and require district authorities be informed of any intended conversions one month in advance. Violators, including missionaries and other religious figures who encourage conversion, are subject to fines and other penalties, such as prison sentences of up to three years in Chhattisgarh and up to four years in Madhya Pradesh if the converts are minors, women, or members of government-designated, historically disadvantaged groups (known as Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes). Gujarat mandates prior permission from the district magistrate for any form of conversion and punishes forced conversions with up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine up to 50,000 rupees ($780). In Himachal Pradesh penalties are up to two years’ imprisonment and/or fines of 25,000 rupees ($390). Punishments for conversions involving minors, Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe members, or, in the case of Odisha, women, may consist of jail sentences rather than fines. Himachal Pradesh and Odisha maintain similar prohibitions against conversion through “force,” “inducement,” or “fraud” and bar individuals from abetting such conversions. Odisha requires individuals wishing to convert to another religion and clergy intending to officiate in a conversion ceremony to submit formal notification to the government.

According to the Supreme Court, converting from Hinduism to another religion ordinarily “operates as an expulsion from the caste” since caste is a structure affiliated with Hindu society. Societal definitions of caste affiliation are determinative of a person’s eligibility for government benefits based on caste.

Under Andhra Pradesh and Telangana law, authorities may prohibit proselytizing near another religion’s place of worship. Punishment for violations can include imprisonment for up to three years and fines up to 5,000 rupees ($78).

The federal penal code criminalizes “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion” and “acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony,” including acts causing injury or harm to religious groups and members. The penal code also prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Violations of any of these provisions are punishable by imprisonment for up to three years, a fine, or both. If the offense is committed at a place of worship, imprisonment may be for up to five years.

There are no requirements for registration of religious groups, although federal law requires religiously affiliated organizations to maintain audit reports on their accounts and a schedule of their activities and to provide these to state government officials upon request.

A federal law, known as the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), regulates foreign contributions to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including faith-based organizations. Organizations with “definite cultural, economic, educational, religious or social programs” must receive a federal government certificate of registration to receive foreign funds. The federal government may also require that certified organizations obtain prior permission before accepting or transferring foreign funds. The federal government may reject an application for a certificate of registration or a request for prior permission to transfer funds if it judges the recipient to be prejudicially affecting “harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic, regional groups, castes, or communities.”

The constitution states any reference to Hindus in law is to be construed as containing a reference to followers of Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism, meaning they are subject to laws regarding Hindus, such as the Hindu Marriage Act. Subsequent legislation passed throughout the 1950s continues to use the word Hindu to include Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and others, but clarifies these are separate religions whose followers are included under this legislation.

Federal law provides minority community status to six religious groups: Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains, and Buddhists. State governments may grant minority status to religious groups that are minorities in a particular region and designate them as minorities under state law. Minority status makes these groups eligible for several government assistance programs. The constitution states the government will protect the existence of religious minorities and encourage conditions for the promotion of their individual identities.

Personal status laws are applicable only to certain religious communities in matters of marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance. The government grants significant autonomy to personal status law boards in drafting these laws. Law boards are selected by community leaders; there is no formal process, and selection varies across communities. One personal law board governs all the denominations and sects within a particular religious community. Hindu, Christian, Parsi, and Islamic personal status laws are legally recognized and judicially enforceable. These laws, however, do not supersede national- and state-level legislative powers or constitutional provisions. If the law boards cannot offer satisfactory solutions, the case is referred to the civil courts.

Federal law permits interreligious couples to marry without religious conversion. Interreligious couples, as is the case for all couples marrying in a civil ceremony, are required to provide public notice 30 days in advance, including addresses, photographs, and religious affiliation, for public comment. Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, or Jains who marry outside their religions, however, face the possibility of losing their property inheritance rights under those communities’ personal status laws.

The law recognizes the registration of Sikh marriages. There are no divorce provisions for Sikhs under personal status laws, however, and other Sikh personal status matters fall under Hindu codes. Under the law, any person, irrespective of religion, may seek a divorce in civil court.

The constitution prohibits religious instruction in government schools. The law permits private religious schools.

Twenty-four of the 29 states apply partial to full restrictions on bovine slaughter. Penalties vary among states, and also may vary based on whether the animal is a cow, calf, bull, or ox. In the majority of the 24 states where bovine slaughter is banned, punishments include imprisonment for six months to two years and a fine of 1,000 to 10,000 rupees ($16 to $160). Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir penalize cow slaughter with imprisonment of two to 10 years. On March 31, the Gujarat government passed a law increasing the penalties for killing cows, selling beef, and illegally transporting cows or beef. The new law mandates a minimum 10-year sentence (the punishment for some counts of manslaughter) and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment (the punishment for premeditated murder of humans) for these offenses.

The National Commission for Minorities, which includes representatives from the six designated religious minorities and the National Human Rights Commission, investigates allegations of religious discrimination. The Ministry of Minority Affairs may also conduct investigations. These bodies have no enforcement powers but launch investigations based on written complaints by plaintiffs charging criminal or civil violations and submit their findings to law enforcement agencies for action. Eighteen of the country’s 29 states and the National Capital Territory of Delhi have state minorities commissions, which also investigate allegations of religious discrimination.

The constitution allows for a form of affirmative action for Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe communities, and the “Other Backward Class” – a category for groups deemed to be socially and educationally disadvantaged. Since the constitution specifies only Hindus, Sikhs, or Buddhists shall be deemed a member of a Scheduled Caste, the only means through which Christian and Muslim individuals may qualify for affirmative action benefits as members of religious communities is if they are considered members of the “backward” classes due to their social and economic status.

The government requires foreign missionaries of any religious group to obtain a missionary visa.

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

Government Practices

Summary paragraph: Authorities often did not prosecute violence by vigilantes against persons, mostly Muslims, suspected of slaughtering or illegally transporting cows or trading in or consuming beef. Members of civil society and religious minorities said, under the current government, religious minority communities felt more vulnerable to Hindu nationalist groups engaging in violence against non-Hindu individuals and places of worship. Religious minority communities stated, while the national government sometimes spoke out against incidents of violence, local political leaders often did not, and at times made public remarks that individuals could interpret as condoning violence. Some long-standing legal cases involving religiously motivated violence and riots continued to advance slowly. In May the Kerala High Court annulled a marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man based on third-party allegations the woman was forcibly converted to Islam, despite her denial she was forced to do so. On August 22, the Supreme Court ruled the practice through which a Muslim man could divorce his wife instantly by saying the word “talaq” (Arabic for divorce) three times was unconstitutional. On May 23, the government banned the sale of cattle for slaughter through animal markets. In July the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the order across the country for three months; the government was expected to withdraw the ban after receiving negative feedback from state-level agricultural sectors but had not done so by year’s end. The government continued its challenge to the minority status of Muslim educational institutions in the Supreme Court. Minority status afforded these institutions independence in hiring and curriculum decisions.

According to media, on June 27, the Gujarat High Court granted bail to Atul Vaidya, a VHP leader who was one of 24 convicted in the 2002 anti-Muslim “Gulberg Society” killings. In June 2016, a Gujarat special court convicted 24 individuals (11 of whom received sentences of life imprisonment) and acquitted 36 others for their role in the mob killing of 69 persons in the Gulberg Society neighborhood during the 2002 Gujarat riots. This incident was one of 10 mass killings in 2002 in Gujarat, which perpetrators of the violence said was in retaliation for the burning to death of 59 Hindu pilgrims on a train on February 27, 2002. According to media, on October 5, the Gujarat High Court dismissed an appeal submitted by Zakia Jafri, one of the Gulberg Society survivors. Jafri requested a new investigation into 58 individuals, including then-Chief Minister (and now prime minister) Narendra Modi, for conspiracy in the 2002 riots. According to press reports, the High Court stated Jafri could approach either the trial court or the Apex Court to seek a reinvestigation into her allegations challenging a 2013 ruling by a Supreme Court-appointed panel that stated there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the 58 individuals

In September the Allahabad High Court granted bail to the 18 individuals charged with participating in the September 2015 mob lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, for allegedly slaughtering a cow. In September 2016, investigating officials concluded there was no evidence to prove Akhlaq or his family ever slaughtered a cow. In October 2017 media reported a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state legislator in Uttar Pradesh was working to help the 18 charged individuals out on bail secure employment and the family of one of the accused that died in jail would receive 800,000 rupees ($12,500).

In September the Rajasthan High Court granted bail to five of the seven individuals arrested for killing Pehlu Khan, a Muslim dairy farmer from Haryana, on the basis of a video of the attack gone viral. In September authorities also closed an investigation into six other individuals whom Khan had identified as participants in the attack. On April 1, a group of 200 so-called “cow vigilantes” had attacked Khan in Alwar while he was transporting two cows and two calves in the back of his truck; Khan died two days later.

On March 22, a National Investigation Agency (NIA) Special Court sentenced two workers from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organization, to life imprisonment for the 2007 explosion at the shrine of Sufi mystic Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, Rajasthan. The blast, which occurred just before an iftar, killed three persons.

On April 9, a member of Telangana’s legislative assembly, T. Raja Singh Lodh, reportedly stated he would behead those opposing the construction of the Ram temple at a disputed site in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. Media outlets widely perceived his comments as targeting Muslims, whom the media expected to oppose the construction of a Hindu temple over the site where a mosque stood during the Mughal Empire. The Hyderabad police charged Lodh for taking deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. On May 13, police charged Lodh and Mohammed Abdul Majid, of the Islamic Darsgah-Jihad-O-Shahadath (DJS) organization, for promoting enmity between different groups on the basis of religion. The charges were based on alleged statements related to maintaining private armies to defend Hinduism and Islam, respectively. On July 27, the Telangana Law Department permitted police to prosecute Lodh for hate speech for inflammatory remarks he delivered at a “cow protection” rally in September 2013.

On July 13, Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned a rise in deadly mob attacks on cattle traders, consumers of beef, and dairy farmers, and said killing persons in the name of protecting cows was unacceptable. On July 21, in response to a petition filed by social activist Tehseen Poonawala asking authorities to take action against “cow vigilantes,” Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar stated the federal government did not support “cow vigilantism” but that actions to curb such incidents needed to be taken at the state level.

On April 14, the Punjab government announced the formation of a commission, led by retired Justice Ranjit Singh, to investigate the October 2015 police shootings during widespread Sikh protests, which killed two and injured 80 protesters. Sikhs protested in five districts after reports a Sikh holy book had been desecrated by unknown persons. The state government formed the new commission after several Sikh organizations said the sacrilege case was “compromised” by the previous commission, led by former Press Council of India Chairman and retired Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju, which had investigated the incident at the behest of several human rights NGOs. On June 28, the new commission recommended charges against the police officers involved for “unwarranted firing,” and compensation of 2.5 million rupees ($39,200) and regular employment to family members of Gujreet Singh and Krishan Bhagwan Singh, both killed in the shootings. By year’s end, authorities had not paid compensation to the victims.

Press reports noted the Supreme Court formed a new Special Investigation Team (SIT) to assess 186 cases related to anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and Punjab in 1984. Reports said the SIT would include a retired High Court judge, a police officer of the rank of inspector general, and a serving police officer of the rank of superintendent. Previously, on August 16, the court had appointed a supervisory panel made up of two retired judges to examine a previous SIT’s decision to close 241 cases due to lack of evidence. The court asked the supervisory panel to produce a report on their finding in three months. The supervisory panel determined 186 cases out of the 241 should be investigated further.

On May 4, the Bombay High Court upheld the conviction of 11 individuals sentenced to life imprisonment in January 2008, for participating in the gang rape of pregnant 19-year-old Bilkis Bano during the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. The twelfth individual convicted for the crime died before the May ruling. The court also set aside the previous acquittal by a lower court of seven other individuals – five police officers and two doctors – accused of participating in the rape and convicted of failing to perform their duties and tampering with evidence. The court rejected the Criminal Bureau of Investigation’s request to change the penalties of the three “main perpetrators” from life sentences to death penalties.

Members of civil society and religious minorities stated that under the current BJP government religious minority communities felt more vulnerable due to Hindu nationalist groups engaging in violence against non-Hindu individuals and places of worship. Religious minority communities stated, while the national government sometimes spoke out against incidents of violence, local political leaders often did not, and at times made public remarks individuals could interpret as condoning violence. On April 2, Chhattisgarh’s BJP Chief Minister Raman Singh told reporters anyone killing a cow in his state would be hanged. In a speech at University of Bangalore on August 7, then-Vice President of India Hamid Ansari said Dalits, Muslims, and Christians were feeling increasingly insecure. In an August 10 interview, Ansari stated there was a feeling of “unease” and “insecurity creeping in” among Muslims in the country. His remarks drew criticism from the BJP and Hindu nationalist groups.

On May 21, Madhya Pradesh police arrested six Christians for allegedly kidnapping 72 minors with the intention of forcibly converting them to Christianity. The children’s parents stated they were already Protestants and had given consent for their children to attend a summer Vacation Bible School (VBS) camp in Nagpur under the care of the arrested Christians. Police stated the children’s families had not provided proof they had already converted to Christianity. According to the Christian NGO Morning Star News (MSN), on June 12, the state high court denied bail to the six VBS volunteers: Ameya Jaal, Alkesh Ganava, Pandu Singh Vasuniya, Nitin Mandod, Lalu Babore, and Vijay Meda, a 17-year-old minor. Authorities reportedly held one of the VBS attendees, 15-year-old Akash Gundia, in juvenile detention center for nearly a month before releasing him on June 20. Gundia said children as young as six years old were also in police custody until police released them when their parents arrived. His father, Singh Gundia, told MSN, “I got to know from the police station that police had not intended to file the case, but that there was pressure from RSS [a self-defined Hindu nationalist group] and Bajrang Dal activists, because of whom my child spent 25 days in judicial custody.” NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF)’s Prisoners List 2017 stated, although it was reported police released the children to their parents, there was no precise information on the status of the 71 children besides Gundia.

Media reported police arrested seven Christian pastors – Stanley Jacob, Vijay Kumar, Sumit Varghese, David from New Delhi, Amit from Mathura, Anita from Hathras, and Dinesh from Rajasthan – on December 4 while they were holding a prayer meeting in a private home. The following day a court sentenced them to 14 days in judicial custody for carrying out a forcible conversion campaign. Family members of the seven pastors said local residents were upset because some individuals were converting to Christianity.

According to news sources, on March 12, the Ghaziabad police arrested four men after the anti-Muslim video they uploaded on WhatsApp went viral. Authorities charged Ajay Chaprana, Prakash Dubey, Nakul Nagar, and Mukesh Yadav, all under the age of 25, with using inappropriate language, fanning communal hatred, making abusive comments against a community, and uploading the video to various social media. The video was deleted and the accused men were sent to judicial custody. No updates were available at year’s end.

MSN reported police arrested Christian teenager Karan Anthony on August 23 for promoting enmity between classes. His former classmate and friend Sathin Gaur had filed a police complaint that Anthony posted anti-Hindu comments on Facebook. Anthony denied the charge, saying he had not used Facebook in months because whenever he posted something about Christianity, his classmates started sending abusive comments to him. Anthony told MSN, “It was my good friend who falsely framed me by joining hands with Rudra Sena [a self-defined Hindu nationalist group] activists.” Police held Anthony in jail for 12 days, and then released him on bail on September 3.

On March 28, media reported Madhya Pradesh police arrested Dr. Aatik Khan after an individual objected to his sharing an image on social media of a sadhu (Hindu ascetic) standing near a meat shop. Police reportedly said the post mocked the closure of illegal slaughterhouses in Uttar Pradesh and, as directed by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, charged Khan for making statements conducive to “public mischief.”

On June 15, the government railway police forced a Catholic nun, three women, and a minor to disembark from a train in Satna, Madhya Pradesh, after Matrushakti, the women’s wing of VHP, accused the nun of forcible conversion. Police released the detainees but later charged Sister Bina Joseph for abduction of a minor after the child’s parent filed a complaint. Prior to the incident, Father Stephen P. Maria, the public relations officer of the Catholic Diocese of Madhya Pradesh, had submitted a statement to railway police reporting harassment of Christian missionaries traveling by train in the region.

The media reported on May 25 that the Kerala High Court annulled a marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man, based on third-party allegations the woman was forcibly converted to Islam. Acting upon a petition from the woman’s father, the court ordered the woman to return to her parents’ home. She denied that she was forced to convert. On July 6, the husband appealed the Kerala High Court ruling to the Supreme Court, arguing his wife had consented to conversion. The Supreme Court accepted the case and referred it to the NIA, which stated the case of the woman converting from Hinduism to Islam was not an isolated one and it could be part of a larger plot by Muslim men to convert Hindu women. Following this statement, the Supreme Court ordered the NIA to investigate the allegations of forced conversion in this case. On November 27, after the wife appeared before the Supreme Court, it ruled she could leave her parent’s custody and return to her college in Kerala under the supervision of the school’s superintendent. Media reported that on December 9, she reunited with her husband at the college for the first time in more than a year.

On May 23, the central government issued a regulation banning the sale of cattle for slaughter through animal markets. Some observers reportedly expressed concern that the ban would most negatively impact Muslims, who dominate the country’s quarter trillion rupee ($3.9 billion) buffalo meat export industry. In July the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the order for three months. According to media reports, the ban resulted in major protests from farmers, beef-consuming states, and an adverse order from the Supreme Court. On November 30, a senior official at the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change said the government was “considering certain changes, which will make rules more acceptable” but no updates were available by the end of the year.

On August 25, the Supreme Court clarified its verdict declaring privacy a fundamental right would also have a bearing in matters related to the possession of beef in Maharashtra. Earlier that month the Supreme Court agreed to hear a Maharashtra government appeal of the May 2016 Bombay High Court ruling that a portion of the state’s 2015 beef ban was unconstitutional. The Bombay High Court stated Maharashtra could not prohibit possession of beef from cows slaughtered outside the state because doing so would violate the right of citizens to possess and consume food of their choice. The Supreme Court had not heard the appeal by year’s end. Consumers, butchers, and sellers in Maharahstra State said they remained vulnerable to prosecution in court because the burden of proof the cow was not slaughtered in Maharashtra rested on the accused.

On September 6, the Supreme Court directed all state governments to appoint a senior police officer in each district to prevent and respond effectively to incidents of “cow vigilantism.” A three-judge panel also directed the chief secretaries of all state governments to report on actions taken to prevent incidents of “cow vigilantism.”

On August 22, the Supreme Court ruled the provision of Muslim personal law permitting a Muslim man to divorce his wife instantly by saying the word “talaq” (Arabic for divorce) three times was unconstitutional. The court preserved all other aspects of Muslim personal law, including other forms of divorce. The ruling came in response to a petition a Muslim woman, Shayara Banu, filed in 2016.

On September 8, the Jammu and Kashmir State government imposed restrictions in parts of Srinagar limiting protests against Burmese treatment of its Muslim Rohingya population. The restrictions included a ban on Friday Islamic prayers. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Ulema (MMU), a Kashmiri council of Muslim leaders and scholars, had called for protests following Friday prayers to express solidarity with Rohingya, and authorities placed under house arrest MMU leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. An MMU spokesperson stated “the government continues to follow the policy of oppression, and disallowing Friday prayers is a direct interference in religious activity.”

In March the U.S. faith-based organization Compassion International, which the government had placed on its prior approval list, closed its operations in the country because it could not transfer funds to its local implementing partners. Compassion International maintained that the government used the law to restrict the work of Christian charitable organizations.

In July the Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act became law – the first law of its kind in the country to punish social excommunication and abuses by extrajudicial caste and community courts. Pune city resident Umesh Rudrap filed the first complaint in Maharashtra against his community council, the Telugu Madelwar Parit Community, after it sanctioned a social boycott following his intercaste marriage. The boycott prevented him from attending religious ceremonies in his community.

The Chhattisgarh Christian Forum reported that on July 14, in Belwapar village of Sukma District, a mob attacked 18 Christian families and vandalized property while the families attended a prayer meeting at a local Christian’s home. The forum stated police did not press charges against the assailants, and that the Christian families were subsequently under threat of social boycott in the village and of being arrested as Maoist insurgents. The Forum reported local police did not investigate incidents of a similar nature occurring in 22 villages in southern Chhattisgarh during the year.

MSN reported police detained six Christians on June 27 for unlawful assembly, defined as knowingly joining or continuing in any assembly of five or more persons after being commanded to disperse. Pastor Asha Ram Sahni said Station House Officer Aravind Kumar berated and slapped him multiple times for reading the Bible instead of Hindu texts. Another detainee, Gurudeen, said Kumar told him, “You instigate people and convert them to Christianity, and you consume beef too. You will spend your life in jail.” Gurudeen said the inspector reportedly sent police officers to his house to harass his wife for four days during his incarceration. The other four detainees were Chote Lal, Ram Naresh, Gobrey Nishad, and Lal Bihari Verma. HRWF reported all six were granted bail and released on July 5.

On September 28, the Maharashtra State government announced that “neo-Buddhists” (Dalits who adopted Buddhism in the mid-twentieth century) were eligible for minority welfare benefits in the state. Members of Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsi, and Jain minority communities continued to be eligible for minority welfare benefits in the state.

On March 19, more than 100 persons, many of whom stated they were “cow protectors,” protested in front of a hotel owned by a Muslim in Jaipur and alleged that the hotel was serving beef, which is banned in Rajasthan. The Jaipur Municipal Corporation, an urban-level government body, reportedly shut down the hotel following the protests, triggering nationwide condemnation. One media report stated the community was primarily upset about the manner in which the hotel was disposing nonvegetarian foods, which were subsequently eaten by the nearby cows. On May 9, police stated forensic examination of meat samples seized from the hotel ruled out the possibility that it was from a cow. The hotel reopened on June 1, after having remained closed for 74 days.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Summary paragraph: There were reports of hundreds of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, restrictions on the right to practice religion and proselytize, discrimination, and attacks on property. Groups most frequently targeted were Muslims and Christians. Cow protection groups, many of whose members believed cow slaughter and eating beef were an attack on the Hindu deities representing motherhood, carried out several violent attacks, including killings, beatings, harassment, and intimidation against consumers of beef or those involved in the beef industry.

According to the MHA 2016-17 Annual Report, from January through May, there were 296 conflicts between religious communities, resulting in 44 deaths and 892 injuries. MHA reported 703 “communal incidents” in 2016, resulting in 86 deaths and 2,321 injuries, compared with 751 such incidents in 2015, resulting in 97 deaths and 2,264 injuries. MHA defined “communal incidents” as violent conflicts involving religious communities on the issues of organizing religious congregations, desecration of religious symbols, and the ownership of community properties and facilities.

According to media data project IndiaSpend, 63 incidents of cow-linked violence occurred between 2010 and June 2017, leading to 28 deaths. Ninety-seven percent of those incidents occurred between 2014 and 2017, and 86 percent of those killed were Muslim. There were 11 deaths related to “cow vigilantes” during the year, the highest toll since 2010, when IndiaSpend began collecting data.

The Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI-RLC) documented at least 351 cases of violence and attacks against Christians and churches during the year, compared with 300 in 2016 and 177 in 2015. It noted the year had been one of the most traumatic for the Christian community. The EFI-RLC urged the government to intervene and uphold the rule of law to restore community confidence in the government. EFI general secretary Vjayesh Lal remarked the instances of attacks on churches on Sundays and other important days of worship – Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas – had increased, and Hindu nationalists attacked “even private worship,” “violating the privacy and sanctity of an individual or a family and trampling upon their constitutional rights.” An analysis of the year’s data showed Tamil Nadu with the highest incidence of violence against Christians, with 52 cases, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 50; Chhattisgarh, 43; Madhya Pradesh, 36; and Maharashtra, 38. Six cases were reported in Delhi.

According to the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN), Persecution Relief, an interdenominational Christian NGO, recorded 736 attacks on Christians during the year, compared with 348 in 2016. The report stated Hindu attacks on Christians doubled as part of an unprecedented trend to portray Christians as acting against the state, the country’s religious tolerance, and the national ethos. Most police complaints filed against Christians reportedly accused them of crimes, including committing sedition, working against religious tolerance, discriminating against others, acting against integration, defiling places of worship, and insulting other religions. The founder of Persecution Relief told UCAN, “In 99 percent of cases, [Hindus] bring false witnesses and charge victimized Christians with serious offenses like sedition.” He added, if sedition charges were proved, the accused could be sentenced to life in prison.

On June 22, assailants stabbed to death 16-year-old Junaid Khan on a train in Haryana during an argument over a seat. According to the press and eye-witness accounts, the perpetrators accused Khan of being a “beefeater,” fatally stabbed him, and threw him off the train. Two of Khan’s brothers were injured in the incident. Haryana police arrested six accused in connection with the incident, including Naresh Kumar and Rameshwar Dass. By August local courts had reportedly granted bail to four of the six after police dropped charges of rioting, unlawful assembly, and common intention (intent to commit murder). Authorities continued to investigate the railway police officer’s reported failure to intervene. On June 28, in response to this incident and recent “cow vigilante” attacks, civil society groups organized countrywide protests. Known as the Not In My Name campaign, thousands of participants in more than 10 cities condemned cow-vigilante violence and called for the government to take more decisive action.

On December 6, media reported a Hindu man, Shambhulal Regar, hacked, burned alive, and killed a Muslim laborer whose burned body police found the next morning. The attacker filmed himself leading the victim to a secluded spot, attacking him with a weapon, and setting on fire the unconscious man. Then he faced the camera to warn against “love jihad,” “or else you will meet the fate of this man.” In a press conference, a police spokesperson called the incident a brutal crime, and announced a special investigation team, the arrest of the attacker, and beginning an investigation.

Authorities in Tamil Nadu charged six Muslim youths with murder for the March 17 killing in Coimbatore of H. Farooq, who had reportedly posted material supporting atheism on social media. Their trial began in October; no update was available at year’s end.

On July 15, two unidentified men on a motorcycle shot and killed Sultan Masih, the pastor of an independent church in Punjab. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said the killers would be brought to justice and promised 500,000 rupees ($7,800) to Masih’s widow and a job with local police for one of Masih’s sons. On December 1, media reported the NIA arrested two men who had ties to Sikh violent extremist elements. Ramandeep Singh and Hardeep Singh reportedly admitted involvement in eight murders and attempted murders in Punjab since 2016, including Masih’s. Their trial was ongoing at year’s end.

On July 17, in Muzaffarnagar District, Uttar Pradesh, Naseem Khan was killed by members of his wife’s family two years after she converted to Islam and married him against her family’s wishes. The police filed initial charges against four members of the wife’s family, who remained in custody awaiting trial at year’s end.

Media reported on September 25 that a 28-year-old Hindu woman registered a complaint with the Kerala High Court that she was detained by her father and other family members and taken to the Yoga and Charitable Trust center where she was confined for 22 days for marrying a Christian man. The woman said while she was held captive along with 65 others, they were physically assaulted by five individuals and taught the “evils of Christianity and Islam.” She said they were also subjected to sexual assault. According to the woman, her family pressured her to marry a Hindu, and she left the center on August 21 after pretending to agree with her family’s demands. The Udhayamperur police registered a case against six individuals, including the woman’s brother-in-law, Manoj Guruji, who ran the yoga center with four others. Following the complaint, police issued a notice seeking immediate closure of the center because it did not have a license. The center counselor said the allegations of torture and sexual assault were baseless and the woman had attended yoga and counseling to treat her depression.

On April 25 in Reasi, Jammu and Kashmir State, a group of “cow vigilantes” attacked a Muslim family, leaving at least seven persons injured. The family members were transporting a herd of cattle when the individuals attacked them. Media report that police charged 11 individuals involved in the incident with attempted murder. Police also charged the Muslim family with transporting cattle without permission.

Media reported a group of 10 unidentified members of the Hindu nationalist organization Jagaran Vedike physically attacked and smeared black oil on the face of writer Yogesh Master in Davangere, Karnataka on March 12. Master said the group threatened to kill him for writing against Hindu gods. Police arrested two attackers and reportedly continued to search for the remaining eight.

Multiple media reports stated communal riots took place on July 3, approximately 30 miles outside Kolkata in two Muslim-majority areas of West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas District after a Hindu teenager made a Facebook post that some Muslims said was offensive. Muslim and Hindu mobs attacked the police, ransacked shops and homes, and blocked the highway leading to Bangladesh. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee blamed the BJP for inciting violence. BJP leaders blamed Bangladeshi Muslims, while Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress Party held Hindu nationalists responsible. There were no reported injuries or deaths.

EFI reported at least five incidents on April 9, targeting Christians in Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu. In Kaithal, Haryana, local Hindus reportedly disrupted a church meeting and accused worshippers of attempting to induce locals to convert to Christianity. Police detained the pastor and worshippers but later released them. In Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, Hindus disrupted a Church of God service; police subsequently arrested the church’s pastor and seven worshippers for reportedly converting local villagers. Police released them after local Christian leaders intervened.

On May 6 and 7, media reports and others stated VHP and Bajrang Dal activists confronted a group of Muslims in the town of Utnoor in Adilabad District, Telangana. Following the confrontation, Hindu activists attacked local police. The attackers injured 10 police officers and damaged property. The incident followed the circulation of a WhatsApp audio clip members of the Hindu community considered offensive. Hindu activists filed a complaint with police upon discovering the audio clip, but when they believed police did not act quickly enough, they attacked Muslim-owned properties. Muslim groups retaliated by pelting stones at the Hindu activists. Police intervened and the Muslim groups withdrew, but the Hindu activists pelted stones at police. Police arrested some individuals involved in the incident and the case continued through year’s end.

On June 7, during Ramadan, a mob demolished a mosque under construction in New Delhi. Two days later a mob assaulted and handed over to police Basit Malik, a Kashmiri Muslim freelance journalist who had gone to the neighborhood to investigate the demolition. On June 7, media reported police charged seven individuals with trespassing and mischief causing damage. Malik reportedly declined to file a police complaint.

On August 25, communal clashes occurred after a cow carcass was spotted near Muslim households in Adauli village in Uttar Pradesh. The following day police reportedly arrested five individuals and detained 10 others for interrogation. The senior superintendent of police told a news agency they registered three cases for cow slaughter, stone pelting, and damaging two mosques in the village.

On February 24, a mob of approximately 200 Hindus attacked a group of 1,700 Christians who had gathered at a peace festival organized by 12 churches from the Delhi and National Capital Region in Badarpur, Delhi. According to EFI, the mob assaulted persons in seats and on stage, and vandalized property, resulting in a significant financial loss of the organizers. Global Christian News (GCN) said many were injured, including a pastor who bled from his nose and mouth for several hours after 10-15 assailants beat him. The next day police filed charges against the attackers. No updates were available at year’s end.

On April 6 and 7, violence broke out in the town of Bhadrak in Odisha after three Muslim youths reportedly posted comments on Facebook against Hindu deities. The district administration imposed a curfew, shut down internet service for 48 hours, and deployed additional police forces. The unrest included incidents of arson and damage to an estimated 500 commercial and residential properties. A government estimate put the total loss at 90 million rupees ($1.4 million). Civil society activists blamed the district administration for contributing to an escalation in tensions by permitting a bikers’ rally that reportedly displayed pro-Pakistan slogans. An activist pointed to the failure of the state and district administrations to follow the Ministry of Home Affairs’ standard operating procedure for maintaining communal harmony. Police arrested 146 persons and announced compensation ranging from 15,000 rupees ($240) to 200,000 rupees ($3,100) to the owners of damaged properties.

Media reported a March 25 dispute between two Hindu and Muslim high school students in Vadavali village in the Patan district of Gujarat escalated into a mob attack on the village’s Muslim residents. The mob set homes and vehicles on fire, ransacking around 50 houses and many vehicles. Two persons died, one of them in police firing, and ten others were injured.

Media reported that, on August 20, police arrested 39 Wisdom Global Islamic Mission (WGIM) members in Paravoor, Kerala State, on charges of “disrupting communal harmony” for attempting to distribute pamphlets. Muslim leaders stated the arrests were made at the behest of Hindu activists and said Hindus had physically attacked the WGIM members at the police station prior to the arrests. According to media reports, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the state legislative assembly the pamphlets distributed by the WGIM members criticized polytheists and idol worshippers. A local court granted bail to the arrested WGIM members and stated they were exercising their constitutional rights.

In February students of Government First Grade College in the Uttara Kannada District of Karnataka protested against three guest faculty members from the Muslim community wearing burqas, according to College principal professor Manjula. Some protesters in turn triggered a threat of action from a Muslim organization, Tanjim, against the faculty members should the faculty members not wear burqas to the school. The protest ended after Manjula told students they would face legal consequences if they continued to create problems. At year’s end, one of the guest faculty members remained at the college and continued wearing a burqa.

On September 21, media reported members of Hindu nationalist political party Shiv Sena forced more than 500 meat shops to shut down in Gurugram, Haryana, during Navratri, a Hindu festival observed twice a year when many Hindus abstain from eating meat. On March 28, 200 Shiv Sena activists reportedly forced all meat shops in Gurugram to close during Navratri.

MSN reported that on January 21, VHP members threatened K.A. Swamy and took him to the police station to prevent him from distributing copies of the Bible to passersby in Hyderabad. GCN said video clips went viral on social media showing six men using derogatory language against him, his wife, and his children. They reportedly forced him to put his Bible on his head and swear that he would no longer distribute Bibles. Afterwards, they took him to the police station where police reportedly questioned and released him without charge. According to GCN, on his ride home Swamy suffered a brain hemorrhage and a paralytic stroke – most likely due to hypertension, according to MSN. He went into a coma but eventually recovered; his wife told MSN he was discharged from the hospital and doing better, as of May 9. The VHP denied that its members had physically harassed Swamy and stated its activists only verbally confronted Swamy when he was offending Hindu deities. Following a complaint filed by Swamy’s wife, police arrested three VHP activists.

Media reported VHP’s joint general secretary on October 9 told Christian missionaries to leave the country and said VHP would hold a rally called “Quit India.” He added VHP would not allow a single Christian missionary to remain in the country.

On June 9, the Christian community in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, protested the publication of a Hindi language textbook they said characterized Jesus Christ as a “devil” (the textbook used the Hindi word “haivan”), prompting the Gujarat State School Textbook Board (GSSTB) to remove the word in online versions of the book on June 10. Similarly, another GSSTB textbook defined the Muslim practice of fasting during Ramadan as “cholera.” The GSSTB chair said both were “printing errors” and promised to correct them in later editions.

On June 17 in Goa, at the sixth All India Hindu convention organized by Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, a Hindu nationalist organization, an estimated 132 Hindu organizations resolved to establish the country as a Hindu state by 2023, ensure a ban on cattle slaughter, declare the cow as the country’s national animal, and ban all religious conversions.

In September the Gujarat High Court directed Junagadh police to protect an interfaith couple following the petition of the Hindu woman’s father to the court objecting to his daughter’s marriage to a Muslim man. The couple stated they were being threatened by Hindu organizations and pressured to separate. The court also ordered the father to return all identification documents to his daughter.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Throughout the year representatives from the embassy and its consulates general met government officials, civil society, and religious leaders to discuss issues including Islamic divorce and the challenge of protecting personal religious laws in accordance with the constitution, the minority status of universities, beef bans, and religiously motivated political violence. In April the Charge d’Affaires hosted a roundtable lunch for women interfaith leaders at her residence. The theme of the lunch was interfaith and religious diversity; they also discussed the role of women in religious institutions.

The embassy and consulates general continued to meet with religious organizations, missionary communities, and NGOs of all religious backgrounds to discuss religious freedom concerns and U.S. government responses. They discussed concerns related to a perceived increase in attacks against religious minorities and the perceived diminishing space for religious freedom. Interlocutors included the Cardinal of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, Metropolitan Bishop of the Mar Thoma Church, Imam of Jama Masjid, leaders of several mosques, Hindu priests of Akshardham Temple, priests of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, as well as representatives of the India Islamic Cultural Center, All India Imams’ Organization, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, the Church of North India, the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, the Paris community, the Buddhist-dominated Kushinagar, the Bharatiya Sant Samiti, the Chinmaya Mission, the Bahai community, and Sikh leaders. Representatives from most of these organizations were also present at the interfaith iftar dinner the Charge d’Affaires hosted in June.

In May the Charge d’Affaires inaugurated a traveling art exhibit called “Keeping Faith: Indian Religions in the United States.” She emphasized religious tolerance and interfaith diversity as a strength of both the United States and India. The exhibition included a total of 37 framed photographs and showcased the religious diversity of the Indian American diaspora, and the effect this community had on American culture. The exhibit traveled to several Indian cities and became a platform for embassy personnel to discuss issues of religious tolerance and diversity.

The Consulate General in Mumbai organized a “faith walk” in Mumbai’s Mahim neighborhood in March, visiting an Islamic shrine, a Catholic church, and a Hindu temple to promote interfaith dialogue and religious diversity. Members from each religious community participated in the walk. In May the Consul General, together with Catholic Archbishop Felipe Neri Ferrao of the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman, organized a roundtable in Goa to discuss the Catholic community’s concerns about antiminority rhetoric and rising religious intolerance.

The Consulate General in Kolkata engaged in outreach to a range of community leaders and religious establishments. The Consul General visited Belur Math – headquarters of the Hindu order Ramakrishna Mission founded by Swami Vivekananda – and discussed religious harmony and tolerance with senior monks. The Consul General visited the Kamakhya temple, a Hindu pilgrimage site in Assam. He met with the Imam of Nakhoda Masjid, the largest mosque in Kolkata, and with the leaders of the Ahmadi Muslim community. In Patna city in Bihar, he visited the gurudwara marking the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh, the last Sikh guru. In Bihar’s Buddhist religious site of Bodh Gaya, he visited the Maha Bodhi temple. During his outreach, the Consul General delivered a message of tolerance and actively promoted the need to work across religious communities to achieve common objectives. During the discussion the Consul General, senior Hindu and Buddhist monks, an imam, a Christian priest, and Sikh and Jewish community leaders expressed the need for interfaith dialogue and tolerance.

The embassy and consulates general hosted celebrations marking major religious holidays, including Ramadan, Holi, Eid al-Fitr, and Easter to bring together leaders from different religious groups. During these events, representatives of the embassy or consulates general and interfaith guests raised religious freedom and tolerance in speeches and informal discussions. Embassy and consulate general officials continued to monitor cases involving reports of religious persecution, intolerance, and religiously motivated attacks.


Executive Summary

The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion and requires all provisions of the law to be consistent with Islam. The constitution also states, “subject to law, public order, and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion.” The courts continued to enforce blasphemy laws, whose punishment ranges from life in prison to the death sentence for a range of charges, including “defiling the Prophet Muhammad.” According to civil society reports, there were at least 50 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges, at least 17 of whom had received death sentences. According to data provided by civil society organizations (CSOs), police registered at least 10 new blasphemy cases against 17 individuals. CSOs reported lower courts often failed to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases. In April a mob shot and beat to death Mashal Khan, a student at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), following an accusation of blasphemy later deemed by investigators to be false, which prompted widespread condemnation in the country. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community leaders and human rights organizations continued to express concerns about the government’s targeting of Ahmadis for blasphemy, and Ahmadis continued to be affected by discriminatory and ambiguous legislation that denied them basic rights. On October 2, the president signed into law a bill that changed the electoral oath affirming belief that the Prophet Muhammed is the final prophet of Islam to a “declaration” and abolished separate voter lists for Ahmadis, sparking weeks of protest. In response, the government attributed the change in the oath to “clerical error,” and parliament reversed the provisions. Throughout the year, government officials engaged in anti-Ahmadi rhetoric and attended events that Ahmadi Muslims said incited violence against members of their community. Members of religious minority communities continued to raise concerns regarding the government’s inconsistency in safeguarding minority rights, and official discrimination against religious minorities persisted. CSOs expressed concern that authorities often failed to intervene in instances of societal violence against religious minorities, and police often failed to arrest perpetrators of such abuses.

Armed sectarian groups connected to organizations banned by the government as extremist, as well as groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and other governments, staged attacks targeting Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, Sufi Muslims, and Shia Muslims, including the predominantly Shia Hazara community. On February 16, a suicide bomber at the Lal Shahbaz Qalander Sufi shrine in Sehwan, Sindh, killed at least 88 persons and injured more than 200 who were gathered for a ritual. The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) later claimed responsibility. In January, March, and June, terrorist groups targeted markets in the Shia majority city of Parachinar, Kurram Agency, Federally Administered Tribal Area, killing at least 115 persons and injuring nearly 400. On December 17, suicide bombers killed nine and injured nearly 60 worshippers at a church in Quetta, Balochistan; ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack. The government continued to implement the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism, including countering sectarian hate speech and extremism as well as military and law enforcement operations against terrorist groups. Civil society groups, however, expressed ongoing concerns about the safety of religious minorities

Throughout the year, unidentified attackers targeted and killed Shia, Hazaras, and Ahmadis in attacks believed to be religiously motivated; the attackers’ relationship to organized terrorist groups was often unclear. Attacks against Shia members of the minority Hazara ethnic group increased during the year. In five separate incidents, unidentified assailants shot and killed 15 members of the Hazara Shia community. Assailants killed at least seven members of the Ahmadi community in multiple incidents that appeared to be targeted attacks. There were numerous reports of societal violence related to allegations of blasphemy; of efforts by individuals to coerce religious minorities to convert to Islam, including forced conversions of young girls; and of societal harassment, discrimination, and threats of violence directed at members of religious minority communities. There also continued to be reports of attacks on the holy places, cemeteries, and religious symbols of religious minorities.

Senior officials from the U.S. Department of State, including the Ambassador, the Special Advisor on Religious Minorities in the Near East and South and Central Asia, and embassy officers met with senior advisors to the prime minister, the minister for human rights, and officials from the Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony to discuss the need to combat sectarian violence, to ensure the protection of religious minorities, and to limit the misuse of provisions of blasphemy law. Embassy officers met with civil society leaders, local religious leaders, religious minority representatives, and legal experts to discuss ways to combat intolerance and promote dialogue on interfaith cooperation to increase religious freedom. Visiting U.S. government officials met with madrassah board leaders and members of the National Counterterrorism Authority to discuss plans for curriculum reform in the public and madrassah education systems. They also met with minority community representatives, parliamentarians, human rights activists, and members of the Office of the Prime Minister to highlight concerns regarding the treatment of the Shia, Ahmadiyya, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, and other minority communities, the application of blasphemy laws, and other forms of discrimination on the basis of religion. The Department of State publicly condemned terrorist attacks throughout the year, including the February attack on the Lal Shahbaz Qalander shrine; attacks in the Shia majority city of Parachinar; the October attack on the Jhal Magsi shrine in Balochistan; and the December bombing of the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta. On December 22, 2017, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 204.9 million (July 2017 estimate). According to a national census conducted in 1998, 95 percent of the population is Muslim (75 percent of the Muslim population is listed officially as Sunni and 25 percent as Shia). Per government figures, the remaining 5 percent includes Ahmadiyya Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Parsis/Zoroastrians, Bahais, Sikhs, Buddhists, Kalasha, Kihals, and Jains.

Unofficial estimates vary widely with regard to the size of minority religious groups. According to 2014 media accounts, although there are 2.9 million non-Muslims registered with the National Database and Registration Authority; media estimates of the actual number exceed 3.5 million. Religious community representatives estimate minority religious groups constitute 3 to 5 percent of the population, approximately six to 10 million citizens.

According to the 2014 government registration documents cited by the press, there are approximately 1.4 million Hindus, 1.3 million Christians, 126,000 Ahmadis, 34,000 Bahais, 6,000 Sikhs, and 4,000 Parsis. Taking account of the Ahmadi boycott of the official census, however, community sources put the number of Ahmadiyya Muslims at approximately 500,000-600,000. Estimates of the Zikri Muslim community, located in Balochistan, range between 500,000 and 800,000 individuals. Most of the historic Jewish community has emigrated.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but states “subject to law, public order, and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion.” A 1984 amendment to the penal code restricted the rights of members of the Ahmadiyya community to propogate their faith.

According to the constitution, every citizen also shall have the right to freedom of speech, subject to “reasonable restrictions in the interest of the glory of Islam,” as stipulated in the penal code. According to the penal code, the punishments for persons convicted of blasphemy include the death sentence for “defiling Prophet Muhammad,” life imprisonment for “defiling, damaging, or desecrating the Quran,” and 10 years’ imprisonment for “insulting another’s religious feelings.” Speech or action intended to incite religious hatred is punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment.

The constitution defines “Muslim” as a person who “believes in the unity and oneness of Almighty Allah, in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad … the last of the prophets, and does not believe in, or recognize as a prophet or religious reformer, any person who claimed or claims to be a prophet after Muhammad … ” It also states “a person belonging to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, or Parsi community, a person of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmadis), or a Bahai, and a person belonging to any of the scheduled castes” is a “non-Muslim.”

According to the constitution and the penal code, Ahmadis are not Muslims and may not call themselves Muslims or assert they are adherents of Islam. The penal code bans them from preaching or propagating their religious beliefs, proselytizing, or “insulting the religious feelings of Muslims.” The punishment for violation of these provisions is imprisonment for up to three years and a fine.

The penal code criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” and provides for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

A 2015 constitutional amendment allows military courts to try civilians for terrorism, sectarian violence, and other charges; this authority was renewed in January for an additional two years. The government may also use special civilian terrorism courts to try cases involving violent crimes, terrorist activities, and acts or speech deemed by the government to foment religious hatred, including blasphemy.

The constitution states no person shall be required to take part in any religious ceremony or attend religious worship relating to a religion other than the person’s own.

The constitution provides for “freedom to manage religious institutions.” It states every religious denomination shall have the right to establish and maintain its own institutions. The constitution states no person shall be compelled to pay any special tax on the propagation or maintenance of a religion other than the person’s own. The government collects a 2.5 percent zakat (tax) from Sunni Muslims and distributes the funds to Sunni mosques, madrassahs, and charities.

The constitution mandates the government take steps to enable Muslims, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam and to promote the observance of Islamic moral standards. It directs the state to endeavor to secure the proper organization of Islamic tithes, religious foundations, and places of worship.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony is responsible for organizing participation in the Hajj and other Islamic religious pilgrimages. Authorities also consult the ministry on matters such as blasphemy and Islamic education. The ministry’s budget covers assistance to indigent minorities, repair of minority places of worship, establishment of minority-run small development projects, celebration of minority religious festivals, and provision of scholarships for religious minority students.

The law prohibits publishing any criticism of Islam, or its prophets, or insults to others’ religious beliefs. The law bans the sale of Ahmadiyya religious literature.

The provincial and federal governments have legal responsibility for certain minority religious properties abandoned during the 1947 partition of British India.

The constitution states no person attending any educational institution shall be required to attend religious instruction or take part in any religious ceremony relating to a religion other than the person’s own. It also states no religious denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of its denomination in an educational institution maintained by the denomination.

The constitution states the government shall make Islamic studies compulsory for all Muslim students in state-run schools. Although students of other religious groups are not legally required to study Islam, schools do not always offer parallel studies in their own religious beliefs, and the students may have no other option. In some schools, however, non-Muslim students may study ethics. Parents may send children to private schools, including religious schools, at the family’s expense. Private schools are free to teach or not teach religious studies.

By law, madrassahs are prohibited from teaching or encouraging sectarian or religious hatred or violence. The law requires all madrassahs to register with one of five wafaqs (independent boards) or directly with the government, to account for their sources of financing, and to accept foreign students only with valid student visas, a background check, and the consent of their governments.

The constitution states “all existing laws shall be brought into conformity with the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.” It further states no law shall be enacted which is “repugnant” to Islam. The constitution states this requirement shall not affect the “personal laws of non-Muslim citizens” or their status as citizens. Personal laws regulating marriage, divorce, and inheritance for minority communities date from pre-partition British legislation.

The constitution establishes a Federal Shariat Court (FSC) composed of Muslim judges to examine and decide whether any law or provision is “repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.” The constitution gives the court the power to examine a law of its own accord or at the request of the government or a private citizen. The constitution requires the government to amend the law as directed by the court. The constitution empowers the court to review criminal cases relating to certain crimes, including rape and those linked to Islamic morality, such as extramarital sex, alcohol use, and gambling. The court may suspend or increase the sentence given by a criminal court in these cases. The court exercises “revisional jurisdiction” (the power to review of its own accord) in such cases in lower courts, a power which applies whether the cases involve Muslims or non-Muslims. Non-Muslims may consult the FSC in other matters which affect them or violate their rights if they so choose. Decisions of the court may be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The constitution establishes a Council of Islamic Ideology to make recommendations, at the request of the parliament and provincial assemblies, as to “the ways and means of enabling and encouraging Muslims to order their lives in accordance with the principles of Islam.” The constitution further empowers the council to advise the legislative and executive branches when they choose to refer a question to the council, as to whether a proposed law is or is not “repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.”

In the absence of specific language in the law authorizing civil or common law marriage, marriage certificates are signed by religious authorities and registered with the local marriage registrar. In March the government enacted legislation codifying the legal mechanisms to register Hindu marriages and to prove the legitimacy of Hindu marriages under the law, a move which proponents state could help reduce the frequency of forced marriages and conversions of Hindus. The law allows for the termination of the marriage upon the conversion of one party to a religion other than Hinduism.

The government considers the marriage of a non-Muslim woman dissolved by the government if she converts to Islam, although a non-Muslim man may convert and his marriage remains recognized. Children born to a non-Muslim couple are considered illegitimate and ineligible for inheritance if their mother converts to Islam. The only way to legitimize the marriage and the children is for the husband also to convert to Islam. The children of a Muslim man and a Muslim woman who both convert to another religious group are considered illegitimate, and by law the government may take custody of the children.

The constitution directs the state to “safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities,” to secure the well-being of the people irrespective of creed, and to discourage sectarian prejudices. It forbids discrimination against any religious community in the taxation of religious institutions. The National Commission on Human Rights, an independent government-funded agency, is required to receive petitions, conduct investigations, and request remediation on human rights violations; it has quasi-judicial powers and can refer cases for prosecution but does not have arrest authority.

According to the constitution, there shall be no discrimination on the basis of religion in appointing individuals to government service, provided they are otherwise qualified.

The constitution prohibits discriminatory admission based on religious affiliation to any governmental educational institution. According to regulations, the only factors affecting admission to government schools are students’ grades and home provinces; however, students must declare their religious affiliation on application forms. This declaration is also required for private educational institutions, including universities. Students who identify themselves as Muslims must declare in writing they believe the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet. Non-Muslims are required to have the head of their local religious communities verify their religious affiliation.

The government designates religious affiliation on passports and requests religious information in national identity card applications. Those wishing to be listed as Muslims must swear they believe the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet, and must denounce the Ahmadiyya movement’s founder as a false prophet and his followers as non-Muslim.

The constitution requires the president and prime minister to be Muslims. All senior officials, including members of parliament, must swear an oath to protect the country’s Islamic identity. The law requires that elected officials swear an oath affirming their belief that the Prophet Muhammed is the final prophet of Islam.

There are reserved seats for religious minority members in both the national and provincial assemblies. The 342-seat National Assembly has 10 seats for religious minorities. The 104-seat Senate has four reserved seats for religious minorities, one from each province. In the provincial assemblies, there are three such reserved seats in KP; eight in Punjab; nine in Sindh; and three in Balochistan. Political parties elected by the general electorate choose the minority individuals who hold these seats; they are not elected by the minority constituencies they represent.

The country is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and maintains two reservations: first, that ICCPR Article 3 regarding equal rights of men and women would be “applied as to be in conformity with Personal Law of the citizens and Qanoon-e-Shahadat (Law of Evidence),” under which the in-court testimony of men is given greater weight than that of women; second, that ICCPR Article 25, on the equal right for citizens to take part in public service would be subject to articles of the constitution mandating that the president and prime minister be Muslims.

Government Practices

Summary paragraph: Civil society organizations continued to voice concern about the application of the country’s blasphemy laws. According to civil society reports, there were at least 50 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges, at least 17 of whom had received death sentences. According to data provided by CSOs, police registered at least 10 new blasphemy cases against 17 individuals. There were at least two minors imprisoned for blasphemy in Punjab Province. Civil society groups said the blasphemy laws disproportionately impacted members of religious minority communities. The Supreme Court acquitted two persons charged with blasphemy during the year; a third case was closed due to the death of the accused while awaiting trial, while other blasphemy cases continued without resolution. A high-profile government campaign against blasphemy on social media resulted in several indictments and legislation codifying the criminalization of online blasphemy. A Supreme Court hearing for the appeal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, remained on indefinite hold since October 2016. Several sources reported the continued practice of initiating blasphemy complaints against neighbors, peers, or business associates to intimidate them or to settle personal grievances, and said there were instances in which government entities such as the police and courts were complicit in this practice. Legal observers said authorities took steps to protect some individuals from unfounded accusations of blasphemy, although lower courts continued to fail to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases. Despite an August directive from the Islamabad High Court, the parliament took no action to amend the penal code to make the penalties for false accusations of blasphemy commensurate with those for committing blasphemy. According to Ahmadiyya community leaders, the targeting and harassment of Ahmadi Muslims for blasphemy and other purported violations of law persisted. In October the president signed into law a bill that changed the electoral oath affirming belief that the Prophet Muhammed is the final prophet of Islam to a “declaration” and abolished separate voter lists for Ahmadis, sparking an uproar and weeks of protests by supporters of cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan political party, which said the change in the electoral oath was tantamount to blasphemy. In October and November, parliament passed legislation reversing both changes. Some government officials engaged in anti-Ahmadi rhetoric and attended events that Ahmadi Muslims said incited violence against members of their community. The government continued to prosecute counterterrorism actions under the NAP, which included an explicit goal of countering sectarian hate speech and extremism. Civil society groups expressed concern that authorities often failed to intervene in instances of societal violence against religious minorities, and police failed to arrest perpetrators of such abuses. NGOs and media outlets, however, reported police intervention helped to prevent religiously based violence on some occasions. Members of religious minority communities stated the government was inconsistent in safeguarding minority rights, and official discrimination against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Ahmadiyya Muslims persisted. A bill passed by the Sindh Assembly in November 2016 criminalizing forced conversions stalled when the governor declined to ratify it, disappointing religious minority activists.

In April a mob attacked, shot, and beat university student Mashal Khan to death on the campus of Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, following an accusation of blasphemy. According to university administrator statements, police who reported to the scene were unable to control the mob because there were so many students involved. A subsequent police investigation found that a group at the university had manufactured the blasphemy allegation against Khan due to his activism on campus. Members of the public and government officials, including the prime minister, condemned the killing. On September 19, an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) indicted 57 individuals, including university employees, for their roles in the killing. The trial was ongoing at year’s end.

In January according to media reports, five secular social media activists who had criticized the government disappeared from cities around the country, triggering a public outcry against the government, which was widely believed to be responsible for the abductions. While the activists were missing, a number of Muslim clerics launched a social media campaign labeling the bloggers as blasphemers deserving of death. Four of the five activists reappeared several weeks later. In October one of the bloggers publicly stated he had been tortured by a state intelligence agency during his disappearance. As of year’s end, the whereabouts and fate of the fifth blogger, Samar Abbas, remained unknown. On December 22, the Federal Investigation Agency told the Islamabad High Court that it had found no evidence the bloggers had committed blasphemy.

According to press reports, in October Majlis Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen, a Shia political organization, launched a protest campaign in Karachi to highlight the issue of Shia activists who had been unlawfully detained or “disappeared” by authorities in recent years. Shia representatives had previously reported the government targeted Shia activists under the pretense of law enforcement actions. The Sindh chief minister denied the allegations.

According to CSOs, Indrias Masih, a Christian accused along with 41 others of lynching two Muslim men, died of gastrointestinal tuberculosis in August in Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore. Some organizations said prison authorities neglected Masih’s health due to his status as a minority member. An ATC indicted Masih and the other 41 on charges of murder and terrorism in September 2016. The lynching allegedly occurred after terrorists bombed two Christian churches in March 2015. The trial was ongoing at year’s end.

According to data provided by CSOs, police registered new cases against at least 17 individuals under blasphemy laws during the year, compared with 18 new cases in 2016. There were continued reports of individuals initiating blasphemy complaints against neighbors, peers, or business associates to settle personal disputes or to intimidate vulnerable persons. While the law requires a senior police official to investigate any blasphemy charge before a complaint can be filed, human rights activists said police did not uniformly follow this procedure. According to religious organizations and human rights groups, religious minorities continued to be disproportionately accused of blasphemy relative to their small percentage of the population. CSOs also stated police continued not to file charges against many individuals who made false blasphemy accusations, and if charges were filed, courts most often acquitted those accused.

On June 11, an ATC in Bahawalpur, Punjab, sentenced Taimoor Raza, a Shia Muslim, to death after he was convicted of posting blasphemous material on social media. The verdict represented the first time courts had convicted an individual for blasphemy stemming from a social media posting. The appeals process was ongoing at year’s end.

On September 14, a court in Gujrat, Punjab, sentenced Nadeem James, a Christian man, to death after he was convicted of sending blasphemous content via WhatsApp. James appealed the verdict to the Lahore High Court, and the case was pending at year’s end.

On October 12, a court in Sheikhupura, Punjab, sentenced three Ahmadis to death for blasphemy based on an incident that occurred in 2014. According to representatives of the Ahmadiyya community, the acts of blasphemy allegedly committed by the three involved their removal of posters that advocated the murder of Ahmadis with impunity due to their alleged apostasy.

In May a court in Rawalpindi sentenced Zafar Bhatti, a Christian, to life in prison for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages in 2012. Bhatti’s lawyer said he planned to appeal the case to the Lahore High Court.

In January an ATC in Lahore acquitted 115 individuals charged with burning more than 125 Christian homes in Joseph Colony in 2013, following a blasphemy allegation against a member of the Christian community. According to press reports, the courts cited a lack of evidence in the acquittal. At year’s end, no one had been convicted for the incident. The Christian whose alleged blasphemy sparked the attack remained on death row following his 2014 conviction.

In May media reported police in Hub, Balochistan, arrested Prakash Kumar, a Hindu, for sharing allegedly blasphemous material on social media. Police refused to hand Kumar over to a mob that subsequently gathered outside the station. In the violence that followed, a minor was killed and three police officers were injured. Kumar’s case was ongoing at year’s end.

The Supreme Court’s indefinite postponement of hearings regarding the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, continued. Authorities arrested Bibi in June 2009 after a group of Muslim women with whom she was arguing accused her of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad. The Supreme Court indefinitely postponed Bibi’s October 2016 appeal hearing when a member of the three-judge bench assigned to the appeal unexpectedly recused himself. Prior to the judge’s recusal, clerics affiliated with some religious organizations threatened death to anyone involved in Bibi’s release. There was no subsequent hearing during the year.

In separate incidents in July and August, authorities in Punjab arrested two Christian teenagers for alleged blasphemy; the families of both boys said the accusations stemmed from interpersonal disputes. Another Christian teenager in Punjab, Nabeel (Masih) Amanat, remained in custody on blasphemy charges at year’s end; he faced up to 10 years’ imprisonment if convicted. Kasur District police arrested Amanat in September 2016 for sharing an allegedly blasphemous picture of the Kaaba in Mecca on Facebook.

On May 31, a court in Punjab sentenced two Ahmadis to three years’ imprisonment for publishing an Ahmaddiya publication banned by the province in 2014. Ahmadi representatives said a court order had allowed them to keep publishing, but the Punjab Counter-Terrorism Division raided the publication’s offices in December 2016, arresting four individuals. Ahmadi representatives stated those arrested were tortured while in police custody. An appeal against the judgment was pending with the Lahore High Court at year’s end.

In March authorities in Lahore charged two Ahmadis with blasphemy for preaching their faith. A court rejected their request for bail, and at year’s end they remained in prison awaiting trial.

Courts overturned some blasphemy convictions upon appeal, after the accused had spent years in prison. On February 27, the Supreme Court overturned a Balochistan High Court verdict of life imprisonment due to lack of evidence and exonerated Khuda Bakhsh, a man accused of burning a Quran in Naseerabad, Balochistan, in 2012. Bakhsh had been imprisoned for five years prior to the Supreme Court ruling. On June 7, the Supreme Court acquitted another individual convicted of burning a Quran based on lack of evidence. The Supreme Court verdict noted several inconsistencies and deficiencies in the original conviction, which stemmed from a 2006 allegation. On December 29, the Supreme Court, citing procedural irregularities related to evidence, overturned the life sentence of Mohammad Mansha for blasphemy after he had served nine years in prison. Mansha was arrested in 2008 after the imam of a mosque in Bahawalnagar, Punjab, told authorities Mansha had desecrated a copy of the Quran.

According to media reports, individuals convicted in well-publicized blasphemy cases from previous years, including Sawan Masih, Shafqat Emmanuel, Shagufta Kausar, Sajjad Masih Gill, and Liaquat Ali, remained in jail and continued to await action on their appeals.

Authorities charged 77 Ahmadis in 10 separate religion-related cases during the year, according to Ahmadiyya Muslim community leaders. As of the end of the year, nine Ahmadis remained in prison on religion-related charges, including 80-year-old Abdul Shakoor, who was arrested by the Punjab Counter-Terrorism Division in December 2015 for selling Ahmadiyya religious books. In 2016 an ATC sentenced Shakoor to five years’ imprisonment for propagating the Ahmadiyya Muslim faith, and to an additional three years under the Anti-Terrorism Act for stirring up “religious hatred” and “sectarianism,” with sentences to run concurrently. In August a court overturned the blasphemy conviction of Ahmadi Qamar Ahmad Tahir after he had spent 21 months in prison. The authorities arrested Tahir in November 2015 for allegedly ordering the burning of a Quran at the factory where he worked as a security guard. A mob subsequently burned down the factory, an Ahmadiyya mosque, and several homes belonging to Ahmadis.

In the spring the government launched a high-profile crackdown on blasphemy on social media. In a March court order stemming from the blasphemy case against the five bloggers abducted in January, Islamabad High Court Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui directed the government to block websites containing blasphemous material. In his order, Siddiqui called blasphemers “the biggest terrorists” and warned that if the government did not take action against them, “the patience of the followers of Holy Prophet (Peace be Upon Him) may run out of control.” The following week, then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called blasphemy an “unpardonable sin” and ordered authorities to apprehend and prosecute those who posted blasphemous material online. In April then-Minister of Interior Chaudhry Nisar said authorities had blocked 152 Facebook pages and put eight suspects on the country’s exit-control list. On May 10, millions of individuals received text messages from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) warning them that uploading or sharing blasphemous content on social media was a punishable offense under the law. Human rights activists decried the public awareness campaign, arguing that it would encourage more mob attacks on alleged blasphemers. In September, at the behest of the Federal Investigation Agency, an ATC reportedly indicted four individuals for posting blasphemous content online. In October the PTA reported to parliament it had “taken action” against 188 websites and blocked 3,025 websites for containing blasphemous material. In November the media reported the PTA had created an interagency committee tasked with monitoring and blocking blasphemous content online. Human rights activists expressed concern the government would use this initiative as a pretext to suppress views on the internet that differed from those of the government, including on religious issues.

In May the newspaper DAWN said that 41 of the 64 groups banned by the National Counter-Terrorism Authority for involvement in terrorism were openly using Facebook to recruit and train followers, including sectarian groups responsible for attacks on members of religious minority communities.

According to civil society and media reports, there were cases in which government mediation prevented intercommunal mob violence. In September mediation by CSOs and government officials, including a federal minister, diffused tensions over an interfaith marriage in Qaidabad, Punjab. Police also intervened on several occasions to interdict mob violence directed at individuals accused of blasphemy.

A trial in a military court continued against two men accused of murder in the June 2016 killing of Amjad Sabri, a singer of Sufi devotional music. In addition to Sabri’s killing, Mohammad Ishaq and Mohammad Asim were charged with nine other counts of terrorism.

A bill passed by the Sindh Assembly in November 2016 criminalizing forced conversions remained pending at year’s end. The bill mandates a 21-day waiting period and a minimum age of 18 for any person wishing to convert, and it establishes a minimum sentence of five years for those convicted of forcing others to convert. On January 7, after some Muslim scholars and religious parties objected to some of the bill’s clauses, Sindh’s governor declined to ratify the bill and returned it to the Sindh Assembly for review. Religious minority activists expressed disappointment the bill had stalled and said they believed it would help protect underage girls belonging to religious minorities, who were particularly vulnerable to forced conversions through abductions, rape, and forced marriages.

In the weeks leading up to and during the Islamic month of Muharram, religiously significant for Shia Muslims, authorities at the federal and provincial levels restricted the movement and activities of an unknown number of clerics. According to civil society and media reports, the government targeted individuals known for exacerbating sectarian tensions. Some CSOs characterized the restrictions on clerics prior to the Ashura holiday as too broad. Provincial governments deployed hundreds of thousands of police and other security personnel to protect Shia religious ceremonies across the country during the commemoration of Ashura, which observers noted was more peaceful than in previous years.

In June, in the wake of three terrorist attacks targeting markets in the Shia majority city of Parachinar, Kurram Agency, Federally Administered Tribal Area, residents protested against the government’s failure to protect them from sectarian violence. Frontier Constabulary officers fired on the protesters, killing four persons. Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa subsequently met with members of the Shia community in Parachinar, called for an inquiry into the shooting, and announced security improvements.

According to Ahmadiyya Muslim Community leaders, authorities continued to target and harass Ahmadi Muslims for blasphemy, violations of “anti-Ahmadi laws,” and other crimes. Ahmadiyya leaders stated the ambiguous wording of the legal provision forbidding Ahmadis from directly or indirectly identifying themselves as Muslims enabled officials to bring charges against members of the community for using the standard Islamic greeting or for naming their children Muhammad. Representatives also stated provincial authorities prevented Ahmadis from purchasing land near the community’s headquarters in Rabwah.

According to reports, the Senate Human Rights Committee continued to debate possible procedural reforms to discourage misuse of the country’s blasphemy laws, a legislative process begun in December 2016. In August the Islamabad High Court directed parliament to amend the penal code to make the penalties for false accusations of blasphemy commensurate with those for committing blasphemy. Parliament had not acted on the court’s direction as of year’s end.

Legal observers continued to raise concerns regarding the failure of lower courts to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases, which led to some convicted persons spending years in jail before higher courts overturned their convictions and freed them for lack of evidence. Lower courts reportedly continued to conduct proceedings in an intimidating atmosphere, with members of groups labelled extremist by the government, such as the Khatm-e-Nabuwat (“Finality of the Prophethood”) group, often threatening the defendant’s attorneys, family members, and supporters. According to observers, the general refusal of lower courts to free defendants on bail or acquit them persisted due to fear of reprisal and vigilantism. Legal observers reported judges and magistrates often delayed or continued trials indefinitely in an effort to avoid confrontation with, or violence from, groups labeled by the government as extremist.

The government failed to restrict advertisements or speeches inciting anti-Ahmadi violence in television and print media, despite a promise to do so in the 2014 NAP. Some government officials made anti-Ahmadi statements and attended events that vilified the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. In January the annual Khatm-e-Nabuwat conference was held in Lahore under the leadership of, among others, Punjab Minister of Specialized Healthcare and Medical Education Khawaja Salman Rafique and Punjab Minister of Primary and Secondary Health Khawaja Imran Nazir. Speakers called on the government to “stop the support of the Qadianis [a pejorative term for Ahmadi Muslims].” Then Federal Minister of Finance Ishaq Dar also addressed the conference and promised there would be no changes to the blasphemy laws. In February at a conference of political parties organized under the auspices of the International Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-e-Nabuwat, an organization which aims to safeguard the “finality of prophethood,” several political leaders made anti-Ahmaddiya statements, including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam President Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman and Raja Zafar ul Haq, the chairman of the governing Pakistani Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) party. In a meeting with Muslim clerics in October, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said Ahmadis were more dangerous to Islam than any other “non-Muslim” minority.

The requirement that Muslim elected officials swear an oath affirming their belief that the Prophet Muhammed is the final prophet of Islam continued to discourage Ahmadi Muslims from seeking public office. In order to seek office, Ahmadis would be forced to do so as non-Muslims, despite self-identifying as Muslim. On October 2, the president signed into law a bill that changed the electoral oath to a “declaration” and abolished separate voter lists for Ahmadis. The change sparked a nationwide uproar, including a roughly three week sit-in by the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) political party, which is also known as Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah and whose platform centers on enforcement of the blasphemy laws. The protesters said the change in the electoral oath was tantamount to blasphemy. Speaker of the National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq issued a statement attributing the change to a “clerical error,” and former Prime Minister Sharif set up a committee within the ruling PML-N to determine the individuals responsible for the change. On October 16, parliament reversed the changes to the oath, reverting back to the original wording. As demanded by the protesters, Law and Justice Minister Zahid Hamid resigned. The government also agreed to other demands, including to release the protesters who had been arrested and to make a report on its investigation into the alteration of the electoral oath; in exchange, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, head of the TLP, agreed not to issue a fatwah against Hamid. Some observers stated the government’s concessions to the TLP’s demands represented a surrender to extremism, and representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community expressed concern that the actions signaled an escalation in state-sanctioned persecution of their community.

On October 10, in a speech in the National Assembly, Member of the National Assembly Safdar Awan, son-in-law of former Prime Minister Sharif, called for Ahmadis to be banned from service in the military or civil service and for institutions named for Ahmadis to be renamed. The speech was carried live on government-run Pakistan Television. The military subsequently issued a statement affirming its commitment to nonsectarianism.

On November 29, the Karachi City Council unanimously passed a resolution condemning the attempt to change the electoral oath and calling for punishment of the party responsible. Jamaat-i-Islami city council member Junaid Makati, who proposed the resolution, said the attempt to change the oath was a conspiracy between the PML-N government and “Jewish elites.”

On November 24, the Punjab Assembly passed a resolution demanding the government make the “finality of prophethood” a mandatory part of the school curriculum. Following the federal government’s November 25 agreement with the TLP, several hundred protesters affiliated with the TLP continued to stage a sit-in outside the Punjab Assembly to protest remarks by Punjab Law Minister Sanaullah which they said were tolerant of Ahmadis. The TLP ended its protest on December 2 after reaching an agreement with the Punjab government. While the terms of agreement were not made public, the TLP claimed the Punjab government made numerous concessions. The Punjab provincial government, however, did not confirm these claims, and observers stated there was no evidence any concessions were being implemented.

On November 30, in response to the protests, the Supreme Court issued an order that stated “there is no place in the public discourse to propagate the commission of an offense or to incite people to resort to violence. Broadcasts cannot encourage violence, extremism, militancy, or hatred.”

In December the Islamabad High Court temporarily banned television anchor Aamir Liaquat Hussain from appearing in the media for inciting hatred and violence. The court’s ruling came in response to a petition that accused Hussain of promoting religious intolerance by issuing Islamic fatwas on the air that led to incidents of sectarian violence.

The government continued efforts to enforce its previous bans on the activities of, and membership in, some religiously oriented groups it judged to be extremist or terrorist. The Ministry of Interior maintained a multitier schedule of groups that were either banned or had their activities monitored and curtailed. The schedule included individuals whose activities in the public sphere could also be curtailed.

The government continued to fund and facilitate Hajj travel for most Muslims, but Ahmadis were unable to participate in the Hajj, community leaders said, because of passport application requirements to list religious affiliation and denounce the Ahmadiyya prophet.

According to representatives of minority religious groups, the government continued to allow organized religious groups to establish places of worship and train members of the clergy. Although there continued to be no official restriction on the construction of Ahmadiyya places of worship, local authorities regularly denied requisite construction permits, and Ahmadis remained forbidden to call them mosques.

According to civil society activists and monitoring organizations, some public school textbooks continued to include derogatory statements about minority religious groups, including Ahmadi Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and Christians. Civil society leaders said the teaching of religious intolerance remained widespread, and although multiple groups had presented recommendations for the removal of discriminatory content, the federal government had not taken the initiative to support the recommended changes. Monitoring groups said textbooks used in all four provinces for grades one to 10 continued to contain religiously intolerant and biased material against Hindus, Christians, and other religious minorities. These groups reported there were initiatives by some provincial authorities to remove discriminatory material and promote tolerance through the textbooks, such as the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board’s effort to incorporate short stories promoting peace and harmony into Urdu textbooks, which started in 2016 and ran until March when the initiatives ended. Books published after March did not explicitly include materials derived from the effort but did include some passages added as part of the initiatives. Punjab authorities also added a separate chapter on religious minority groups to some textbooks. While private schools remained free to choose whether or not to offer religious instruction, they were reportedly under government pressure to teach Islamic studies. The government did not permit Ahmadis to teach Islamic studies in public schools.

There were continued reports that some madrassahs taught violent extremist doctrine. Increasing government supervision of madrassahs remained a component of the NAP, and there was evidence of continued government efforts to increase regulation of the sector. According to press reports, provincial authorities continued campaigns to geotag madrassahs. Press reports also indicated provincial authorities continued efforts to close madrassahs with connections to terrorism. The authorities prosecuted cases involving sectarian hate speech and restricted the movement and public sermons of some clerics accused of spreading sectarian hatred. Security analysts and madrassah reform proponents observed many madrassahs failed to register with one of five waqafs (religious endowments) or with the government, to provide to the government documentation of their sources of funding, or to accept foreign students only with valid student visas, a background check, and the consent of their governments, as required by law.

Members of religious minority communities said there continued to be inconsistent application of laws safeguarding minority rights and enforcement of protections of religious minorities at both the federal and provincial levels by the federal Ministry of Law and Justice, as well as by the federal Ministry of Human Rights and its provincial counterparts. Religious minorities said they remained concerned that government action to address coerced conversions of religious minorities to Islam was inadequate.

The National Commission for Minorities, a government committee created in 2014 with Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh representatives, met sporadically to develop a national policy for minorities. Minority activists stated the commission’s lack of a regular budget allocation and lack of an independent chairperson inhibited its development.

Some human rights groups criticized the government’s commitment to the Ministry of Human Rights 2016 Action Plan for Human Rights, particularly its provisions related to religious minorities. The plan included nine provisions for the protection of the rights of minorities, among them enforcement of laws criminalizing incitement to religious hatred and protection for places of worship for minority religious groups.

Human rights activists continued to report neither the federal nor the provincial governments had made substantial progress in implementing the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision directing the government to take measures to protect members of minority religious groups.

In January the Sindh governor returned a law passed in November 2016 establishing a Minorities Commission for the province to the Provincial Assembly for further review. The law states the 11-member commission will examine government policy and laws and make recommendations to better protect the rights of minorities in Sindh. The commission would also have the inquiry powers of a civil court, including the ability to summon witnesses and receive evidence on affidavits. The draft law remained pending at year’s end.

Religious minority community leaders continued to state that the government failed to take adequate action to protect minorities from bonded labor in the brick-making and agricultural sectors, an illegal practice in which victims were disproportionately Christians and Hindus. Such families, particularly on agricultural lands in Sindh Province, often lived without basic facilities and were prevented from leaving without the permission of farm landlords. In September the Punjab Provincial Assembly passed legislation which further amended a 2016 law prohibiting the use of child labor in the brick industry. Under the amended law, the penalty for employing children was increased from up to six months’ imprisonment and a criminal fine to up to five years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of 500,000 rupees ($4,500).

Historically, Hindu and Sikh leaders had noted the legal uncertainty surrounding the process of registering marriages for their communities created difficulties for Hindu and Sikh women in obtaining inheritances, accessing health services, voting, obtaining a passport, and buying or selling property. The enactment of the Hindu Marriage Act in March addressed many of these problems, but media reported some Hindu community leaders expressed concern that a provision of the national bill permitting annulment of Hindu marriages could be used to legitimize forced conversions of Hindu women. Members of the Sikh community continued to report difficulties related to the registration of marriages for their community. Some local administrative bodies continued to deny Christian and Ahmadi marriage registrations; advocates called for a new law governing Christian marriages, as the existing regulation dated to 1872. On June 19, the Lahore High Court restored a section of a law on Christian divorce that General Zia ul Haq’s government had suspended in 1981, allowing the country’s Christian community an avenue to legally divorce for reasons other than adultery.

Legal experts and NGO representatives continued to state that the full legal framework for minority rights remained unclear. While the Ministry of Law and Justice was officially responsible for ensuring the legal rights of all citizens, in practice the Ministry for Human Rights assumed primary responsibility for the protection of the rights of religious minorities. In addition, the country’s 18th amendment to the constitution devolved certain authorities and responsibilities for the protection of human rights and rights of religious minorities to provincial governments.

Minority religious leaders stated members of their communities continued to experience discrimination in admission to colleges and universities. Ahmadi representatives said the wording of the declaration students needed to sign on their applications for admission to university continued to prevent Ahmadis from declaring themselves as Muslims. Their refusal to sign the statement meant they were automatically disqualified from fulfilling the admissions requirements. The government maintained Ahmadis could qualify for admission as long as they did not claim to be Muslims. Ahmadiyya community leaders reported multiple Ahmadi students had been expelled from public universities after not disclosing their religious affiliation at initial admission.

Religious minority community members stated Muslim students in public schools were afforded bonus grade points for memorizing the Quran, but no analogous opportunities for extra academic credit were available for religious minority students.

Most religious minority groups said they continued to face discrimination in government hiring. While there remained a 5 percent quota for hiring religious minorities at the federal level, minority organizations said government employers did not enforce it. According to religious minority members and media reports, provincial governments in Punjab, Sindh, and KP also failed to meet such quotas for hiring of religious minorities into the civil service.

Representatives of religious minorities said a “glass ceiling” continued to prevent their promotion to senior government positions. Although there were no official obstacles to advancement of minority religious group members in the military service, they said in practice non-Muslims rarely rose above the rank of colonel and were not assigned to senior positions.

Ahmadiyya leaders continued to report the government hindered Ahmadis from obtaining legal documents and pressured community members to deny their beliefs by requiring individuals wishing to be listed as Muslim on identity cards and passports to swear the Prophet Muhammad was the final prophet of Islam and the Ahmadiyya movement’s founder was a false prophet. Ahmadiyya community representatives reported the word “Ahmadi” was written on their passports if they identified themselves as such. Ahmadiyya leaders continued to report the government effectively disenfranchised their community by requiring voters to swear an oath affirming the “finality of prophethood” in order to register as Muslims. Since voters who registered as Ahmadis were kept on a separate voter list, they said they were more exposed to threats and physical intimidation, and many Ahmadis did not try to participate in the political process. On December 16, media reported police in Sialkot, Punjab, had arrested six Ahmadis for listing themselves as Muslims on their identity cards and for registering to vote as Muslims during a local 2015 election.

Religious minority leaders continued to state the system of selecting minority parliamentarians through the internal deliberations of mainstream parties resulted in the appointment of party stalwarts or those who could afford to “buy the seats” rather than legislators who genuinely represented minority communities. They also stated the system effectively precluded the election of minority women, who were rarely in a position of sufficient influence with the major political parties to contend for a seat.

According to Ahmadiyya community members, authorities continued to seal or demolish Ahmadi mosques, barred construction of new mosques, and took no action to prevent attacks on mosques or punish assailants who demolished, damaged, forcibly occupied, or set Ahmadi mosques on fire. In May the Lahore High Court granted bail to 37 individuals accused of participating in a December 2016 attack on an Ahmadiyya mosque in Chakwal. During the incident, one of the attackers was killed, and one of the Ahmadiyya worshippers died of a heart attack. At year’s end, 60 of the 67 attackers had been granted bail, one Ahmadi remained imprisoned on murder charges, and the mosque remained sealed. Following an attack on an Ahmadiyya procession in central Punjab in late 2016, Ahmadiyya leaders reported the community undertook no processions in 2017, on the grounds the government’s policies created conditions where Ahmadis could not safely hold processions or publicly congregate.

The government continued to deny citizens, regardless of religious affiliation, the right to travel to Israel. Representatives of the Bahai community said this policy particularly affected them because of the location of the Bahai World Center – the spiritual and administrative center of the community – in Israel.

On December 25, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa attended a Christmas celebration at a church in Rawalpindi and expressed appreciation for the role Christians played in the country’s public institutions and armed forces.

During an April gathering to celebrate the Hindu observance of Holi, then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the practice of forced conversions and affirmed the constitution guaranteed equal rights for members of all religious communities.

The government continued to permit non-Muslim foreign missionary activity and to allow missionaries to proselytize as long as they did not preach against Islam and they acknowledged they were not Muslim. The government stated on its immigration website that it continued to grant visas to foreign missionaries valid from two to five years and allowed two entries into the country per year, although only “replacement” visas for those taking the place of departing missionaries were available for missionaries seeking to enter the country for the first time. Non-Muslim missionaries, some of whom had been working in the country for many years, however, were either denied visas, only given four-month extensions, or received no response from immigration authorities before their visas expired. Others were allowed to remain in country while appeals of their denials were pending.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

There continued to be violence and abuses committed by armed sectarian groups connected to organizations banned by the government, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (previously referred to as Sipah-e-Sahaba), as well as abuses by individuals and groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and other governments, such as ISIL-K. Data on sectarian attacks varied, as there was no standardized definition of what constituted a sectarian attack. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 231 persons were killed and 691 injured in 16 incidents of sectarian violence during the year. Civil society groups expressed ongoing concerns about the safety of religious minorities and urged the government to fully implement its National Action Plan to combat terrorism, as well as the Supreme Court’s June 2014 order regarding protection for members of religious minority groups.

On February 16, ISIS-K claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on the Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalander in Sehwan, Sindh, which killed at least 88 people and injured more than 200 during a religious activity. In November the media reported the authorities had arrested a suspect in connection with the attack.

Sectarian violent extremist groups continued to target Shia houses of worship, religious gatherings, religious leaders, and other individuals in attacks resulting in at least 112 persons killed during the year. Some organizations recorded upwards of 220 Shia killed in at least 18 sectarian incidents during the year.

Terrorist groups targeted markets three times in the Shia majority city of Parachinar, Kurram Agency, Federally Administered Tribal Agency. On January 21, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami and the TTP claimed responsibility for a bomb attack that killed 25 persons and injured 87. On March 31, a suicide attack for which Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), a Sunni splinter faction of the TTP, claimed responsibility killed 25 persons and injured more than 100. On June 24, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for bomb blasts that killed 67 persons and injured more than 200.

On November 29, gunmen killed two worshippers as they exited a Shia mosque in Islamabad. Lashkar-i-Jhangvi al-Alami claimed responsibility for the attack.

In another attack, claimed by ISIS-K on October 6, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the shrine of Pir Rakhyal Shah, which attracts both Sunni and Shia followers, in Jhal Magsi, Balochistan, killing 21 persons and injuring 24.

On December 17, suicide bombers killed nine and injured nearly 60 members of the Christian community in a terrorist attack on the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, Balochistan. One of the attackers blew himself up outside the church’s main hall, where hundreds of worshippers had gathered for Sunday service, and police officers providing security for the church shot and killed another attacker. This was the first attack on a church in the country claimed by ISIS-K.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Throughout the year, unidentified attackers targeted and killed Shia, Hazaras, and Ahmadis in attacks believed to be religiously motivated. The attackers’ relationship to organized terrorist groups was often unclear.

On February 26, unidentified assailants killed three members of the Shia community in Paroa, KP. Attacks against Shia members of the minority Hazara ethnic group increased over the past year. In at least five separate incidents, unidentified assailants targeted and killed at least 13 members of the Hazara community.

There were multiple instances of what appeared to be targeted killings of Ahmadiyya community members by unknown individuals. On March 30, gunmen killed an Ahmadi man riding on a motorbike in Nankana Sahib, Punjab; the man’s son was injured in the attack. On April 7, unidentified gunmen on a motorbike killed an Ahmadi man walking to a mosque in Lahore. On April 18, unidentified assailants robbed and killed a female Ahmadi professor from Punjab University in Lahore. On May 3, gunmen killed an Ahmadi man while he was returning home.

On October 9, gunmen killed an Ahmadi husband, wife, and their two-year-old son in their home. Police investigated the incident as a so-called honor killing allegedly carried out by the wife’s brother and his accomplices, who were angry she had married an Ahmadi man against her family’s wishes.

There were media reports of numerous incidents of societal violence related to allegations of blasphemy. In April three sisters killed a Shia man near Sialkot, Punjab, whom they had accused of committing blasphemy 13 years earlier. The victim had fled the country due to the blasphemy allegations, which his family said were due to his Shia faith, but had recently returned. Also in April in Chitral, Punjab, a mob severely beat a man inside a mosque whom they said had made blasphemous remarks. The mosque’s imam, fearing for the man’s life, handed him over to the police, who filed blasphemy charges against him. In August two assailants in Tando Adam, Sindh, killed an intellectually disabled man who had been acquitted on blasphemy charges due to his condition; authorities arrested and investigated the perpetrators who confessed to killing him because he had committed blasphemy. Also in August near Wazirabad, Punjab, a mob gathered outside a police station after authorities arrested an 18-year-old Christian for allegedly burning pages of the Quran outside a shrine. Police moved the teenager to another police station and charged him with blasphemy.

In August a Muslim student in Burewala beat to death 17-year-old Sheron Masih, who was the only Christian in his grade level; Masih had complained of bullying. Police reportedly filed charges against several of the students.

Throughout the year, Islamic organizations with varying degrees of political affiliation held rallies and other events to support the doctrine of the finality of the Prophet Muhammad. The events, which were often covered by English and vernacular media, featured anti-Ahmadiyya rhetoric, including the incitement of violence against Ahmadis. Ahmadis continued to report widespread societal harassment and discrimination against members of their community, especially after the TLP protests in October and November.

The 2016 execution of Mumtaz Qadri, who was convicted of killing then-governor of Punjab Province Salman Taseer in 2011 after Taseer publicly criticized the country’s blasphemy laws, continued to elicit protests from some religious groups. In its 2015 verdict confirming Qadri’s death sentence, the Supreme Court stated criticism of the blasphemy laws was not blasphemy itself and vigilante violence was unacceptable. On January 4, police arrested 160 persons at a rally in Lahore celebrating Qadri’s assassination of Taseer. In March thousands of persons gathered at Qadri’s grave, which his family had turned into a shrine, to observe his death anniversary. Throughout the year, supporters visited the shrine to pay tribute to Qadri.

Reports continued of attempts to coerce religious minorities to convert to Islam. Rights activists reported victims of forced marriage and conversion were pressured and threatened into saying publicly they had entered into the marriage of their own free will. Christian and Hindu organizations stated that girls from their communities were particularly vulnerable to forced conversions. In April according to Christian activist organizations, a 14-year-old Christian girl was abducted by a police officer, held for four months in Hafizabad, Punjab, and forcibly converted to Islam. With the assistance of civil society organizations, the family won back custody of her. A criminal case against the girl’s abductor was pending at year’s end.

According to press reports, on June 6, four armed men kidnapped at gunpoint a Hindu teenager in Mirpukhas, Sindh. On June 8, the girl’s parents led a protest demanding her return and alleging the kidnappers were receiving protection from politically-connected individuals in the locality. At year’s end, the case was ongoing, and civil society organizations believed the girl remained in the custody of her kidnappers.

Christian activists continued to report widespread discrimination against Christians in private employment. They said Christians had difficulty finding jobs other than those involving menial labor; some advertisements for menial jobs even specified they were open only to Christian applicants.

Observers reported that some coverage in the English-language media of issues facing religious minorities had improved, but that journalists continued to face threats for covering these issues. In June Rana Tanweer, a journalist who covered minority rights issues for the newspaper Express Tribune, survived an assassination attempt when an assailant tried to run him over with a car; Tanweer escaped with a broken leg. A month earlier, according to Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, Tanweer’s landlord received a call from someone who pressured him to evict Tanweer for his alleged “anti-Islam” stance. Several days later, someone spray-painted a message on Tanweer’s home that read, “Qadiani supporter Rana Tanweer is an unbeliever who deserved to be killed.”

Observers reported that Urdu-language media continued to show bias in reporting on minority religious groups, including multiple instances in which media used inflammatory language or made inappropriate references to minorities. Throughout the year commentators on private television channels and editorials in the vernacular press stated Ahmadis were “deserving of death” and labelled the community “enemies of Pakistan” and “blasphemers.” For example, on October 3, Orya Maqbool Jaan said on his program on the private Neo TV channel that Ahmadis could be beheaded with impunity.

Human rights and religious freedom activists and members of minority religious groups reported they continued to be hesitant to speak in favor of religious tolerance because of the societal climate of intolerance and fear. Some activists reported receiving death threats because of their work.

There continued to be reports of attacks on religious minorities’ holy places, cemeteries, and religious symbols, which police failed to prevent. According to media reports, an unidentified assailant threw a hand grenade in a church in Quetta, Balochistan, on October 7. No congregants were injured in the attack; there were no arrests for the incident by year’s end.

In September the Pakistan Ulema Council, dominated by clerics from the Deobandi movement within Sunni Islam, issued a code of conduct for Muharram. The code of conduct specifically condemned sectarianism and urged the Sunni community to respect Shia processions around the Ashura holiday.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, consuls general, embassy officers, and visiting senior U.S. officials met with government officials, including from the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministries of Human Rights and Law and Justice, to discuss blasphemy law reform; curriculum reform in the public and madrassah education systems; the need for better protection of members of Shia, Ahmadiyya, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, and other religious minority communities; pending legislation; interfaith dialogue; sectarian relations; and religious tolerance.

In August the Secretary of State raised concerns about the country’s enforcement of the blasphemy laws and the rights of members of the Ahmadiyya community in public remarks during the release of the 2016 International Religious Freedom Report.

Following the February attacks on the Lal Shahbaz Qalander shrine, the Department of State condemned the attacks during a press briefing and extended condolences to the victims and their families. In June the White House and the Department of State both condemned terrorist attacks in Quetta and the Shia majority city of Parachinar. In October the Department of State condemned the attack on the Jhal Magsi shrine in Balochistan. In December the Department of State condemned the attack on Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta.

In March the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South and Central Asia visited Islamabad and Karachi and met with religious minority community representatives, parliamentarians, members of the Office of the Prime Minister and the federal cabinet, and human rights attorneys. The Special Advisor highlighted concerns over attacks by violent extremists against members of religious minorities, the enforcement of blasphemy laws, and discrimination against Ahmadi Muslims.

In April the Consul General in Karachi, Sindh – the country’s most religiously diverse province – toured Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and Sikh places of worship to promote interfaith engagement. Following the tour, the Consul General held a roundtable discussion for local religious leaders to discuss interfaith dialogue and the rights of religious minorities.

The Ambassador and other embassy officers convened groups of civil society and legal experts to discuss the impact of the country’s blasphemy laws on both minority and Muslim communities and avenues for engagement by U.S. government representatives. Embassy officers met with civil society leaders, experts, and journalists to stress the need to end sectarian violence and protect the rights of religious minorities. They also met with leaders of religious communities, NGOs, and legal experts working on religious freedom issues to discuss ways to increase religious tolerance and dialogue. U.S. Department of State programs on religious freedom helped to promote peacebuilding among religious and community leaders, enhance protections for the legal rights of religious minorities, develop more pluralistic educational materials, and counter sectarianism.

On December 22, 2017, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.


Executive Summary

The constitution protects freedom of religion and states the government shall consider the religious beliefs of society and form cooperative relations with the Roman Catholic Church and other religious faiths. The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See that grants the Roman Catholic Church special benefits not available to other groups. Organizations representing Protestants, Muslims, and Jews also have agreements with the state, providing them with benefits. Other groups lack agreements but receive some benefits if registered with the government. Registration is not required. In November the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) issued its 2016 annual report on religious freedom, which cited concerns of religious groups over such issues with the government as equal treatment and access to state institutions, access to religious education in schools, and responses to attacks on religious sentiment and incitement to hatred. As of July the government had granted citizenship to approximately 1,091 descendants of Jews the country expelled in 1492. A court upheld a ban on the wearing of the hijab by prisoners. Protestant religious leaders said regional and local governments applied unfair regulations, which could potentially close some churches or prevent the opening of others. The Muslim community in Getafe had to repurpose its mosque for non-worship activities after the city threatened to close it for building code violations. The Muslim and Jewish communities reported progress with municipalities over cemetery access; several cities signed agreements to expand or establish new cemeteries for these communities, although none had implemented the agreements by year’s end. Leaders of other religious groups said the state favored Catholicism, allowing citizens to allocate part of their taxes to the Catholic Church or charities, but not other religions, and paying pensions to retired Catholic priests. In November the Supreme Court ruled the state should relax government pension eligibility requirements for Protestant pastors. The decision applied to Protestants only, not other religious groups. The MOJ began to compile a list of recognized religious clergy authorized to perform legal ceremonies such as marriages. The government began outreach to Muslim leaders and youth to combat radicalization and religious discrimination and promote religious freedom and integration. The Barcelona city government initiated a program to combat anti-Islamic sentiment, the first such program in the country.

There were incidents of assaults, threats, and incitement to violence against Muslims and Jews during the year, including attacks on four Moroccan children in two separate incidents, which resulted in injuries. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience (OLRC), there were 100 religiously motivated hate crimes during the year, eight fewer than in 2016, 74 percent of which were against Christians. Crimes included three incidents of violence, threats, and vandalism. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) documented 47 incidents of hate crimes with religious motivations in 2016, compared with 70 in 2015. Citizens’ Platform against Islamophobia, an NGO, reported 573 anti-Muslim incidents in 2016, compared with 278 the previous year. There were reports of anti-Semitic discrimination at universities, and anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements in social media and public speech continued. There were reports of vandalism of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic facilities; Islamic facilities were particular targets after August 17-18 terrorist attacks in Catalonia. The government prosecuted several cases of religiously motivated hate crimes that occurred in the previous year.

U.S. embassy and consulate officials met regularly with the MOJ’s Office of Religious Affairs and the governmental Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation (the Foundation). Topics discussed included anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, anticlerical sentiment, the failure of some regional governments to comply with legal requirements pertaining to equal treatment of religious groups, concerns about societal discrimination against religious minorities, access to religious education and cemeteries for religious groups, and pensions for clergy. The consulate general in Barcelona supported the creation of a national network of young Muslim leaders that discussed problems of identity, relations with security forces, prevention of radicalization, Islamic education, and other issues important to Muslim youth. In June the embassy hosted an iftar at which the Charge d’Affaires introduced the new network to national government officials. The embassy supported the formation of a group of former participants of U.S. exchange programs, which included Muslims, members of the security forces, and academics, and helped the group win a Department of State grant in July to improve government-Muslim community relations, including promoting respect for religious freedom and reducing religious discrimination. As part of the initiative, the group held the first of seven planned sessions around the country on October 20-21 in Madrid, and held roundtable discussions at a conference on December 18 at the Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 49.0 million (July 2017 estimate). According to a survey conducted in July by the governmental Center for Sociological Research, 68.8 percent of respondents identified themselves as Catholic, and 2.2 percent as followers of other religious groups. In addition, 15.7 percent described themselves as “nonbelievers,” 10.2 percent as atheists, and the remaining 3.1 percent did not answer the question.

The (Catholic) Episcopal Conference of Spain estimates there are 32.6 million Catholics. The Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities (FEREDE) estimates there are 1.7 million Protestants, 900,000 of whom are immigrants. The Union of Islamic Communities of Spain (UCIDE), the largest member organization of the Islamic Commission of Spain (CIE), estimates there are 1.9 million Muslims, while other Islamic groups estimate a population of up to two million. The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE) estimates there are 40,000 Jews. According to the Episcopal Orthodox Assembly, there are 900,000 Orthodox Christians; the Jehovah’s Witnesses report 113,000 members; the Federation of Buddhist Communities estimates there are 85,000 Buddhists; and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) cites 54,000 members. Other religious groups include Christian Scientists, other Christian groups, Bahais (approximately 12,000), Scientologists (11,000 members), and Hindus. The regions of Catalonia, Andalusia, and Madrid, and the exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa contain the highest percentage of non-Christians, nearly 50 percent in each of those two cities.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion and guarantees freedom of religion and worship for individuals and communities, but allows limits on expression if “necessary to maintain public order.” According to the Foundation, reasons would include overcrowding in small facilities or public spaces. A law restricts public protest, but authorities have not used it or the constitutional limits on expression against religious groups.

The constitution states no one may be compelled to testify about his or her religion or beliefs. The constitution also states, “No religion shall have a state character;” but “public authorities shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and consequently maintain appropriate cooperative relations with the Catholic Church and other denominations.” The Catholic Church is the only religious group explicitly mentioned in the constitution.

The government does not require religious groups to register, but registering confers religious groups with certain legal benefits. Groups registered in the MOJ’s Registry of Religious Entities have the right to autonomy; may buy, rent, and sell property; and may act as a legal entity in civil proceedings. Registration entails completing forms available on the MOJ’s website and providing notarized documentation of the foundational and operational statutes of the religious group, its legal representatives, territorial scope, religious purposes, and address. Any persons or groups have the right to practice their religion whether or not registered as a religious entity.

Registration with the MOJ and notorio arraigo (“deeply rooted” or permanent) status allows groups to establish bilateral cooperation agreements with the state. The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See, which is executed in part by the Episcopal Conference. The government also has cooperation agreements with FEREDE, which represents Protestants, CIE, which represents Muslims, and FCJE, which represents Jews. These agreements are legally binding and provide the religious groups with certain tax exemptions, the ability to buy and sell property, open a house of worship, and conduct other legal business; grant civil validity to the weddings they perform; and permit them to place teachers in schools and chaplains in hospitals, the military, and prisons. Groups with cooperation agreements are also eligible for independently administered government grants.

The agreement with the Holy See covers legal, educational, cultural, and economic affairs; religious observance by members of the armed forces; and the military service of clergy and members of religious orders. The later cooperative agreements with FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE cover the same issues.

Registered groups who wish to sign cooperative agreements with the state must acquire notorio arraigo status through the MOJ. To achieve this status, groups must have an unspecified “relevant” number of followers; a presence in the country for at least 30 years; and a “level of diffusion” that the MOJ considers demonstrates a “social presence,” not further defined. Groups must also submit documentation demonstrating the group is religious in nature to the MOJ’s Office of Religious Affairs, which maintains the Register of Religious Entities.

The Episcopal Conference deals with the government on behalf of the entire Catholic community. Per the state’s 1979 agreement with the Holy See, individual Catholic dioceses and parishes are not required to register with the government. In addition to FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Federation of Buddhist Communities (FCBE), Mormons, and the Orthodox Church are registered religions with notorio arraigo status. New religious communities may register directly with the MOJ, or religious associations may register on their behalf.

If the MOJ considers an applicant for registration not to be a religious group, the group may be included in the Register of Associations maintained by the MOI. Inclusion in the Register of Associations grants legal status, but offers no other benefits. Registration itself simply lists the association and its history in the government’s database. Registration as an association is a precursor to requesting that the government deem the association to be of public benefit, which affords the same tax benefits as charities, including exemption from income tax and taxes on contributions. For such a classification, the association must be registered for two years and maintain a net positive fiscal balance.

The government funds religious services within the prison system for Catholic and Muslim groups. Examples of religious services include Sunday Catholic Mass, Catholic confession, and Friday Muslim prayer. The cooperation agreements of FCJE and FEREDE with the government do not include this provision; these groups provide religious services in prisons but at their own expense. Other religious groups registered as religious entities with the MOJ may provide services at their own expense during visiting hours upon the request of prisoners.

The regions of Madrid and Catalonia have agreements with several religious groups which have accords with the national government that permit activities such as providing religious assistance in hospitals and prisons under regional jurisdiction. According to the MOJ, these subnational agreements may not contradict the principles of the federal agreements, which take precedence. The Catalan government has agreements with Catholics, FEREDE, and CIE. The Madrid region has agreements with Catholics, FEREDE, FCJE, and CIE.

The government guarantees religious workers of groups with cooperative agreements with the state access to refugee centers, known as Foreign Internment Centers, so that these groups may provide direct assistance to their followers in the centers. According to the MOJ, other religious practitioners may enter the internment centers upon request.

Military rules and prior signed agreements allow religious military funerals for Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, should the family of the deceased request it. Other religious groups may conduct religious funerals upon request.

The government recognizes religious marriages for all religious communities that have notorio arraigo status, not only those that have a specific agreement with the state.

Religious groups must apply to local governments for a license to open a place of worship, as with other establishments intended for public use. Requirements for licenses vary from municipality to municipality. The MOJ states documentation required is usually the same as other business establishments seeking to open a venue for public use and includes information such as architectural plans and maximum capacity. Religious groups must also inform the MOJ after opening new places of worship.

Local governments are obligated to consider requests for use of public land to open a place of worship. If a municipality decides to deny such a request after weighing factors such as availability and value added to the community, the city council must explain its decision to the requesting party.

As outlined in agreements with religious groups, the government provides funding for salaries for teachers for Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic instruction in public schools when at least 10 students request it. The Jewish community is also eligible for government funding for Jewish instructors but has declined public school Judaism education. The courses are not mandatory. Those students who elect not to take religious education courses are required to take an alternative course covering general social, cultural, and religious themes. The development of curricula and the financing of teachers for religious education is the responsibility of the regional governments, with the exception of Andalusia, Aragon, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, and the two autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, which leave the curricula and financing of education to the national government in accordance with their individual regional statutes. Religious groups that have an agreement with the state are responsible for providing a list of approved teachers for their particular religion. Either the national Ministry of Education (MOE) or the regional entity responsible for education certifies teachers’ credentials.

Autonomous regions develop the requirements for religious education instructors. For example, prospective instructors must provide personal data, proof that the educational authority of the region where they are applying to work has never dismissed them, a degree as required by the region, and any other requirement as stipulated by the religious association to which they correspond. The associations are required to provide a list of approved instructors to the government. MOE-approved guidelines, prepared by the CIE, stress “moderate Islam” in worship practices, with emphasis on plurality, understanding, religious tolerance, conflict resolution, and coexistence. Instructors are also required to have a certificate of training in Islamic education.

Catholic clergy may include time spent on missions abroad in calculations for social security, and to claim retirement pension credit for a maximum of 38.5 years of service. Protestant clergy are eligible to receive social security benefits, including health insurance and a government-provided retirement pension with a maximum credit of 15 years of service, but pension eligibility requirements for these clergy are stricter than for Catholic clergy. The law allows Protestant ministers to count towards retirement time worked prior to 1999, the date of a prior decree, only if these pastors adjusted their status in 1999 and does not allow Protestant pastors to claim retirement credit for time worked abroad. Protestant pastors must also pay back pension contributions in one lump sum rather than via monthly salary deductions as Catholic clergy do. Clergy from the Russian Orthodox Church, CIE, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are also eligible for social security benefits. The benefits for clergy from these groups depend on the specific terms of separate social security agreements that each of these groups negotiated with the state.

The penal code definition of hate crimes includes acts of “humiliation or disrespect” against victims because of their religion, with penalties of one to four years in jail. By law authorities may also investigate and prosecute criminal offenses committed by neo-Nazi groups as “terrorist crimes.” Genocide denial is a crime if it incites violent attitudes, such as aggressive, threatening behavior or language.

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

Government Practices

Summary paragraph: In November the MOJ issued its 2016 annual report on religious freedom in the country, which had the stated objective of gathering data on problems as a starting point to resolving them. The report cited concerns of religious groups, including seeking authorization to provide services in hospitals, prisons, refugee centers, and the military and equal treatment in establishing and retaining places of worship. Several groups complained about obstacles to providing religious education in schools. Groups said they received unequal benefits and treatment from the government. Multiple groups asked the government to be more responsive to offenses against religious sentiment and incitement to hatred. FEREDE criticized the report because it lacked a plan of action. The Foundation worked to educate local governments on their responsibilities towards minority religious groups. Between January and July the government granted citizenship to 1,091 descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in 1492. A court upheld a regulation banning prisoners from wearing the hijab. Protestant leaders expressed concerns about difficulties in obtaining permits to operate or build places of worship. Jews and Muslims had still not obtained access to additional land for cemeteries, although they said they had made some progress. Muslims stated there were not enough Muslim religious teachers in public schools and cited discrimination against women wearing hijabs. Religious minorities called for the government to allow their members to allocate a portion of their taxes to their churches in the same way that Catholics could. The MOJ began compiling a list of recognized religious clergy who could perform religious acts with civic impact, such as marriages. The MOI launched an outreach effort to Muslims to seek their collaboration in combating religious discrimination and integrating the Muslim community.

The interagency Religious Freedom Advisory Committee, led by the minister of justice, continued to hold plenary and standing committee sessions to review issues pertaining to religious freedom in the country. The committee comprised representatives from the Office of the Presidency; the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Interior, Education, Employment, and Health; academics; and religious leaders from the Catholic Church, FEREDE, FCJE, CIE, the Mormon Church, the Federation of Buddhist Communities, and the Orthodox Church. It had working groups to address the following issues: the annual report on the status of religious freedom in the country, issued by the MOJ and approved by the committee; the establishment of places of worship; the scheduling of school exams on religious holidays and establishment of dress codes in public administration employment; cemeteries for minority faiths; and religious dietary requirements.

FEREDE executive secretary Mariano Blazquez said he was the only committee member to withhold his signature on the 2015 and 2016 reports by the MOJ on the state of religious freedom in the country. Blazquez said he had withheld his signature because the reports lacked a plan of action. Citing Article 9 of the constitution, he stated that the state failed to protect the liberty and equality of the individual by not acting on the problems described in the report. FEREDE, according to the religious freedom report, recommended the committee undertake its own analysis of the state of religious freedom in the country and make its own proposals for advancing religious freedom. Commenting on the 2015 report, the director of the NGO Movement Against Intolerance, Esteban Ibarra, said the government attributed little importance to the commission due to internal strife within the group. A Foundation representative, however, stated the government valued the contributions of the commission.

The Barcelona Prosecutor Against Hate Crimes and Discrimination, Miguel Angel Aguilar, distributed a manual on investigating and prosecuting hate crimes, including religiously motivated crimes, for the Catalan region’s penal judges and prosecutors and to all the hate crimes prosecutors in the country. The manual defined hate crimes and the obstacles to prosecuting such crimes and cited best practices. It called for more training, greater institutional coordination, the updating of protocols, and the tracking of statistics. Officials used the manual in administering training for judges, legal aides, law enforcement, academics, and others.

Movement Against Intolerance Director Ibarra stated authorities should apply the criminal code pertaining to hate crimes, including religiously motivated crimes, more widely. He criticized public prosecutors and police, saying they were not prepared to combat intolerance.

On November 7, the Madrid Municipal Police Diversity Management Unit opened a headquarters office, staffed by 32 agents, to respond to victims and pursue criminal complaints related to hate crimes, including religiously motivated crimes. The launch was accompanied by an awareness campaign to fight hate crimes in the capital and encourage victims to report them.

The Foundation informed local governments of the rights of minority religious groups and the governments’ responsibilities toward those groups, especially in cases of local regulations or restrictions interfering with the right to worship. It also provided local governments with research about religious communities, met with religious leaders, fostered dialogue between municipalities and local religious leaders, and provided lists of local places of worship and religious cemeteries for Jewish and Islamic burial. The Foundation completed rounds of legal assistance with eight municipalities during the year, including the cities of Santander, Logrono, Albacete, Guadalajara, and Toledo. Movement Against Intolerance Director Ibarra described the Foundation’s role as “weak,” suggesting it could do more to combat anti-Islamic sentiment with public information campaigns.

FCJE Director Carolina Aisen reported implementation of the law allowing descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in 1492 the right to gain citizenship ran more smoothly during the year, following prior technical problems with the online application. According to Aisen, who said she met monthly with the MOJ to discuss progress, 1,091 Sephardi descendants had obtained citizenship between January and July, compared with only one in all of 2016. Approximately 5,000 Sephardis had started the application process. Applicants were from more than 100 countries, with the bulk of recent applicants coming from Venezuela. Other applicants were from Israel, other countries in Latin America, and the United States. The Jewish community said burdensome financial and administrative requirements, such as a requirement to self-fund a trip to the country for the personal interview, reduced the response to the law. Aisen said MOJ officials had assured her the law would be extended beyond its scheduled 2019 expiration date.

The Office of Religious Affairs continued to maintain an online portal for information about registered minority religious groups to aid new immigrants or citizens moving into a community to find his or her locally registered religious community and place of worship. The MOJ reported the tool provided no personally identifiable information and abided by the information protection law.

Religious groups reported progress with state and local governments to accommodate the needs of religious minorities in hospitals, the military, and public cemeteries, according to representatives of FCJE, CIE and UCIDE’s Andalusian Observatory, and FEREDE. According to the MOJ’s 2016 report on religious freedom, however, FEREDE, FCJE, and the Romanian Orthodox Church all called on the government to guarantee or facilitate access for all religious groups so they could provide religious services in such locations as hospitals, penitentiaries, refugee centers, and in the armed forces.

In July the National Court prohibited a Muslim prisoner, Soukaina Aboudrar, from wearing the hijab in jail. The court stated the prohibition did not violate her right to religious freedom. Citing security concerns at penitentiaries, the court said the hijab “…only leaves visible a reduced part of the face, which makes identification difficult, going against security protocols, and the possibility of hiding prohibited objects.” The court also based the prohibition in part on “the use made by the prisoner of such garment as a jihadist claim in the work of radicalization of other inmates of her own religion, as appears from the reports.” The court left the door open to wearing a veil smaller than a hijab. The case set a precedent for similar cases that might arise in the future, according to media reports. In an agreement with prosecutors in July, Aboudrar pled guilty to being a member of ISIS and received a three-year prison sentence.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, several groups cited local government restrictions on their ability to proselytize or manifest their faith in public spaces. FEREDE said religious group members had received fines and penalties for carrying out religious activities in public or distributing leaflets with religious content. According to FEREDE, city councils were increasingly willing to restrict these actions through their municipal bylaws. As an example, it cited the Huelva City Council, which in 2016 excluded religious bodies from using public municipal spaces. In addition, according to the report, Mormons said their missionaries faced obstacles in disseminating their ideas through banners or stalls at book fairs. Jehovah’s Witnesses cited some problems in preaching in public spaces, although they said the number of city councils placing obstacles had decreased.

Protestants stated again that city governments imposed burdensome and unequal regulations on religious groups seeking licenses or permits for places of worship. FEREDE Executive Secretary Blazquez said obtaining city permits to construct new churches or keep current churches open, especially in Madrid, remained a challenge. FEREDE estimated that about half its places of worship did not have a permit because the process of obtaining one was so difficult. For example, FEREDE stated its churches must meet the same soundproofing building codes as nightclubs. Blazquez said this requirement was too burdensome for new churches and put existing ones at risk of closure.

The government’s report on religious freedom cited a call by FEREDE for the government to take into account the needs of religious groups when engaging in urban planning to ensure all religious groups received equal treatment in the establishment of places of worship. According to the report, FCJE asked for clear norms to guarantee religious groups the right to open places of worship, while CIE called for the government to take steps to overcome obstacles to the opening of mosques. The report also stated FCBE outlined a need for legislative action to protect minority religious groups from forced expulsion from, or expropriation of, places of worship.

Muslim and Jewish communities reported improved collaboration with municipalities over cemetery access and establishment, although no new cemeteries were opened or expanded to include access during the year. CIE negotiated a 108,000 square-foot parcel of the Carabanchel Cemetery in Madrid for Islamic burials, and was in final negotiations at year’s end regarding maintenance costs before interment could begin. CIE reported Muslims could already receive a religious burial at Grinon Cemetery in Madrid. CIE reported there still were no Islamic cemeteries in the regions of Galicia and Extremadura. FCJE reached agreement with the cities of Valencia and Alicante under which the cities would provide Jewish cemeteries. FCBE President Luis Morente said an agreement reached with the government in 2016 for refrigerating bodies prior to Tibetan burials in order to abide by health regulations was functioning well.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, FCJE said there was still room for improvement in its access to parcels of land for use as burial plots, and the CIE called for regulations governing burials without coffins and the granting of land parcels for Islamic burials in municipal cemeteries.

In July the city of Getafe threatened to close the local mosque for building code violations, citing overcrowding on prayer days because of the growth of the Muslim community. After negotiations with CIE and the Foundation, the city and local Muslim community agreed to repurpose the building for activities other than worship, such as religious education, where participants would not exceed the maximum building capacity. Muslims were reportedly worshipping at another location in the city.

The Catalan Muslim community stated the Barcelona city government supported the building of a mosque, unlike in previous years, when there was both local and neighborhood opposition to a mosque. The Muslim community, however, lacked the necessary funding. Both city and regional government officials said that, as with other religious groups, the Muslim community was responsible for raising the necessary funding to buy land and build the mosque and submitting a request to the city.

Regional commitments to provide religious education to minorities, as prescribed in 1992 agreements, remained problematic, according to Gabriel Jairodin Riaza, the author of the annual report on Islamophobia in Spain by the Andalusian Observatory, an NGO under UCIDE auspices. He said that whether a region fulfilled its obligation to provide religious education to children depended on the will of local politicians. Riaza also stated that some politicians deliberately stalled Muslim initiatives by, for example, failing to contract Islamic education instructors.

Jairodin stated the fundamental problem with the regional governments’ failure to provide Islamic education instructors was difficulty in implementing the national protocol for collecting the minimum of 10 requests from parents for religious education. The NGO Al Ihsan Women’s Association in Melilla reportedly met with the provincial education director in the city in 2016 to discuss religious education. It then educated Muslim parents of their rights under the law to request religious education in secondary schools. The NGO’s director, Mimuntz Mohamed Hammu, said more than 10 requests were submitted in each of the city’s seven secondary schools; in every case, the school refused to receive the letters, stating it did not have necessary authorization from the provincial education office of the MOE. Mohamed said the provincial education director had not yet responded to a formal letter of complaint.

Federal and regional governments employed 56 Islamic education instructors nationwide, according to CIE, which certified teachers. CIE stated this number only allowed for religious education for 20 percent of the Muslim students whose parents desired such education for their children. CIE again emphasized the need to extend Islamic education to secondary schools, targeting adolescent Muslims, who it said otherwise sought answers about Islam on the internet and might become susceptible to radical influences. CIE Secretary Mohamed Ajana commended the region of Castille and Leon for adding five Islamic education instructors during the year. The MOJ said it worked with CIE to intercede with regional governments that were not providing Islamic education instructors, helping to forge agreements that avoided costly and lengthy court battles.

On November 3, a Muslim family won an appeal of a suit filed in 2016 on behalf of a group of Muslim students against the region of La Rioja for not providing Islamic education in public schools. The La Rioja High Court ruled the regional education authority was required to provide religious education to the students, overturning a lower court decision in April in favor of the local government, which stated the CIE had failed to provide a list of instructors. Muslim leaders stated the region of La Rioja had long opposed providing Islamic education in public schools. Before the higher court decision in November, the MOJ said it had mediated between the CIE and the La Rioja education counselor after the April ruling. It stated the region had expressed willingness to incorporate Islamic religious instruction in schools. The region would pay for the instructors and use the national government’s Islamic education curriculum.

The MOJ’s report on religious freedom also cited complaints by several religious groups, including the Catholic Church, FEREDE, FCJE, and CIE, about the inability to provide religious education and the integration of religious teachers in schools.

Holocaust education in secondary school curricula continued to expand in accordance with an MOE mandate contained in two existing royal decrees. The subject was included in fourth-year compulsory geography and history class and first-year contemporary history of the world class. Jewish community members, however, described the Holocaust education provided in public schools as inadequate, especially in regions outside Madrid. Regional governments compiled Holocaust and Sephardi history curricula with input from the FCJE and the MOE.

Approximately 40 teachers from across Spain whose responsibilities included Holocaust and Sephardi education traveled to Jerusalem in July using funds from the state-supported cultural center “Centro Sefarad-Israel”, the MOE, and the Madrid regional government. They completed coursework at the study center of the Israel Museum of the Holocaust to enhance their classroom instruction. Centro Sefarad-Israel said more than 600 instructors had taken part in the program.

FEREDE said that because of the stricter pension eligibility requirements for Protestant ministers, no retired Protestant clergy member had yet been able to access a government pension. In November the Supreme Court ruled in favor of FEREDE in a suit the group had filed in 2015, protesting the unequal pension eligibility requirements. The court decreed FEREDE clergy should be eligible for pensions under the same terms as Catholic priests. The ruling was not retroactive to clergy who were already retired and applied only to Protestant ministers. FEREDE said it hoped government promises to modify the law in the wake of the Supreme Court decision would rectify the pension problem for both its retired and active clergy.

Representatives of FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE stated they did not receive all of the benefits to which they were entitled under their cooperative agreements with the government. Mormons, according to the MOJ report on religious freedom, said groups with notorio arraigo status, but which had no cooperative agreement with the government, did not receive the same benefits, such as tax exemptions and the right to provide religious assistance and instruction in public institutions, as religious groups that had concluded such agreements. FCBE and the Romanian Orthodox Church also noted the disparate treatment in tax exemptions, according to the report.

Protestant representatives stated the government favored Catholicism over other religious groups in various practices, including by permitting citizens to allocate 0.7 percent of their taxes due to the Church. The tax designation yielded an estimated 250 million euros ($300 million) in annual donations to the Catholic Church, according to news reports.

Equal opportunity to allocate a portion of an individual’s taxes to a chosen religious group remained an issue of debate; several religious groups, including Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, and Mormons, continued to express their desire to have their groups included on the tax form so they could be eligible to receive the 0.7 percent allocation from taxpayers. In June during the Second University Conference of the Association of Young Researchers on Religious Sciences, representatives of FEREDE and FCJE stated they did not oppose the voluntary income tax payments to the Catholic Church, but would like to see the same benefit provided to minority religious groups. FEREDE Executive Secretary Blazquez said, “It is better to collect through the income taxes box than through a direct assignment. Evangelicals [i.e., Protestants] do not want that money to be used to pay pastors’ salaries, but for solidarity activities.” FEREDE said possible uses of such revenue could include support for a food bank, residences for victims of violence or refugees, worker training programs, and social reinsertion programs for ex-convicts. Isaac Querub, president of FCJE, said, “I do not mind the tax allocation to the [Catholic] Church, since 90 percent of Spaniards are Catholics, but the same allocation should be studied for Jews.”

Religious groups said government support for social programs through the Foundation was inadequate. Religious representative bodies, including FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE, indicated that they depended on governmental support through the Foundation (70 percent of their operating budget or more) to cover administrative and infrastructure costs. The Foundation had a budget of 1.4 million euros ($1.7 million) to support religious groups. Of the total budget, 900,000 euros ($1.1 million) went to religious communities for social projects, down from 992,000 euros ($1.2 million) in 2016. Most of the grants (780,000 euros, or $936,000) went to the federations representing religious groups with agreements with the state (Jews, Muslims, and Protestants). Another 120,000 euros ($144,000), down from 200,000 euros ($240,000) in 2016, was divided into small grants of less than 5,000 euros ($6,000) awarded to dozens of local religious associations. According to the Foundation director, the 2016 grants were unusually large because they included carryover funds from winning projects not executed in 2015. Foundation grants to minority religious groups also funded projects promoting tolerance and dialogue, conferences on religious diversity, research about religious minorities, and cultural projects to increase knowledge of minority religious groups.

In June the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that certain tax exemptions to the Catholic Church might constitute unlawful state aid. The case involved a municipal tax refund a Catholic school was seeking in connection with the construction of a school building. The congregation filed a legal suit after local tax authorities denied the refund, and the courts referred the case to the ECJ. The ECJ declared that the tax exemption would use state resources to give a selective economic advantage to the congregation running the school. It referred the case back to Spanish courts to determine whether the exemption would meet the minimum threshold for unlawful state aid.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, the CIE asked the government to take steps to prevent discrimination against some Muslim women, particularly in schools and in the workplace, for wearing the hijab.

Members of the large Muslim community in the North African exclave of Ceuta reported widespread discrimination. A Muslim merchant in the Muslim-majority neighborhood of Principe opined that Catholics had limited the opportunities and influence of minorities so they could “take back Spain for Spaniards.” Representatives from the federal and city governments denied there was discrimination against Muslims. One government official said the two Muslim-majority political parties in Ceuta used a message of exclusion and victimization to rally supporters and extract political concessions.

In August the MOJ began working with religious entities to compile a list of clergy, including imams, to be included within a Register of Religious Entities. This would identify religious officials from all groups empowered to perform religious acts with civil effects, such as marriages. The new registry, completed in November, was a voluntary, comprehensive, and private list of all clergy belonging to religions with notorio arraigo status, according to the MOJ. The MOJ added that while contribution to the list was voluntary, groups were required to submit the names of clergy authorized to perform religious weddings with civil effects. CIE secretary Ajana said the list would protect believers by ensuring that imams were registered and the marriages they officiated were legal.

On September 6, the MOJ again denied the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Pastafarianism, recognition as a religious group. The group took its case against the MOJ to the national court, which has national jurisdiction and hears cases affecting more than one region. At year’s end the case was pending. The Office of Religious Affairs and the Foundation said the Church had never requested a meeting.

The Attorney General for Hate Crimes launched an investigation in January and initiated a legal process in October to determine the criminal responsibility of municipalities that supported the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, considered by FCJE as an Anti-Semitic movement. In November a district court in Seville issued a writ of interim injunction against the City Council of La Roda de Andalucia, suspending its participation in BDS, which it had joined in 2014. The court’s injunction was the result of a suit brought by the NGO The Lawfare Project in Spain.

On January 26, politicians on the city council of Valencia voted down a BDS motion introduced by the Valencia en Comu coalition. The anti-BDS NGO Action and Communication about the Middle East had told the council that participating in BDS proposals was illegal, based on convictions against those participating in similar actions in several other municipalities. Xeraco, a town of 6,000 inhabitants near Valencia, was under investigation by local prosecutors for BDS support. On January 26, Judicial Court 10 of Valencia halted Xeraco’s Israel boycott.

The Parliament of Catalonia approved a motion July 27 requesting the regional government to submit within 90 days an action plan to combat anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-Semitism. The government had not presented the plan by year’s end. Based on a 2016 report on the religious practices of Muslim communities in Barcelona, Mayor Ada Colau and the city administration announced a “Plan of Action against Islamophobia” on January 17 to address rising anti-Muslim sentiment. As part of the plan, the first of its kind in the country, municipal authorities conducted seminars and training and published educational materials to sensitize the population to anti-Muslim sentiment and its impact. The plan also outlined a communications campaign, in partnership with Muslim communities, to highlight anti-Islamic sentiment as a form of discrimination, but the city had not launched that campaign by year’s end.

In July the MOJ, the Foundation, and the Center for Intelligence Against Terrorism and Organized Crime (CITCO) held their first meeting with CIE leadership to explain the government’s National Plan Against Radicalization (PNCR). Although the central government announced the PNCR in 2015, it had implemented little programming under the plan since its passage, relying instead on local municipalities to implement their own counter-radicalization and community engagement measures with guidance from CITCO. The CIE offered to collaborate on radicalization detection and on the plan’s implementation, specifically offering religious sensitivity training to help rectify what it described as racial profiling by police at the local level. CIE Secretary Ajana said security forces often relied erroneously on aspects of physical appearance such as a beard, or the wearing of a hijab, as indicators of radicalization. By year’s end, the government had not responded to CIE’s offer to provide sensitivity training related to the PNCR. CIE confirmed it had longstanding programs to conduct such training for new Civil Guard cadets and UN Peacekeepers before their deployment.

On September 9, representatives from MOJ, the Foundation, and CITCO met with approximately 30 young Muslims in Madrid to discuss problems in the Muslim community and to explain the PNCR to Muslim youth. An MOJ official and the Foundation’s director said Muslim youth were able to share their opinions about the PNCR and discuss problems related to anti-Islamic sentiment, religious freedom, and preventing radicalization in their communities. The group included men and women ages 18-30 and converts to Islam. The CIE president later said he believed such meetings would be more effective if they targeted all youth, not just Muslim youth.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, FEREDE and FCJE called for greater neutrality on the part of the national and local governments in conducting certain official activities, for example by not organizing Catholic state funerals. FCBE called for better training of civil servants pertaining to the treatment of religious minorities under the law, for example in the registration of religious marriages. The report cited concerns by the Catholic Church of acts by local governments the Church considered to be anti-Catholic, for example, a prohibition against the celebration by police of a local patron saint’s feast day or the cancellation of religious festivities or limitations on Catholic liturgical acts.

On October 2, the national government, in collaboration with Menendez Pelayo International University, held a celebration in Cuenca to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of a 1992 state pact with leaders of the three principal minority religions: Judaism, Islam, and Protestantism. The all-day ceremony and workshops included participation by the government and religious leaders, including a roundtable discussing how to fully execute the 1992 accords and best practices in ensuring religious freedom.

In April Criminal Court 16 of Barcelona convicted Barcelona bookstore owner Pedro Varela of intellectual property crimes for selling Mein Kampf without authorization from the state of Bavaria, Germany. The court sentenced Varela to six months in prison and ordered him to pay Bavaria 67,637 euros ($81,200), the total profit obtained from the sale of the book. Varela had edited and sold more than 4,300 copies of the book between 1997 and 2010 through his bookstore in Barcelona and other establishments in the country and abroad. Authorities continued to investigate Varela on criminal charges that he sold books promoting religious hatred and discrimination. Authorities had arrested Varela and closed down his bookshop and websites in 2016, the first time the government had acted against a business in connection with religious hate crime charges. The judge and Barcelona Prosecutor Against Hate Crimes and Discrimination Miguel Angel Aguilar called Varela an active neo-Nazi. Varela remained free pending an appeal of his intellectual property violation conviction.

According to FCJE Director Aisen, while membership in ultra-right parties had not increased, the parties had gradually expanded their online and public presence, including through public meetings, marches, and statements in the press. She said that even though they had gradually increased incidents of hate speech – which included propagating anti-Semitic hate speech, writing, and cartoons through social media – her organization still viewed the parties as marginal. She said far-left parties were generally intolerant of the role of religion in any aspect of public life. Aisen emphasized the connection between anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism. She stated, however, that politicians had reduced their casual use of historical Spanish phrases that were critical of Jews. She added that police generally pursued violators of laws against religiously motivated hate speech.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, the Catholic Church stated the government was not responding to a growing number of attacks on Catholic religious sentiments as called for by law, while CIE recommended the government take measures to combat an increase in offenses against religious sentiment and hate crimes. The report also cited FEREDE’s call on the government to pay greater attention to a growing number of cases of offenses and incitement to hatred against Christianity, many of which involved vandalism, but that the government did not classify as religiously motivated, according to FEREDE.

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Summary paragraph: OLRC reported 100 hate crimes against Christians, Jews, and Muslims during the year, including three incidents of violence and 41 of vandalism, compared with 107 hate crimes in 2016, of which three involved violence and 39 vandalism. The MOI reported 47 hate crimes with religious motivation in 2016. NGO Citizens’ Platform against Islamophobia recorded 573 anti-Muslim incidents in 2016, an increase from previous years. In June police detained a woman for encouraging attacks against Jews on social media, and in December a court convicted two men of beating a pregnant woman wearing a niqab in Barcelona in 2016. Anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic discourse was prevalent in social media and public speech. In August more than 2,000 persons participated in a demonstration organized by Catalan Muslims to condemn terrorism.

OLRC reported 100 religiously motivated hate crimes during the year (eight fewer than in 2016), of which 74 were against Christians, 14 against Muslims, 11 against Jews, and one against believers in general. The most common type of crime was vandalism, with 41 incidents, but there were also two attacks against Muslims and one against a Christian. Fourteen crimes involved “humiliating individuals for their faith,” with 12 targeting Christians, one a Muslim, and one religious believers in general.

The MOI documented 47 incidents of hate crimes with religious motivations in 2016, the most recent year for which it had data, compared to 70 in 2015.

According to a report by Citizens’ Platform against Islamophobia published on August 27, the NGO recorded 573 anti-Muslim incidents in 2016, up from 278 in 2015 and 59 in 2014. The platform said it reported more incidents in 2016 because it had more volunteers and hence greater capacity to record incidents than in previous years. In addition, it stated incidents had increased as a result of terrorist attacks in Europe, the European refugee crisis, anti-Muslim rhetoric, media reports connecting Muslims to ISIS, and discriminatory discourse on social media by some politicians. The most frequent type of incidents, according to the platform, were online hate speech, at 22 percent, and discrimination against women wearing hijabs, at 19 percent. According to the NGO, the targets of the incidents were Muslims and Islam in general (284), women (81), children (23), refugees (31) and mosques (72).

The Andalusian Observatory’s yearly report on anti-Muslim sentiment in the country cited 27 anti-Muslim incidents in 2016. Incidents included verbal and physical abuse, graffiti, and hate speech via the internet.

In August a man attacked a 14-year-old Moroccan boy in Valencia. The aggressor kicked the boy in his left thigh and ribs, made death threats, and insisted that he return to his country. In the same month, two men assaulted three children of Moroccan origin who were participating in a rally at Fitero Town Hall in Navarre. While the children were participating in a moment of silence for victims of the Barcelona terror attack, the aggressors insulted and threatened them before pushing and hitting them on the head with a stick. One of the victims suffered a traumatic brain injury, head wounds, and chest trauma, and lost consciousness. The Civil Guard arrested two persons; the judge was investigating them for injuries, but ruled out prosecution for a hate crime. The accused were currently free pending the completion of the investigation.

In separate incidents in Palencia in August, a man harassed and insulted a woman of Maghreb origin in front of her young daughter and tried to remove her veil, and a man insulted a woman of Maghreb origin on a city street, according to press reports. The Palencia City Refugee Platform, a local NGO, denounced the incidents.

In December a court sentenced two men accused of beating and insulting a pregnant Muslim woman wearing a niqab in Barcelona in 2016 to a one-year suspended prison sentence. The court ordered the men to attend a human rights course and pay the victim 6,500 euros ($7,800) in compensation in lieu of serving their prison sentence.

In June the National Police in Zaragoza detained a woman for inciting attacks against Jews through social media, where she moderated an anti-Israel group with more than 2,000 subscribers. According to the authorities, the messages she sent encouraged killing Jews, with messages including, “stab the Jews,” and “Palestinian slaughter.”

In February the Civil Guard in the Region of Murcia detained two men who organized demonstrations in 2010 and 2011 that encouraged violence against Jews. The men’s social media profiles professed hatred towards the Jewish community and Israel.

According to FCJE director Aisen, some Jewish university students reported discrimination on campus, mainly with regard to conflict with pro-Palestinian student groups. She said that, as a result, some Jewish university students felt they had to conceal their religion.

Anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic discourse was prevalent in social media. In August following the Catalonia terrorist attacks, through the messaging tool WhatsApp, individuals urged a mobilization to ban mosques in the country, according to media reports. The hashtag “#StopIslam” became a trending topic on Twitter and the most commented topic on the day of the Barcelona terrorist attack in August.

Citizens’ Platform against Islamophobia denounced a wave of anti-Muslim incidents in the days after the August terrorist attacks in Catalonia. The group cited an extensive campaign of hate speech via social media and the spread of false and damaging news targeting Muslims. Local media reported several incidents, including graffiti on mosques with such slogans as “Stop Islamization,” as well as damage to mosques in Seville, Tarragona, and Granada. The media also reported several incidents of verbal abuse and minor assaults against Muslims in the days after the attacks.

Immediately after the terrorist attacks, Chief Rabbi of Catalonia Meir Bar-Hen said Muslim communities harbored “radical fringes” and government authorities were failing to adequately address the threat of radical Islam. The rabbi said he told his congregants not to think they were in the country permanently and encouraged them to buy land in Israel. FCJE responded with a statement expressing full confidence in the security forces and their ability to prevent terrorist attacks.

A journalist who tracked Muslim issues in the country said politicians had not helped to reduce the anti-Muslim sentiment that followed the Catalonia terrorist attacks but that, overall, the media had provided fair coverage.

FCJE said it had received reports of 18 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, including anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hate speech via social media and anti-Semitic graffiti and vandalism of memorials and burial sites.

In October, according to press reports, during and after a march of hundreds of thousands of people against Catalan independence, dozens of demonstrators were observed performing the Nazi salute and chanting “Sieg Heil.”

In November organizers of an exhibition of artifacts from the Auschwitz extermination camp were targeted with social media attacks ahead of the exhibition’s opening in Madrid on December 1. According to press reports, organizers received more than 100 messages, including some denying the Holocaust.

On August 21, approximately 2,500 persons representing 150 civic and religious organizations joined a demonstration in Barcelona organized by Catalan Muslims to condemn terrorism. Muslims from throughout the region attended the event and read a joint statement. Speakers stated that radicalization posed “a real problem that we should not hide.” The media reported that representatives of most leading political parties in Catalonia participated in the demonstration.

According to OLRC President Maria Garcia, there were 41 acts of vandalism against places of worship during the year, compared with 39 in 2016. There were 31 incidents against Christian churches, eight against mosques, and two against Jewish community buildings. She stated neither the Catholic nor Protestant Churches provided information about any attacks. Garcia also said attacks against Catholic churches had traditionally come from far-left groups, anarchists, and radical feminists.

According to OLRC, in February individuals painted the phrase “Against the Jews” and a noose with the Star of David at the entrance of the Jewish Community of Asturias. In March individuals defaced a wall at the Jewish Community of Madrid office. They painted a swastika, along with disparaging words.

In March a group wrote, “All Jews to the gas chamber,” on a wall at the University of Barcelona.

In April in the city of Vitoria, individuals painted a swastika around the Star of David on a Jewish cemetery monument. The City Council removed the graffiti, according to media reports.

In August individuals painted “Jewish murderers,” stars of David with the word “assassins,” and swastikas on tombs and monuments to Soviet soldiers, International Brigades, and other Civil War fighters at the Fuencarral Cemetery in Madrid, according to media reports.

In April a Barcelona judge sentenced a man to four months in jail for painting a swastika on a Barcelona synagogue’s door in 2016. The judge also ordered him to attend a human rights course and make periodic visits to a synagogue in order to “break prejudices and anti-Semitic stereotypes.”

Following the terrorist attacks in August in Cunit, Catalonia, individuals vandalized a mosque with what appeared to be motor oil. Local and regional police investigated the case and concluded the attack was a hate crime but closed the cases because they could not identify the perpetrators.

Jewish, Muslim, and Protestant representatives signed a “Coexistence Pact” September 16 designed to encourage joint work toward promoting coexistence; spreading the message of diversity; and fighting terrorism, radicalization, and hate crimes. The pact included participation by the Episcopal Conference, University Governing Council, and the Council of Psychologists. Another objective of the pact, that members said they intended to implement in 2018, was for members of the religious groups to conduct workshops for journalists to encourage use of less discriminatory or stereotypical language in the media. CIE Secretary Ajana said the pact was not yet open to the other notorio arraigo religions.

In September Director General of the European Office of the Church of ScientologyIvan Arjona Pelado presented religious freedom awards to academics involved with human rights. The main topic of discussion at the ceremony was the right to freedom of belief and respect for the beliefs of others. Pelado emphasized the need to combat intolerance among different religious groups and the responsibility of the international community to promote religious coexistence. Government representatives from the MOJ and Foundation attended.

CIE began naming a representative delegate for each of the country’s autonomous regions and cities to respond directly to the national organization and better coordinate national and local efforts to promote religious tolerance and equal treatment under the law. CIE had named 17 of 19 delegates by year’s end, with only the regions of Murcia and Castilla la Mancha remaining to name delegates.

In July FEREDE organized a public commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, which was attended by the Catholic Archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Carlos Osoro, as well as representatives from the Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox, and Buddhist faiths and politicians. Minister of Justice Rafael Catala delivered remarks in which he spoke of Protestantism’s struggle for freedom and tolerance and affirmed the government’s “firm commitment” to implement articles 9 and 16 of the constitution “so that the right to religious freedom is made real and effective.”

In September the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s Association for Interreligious Dialogue (AUDIR) organized the second commemoration of its “Night of Religions” in Barcelona, in which 33 religious centers representing 14 different faiths shared their religious traditions with the public. During Ramadan, more than 50 Muslim prayer centers organized iftars open to members of other faiths and the general public. In January AUDIR launched the project “Building Bridges,” in which 40 youths from different faiths attended courses on interfaith dialogue, among other subjects. As part of the program, the participants visited places of worship in their neighborhoods to promote tolerance.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy and consulate representatives met regularly with MOJ officials to discuss anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, anticlericalism, and concerns about societal discrimination against religious minorities. Issues discussed included access to religious education, cemeteries and burial, pensions, religiously motivated hate crimes and hate speech, and public statements and campaigns to promote tolerance. The MOJ and the Foundation underscored their effort to safeguard religious freedom and educate regional and municipal governments on the application of laws that protect religious freedom and the improved integration of minority religious communities.

Embassy officials met and communicated with leaders of CIE, FEREDE, FCJE, the Federation of Buddhist Communities, Scientologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other community members, including imams of local mosques, Muslim youth leaders, NGOs, politicians, and business leaders in Madrid, Barcelona, and Melilla. Embassy and consulate officials heard the concerns of community members regarding discrimination and the free exercise of their religious rights, including anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, lack of religious education, and access to permits for places of worship. Embassy officials discussed these concerns separately with appropriate government officials.

In March and April the consulate general in Barcelona funded a gathering of 50 young Muslim leaders from four cities (Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, and Valencia), who created the country’s first “Network of Young Muslim Leaders for Dialogue,” managed by local NGO Xarxa de Convivencia, with U.S. government funding. This initiative brought together influential Muslim youth to facilitate dialogue about issues that included religious freedom and tolerance and to empower them as future leaders in their communities.

In June the Charge d’Affaires hosted an iftar in which he introduced the Network of Young Muslim Leaders to national government officials. He invited the leader of Xarxa de Convivencia to show a video and present examples of the group’s work to promote diversity, religious tolerance, and freedom of worship through its nationwide meetings with municipal government officials and local activists. An MOJ official said the discussion at the iftar helped prompt the Foundation to organize a September meeting to discuss radicalization with Muslim youth from across the country.

The embassy also formed a group that included Muslim individuals who had formerly taken part in U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs, as well as members of the security forces and academics, and helped the group win a U.S. government grant in July. The grant supported an initiative to promote government-Muslim community engagement and mutual understanding, tolerance, and respect, as well as address problems identified by Muslim communities across the country. Following initial meetings in October and December, the group planned to hold further meetings and community forums in seven cities to discuss issues including freedom of worship, religious tolerance, the role of the media, and prevention of radicalization in Muslim communities.

Participants and former participants of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs, including the Network of Young Muslim leaders, condemned the August 17-18 Catalonia terrorist attacks through broadcast media interviews, opinion pieces, social media messaging, and meetings with government leaders. They also helped to organize an August 21 Muslim antiterrorism march of approximately 2,500 persons in Barcelona that included participation by 150 predominantly Muslim organizations.


Executive Summary

The constitution defines the country as a secular state; it provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship; and prohibits discrimination based on religious grounds. The Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) governs and coordinates religious matters related to Islam. Its mandate is to promote and enable the practice of Sunni Islam. A state of emergency instituted in response to the July 2016 coup attempt remained in place throughout the year. The government said the coup attempt was masterminded by self-exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and his movement, which the government considered a terrorist organization. From July 2016 through the end of the year, police arrested more than 50,000 individuals for alleged ties to the Gulen movement or related groups. During the year the government suspended or dismissed thousands of public officials from state institutions, including more than a thousand Diyanet employees. The government continued to prosecute individuals for “openly disrespecting the religious belief of a group” and continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim minorities, especially those not recognized under the 1923 Lausanne Treaty. The government continued to treat Alevi Islam as a heterodox Muslim “sect,” and continued not to recognize Alevi houses of worship. The government closed two Shia Jaferi television stations based on allegations of spreading “terrorist propaganda.” Religious minorities said they continued to experience difficulties obtaining exemptions from mandatory religion classes in public schools, operating or opening houses of worship, and in addressing land and property disputes. The government restricted minority religious groups’ efforts to train their clergy. The legal challenges of five churches, whose lands the government expropriated in 2016, continued; members of the churches said they still did not have access to their buildings. The government did not recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service. The government continued to provide security support for religious minority communities and paid for the renovation and restoration of some registered religious properties.

Alevis continued to face anonymous threats of violence. Threats of violence by ISIS and other actors against Jews, Protestants, and Sunni Muslims also continued. Anti-Semitic discourse continued, as some progovernment news commentators continued to publish stories seeking to associate the 2016 coup plotters with the Jewish community. These commentators also sought to associate the Orthodox ecumenical patriarch with the coup attempt. Unidentified assailants vandalized some Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic, and Alevi places of worship, including marking red “X”s on the doors of 13 Alevi homes and attacking a Protestant church in Malatya.

The U.S. Ambassador, visiting senior U.S. officials, and embassy and consulate officials continued to engage with government officials and emphasize the importance of respect for religious diversity and equal treatment under the law. Embassy and consulate representatives and visiting U.S. government officials urged the government to lift restrictions on religious groups and make progress on property restitution and specific cases of religious discrimination. Embassy officials also met with a wide range of religious community leaders, including those of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christian, Protestant, Alevi, and Syriac Orthodox communities, to underscore the importance of religious freedom and interfaith tolerance and to condemn discriminatory language against any faith.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 81 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the Turkish government, 99 percent of the population is Muslim, approximately 77.5 percent of which is Hanafi Sunni. Representatives of other religious groups estimate their members represent approximately 0.3 percent of the population, while the most recent published surveys suggest approximately 2 percent of the population is atheist.

Alevi foundation leaders estimate Alevis comprise 25 to 31 percent of the population. The Shia Jafari community estimates its members make up 4 percent of the population. Some observers, including scholars, journalists, and security officials, estimate there may be as many as four million persons influenced by the movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, which identifies itself as an Islam-inspired civic, cultural, and educational movement, and which the government holds responsible for the 2016 coup attempt.

Non-Muslim religious groups are mostly concentrated in Istanbul and other large cities as well as in the southeast. Exact figures are not available; however, these groups self-report approximately 90,000 Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians (of which an estimated 60,000 are citizens and 30,000 are migrants from Armenia without legal residence); 25,000 Roman Catholics (including a large number of recent migrants from Africa and the Philippines); and 16,000 Jews. There are also approximately 25,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians (also known as Syriacs); 15,000 Russian Orthodox Christians (mostly recent immigrants from Russia who hold residence permits); and 10,000 Bahais. Other groups include fewer than 1,000 Yezidis; 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses; 7,000 members of Protestant denominations; 3,000 Chaldean Christians; and up to 2,000 Greek Orthodox Christians. There also are small, undetermined numbers of Bulgarian Orthodox, Nestorian, Georgian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Catholic, and Maronite Christians. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) estimates its membership at approximately 300 individuals.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship. It stipulates that individuals may not be compelled to participate in religious ceremonies or disclose their religion, and acts of worship may be conducted freely as long as they are not directed against the “integrity of the state.” The constitution prohibits discrimination on religious grounds and prohibits exploitation or abuse of “religion or religious feelings, or things held sacred by religion” or “even partially basing” the order of the state on religious tenets.

The constitution establishes the Diyanet, through which the state coordinates religious matters. According to the law, the Diyanet’s mandate is to enable and promote the belief, practices, and moral principles of Islam, with a primary focus on Sunni Islam, educate the public about religious issues, and administer mosques. The Diyanet operates under the Office of the Prime Minister, with a president appointed by the prime minister, and is administered by a 16-person council elected by clerics and university theology faculties. The Diyanet has five main departments: the high councils for religious affairs, education, services, publications, and public relations. While the law does not require that all members of the council be Sunni Muslim, in practice this has been the case.

There is no separate blasphemy law; the penal code provides punishment for offenses related to “provoking people to be rancorous and hostile,” including showing public disrespect for religious beliefs. The penal code prohibits imams, priests, rabbis, and other religious leaders from “reproaching or vilifying” the government or the laws of the state while performing their duties. Violations are punishable by prison terms of one month to one year, or three months to two years if the crime involves inciting others to disobey the law. There are legal restrictions against insulting a recognized religion, interfering with a religious group’s services, or defacing its property. Insulting a recognized religion is punishable by six months to one year in prison.

The law prohibits Sufi and other religious-social orders (tarikats) and lodges (cemaats), although the government generally does not enforce these restrictions.

Although registration with the government is not mandatory for religious groups, it is required in order to request legal recognition for places of worship, which requires permission from the municipalities for the construction of a new place of worship. It is against the law to hold religious services at a location not recognized by the government as a place of worship; the government may fine or close the venues of those violating the law. A 1935 law prohibits the establishment of foundations based on the religion or ethnicity of members but grants exemptions to foundations existing before the enactment of the law. These longstanding foundations belong to non-Muslim Turkish citizens; 167 of them continue to exist. A religious group may apply to register as an association or foundation provided its stated objective is charitable, educational, or cultural rather than religious.

The General Directorate of Foundations (GDF), under the Office of the Prime Minister, regulates the activities and affiliated properties of all charitable foundations and assesses whether they are operating within the stated objectives of their organizational statute. There are several categories of foundations, including those religious community foundations existing prior to the 1935 law.

If a foundation becomes inactive, the government may petition the courts to find the foundation no longer operational and transfer all its assets to the state. A foundation may earn income through companies and rent-earning properties. The process for establishing a foundation is lengthier and more expensive than that for establishing an association, but associations have fewer legal rights than foundations at the local level. Only a court order may close a foundation of any category, except under state-of-emergency rule or martial law, during which the government may close foundations by decree. The state of emergency put in place in 2016 remained in effect at year’s end.

Associations by definition must be nonprofit and may receive financial support only in the form of donations. To register as an association, a group must submit a registration application to the provincial governor’s office and may immediately begin operating while awaiting confirmation from the governor’s office that its bylaws are constitutional. In addition to its bylaws, if a foreign association or nonprofit organization is listed as a founding member, a group must obtain and submit, as part of its application, permission from the Ministry of the Interior; if foreigners are founding members of the group, the group must submit copies of their residence permits. If the governorate finds the bylaws unlawful or unconstitutional, the association must change the bylaws to meet the legal requirements. Under the law, the governorate may fine or otherwise punish association officials. Only a court order may close an association, except under a state of emergency and martial law, during which the government may close associations by decree. The civil code requires associations not to discriminate on the grounds of religion, ethnicity, or race.

Interfering with a religious group’s services is punishable by one to three years in prison; defacing religious property is punishable by three months to one year in prison; and destroying or demolishing religious property is punishable by one to four years in prison. Because it is illegal to hold religious services in places not registered as places of worship, in practice, these legal proscriptions apply only to registered religious groups.

The constitution establishes compulsory religious and moral instruction in public primary, middle, and high schools, with content determined by the Ministry of National Education’s Department of Religious Instruction. Religion classes are two hours per week for students in grades four through12. Only students who marked “Christian” or “Jewish” on their national identity cards may apply for an exemption from religion classes. Atheists, agnostics, Alevis or other non-Sunni Muslims, Bahais, Yezidis, or those who left the religion section blank on their national identity card may not be exempted. Middle and high school students may take additional Islamic religious courses as electives for two hours per week during regular school hours.

According to the labor law, private and public sector employers may not discriminate against employees based on race, religion, ethnicity, color, gender, disabilities, or political views. Employees may seek legal action against an employer through the Labor Court. If an employee can prove a violation occurred, the employee may be entitled to compensation of up to four months of salary in addition to the restitution of rights.

Military service is obligatory for males; there is no provision for conscientious objection. Those who oppose mandatory military service on religious grounds may face charges in military and civilian courts and if convicted are subject to prison sentences ranging from two months to two years.

By law prisoners have the right to practice their religions in prison; however, not all prisons have dedicated places of worship. The government provides Sunni Muslim mesjids (small mosques) in larger prisons and provides Sunni preachers; Alevis and non-Muslims do not have clerics from their own faiths serving in prisons. According to the law, prison authorities must give permission for religious groups to offer books and other materials that are a part of the prisoner’s faith.

National identity cards contain a space for religious identification, although individuals may choose to leave the space blank. The cards include the following religious identities as options: Muslim, Greek Orthodox, non-Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist, No Religion, or Other. Bahai, Alevi, and Yezidi, among other groups with known populations in the country, are not options. Members of these groups may choose any of the available options, or leave the space blank.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with one reservation regarding Article 27, which states that individuals belonging to ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities “shall not be denied the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.” The reservation asserts the right “to interpret and apply the provisions of Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in accordance with the related provisions and rules of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey and the Treaty of Lausanne of 24 July 1923 and its Appendixes.”

Government Practices

Summary paragraph: Since the July 2016 coup attempt, the government dismissed or suspended from state institutions more than 100,000 government officials, including more than 4,000 Diyanet staff, for alleged links with the Gulen movement, which the government continued to hold responsible for the attempted coup. According to the Ministry of Interior, authorities arrested more than 50,000 individuals since the coup attempt on alleged terror-related grounds. The government also continued to detain some foreign citizens for what it stated were potential links to the Gulen movement. In August an Izmir judge added charges to the original December 2016 indictment of a U.S. citizen Protestant pastor detained since October 2016. The government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim minorities, especially those it did not recognize as covered under the 1923 Lausanne Treaty. It continued to consider Alevism a heterodox Muslim group and continued not to recognize Alevi houses of worship (cemevis). As part of a broader shutdown by government decree of organizations for allegedly spreading terrorist propaganda, the government closed two Shia Jaferi-owned television stations in January. The decrees did not specify the nature of the “terrorist propaganda.” Alevis expressed concern about security and said the government failed to meet their demands for religious reforms. In July the Ministry of National Education implemented an extensive revision of the school curriculum, which secular individuals and other citizens said increased the Sunni Muslim content in the textbooks and undermined the country’s secular education system. Non-Sunni Muslims did not receive the same protections as recognized non-Muslim minorities, although both experienced difficulty operating or opening houses of worship, challenging land and other property claims, or obtaining exemptions from mandatory religion classes. The government continued to train Sunni Muslim clerics, while restricting other religious groups from training their clergy, and continued to fund the construction of Sunni mosques while restricting land use of other religious groups. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Greek Orthodox Church continued to call on the government to allow the Halki Seminary to reopen as an independent institution to train Greek Orthodox clerics in the country.

Following the attempted July 2016 coup, the government declared a three-month state of emergency, which it renewed in October for the fifth time. The government ascribed responsibility for the coup attempt to self-exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and his movement, which identifies itself as an Islam-inspired civic, cultural and education movement, although the government considers it a terrorist organization. Since the coup attempt, police arrested more than 50,000 individuals, many for allegedly having ties to the Gulen movement. During the year the government suspended thousands of public officials, including more than 1,000 Diyanet employees. The government reinstated some public employees by state of emergency decree; several hundred were from the Diyanet.

Some foreign citizens, including several individuals with ties to Christian groups, faced detention, problems with residency permits, or denial of entry to the country under the state of emergency. Some Protestant community sources said they did not believe the government was specifically targeting foreign missionaries or those linked to Christian groups. In October the government added additional charges to the case of a U.S. citizen Protestant pastor, who at year’s end remained in pretrial detention in connection with charges including membership in the movement associated with Fethullah Gulen (labeled by the government as the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” or “FETO”), espionage, and attempting to overthrow the government. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly linked the pastor’s case to the extradition of Fethullah Gulen from the United States. The government asserted that it was not holding the pastor because of his religious work. Most observers in the country said the case was political in nature; some U.S.-based organizations said the pastor’s detention was related to his work as a Christian minister. The pastor’s was one of several cases of U.S. citizens detained under the state of emergency; the other cases did not involve religious leaders.

In May and October a court in Atasehir, a suburb of Istanbul, held hearings on the charge of “willful and malicious injury” for a man who attacked two Jehovah’s Witnesses with a baseball bat in December 2016, severely injuring a 17-year-old Witness. A judge postponed the case; the next hearing was scheduled for January 2018.

According to the Protestant community in Bursa, the government provided police protection for its place of worship in the city following reported threats from ISIS or associated groups.

In April police intervened to stop the Furkan Foundation’s celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday in Adana. According to police, the Furkan Foundation, a Sunni group that is self-described as a social and religious civil society group, lacked the required permits. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd and detained more than 200 individuals.

The government continued to interpret the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which refers broadly to “non-Muslim minorities,” as granting special legal minority status exclusively to three recognized groups: Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. The government did not recognize the leadership or administrative structures of non-Muslim minorities, such as the patriarchates and chief rabbinate, as legal entities, leaving them unable to buy or hold title to property or to press claims in court. These three groups, along with other minority religious communities, had to rely on independent foundations they previously organized, with separate governing boards, in order to hold and control individual religious properties. The foundations remained unable to hold elections to renew the membership of their governing boards because the government, despite promises to do so, had still not promulgated new regulations to replace those repealed in 2013 that would have allowed the election of foundation board members.

The government continued not to recognize the ecumenical patriarch as the leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, consistent with the government’s stance that there was no legal obligation for it to do so. The government’s position remained that the ecumenical patriarch was not “ecumenical,” but only the religious leader of the country’s Greek Orthodox minority population. The government continued to permit only Turkish citizens to vote in the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Holy Synod or be elected patriarch, but continued its practice of granting citizenship to Greek Orthodox metropolitans under the terms of the government’s 2011stopgap solution to widen the pool of candidates to become the next patriarch. The Istanbul Governorate, which represents the central government in Istanbul, continued to maintain that leaders of the Greek Orthodox (Ecumenical Patriarchate), Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, and Jewish communities must be Turkish citizens, although coreligionists from outside the country in some cases had assumed informal leadership positions in these groups.

The Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate continued to seek legal recognition, and their communities operated as conglomerations of individual religious foundations. Because the patriarchates did not have legal personality, associated foundations controlled by individual boards held all the property of the religious communities, and the patriarchates had no legal authority to direct the use of any assets or otherwise govern their communities.

In March the Istanbul governor’s office suspended a decision by the Spiritual Assembly of the Armenian Patriarchate to elect a trustee to start the process for the election of a new patriarch. Incumbent Patriarch Mesrob II remained unable to perform his duties because of his medical condition, and an acting patriarch continued to fill the position. Some members of the community criticized the governorship’s notification as interference in the internal affairs of the church. Patriarchate sources said the government later recognized the March election to elect a trustee. In July the elected trustee applied to the government to hold the patriarchal election in December. At year’s end, the community had not received a response from the government about how to proceed with the patriarchal election.

A majority of Protestant churches reported facing bureaucratic difficulties in registering as places of worship. Consequently, they continued to be registered as church associations and had to meet in unregistered locations for worship services. According to the Protestant community, there were five foundations (four existing before 1936), 36 associations, and more than 30 representative offices linked with these associations.

In January the government announced that female gendarmes would be allowed to wear headscarves under their hats and caps. In February the government extended the change to include all military units.

In January the government shut down two Shia Jaferi-owned television stations for allegedly spreading “terrorist propaganda.” The closure decrees did not specify the nature of the “terrorist propaganda.” Jaferi organizations, a member of parliament, and others publicly criticized the decision.

The trial of 13 individuals charged with conspiracy to commit a large-scale assault on an Izmit Protestant church and assassinate its pastor in 2013 continued throughout the year. In December a judge postponed the next hearing until May 2018 pending the result of an investigation of two local security officials allegedly involved in the plot. A judge had previously released all the suspects pending trial.

The state continued to provide training for Sunni Muslim clerics while restricting other religious groups from training clerics inside the country. The lack of monastic seminaries within the country meant that the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox Patriarchates were unable to train their clerics. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, repeatedly called on the government to allow the Halki Seminary to re-open as an independent institution to enable training of Greek Orthodox clerics in the country. A1971 Constitutional Court ruling prohibited the operation of private institutions of higher education and led to the seminary’s closure.

According to some Protestants, many prosecutors and police continued to regard certain public religious speech and religious activism with suspicion, including proselytism by evangelical Protestants. In April then-Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said missionary activities should be prohibited and described proselytization as an activity against the country’s unity. Proselytization remained legal at year’s end.

In May 2016 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Turkey had violated the religious freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Izmir and Mersin by refusing to provide them appropriate places of worship, a ruling the government did not implement during the year.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, 29 different municipalities denied 91 requests made by Jehovah’s Witnesses to obtain a religious facility location on municipal zoning maps. Local governments did not permit zoning for any Kingdom Halls in the country.

According to Protestant groups, many local officials continued to impose zoning standards on churches, such as minimum space requirements, that they did not impose on mosques. Local officials required Protestant groups to purchase 2,500 square meters of land (27,000 square feet) to construct churches, even for small congregations. Officials did not apply this requirement to Sunni Muslim congregations, whom they permitted to build small mosques in malls, airports, and other spaces. The Protestant groups said they had not applied for permits to build any new churches during the year, in part because of the zoning requirements.

Religious communities continued to challenge the government’s 2016 expropriation of their properties damaged in clashes between government security forces and the terrorist group Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The government expropriated those properties for their stated goal of “post-conflict reconstruction.” By the end of the year, the government had not returned or completed repairs on any of the properties, including the historic and ancient Sur District of Diyarbakir Province, Kursunlu Mosque, Hasirli Mosque, Surp Giragos Armenian Church, Mar Petyun Chaldean Church, Syriac Protestant Church, and the Armenian Catholic Church. In April the Council of State, the top administrative court, issued an interim decision to suspend the expropriation of Surp Giragos Armenian Church. The church remained closed and these cases continued at year’s end. Additionally, at year’s end the government had not paid restitution and compensation to the religious groups for the expropriation of property damaged in fighting with the PKK. In September 2016 the GDF began restoring the expropriated Armenian Catholic Church; by the end of the year, the restoration was not complete, and the church was not accessible for public use. The government said the Ministry of Culture would coordinate the restoration of some properties, and the GDF would restore properties it owned; however, no restorations occurred by the end of the year.

The government did not return any additional properties it had seized in previous decades by year’s end. Since 2011 the GDF received 1,560 applications from religious minority foundations that had applied for compensation for seized properties. The GDF returned 333 properties and paid compensation for 21 additional properties. The GDF rejected the other applications pending from 2011; it said the applications did not meet the criteria as outlined in the 2011 compensation law. The period for submitting compensation applications expired in 2013, and therefore no religious foundations submitted new applications during the year. The Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Jewish, Syrian Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, Chaldean, and Armenian Protestant communities, which had previously submitted applications for the return of properties, continued to say these unresolved claims were an issue for their communities. Recognized religious foundations were able to receive compensation for their seized properties, but religious institutions and communities without legally recognized foundations were not.

In June a Mardin court denied appeals from the Syriac Mor Gabriel Foundation regarding the Treasury’s ownership of expropriated Syriac community properties, including churches, graveyards, and village homes not registered to a Syriac foundation. Current law does not allow the Syriac community to transfer such community-owned (unregistered) properties from the Treasury to a religious foundation. The government offered to transfer the religious properties to the GDF and to give the Syriac community long-term leases, but the community rejected the proposal and was seeking a legal framework that would give it full ownership. A Syriac member of parliament in July called for the government to adopt policies to protect citizens of different faiths.

Citing zoning law violations, the municipal government in the Sultangazi District of Istanbul announced in April it would demolish a cemevi because it had not been registered properly as a place of worship in the district’s zoning plans. Two days later, however, the Ministry of Interior cancelled the decision.

The government continued to provide land for the construction of Sunni mosques and fund their construction through municipalities. According to the Diyanet, the number of mosques increased from 87,381 in 2016 to more than 90,000 during the year. Although Alevi groups were able to build new cemevis, the government continued to decline to provide financial support for their construction. In August President Erdogan presided over the official opening of Istanbul’s historic mosque of Hamidiye after its restoration by the GDF.

Throughout the month of Ramadan, for the third year the government’s religious television channel, Diyanet TV, broadcast a daily recitation of Quranic verses from the Hagia Sophia, which was secularized and transformed into a museum in 1935. In June then-Head of the Diyanet Mehmet Gormez gave a special interview from the Hagia Sophia while the Muslim call to prayer was broadcast from its minarets.

The government continued to permit annual and other commemorative religious worship services at religiously significant sites previously converted to state museums, such as St. Peter’s Church in Antakya, St. Nicholas’ Church near Demre, St. Paul Church near Isparta, and the House of the Virgin Mary near Selcuk. The Ecumenical Patriarchate again cancelled an annual service at Sumela Monastery near Trabzon because of its continuing restoration and held the ceremony at an alternative site.

In December the Constitutional Court rejected an objection by a local court to a provision of the law banning political activities and statements by imams. The court ruled that imams, muftis, and other Diyanet personnel remain prohibited from engaging in political activities, including praising or criticizing a political party.

In March a local court ruling in Antalya granted the daughter of an atheist family an exemption from compulsory religion classes after the family filed an objection.

In December the Ministry of National Education signed a three-year protocol with the Islamist Hizmet Foundation to provide “moral values” education during regular school hours. A teacher’s union, Egitim-Sen, stated that holding such programs during school hours would force students to attend and criticized the ministry for allegedly devolving its duties to an organization with links to a religious tarikat. The union applied to the Council of State for cancellation of the protocol.

At year’s end the government continued not to comply with a 2013 ruling by the ECHR that found the government’s compulsory religion courses in public schools violated educational freedom. The ECHR had denied the government’s appeal of the ruling in 2015 and upheld the Alevi community’s legal claim that the government-mandated courses promoted Sunni Islam and were contrary to its religious convictions. Authorities added material on Alevism to the religious course curriculum in 2011 after the ECHR decision, but many Alevis stated the material was inadequate and, in some cases, incorrect. Construction began in March 2015 on an Alevi school in Istanbul’s Kucukcekmece district. Then- Minister of National Education Nabi Avci said the government would build the school in cooperation with the nongovernmental organization Helping Hands Foundation as a venue for teaching Alevi-Bektashi beliefs. According to the government, construction of the school’s main and annex buildings continued at year’s end.

In July the Ministry of National Education implemented an extensive revision of the school curriculum, which some secular individuals, Alevis and other citizens widely criticized for increasing the Sunni Muslim content in the textbooks while cutting some material on reforms enacted by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the secularist founder of the Republic of Turkey. The new curriculum included the Islamic concept of jihad in textbooks and omitted the theory of evolution, among other changes. Details on the early implementation of the new curriculum were limited. In September Alevi groups and secularists protested the new education curriculum in various cities and called for a “scientific” and secular education system. Alevis criticized the new curriculum as more sectarian than the previous one.

In September the Diyanet announced a plan to expand and make permanent a pilot program launched in 2016 to assign Diyanet employees, including imams, to university dormitories operated by the government in every province. The Diyanet stated the officials would provide “moral guidance” to address the “moral values” problems in the dorms, and would answer to the Diyanet’s provincial mufti, with performance reviews every six months. Many self-described secular citizens criticized the plan, saying that it gave religion greater influence over the education system.

Non-Sunni Muslims said they continued to face difficulty obtaining exemptions from compulsory religious instruction in primary and secondary schools and often had to choose from electives concerning different aspects of Sunni Islam, particularly if their identification cards listed their religion as “Muslim.” The government said the compulsory instruction covered a range of world religions, but some religious groups including Alevis and members of the Syriac Orthodox community, stated the courses largely reflected Hanafi Sunni Islamic doctrine and contained negative and incorrect information about other religious groups. Some Alevis stated that schools taught Alevi students incorrect information about their own faith, which parents had to correct at home.

In September an Alevi foundation issued a public statement criticizing a second-grade textbook that described an Alevi religious ritual as a “folk dance.”

Members of other minority religious groups, including Protestants, also said they had difficulty obtaining exemptions from religion classes. Some sources said that because schools provided no alternative for students exempted from the compulsory religious instruction, those students stood out and as a result could face additional social stigma.

The government continued to permit the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish religious community foundations to operate schools under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education. Children of undocumented Armenian migrants and Armenian refugees from Syria could also attend. Because the government legally classified migrant and refugee children as “visitors,” however, they were ineligible to receive a diploma from these schools. The curricula of these schools included information unique to the cultures of the three groups and teachable in the minority groups’ languages. The three communities continued to finance most of the cost of these schools; the government financed classes taught in Turkish. The Syriac Orthodox community, which has operated a preschool since 2014, was still unable to open additional schools. The government did not permit other religious groups to operate schools.

The government limited the number of students admitted to public secondary schools and assigned tens of thousands of students to state-run “imam hatip” religious schools based on their entrance exam scores or proximity. The government continued to convert many nonreligious public schools to imam hatip schools, citing demand, and students reported this created a geographic hurdle for those who preferred to attend secular public schools. Enrollment in the imam hatip schools increased to 1.2 million students, up from approximately one million in 2015. Since the 2016 coup attempt, the government has closed at least 1,284 private schools, many affiliated with the movement led by Fethullah Gulen, on “antiterror” grounds. The government converted some of these private schools to imam hatip schools.

Some school textbooks continued to contain language critical of missionaries. One recommended eighth-grade textbook entitled History of the Turkish Republic Reforms and Ataturkism listed missionary activities in a section titled “National Threats.” According to a 2015 poll, 66 percent of respondents held a negative view of missionaries and missionary activity of any kind.

Many public buildings, including universities, maintained small mosques in which Muslims could pray. In June the Ministry of National Education issued a new regulation requiring every new school to have a mescit, an Islamic prayer room. The government continued to deny Alevis the right to establish similar places of worship in government buildings that did not contain places of worship for non-Sunnis. Alevi leaders reported there was an insufficient number of cemevis in the country to meet demand, stating that approximately 2,500 to 3,000 existed. The government continued to state that Diyanet-funded mosques were available to Alevis and all Muslims, regardless of their school of religious thought.

At year’s end the government still had not legally recognized cemevis as places of worship. The Supreme Court of Appeals had affirmed a lower court’s decision in August 2015 that cemevis are places of worship and should receive the same benefits that Sunni mosques receive, such as being exempt from paying utility bills. Most municipalities continued to waive utility bills only for Sunni Muslim mosques. Several municipalities led by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), however, recognized cemevis and waived utility bills. Alevis issued public statements calling on the government to comply with the Supreme Court ruling. In June the ECHR fined the government 54,000 euros ($64,800) for refusing to pay the utility bills of a cemevi in Istanbul. In July the Council of State ruled in favor of another cemevi in Istanbul, compelling the Diyanet to pay its electricity bills. The government did not implement this ruling nationwide by year’s end.

Responding to a question by opposition parliamentarians, Minister of National Education Ismet Yilmaz announced in June that an academic suspended from his university for insulting and threatening Alevis on his social media accounts was reinstated and reassigned to a different public university.

In November the government passed a law authorizing provincial and district-level muftis and their designees to register and officiate at marriages on behalf of the state. The government stated the new law would make the marriage and marriage registration process more efficient, and supporters said the legislation would reduce illegal unregistered religious marriages. Secularists said the law violated the constitution’s principle of secularism, while women’s organizations stated it would increase child marriages. The law did not give the same authority to clerics of other religions, leading some critics to argue that the law ignored the needs of other religious groups by solely addressing the demands of some within the Sunni Muslim majority.

The Diyanet regulated the operation of all registered mosques. It paid the salaries of 112,725 religious personnel at the end of 2016, the last year for which data was available, compared with 117,378 in 2015. The government did not pay the salaries of religious leaders, instructors, or other staff belonging to other religious groups. In January 2016 the Ombudsman Institution responded to an appeal by the Boyacikoy Surp Yerits Mangants Armenian Church Foundation, issuing an advisory opinion that the Diyanet should pay priests’ salaries. The chief ombudsman said he supported “eliminating unjust treatment by amending relevant regulations.” By year’s end there had been no action on this issue.

As of August, 68 Jehovah’s Witnesses faced prosecution as conscientious objectors to military service. Jehovah’s Witnesses officials stated the government subjected Witness conscientious objectors “to unending call-ups for military duty, repeated fines, and threats of imprisonment.”

Some non-Muslims stated that listing their religious affiliation on national identity cards exposed them to discrimination and harassment. Members of many religious groups continued to assert they were precluded from obtaining government jobs and faced discrimination in the private sector for either not listing a religious affiliation or listing a non-Muslim religion on their identity cards.

In February the government started to distribute new national identity cards that recorded the religious affiliation of an individual in a chip in the card, visible only when scanned by a computer. In February 2016 then-Interior Minister Efkan Ala announced that recording religious affiliation in the chip would be optional.

In Nusaybin, the Syriac community restored three of the seven Syriac churches damaged or destroyed over several years during government clashes with the PKK. Two of the seven churches were completely destroyed during the clashes; renovation work on the two others continued at year’s end. In November Deputy Prime Minister Hakan Cavusoglu stated the government was working on a plan to transfer Syriac churches to the Syriac foundations in the Taskoy (Arbo) village of Mardin, noting the law would also facilitate the transfer of properties under the Mor Gabriel Foundation in Mardin. The churches in Taskoy, Mardin include Mor Dimet, Mor Salito, Meryem Ana, Mor Gevargis, Mor Batlo, Mor Simuni, and Mor Semun.

In April then-Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak announced government funds would renovate a church in Bursa, and the building would reopen for religious services. German Catholic, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Turkish Protestant congregations have shared the building, which the General Directorate of Foundations has owned for more than 10 years.

Ankara University hosted an event to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. Then-Deputy Prime Minister Tugrul Turkes attended. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also issued a written statement commemorating the event. In February the government again commemorated the nearly 800 Jewish refugees who died aboard the Struma when it sank off the coast of Istanbul in 1942. The Governor of Istanbul attended the commemoration, and the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed condolences.

Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious leaders joined representatives from various municipalities in Istanbul for a public interfaith iftar in June.

In November Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew presided over the reopening ceremony of the Aya Yorgi Greek Orthodox Church in Istanbul’s Edirnekapi district following the church’s three years of restoration by the GDF. Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin and GDF Director General Adnan Ertem attended the reopening ceremony.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Members of the Jewish community continued to express concern about anti-Semitism and increased threats of violence throughout the country. The government responded to specific threats of violence by ISIS against Jewish schools by implementing enhanced security measures. Jewish community members said the government measures were helpful.

In July nearly 100 members of Alperen Hearths protested outside Neve Salom Synagogue in Istanbul in response to security measures Israel had implemented at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem following a July 14 attack that killed two Israeli police officers. Alperen Hearths describes itself as an educational and cultural foundation and with ideological ties to the Islamist nationalist Great Unity Party. Sources reported no police presence during the protest. Alperen Hearths Istanbul Chair Kursat Mican accused the Israeli government of blocking Palestinians’ freedom of worship and threatened the Jewish community: “If you prevent our freedom of worship there, then we will prevent your freedom of worship here and you will not able to enter here.” Protesters threw stones and kicked the synagogue’s doors before voluntarily dispersing. The Jewish community called for the authorities to take necessary security measures. Several days after the attack, high-ranking government officials called community representatives to demonstrate support for the community.

In August two individuals prayed inside the Hagia Sophia to protest Israeli security measures at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. “This is a mosque, not a museum,” the individuals said. Security guards removed them from the compound after the prayer.

Following a January ISIS attack on Istanbul’s Reina nightclub, a commentator on progovernment television station Kanal A said Alevi leaders would be killed first in the event of a civil war in the country. Alevi groups viewed the comments as a threat; the commentator later apologized on social media.

The Syriac Orthodox community continued to seek agreement with the Roman Catholic community to build a second church in Istanbul to accommodate its growing population. The Syriac Orthodox community to date had only one church in Istanbul to serve an estimated local population of 17,000 to 20,000. Because the land offered by the Istanbul municipality to the Syriac Church Foundation to build a second church previously belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, the Regional Board for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage required a written agreement between the two communities. The two communities had not reached agreement by year’s end.

Anti-Semitic rhetoric periodically continued in some print media and on social media throughout the year. In January columnist Yusuf Kaplan in the progovernment newspaper Yeni Safak claimed the country had been under “Jewish influence” for the last two centuries and described the alleged effect as a “tumor.” In January a columnist in the Islamist Yeni Soz daily claimed ISIS, Al-Qaida, PKK, “FETO,” and other similar groups were products of an alliance between the “devil and the Jews.” In March one columnist in the Islamist Milatdaily claimed the Second World War was started in order to establish the state of Israel, and said the war was a “war of independence” for Jews. In May a columnist in the progovernment Star daily claimed “the evangelicals and the Jews” were supporting the PKK. The same columnist claimed “FETO” was an evangelical movement disguised as Islam. In July a Yeni Soz article claimed the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex movement was financed by “Satanist Jews.”

A new and popular Turkish television series, “The Last Emperor,” raised concern among some in the Jewish community due to its anti-Semitic storyline, which portrayed Jews as the most evil characters. According to some press reports, the March episode provoked a surge in anti-Semitic messaging on social media.

In April on two occasions unidentified vandals damaged Alevi tombs and shrines in a Hatay cemetery. In November sources in Hatay said the government was trying to improve the security of minority religious sites and helping to clean up after acts of vandalism.

Various self-defined Islamist groups continued to threaten and vandalize Christian places of worship. In September an unidentified group threw stones at the Armenian Surp Tateos Church in the Narlikapi neighborhood of Istanbul, breaking windows. Some witnesses said the attackers shouted anti-Armenian slogans while a baptismal ceremony took place inside.

In September the president of the Surp Giragos Armenian Church Foundation said unidentified looters had burglarized the church in Diyarbakir multiple times, despite a continuing curfew in the area.

Various nationalist Islamic groups continued to advocate transforming some former Orthodox churches, including Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum, into mosques, drawing criticism from some Christian groups. The Hagia Sophia was an Orthodox church from 537-1453 and a mosque from 1453-1931. The campaigns intensified after the Hagia Sophia of Trabzon, a 12th-century Byzantine church that had been operating as a museum for the previous 50 years, was converted into a mosque in 2013. In May thousands participated in a morning Islamic prayer outside Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia. The Islamist nationalist Anatolian Youth Association organized the event within the context of the government’s celebration of the 564th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul.

In December, following the U.S. government recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, AKP Member of Parliament Samil Tayyar on Twitter requested the reopening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque in response: “If you say so, let Hagia Sophia be opened to prayers. We should start holding Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia.” A few days later, a group from Alperen Hearths read out a call to prayer inside Hagia Sophia and started to pray. Group members said they were protesting the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by the U.S. government. Police detained the protesters and later released them.

On November 22, unidentified individuals in Malatya painted red “X” marks on the front doors of 13 Alevi family homes; family members said they perceived the marks as a threat. Alevis reported the occurrence to police, who opened an investigation. Alevis then held a protest march in Malatya. In December unidentified individuals painted a red cross on the wall of an Alevi house in Manisa. The resident reported the occurrence to police, who erased the mark. Prosecutors investigated the case, but there were no further reports or actions by year’s end.

On November 24, an individual threw a brick through the office window of the Association of Kurtulus (Salvation) Church, a Protestant church in Malatya. The suspect fled the scene, but police caught him later that night and released him the next day. Two attacks targeting the church took place earlier in the year.

In June the Jewish community again hosted an iftar at the Grand Edirne Synagogue for hundreds of participants, including Muslims and Christians.

In February the military held an official funeral ceremony on Gokceada (Imbros) island for a deceased Greek Orthodox veteran of the Korean War.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, embassy and consulate officials, and visiting U.S. officials regularly engaged with government officials throughout the year, including at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diyanet, and GDF, to underscore the importance of religious freedom, interfaith tolerance, and condemning hateful or discriminatory language directed at any religious groups. Among other issues, they urged the government to implement reforms aimed at lifting restrictions on religious groups, raised the issue of property restitution and restoration, and discussed specific cases of religious discrimination. Senior U.S. officials continued to raise with government officials Hagia Sophia’s extraordinary significance as a symbol of peaceful coexistence and meaningful dialogue and respect among religions. Senior U.S. officials and visitors similarly urged the rapid restitution of church properties expropriated in Diyarbakir and Mardin.

On August 15, the Secretary of State called for the release of the American pastor. The pastor’s case was one of several involving U.S. citizens detained under the state of emergency. The other cases did not involve individuals with ties to religious Christian groups. The U.S. government continued to criticize these detentions as unjustified.

The Secretary of State, Deputy Secretary of State, and other senior U.S. officials continued to urge government officials to reopen the Greek Orthodox seminary in Halki.

In January the Ambassador attended a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Ankara University with senior government officials and the leadership of the country’s Jewish community.

Senior U.S. embassy and consulate officials regularly engaged with a wide range of religious community leaders to hear and address their concerns, visit their places of worship, and promote interreligious dialogue. Officials from the embassy and consulates met with members of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christian, Armenian Protestant, Armenian Catholic, Protestant, Alevi, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Latter Day Saints, and Bahai Faith communities, among others, throughout the country. The embassy and consulates utilized Twitter and Facebook to emphasize the importance of inclusion of religious minorities.