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Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Read A Section: Area Administered By Turkish Cypriots

Republic of Cyprus

Since 1974, the southern part of Cyprus has been under the control of the government of the Republic of Cyprus. The northern part, administered by Turkish Cypriots, proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) in 1983. The United States does not recognize the “TRNC,” nor does any country other than Turkey. A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island. A “green line,” or buffer zone (which is over 110 miles long and several miles wide in places) patrolled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), separates the two parts. This report is divided into two parts: the Republic of Cyprus and the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. For areas in the north that have different Greek and Turkish names, both are listed (e.g., Kormakitis/Korucam).

Executive Summary

The Turkish Cypriot “constitution” refers to the “state” as secular and provides for freedom of religious faith and worship consistent with public order and morals. It prohibits forced participation in worship and religious services and stipulates religious education may be conducted only under “state” supervision. The “constitution” grants the Vakf the exclusive right to regulate its internal affairs. Turkish Cypriot authorities continued to grant improved access to Greek Orthodox religious sites, although visits declined due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The “Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)” said during the year it approved 26 of 31 requests to hold religious services during the year, compared with 156 of 203 requests in 2019. The “MFA” reported that no requests were made for religious services after March 12 due to COVID-19 mitigation measures. Turkish-Speaking Protestant Associations (TSPA) representatives continued to report police surveillance of their activities. According to Greek Orthodox representatives, police monitored their church services. They reported plainclothes police officers present during services checked priests’ identification and monitored the congregation.

The TSPA said Turkish Cypriots who converted to other faiths often experienced societal criticism. The TCCH reported completing conservation and structural support to five churches and the walls of Nicosia’s historic city center. Mufti of Cyprus Atalay and Church of Cyprus Archbishop Chrysostomos II continued to meet virtually throughout the year. Their representatives continued to meet in-person in the buffer zone in accordance with COVID-19 mitigation protocols.

Embassy officials continued engagement with the office of the Mufti of Cyprus, who was also head of the “Religious Affairs Department,” by telephone and virtually to discuss cooperation among religious leaders and access to religious sites. Embassy officials met with representatives of the “MFA” and the Vakf to discuss unrestricted access to religious sites. Embassy officials continued to meet with leaders from the Sunni and Alevi Muslim, Armenian and Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Roman Catholic, and Protestant communities to discuss access to religious sites and instances of religious-based discrimination.

Section I. Religious Demography

According to 2011 census information, the most recent available from Turkish Cypriot authorities, the population of the area administered by Turkish Cypriots is 286,000. The census contains no data on religious affiliation. Sociologists estimate as much as 97 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim. The Alevi Culture Association estimates that approximately 10,000 immigrants of Turkish, Kurdish, and Arab origin and their descendants are Alevi Muslims. The TSPA estimates there are 1,000 Turkish-speaking Protestants. The government of the Republic of Cyprus estimates 351 members of the Church of Cyprus and 308 Maronite Catholics reside in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. According to sociologists, other groups include the Russian Orthodox, Anglican, Baha’i, Jewish, and Jehovah’s Witness communities. According to “Ministry of Education (MOE)” statistics for the 2020-21 academic year, there were approximately 80,000 foreign students enrolled at universities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. In November, authorities announced 37,000 of these students were no longer present in the north due to the pandemic, many having returned to their home countries to continue their education online. Of these, 60 percent were Muslim Turks and the rest were predominantly Christians and Muslims from more than 140 countries.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The TSPA continued to report societal discrimination toward Protestants, including verbal harassment. The TSPA again said Turkish Cypriots who converted to other faiths, particularly Christianity, faced societal criticism and feared losing their jobs. The TSPA continued to report many members preferred to remain silent about their faiths and beliefs. The TSPA also reported police continued to closely monitor its activities and occasionally visited representatives to inquire about church activities and attendance levels.

Muslim and Orthodox religious leaders continued to promote religious tolerance by meeting and arranging pilgrimages for their congregations to places of worship across the “green line,” primarily before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March. These included the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque in the government-controlled area and St. Barnabas Church in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. After March, there were few pilgrimages and meetings across the “green line” due to pandemic mitigation measures.

The TCCH reported it had completed restoration of five religious heritage sites: structural support at Agios Georgios Church in Nicosia; structural support at St Jacob Church in Nicosia; conservation work at Agios Sergios Church in Agios Sergios/Yeni Bogazici, Vakhos Church in Famagusta, and Archangelos Michael Church in Yialousa/Yeni Erenkoy.

The TCCH also continued restoring four other religious sites. It and the UN Development Program Partnership for the Future also continued restoration work on the Greek Orthodox Apostolos Andreas Monastery on the Karpas Peninsula, a popular destination for pilgrims. The TCCH reported preparations for initiating the tendering process for the second phase of the restoration.

The “Religious Affairs Department” announced it suspended personnel involved in the 2019 attempted theft of two church bells and five chandeliers from the Selimiye Mosque (formerly the Agia Sophia Cathedral) and recovered all the items. After a completed police investigation, the accused were awaiting trial at year’s end.


Executive Summary

The constitution grants individuals freedom to profess and practice any religious belief but prohibits religious activities directed against the sovereignty of the state, its constitutional system, and “civic harmony.” A concordat grants the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC) rights and privileges not granted to other religious groups, although the law also acknowledges the historical importance of the “traditional faiths” of Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and evangelical Lutheranism. By law, all registered religious groups must seek permits to hold events outside of their premises, including proselytizing activities, and must obtain prior governmental approval to import and distribute religious literature. The law prohibits all religious activity by unregistered groups. The country experienced massive peaceful protests met with what most observers considered a brutal government crackdown following the August 9 presidential election, which civil society and human rights groups, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the EU, the United Kingdom, and the United States, among others, stated was fraudulent. Demonstrators protested electoral fraud, and authorities responded with widespread violence against peaceful protesters, the opposition, journalists, and ordinary citizens. Most of those detained, jailed, or fined – including clergy – were charged indiscriminately with “organizing or participating in unauthorized mass events.” Authorities continued their surveillance of minority and unregistered religious groups. Religious groups met less frequently at their own discretion due to COVID-19 infection concerns. At the same time, authorities focused less on monitoring religious groups as they were preoccupied with other issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a struggling economy, the presidential campaign, and the election-related protests that followed. Some minority religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, continued to have difficulty registering, and most said they avoided trying to register during the year because of COVID-19 and the unsettled political situation. Roman Catholic groups again stated the government denied visas and requests to extend the stay of some foreign clergy (notably priests from Poland). On August 31, the government blocked the return of Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz from a visit to Poland, despite his being a Belarusian citizen. Authorities allowed the Archbishop to return on December 23. Throughout the year, authorities continued to support commemoration of victims of the Holocaust and preservation of Jewish cemeteries.

Anti-Semitic comments appeared on social media and in comment sections of local online news articles, although it was not clear that all of the comments could be attributed to Belarusians. Interdenominational Christian groups continued to work together on education and charitable projects.

Throughout the year, the Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy officials regularly engaged with the government, including at the highest levels, on religious freedom issues, including registration of religious communities, the return of Archbishop Kondruszewicz, and anti-Semitism. The Secretary of State and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom publicly called on the country’s authorities to allow Archbishop Kondrusiewicz to reenter the country and lead the Roman Catholic Church there. The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met with Jewish groups to discuss anti-Semitism and the preservation of Jewish religious heritage. Embassy officials also met with Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other groups as well as with civil society activists and lawyers for religious groups to learn about their religious activities and discuss government actions affecting the exercise of religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 9.5 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to a 2016 survey by the state Information and Analytical Center of the Presidential Administration (the latest such data available), approximately 53 percent of the adult population belongs to the BOC and six percent to the Roman Catholic Church. According to the state survey, eight percent of the adult population is atheist, and 22 percent is “uncertain.” Smaller religious groups together constituting approximately two percent of the population include Jews, Muslims, Greek Catholics (“Uniates” or members of the Belarusian Greek Catholic Church), Old Believers (priestist and priestless), members of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and other Orthodox Christian groups, Lutherans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Apostolic Christians, Presbyterians and other Protestant groups, Armenian Apostolics, Latin Catholics, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Baha’is, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Buddhists. Jewish groups state there are between 30,000 and 40,000 Jews. Most ethnic Poles, who constitute approximately 3 percent of the population, are Roman Catholic.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

An interreligious working group comprising the BOC, Roman Catholic Church, Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists, Union of Evangelical-Lutheran Churches, and Jewish religious communities organized seminars and educational events, some of which were virtual due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. The theme for 2020 was “Religions in Belarus in the Period of Social Transformations.” The group held an in-person seminar on February 12 on spiritual development of the country’s society in the context of social justice. In April, the group held an interreligious youth forum that involved seminars dedicated to the “contribution of different religious communities in resolving environmental issues in the interest of Belarus’s sustainable development.” In June, the group organized a seminar targeting youth and discussing different faiths and new methods for the spiritual and moral upbringing of youth and children. On December 21, the group held an online seminar, “Religions in the Context of Innovations in Society and the Economy.”

Anti-Semitic comments appeared on social media and in comment sections of local online news articles, although it was not clear that all of the comments could be attributed to Belarusians.

The BOC continued its annual commemoration in honor of Hauryil Belastoksky (Gabriel of Bialystok), a child allegedly killed by Jews in Bialystok in 1690. The Russian Orthodox Church considers him one of its saints and martyrs, and the BOC falls under the authority of the Russian Church on traditional practices such as this. Jewish community leaders continued to express concern over the traditional memorial prayer recited on the anniversary of Belastoksky’s death on May 3, which states the “martyred and courageous Hauryil exposed Jewish dishonesty” although a trial after the boy’s death acquitted the Jew who was charged with the crime. The BOC in recent years removed some anti-Semitic references about Belastoksky from its online materials and focused more on his role as a regional patron saint of children. Prayers for the commemoration reportedly continued to include anti-Semitic references, however.


Read A Section: Republic Of Cyprus

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Since 1974, the southern part of Cyprus has been under the control of the government of the Republic of Cyprus. The northern part, administered by Turkish Cypriots, proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) in 1983. The United States does not recognize the “TRNC,” nor does any country other than Turkey. A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island. A “green line,” or buffer zone (which is over 110 miles long and several miles wide in places) patrolled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), separates the two parts. This report is divided into two parts: the Republic of Cyprus and the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. For areas in the north that have different Greek and Turkish names, both are listed (e.g., Kormakitis/Korucam).

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the freedom to worship, teach, and practice one’s religion. It grants the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and recognizes the Vakf, an Islamic institution that manages sites of worship and property Muslims have donated, as a charitable endowment. Two of the eight functioning mosques under the guardianship of the Ministry of Interior continued to lack bathroom and ablution facilities. The Department of Antiquities continued to limit regular access to Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque to only two of the five daily prayers, although it routinely granted expanded access during Ramadan and at the request of the imam. The imam of Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque said Department of Antiquities’ security guards continued to allow some non-Muslim tourists to enter the mosque without observing the proper dress code. The imam said that the Larnaca Turkish cemetery was completely full and the Ministry of Interior denied his request for the construction of a new cemetery in nearby Vakf land. The Jewish community reported authorities continued to conduct autopsies for nonsuspicious deaths, against the community’s wishes. Authorities continued to deny permission to perform animal slaughter for food production according to Jewish law. In early April, the Council of Ministers submitted to the House of Representatives a bill allowing kosher and halal slaughter of animals. The government withdrew the bill on April 24 following strong reactions by animal rights activists. Authorities did not respond to a request pending since 2017 from the Chief Rabbinate of Cyprus to have the right to officiate marriage, death, and divorce certificates.

In May, unknown persons threw firecrackers into the premises of Koprulu Mosque in Limassol and sprayed anti-Muslim, antimigrant graffiti on the walls surrounding the mosque. Some religious minority groups continued to report societal pressure to engage in public Greek Orthodox religious ceremonies, such as weddings and christenings. Greek Orthodox Christians reported they sometimes faced ostracism from their community if they converted to another religion. Leaders of the main religious groups continued to meet under the framework of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) and advocate for greater religious freedom for faith communities across the island.

U.S. embassy representatives continued to meet with government officials to discuss various issues, including access to religious sites on either side of the “green line” dividing the country. The Ambassador met with religious leaders to discuss religious freedom restrictions, access to religious sites, and interfaith cooperation. Embassy staff met with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious leaders to discuss topics, including access to religious sites island-wide and discrimination against minority religious groups. Except for a few virtual engagements because of COVID-19 restrictions, most were in-person meetings. Embassy officials also visited places of religious significance on both sides of the “green line” and encouraged continued dialogue and cooperation among religious leaders.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population of the island at 1.3 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the 2011 census, the most recent, the population of the government-controlled area is 840,000. Of that total, 89.1 percent is Orthodox Christian and 2.9 percent is Roman Catholic, known locally as Latin. Other religious groups include Protestants (2 percent), Muslims (1.8 percent), Buddhists (1 percent), Maronite Catholics (0.5 percent), and Armenian Orthodox (0.3 percent), with small populations of Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Baha’is. The country’s chief rabbi estimates the number of Jews at 4,500, most of whom are foreign-born residents. A Jehovah’s Witnesses representative estimates the group has 2,600 members. Recent immigrants and migrant workers are predominantly Roman Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

On May 31, unknown individuals threw firecrackers into the premises of Koprulu Mosque in Limassol and sprayed anti-Muslim, antimigrant graffiti on the wall surrounding the mosque. President Nicos Anastasiades, mayor of Limassol Nicos Nicolaides, and all principal political parties condemned the attack. A police investigation did not identify the perpetrators of the attack. Police increased patrols around the three mosques in Limassol, and the municipality of Limassol installed closed-circuit television at Koprulu Mosque. Authorities repaired the damage caused, which they described as slight, and cleaned the graffiti from the walls. On June 1, leaders of the five constitutionally recognized religious groups jointly condemned the attack and the vandalism.

Unlike in previous years, representatives of the Jewish community reported there were no instances of anti-Semitic verbal harassment in public places.

The NGO Caritas reported that discrimination against Muslim children in schools declined compared with previous years and stated that increased diversity awareness and language training during the year generally improved behavior towards non-native Muslim students.

NGOs Caritas and KISA said women wearing hijabs often faced difficulties finding employment. According to Caritas, in October 2019, a Somali woman filed a complaint with the Ombudsman based on a hotel’s refusal to employ her in August 2019 because she was wearing a hijab. Her case remained under review at year’s end.

Members of minority religious groups continued to report societal pressures to participate in public religious ceremonies of majority groups. For example, children of various religious minorities said they faced social pressure to attend Greek Orthodox religious ceremonies at school. An Armenian Orthodox representative continued to say that community members who married Greek Orthodox individuals received pressure from their spouse’s family members to have a Greek Orthodox wedding and follow Greek Orthodox rituals. Similarly, Armenian Orthodox army recruits reportedly continued to feel peer pressure to take the oath administered by a Greek Orthodox priest.

Some Greek Orthodox adherents who converted to other faiths reportedly continued to hide their conversion from family and friends due to fear of social ostracism.

In September, the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage (TCCH), one of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot technical committees established as part of the UN-facilitated settlement negotiations process, completed a project to stabilize the Saint James and Saint George Churches in the buffer zone in Nicosia. The TCCH said the churches could not be fully restored because they were in an area controlled by the Turkish military. In October, the TCCH launched projects for restoring four mosques in the villages of Kalo Chorio, Maroni, Lefkara, and Ayios Theodoros in Larnaca District.

The leaders of the main religious groups on the island continued to meet regularly, in-person and online, within the framework of the RTCYPP. On February 14, Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Armenian, Maronite, and Roman Catholic leaders met to mark the 10th anniversary of the RTCYPP and issued a joint statement calling on all Cypriots and political leaders to join them in their effort to advance religious freedom. They met again on June 16 at the Home for Cooperation, a nonprofit community center in the buffer zone in Nicosia, and were joined virtually by Foreign Minister Ann Linde of Sweden in another ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the RTCYPP, which began as an initiative of the Swedish embassy.

On May 6, leaders of the five constitutionally recognized religious groups issued a joint message on the occasion of Easter and Ramadan to extend their prayers to those suffering the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, to thank those on the front lines, and to call on the faithful to abide by authorities’ instructions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. On March 20, the five religious leaders issued a joint message uniting their voices and their prayers against the pandemic.

In May, Christian religious leaders under the framework of the RTCYPP issued a joint greeting to the Mufti of Cyprus and all Muslim faithful wishing them a blessed Eid al-Fitr.

A joint project of religious leaders through the RTCYPP offering Greek and Turkish-language classes for members of the Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Armenian Orthodox, Maronite, and Roman Catholic communities continued for priests, imams, nuns, and laypersons who worked for faith-based organizations. Classes continued online when in-person gatherings were not possible due to COVID-19-related restrictions.


Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination “without an acceptable reason” and provides for the right to profess and practice a religion and to decline to be a member of a religious community. The law prohibits breaching the sanctity of religion, which includes blasphemy, offending that which a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies. In September, the Supreme Court affirmed the ban on the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), the largest neo-Nazi group in the country. Authorities continued to investigate NRM members for engaging in banned activities as part of the successor group Towards Freedom, including public demonstrations. According to representatives of their respective groups, immigration authorities denied most asylum applications from Jehovah’s Witnesses from Russia and Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan. More than 50 cases of Jehovah’s Witness asylum applicants were pending before the Supreme Administrative Court at year’s end. In July, a court upheld an ethnic agitation fine for a Finns Party Member of Parliament (MP), while parliament declined to remove the immunity from prosecution of another Finns Party MP who was being investigated for ethnic agitation concerning comments he made during a parliamentary session that equated Muslim asylum seekers with invasive species. In August, police completed their investigation into anti-Semitic comments made by an MP from the Social Democratic Party (SDP). In August, the Ministry of Interior created a working group dedicated to improving security at religious sites, including synagogues and mosques. In January, a municipal councilor in Polvijarvi from the SDP resigned after posting comments to Facebook questioning whether the Holocaust occurred. In February, the Oulu District Court fined an Oulu city councilor for two counts of ethnic agitation for posting videos online depicting Muslims and other immigrants as being inferior to other human beings.

Police reported 133 hate crimes involving members of religious groups in 2019, the most recent statistics available, compared with 155 such incidents in 2018, but did not specify how many were motivated solely by religion. The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office received 37 complaints of religious discrimination in 2019, compared with 35 in 2018. The NRM continued to post anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic statements online and acted to circumvent the ban of the organization by continuing activities as part of Towards Freedom. There were several demonstrations by neo-Nazi or nativist groups. Towards Freedom burned an Israeli flag during a rally in Tampere on January 27, which coincided with International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Also in late January, vandals targeted the Israeli embassy and Jewish property, including the Helsinki and Turku synagogues. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with migrants, including the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre, continued to raise concerns about the ability of religious minorities housed in migrant reception centers to worship without harassment from other migrants housed within the same center. Muslim groups reported a shortage of funds needed to establish houses of worship to match their growing population.

U.S. embassy staff engaged with government ministries to discuss government support for religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, the government’s response to anti-Semitic incidents, and the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Ahmadis seeking asylum. Embassy staff met with the Jewish and Muslim communities to discuss their shared concerns about the impact of government guidelines discouraging male circumcision, and addressed religiously motivated crimes and continuing problems involved in establishing a sufficient number of mosques for the Muslim population. Embassy staff also discussed the state of religious freedom with these communities, other religious minority groups, and interfaith networks.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.6 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to Finnish government statistics from December 2019, which count only registered members of registered congregations, 68.7 percent of the population belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELC) and 1.1 percent to the Finnish Orthodox Church, while 0.3 percent (approximately 17,000 individuals) have official membership in Islamic congregations, and 28.5 percent do not identify as belonging to any religious group. The census combines other minority religious communities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jews, and members of the Free Church of Finland, which together account for 1.4 percent of the population.

Multiple sources indicate the Muslim population has grown rapidly in recent years because of a significant inflow of immigrants. Muslim religious leaders estimate the number of Muslims rose to 100,000 in 2018 (most recent data available), of which approximately 80 percent is Sunni and 20 percent Shia. In 2017, the Pew Research Center estimated 2.7 percent of the population, or approximately 150,000 persons, were Muslim. According to a survey by the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC), the Muslim population numbered approximately 65,000 in 2016. According to the Islamic Society of Finland, discrepancies among these sources and between them and official government statistics may occur because only a minority of Muslims register with registered Islamic societies. Apart from Tatars, who emigrated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well as during the Soviet Union period, most Muslims are immigrants or descendants of immigrants who arrived in recent decades from Somalia, North Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Syria, Turkey, and Iran.

In a report released in October, the Institute of Jewish Policy Research estimated the Jewish population at 1,300.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Despite the ban against it, the self-described neo-Nazi NRM continued to operate a website, made statements promoting discrimination or violence against Jews and Muslims, and participated in demonstrations, according to press reports. According to authorities, members of the NRM began operating as part of the Towards Freedom group, considered to be the NRM’s successor by the National Bureau of Investigation.

Media reported Towards Freedom burned an Israeli flag during a rally in Tampere on January 27, meant to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and said on its website that it carried out the burning. Officers of the Central Finland Police Department were present at the rally and spoke to those burning the flag, but they made no arrests. A spokesperson for the department said only the burning of the national flag (and not another nation’s flag) is a criminal offense. Police subsequently announced they were investigating the flag burning as a case of illegal ethnic agitation. Media reported that on the same day, the front door, steps, and walls of Turku Synagogue were defaced with red paint. Police were investigating the incident as a property damage case but had made no arrests as of year’s end. President Sauli Niinisto and other government officials denounced both incidents in official statements.

According to the newspaper Ilta Sanomat, on January 31, vandals defaced the building housing the Embassy of Israel with NRM stickers. The same night, unknown individuals placed similar stickers on Helsinki Synagogue. Israeli Ambassador Dov Segev-Steinberg told media that similar incidents had occurred numerous times in the last two years and that stickers were just one example of the vandalism and intimidation the embassy and Jews living in the country faced. Following the two incidents of vandalism, representatives of the Jewish community reported feeling threatened and specifically targeted due to their beliefs.

According to Yle News, in April, unknown individuals vandalized a Jewish cemetery in Hamina by knocking over a tombstone and painting a white swastika on another. The more than 200-year-old cemetery was no longer in use. The mayor of Hamina, Hannu Muhonen, denounced the vandalism, and the Helsinki Jewish Congregation filed a criminal report concerning the incident. The police confirmed the matter was under investigation but said no perpetrators had been identified. Yaron Nadbornik, head of the Central Council of Jewish Communities in Finland, stated vandalism of Jewish cemeteries was uncommon, but said neo-Nazi leaflets had been distributed to mailboxes of nearby Hamina residents at the time of the incident. A pastor of the Hamina Orthodox Parish also reported seeing a leaflet advertising the neo-Nazi group Towards Freedom.

According to media reports, on August 16, the anti-immigrant National Alliance again organized a memorial march in Turku to commemorate the victims of a 2017 stabbing by a Moroccan asylum speaker. Approximately 300 persons joined the demonstration, holding banners that read, “White lives matter.” On the same day, the group Turku Without Nazis held a counterdemonstration. The website showed a picture of one counter protester holding a sign reading, “No Nazis on our streets.”

NGOs working with migrants, including the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre, continued to raise concerns about the ability of religious minorities housed in migrant reception centers to worship without harassment from other migrants housed within the same center. A representative of the center said converts to Christianity in migrant reception facilities often experienced harassment, including social exclusion, threats, and blackmail.

A representative of the Core Forum said that in June or July, a mosque in Jarvenpaa was defaced with stickers promoting the NRM.

A representative of the Core Forum said that Muslim groups, including the Islamic Congregation of Finland, continued to seek adequate houses of worship that could accommodate their growing population, but that they were hindered by insufficient funds from purchasing property, given that most Muslims did not belong to congregations registered with the government and did not choose to register. Except for a handful of purpose-built mosques, most mosques were located in converted commercial spaces. A representative of the Core Forum said on September 15 that this problem was driven by many Muslim congregations being too small to be able to raise the resources necessary to fund property purchases or construction.

Representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Finland said other Muslim congregations continued to block the group’s formal membership in interfaith organizations. A representative of the Core Forum said this was possibly because many Muslim groups did not consider Ahmadis to be “true Muslims.” Representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Finland said the group planned to create a mosque and cultural center in the future and that although the mosque would be built solely with funds from the Ahmadi community, it would be open to all religious and nonreligious individuals.

The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office reported receiving 37 complaints of religious discrimination in 2019 – 4 percent of total discrimination complaints – compared with 35 complaints in 2018. In one example the report cited, a swimming hall prevented women and girls dressed in burkinis from swimming. The ombudsman recommended that swimming halls allow the wearing of burkinis.

Research by theologian Esko Kahkonen published in January by the Diakonia University of Applied Sciences indicated most religiously motivated hate crimes targeting Muslims were committed by Muslims from groups he said were more extreme. Individuals he termed “liberal Muslims,” or Muslims from minority schools of Islam, were the most common victims, as well as individuals who had converted from Islam to Christianity. According to Kahkonen’s research, which covered the period 2015-2016, only 8 percent of cases during that time were incidents in which non-Muslims targeted Muslims. Jenita Rauta, a researcher from the National Police Academy, said that the 2015-2016 data included many instances of hate crimes between Sunni and Shia Muslims and that an increase in the number of asylum seekers who were placed in reception centers without extensive background checks – intended to identify individuals with a history violent or illegal behavior – drove the phenomenon. Rauta said that more recent National Police Academy data from 2017-2018 showed a larger proportion of hate crimes targeting individuals who converted from Islam to Christianity.

The website Magneettimedia continued to post anti-Semitic content. In September, it published an article stating, “Harmful immigration to Europe is not the fault of the Islamic religion or Muslims, but is the fault of international Zionists and their global henchmen,” and, “Israel and the related Khazar-mafia have taken as their objective causing confrontation between the Christian world and the Islamic world.” Major companies and consumer brands continued to boycott the department store chain owned by the former owner of Magneettimedia, Juha Karkkainen, due to his anti-Semitic views.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, representatives of religious groups participated in virtual events hosted by other religious groups. Finn Church Aid (FCA), associated with the ELC, again hosted an interfaith iftar, bringing together virtually representatives from the major religious groups, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and municipal governments.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religious worship and prohibits religious discrimination. The constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion and mandates Catholic religious teaching in state schools, from which students may opt out. The government again failed to license any crematoria for use by the Hindu community or others, act on a Russian Orthodox application, pending since 2017, to build a church, or implement past proposals to offer voluntary Islamic religious education in state schools. In September, Catholic bishops in the country issued a public statement stating that two equality bills introduced in parliament in 2019 with the stated aim of preventing discrimination would instead threaten personal freedoms, including conscientious objection to promoting or participating in activities that went against one’s principles and values, and the rights of Catholic schools to appoint educators who reflected Catholic values.

As in previous years, Greek Catholics made a church available for use by a Russian Orthodox congregation, and Roman Catholic parishes made their premises available to various Orthodox groups.

The U.S. embassy advocated religious freedom through in-person engagement, opinion pieces in the media, and outreach on social media. Together with government officials, the U.S. Charge’ d’Affaires participated in the annual Hanukkah celebration in December and emphasized the importance of celebrating religious freedom during difficult times.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 457,000 (midyear 2020 estimate). According to a 2018 survey conducted by the newspaper Malta Today, 94 percent of respondents identified as Catholic and 3.9 percent as atheist; 1.3 percent reported belonging to non-Catholic Christian denominations. Another survey conducted by Malta Today in 2016 reported 2.6 percent of respondents were Muslim, 1.8 percent said they only believed in God, 1.7 percent belonged to other religious groups, and 4.5 percent were atheist or agnostic. The Islamic Call Society estimates 6 to 7 percent of the population is Muslim, of whom most are Sunni, with a smaller Shia and Ahmadi presence. Additional religious communities with small numbers of members include Coptic Christians; Baptists; evangelical Protestants; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Seventh-day Adventists; Buddhists; Baha’is; members of the Greek, Russian, Ethiopian, Romanian, and Serbian Orthodox Churches; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification; and traditional African religions. According to Jewish community leaders, the Jewish population comprises an estimated 200 persons. A significant number of minority religious community members are migrants, refugees, foreign workers, or naturalized citizens.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Greek Catholic Church Our Lady of Damascus in Valletta again made itself available for the congregation of the Russian Orthodox Parish of St. Paul the Apostle to use as the latter awaited the Planning Authority’s decision on its application to build a new church. Roman Catholic parishes also made their premises available to the Ethiopian, Romanian, Serbian, and Russian Orthodox Churches.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and affiliation and states the country is not bound to any particular faith. Registration requirements for religious groups include the need to present a petition with signatures of at least 50,000 adherents, which members of some religious groups considered discriminatory. Some groups registered as civic associations in order to function. Government officials and members of parliament (MPs) from both the government coalition and opposition parties continued to make anti-Muslim statements, and several political parties amplified anti-Muslim messages in their campaigns for the February parliamentary election. Authorities continued to criminally prosecute some members of the People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS) for defaming minority religious beliefs and Holocaust denial. In October, a court sentenced the party’s chairman to four-and-a-half years in prison after convicting him of an act of anti-Semitism. In January, the annual state subsidy to government-recognized religious communities increased by approximately 10 percent.

In January, the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia reported what it called an Islamophobic attack against a Muslim student on a public bus in Bratislava, reportedly triggered by the student’s use of an Islamic greeting in a telephone conversation. The Muslim community continued to report anti-Muslim hate speech on social media, which it attributed mostly to inflammatory public statements by politicians portraying Muslim refugees as an existential threat to the country’s society. According to a survey by a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), more than 70 percent of citizens would find it unacceptable if a Muslim from Saudi Arabia moved into their neighborhood. Organizations that media described as far right continued to publish material, organize gatherings, commemorate the World War II (WWII)-era, Nazi-allied Slovak State, and praise its leaders. A survey by a local think tank found that 51 percent of citizens tended to believe in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Unregistered religious groups said the public tended to distrust them because of their lack of official government recognition.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officers raised with government officials, including the Minister of Culture and MPs, the treatment of religious minorities and the difficulties those groups faced regarding registration, as well as measures to counter what religious groups and others described as widespread anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. The Ambassador and other embassy officers also repeatedly raised public awareness of the importance of religious freedom, using private and public events to highlight the need for tolerance. The Ambassador organized an interfaith discussion with representatives of the country’s registered and unregistered churches and religious communities, as well as the government, to discuss religious freedom, tolerance, interfaith relations, and the impact of COVID-19 on religious practice and services. A senior embassy official visited a desecrated Jewish cemetery, condemning vandalism and all forms of hatred and intolerance. Embassy officials met regularly with registered and unregistered religious organizations and NGOs to raise the issue of hate speech and to highlight the role of churches and religious groups in countering extremism and promoting tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.4 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the most recent census in 2011, Roman Catholics constitute 62 percent of the population, members of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession 5.9 percent, and Greek Catholics 3.8 percent; 13.4 percent did not state a religious affiliation. There are smaller numbers of members of the Reformed Christian Church, other Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Orthodox Church, Jews, Baha’is, and Muslims. In the 2011 census, approximately 1,200 persons self-identified as Muslim, while representatives of the Muslim community estimate their number at 5,000. According to the census, there are approximately 2,000 Jews. According to the World Jewish Congress, there are approximately 2,600 Jewish residents.

Greek Catholics are generally ethnic Slovaks and Ruthenians, although some Ruthenians belong to the Orthodox Church. Most Orthodox Christians live in the eastern part of the country. Members of the Reformed Christian Church live primarily in the south, near the border with Hungary, where many ethnic Hungarians live. Other religious groups tend to be spread evenly throughout the country.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In January, the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia reported an assault against a Syrian student on a public bus in Bratislava. A man reportedly violently shoved a student standing next to him after the student said the Islamic greeting, “As-salamu alaykum” (peace be with you) in a telephone conversation. The man reportedly attempted to renew his assault, but the student defended himself and exited the bus at the next stop. Bystanders reportedly did not react to the altercation, and the student did not report the incident to the authorities.

A representative of the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia stated the Muslim community continued to encounter difficulties altering negative public attitudes partly because of the social stigma associated with not having the same legal benefits accorded to registered religious groups. Representatives of other unregistered religious groups, including the Church of Scientology and Christian Fellowship Grace, also stated that the public tended to view their activities with mistrust and perceive them as “fringe cults” because of their lack of official government recognition as a religious community.

The Islamic Foundation in Slovakia again reported continued online hate speech toward Muslims and refugees, which it attributed mostly to the social controversy ensuing from the 2015 European migration crisis and inflammatory anti-Muslim public statements by local politicians. Hate speech, mostly on social media, again included frequent portrayal of Muslims as “savages,” “barbarians,” “terrorists,” and a “threat to European culture and way of life,” as well as calls for violence against refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa, many of whom were believed to be Muslim. Muslim community leaders said they continued to perceive increased anti-Muslim sentiment compared with 2015 and earlier, and they continued to maintain a low profile regarding their activities and prayer rooms to avoid inflaming public opinion.

Police reported seven cases of defamation of race, nation, or religious belief and nine cases of incitement of national, racial, and ethnic hatred in the first eight months of the year, compared with 13 cases of defamation and seven cases of incitement of hatred in all of 2019. Police provided no further details.

According to a regional study by Bratislava-based think tank GLOBSEC released in August, 51 percent of Slovaks tended to believe Jews had too much power and were secretly controlling governments and institutions around the world. The same study also showed that 53 percent of respondents believed that antigovernment protests in 2018 launched in the aftermath of the killing of an investigative journalist and his fiancee were orchestrated and financially supported by a Jewish American financier.

A survey conducted in June by pollster Focus for the Milan Simecka Foundation, a local NGO, found a majority of respondents would consider it “completely unacceptable” or “rather unacceptable” for a Muslim or a foreigner from a majority-Muslim country (the precise percentage varied by country of origin cited) to move into their neighborhood, compared to 32 percent if the neighbor were from the United States. According to the survey, more than 70 percent of citizens would find it unacceptable if a Muslim from Saudi Arabia moved into their neighborhood. More than half (53 percent) of respondents indicated they would consider it “completely unacceptable,” and a further 24 percent “rather unacceptable,” if their adult child married a Muslim. The NGO interpreted the results of the survey as demonstrating that societal acceptance of and tolerance toward foreigners and non-Christians, particularly Muslims and persons from Arab, African, and Middle Eastern countries, remained limited and appeared to be decreasing. A 2008 edition of the survey found that at that time, 32 percent of respondents would consider it unacceptable if a Muslim moved into their neighborhood.

Sociologists and Jewish community leaders said they perceived anti-Semitism was increasing, citing repeated references by public officials to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, increased electoral support for LSNS, the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in December 2019, and polling trends that found a steadily growing share of the population would have an issue with a Jewish family moving into their neighborhood.

Organizations the media characterized as far right – including the civic organizations Museum of the Slovak Armed Forces 1939-1945 and the Slovak Historical Society – continued to publish material and issue statements praising the anti-Semitic, Nazi-allied Slovak State government and organize gatherings in which participants displayed symbols of that government and wore its uniforms. Organizers often included photographs showing WWII symbols, such as the double-barred equal-armed cross or photographs of President Tiso in online posts promoting their events. In March, on the occasion of the 81st anniversary of the founding of the Slovak State and in April on the 73rd anniversary of the execution of Tiso, the Aliancia za nedelu (“Alliance for Sunday”), a Christian civic association, posted articles on its website downplaying the crimes of that regime and its leadership and rejecting the responsibility of the government of the Slovak State for deporting the Jewish population to Nazi extermination camps.

At year’s end, the Supreme Court had not ruled on a criminal case involving a man who attacked the Turkish and Albanian proprietors of a kebab bistro in Banska Bystrica in 2018, shouting anti-Muslim slurs and threatening to kill all Muslims. In 2019, the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced the man to four years in prison after the judge reduced the charge from attempted murder aggravated by a deliberate extremist motive, punishable by a prison sentence of up to 21 years to one of inflicting bodily harm. The prosecutor appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court.

In January, police closed the investigation into the December 2019 desecration of a Jewish cemetery in the town of Rajec after it found that the acts of vandalism were committed by five local boys aged nine to 12 years who, it concluded, did not act with anti-Semitic hate motives. At year’s end, police continued to investigate an unrelated December 2019 incident during which unknown persons knocked over 60 gravestones in the Jewish cemetery in the city of Namestovo, but they reportedly had no leads. The local Pamataj (“Remember”) civic association commenced work on restoring the damaged cemetery, using funds collected through a crowdsourcing campaign, among other resources.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions, a local NGO, continued to organize a series of public debates and school lectures with a variety of religious leaders from the Jewish, Muslim, Augsburg Lutheran, and Roman Catholic communities to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the right of individuals to express their religious beliefs in public and private. It states all religious communities shall enjoy equal rights and prohibits incitement of religious hatred or intolerance. The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) and Ministry of Justice (MOJ) continued a joint research project to establish the scope of Jewish heirless properties seized by the Nazis or their collaborators. The report from the project was under review at year’s end. Restitution efforts remained complicated by an earlier law on property nationalization claims that generally excluded property seized from Jewish families prior to 1945. Muslims continued to ask the government to provide pork-free meals in public institutions. Muslim groups again reported difficulties in receiving services in hospitals, prisons, and the military. A government response to the Muslim community’s request to reserve special areas in cemeteries for Muslim graves and allow gravestones to face Mecca remained under review. An ecumenical group of churches and the Islamic Community of Slovenia helped the government devise a COVID-19 assistance package for religious communities in November. Most Muslim religious workers, however, were not eligible for this assistance because they were not citizens of the country.

Muslim groups reported obstacles in accessing halal food and spiritual care, and in circumcising their male children. The Islamic Community opened the country’s first mosque on February 7 in a limited capacity, although it was closed most of the year due to COVID-19 restrictions. Secretary-General of the Islamic Community Nevzet Poric stated that anti-Muslim hate speech was present on social media.

U.S. embassy officials met with government officials responsible for upholding religious freedom, including the Ministry of Culture (MOC) Office for Religious Communities, to discuss the ongoing concerns of religious groups regarding the legal requirement to stun animals before slaughter, the opinion of the human rights ombudsman that circumcision of male children is not permissible for nonmedical reasons, and the state of interfaith dialogue. In September, a senior U.S. official urged the MOJ Higher Secretary to demonstrate the country’s commitment to Holocaust survivors and take steps to revitalize Jewish life in the country. During the year, embassy officials organized a roundtable with local university representatives and the head of the World Religions Program at Ljubljana University to discuss issues related to religious freedom, and organized Zero Discrimination Day, which featured remarks at the embassy by a representative of the Islamic Community on the importance of religious freedom and tolerance. The embassy amplified its engagement on religious freedom issues through social media.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.1 million (midyear 2020 estimate). Estimates of the Catholic community’s size range from one million to 1.5 million persons. According to the secretary-general of the Islamic Community, the Muslim population is approximately 100,000. Estimates of the Serbian Orthodox Church community’s size range from 30,000 to 45,000 persons. The head of the Protestant community estimates its size at 10,000 persons. The Buddhist community, made up mostly of ethnic Slovenians, is estimated to number 2,000 persons. The Jewish community estimates its size at 300 persons. The Orthodox and Muslim communities include a large number of immigrants from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. A number of refugees and immigrants, including foreign workers, are part of the Muslim community. There are also small communities of adherents of Slavic pagan religions, also known as Slavic Native Faiths.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On November 3, the Islamic Community publicly condemned the November 2 terrorist attack in Vienna, Austria carried out by a Muslim, and it expressed solidarity with, and condolences to, the victims and their families.

There were incidents of anti-Muslim hate speech, especially online, according to Web-Eye, an internet monitoring organization. In 2019 (latest data available), among the 773 reported cases of alleged hate speech, 23 percent expressed intolerance towards Muslims. Secretary-General Poric stated that COVID-19 and corresponding government-imposed restrictions reduced the opportunities for face-to-face interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims, but anti-Muslim hate speech was still present on social media.

The Orthodox community’s only church remained in Ljubljana. Orthodox representatives continued efforts to build additional churches in Koper and Celje until the government imposed COVID-19 restrictions. Before the restrictions, the Orthodox community in Koper had held services at a local Catholic church, in keeping with the Catholic Church practice to routinely grant access for local Orthodox communities to host events and religious ceremonies

On February 7, the Islamic Community opened the country’s first mosque in Ljubljana. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, however, the mosque remained closed at year’s end. Mufti Nedzad Grabus of the Islamic Community stated that the mosque’s opening would bring increased scrutiny and possible backlash against Muslims, adding he received anonymous death threats during the mosque’s initial construction in 2014 and 2015.

Representatives of the Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, and Protestant communities continued to report productive relations among members of different religious groups, including active interfaith dialogues at workshops and conferences, including virtual events.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future