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Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

To obtain an official presence in the country, non-Muslim religious groups must apply to register with the MFA.  The only registered religious groups are Sunni and Shia Muslims and eight Christian denominations.  Protestant denominations other than the registered eight denominations, including nondenominational house churches, may be registered with the government with the support of the CCSC – an umbrella organization consisting of representatives of the eight already registered denominations.  The eight registered Christian denominations are the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic, Maronite, evangelical Protestant, and the Inter-Denominational Christian Churches.  In practice, nearly all of the remaining denominations are registered under the aegis of the Anglican Church.

Non-Christian groups must apply for registration through the MFA.  Registered groups may hold bank accounts in the organization’s name, apply for property to build worship space (or have already built structures such as private villas recognized as worship spaces to avoid problems with authorities), import religious texts, and publish religious newsletters or flyers for internal distribution, whereas unregistered entities are unable to open accounts, solicit funds, worship in private spaces legally, acquire religious texts from outside the country, publish religious-themed newsletters or pamphlets, or legally hire staff.

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

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

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

The only religions registered to have their own places of worship are Islam and Christianity.  All mosques and Islamic institutions in the country must be registered with the MEIA.  The law designates the MEIA minister as the final authority for approving Islamic religious centers.  The MFA approves non-Islamic houses of worship in coordination with the private office of the emir.

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

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

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

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

The government submitted documents to the United Nations on May 21, following cabinet approval on March 14, to accede to the ICCPR, with a formal statement in its treaty accession document that the government shall interpret Article 18, paragraph 2, of the ICCPR (“No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”) “based on the understanding that it does not contravene the Islamic Sharia” and that the government would reserve the right to implement paragraph 2 in accordance with its understanding of sharia.  The government also formally stated in its accession document that it would interpret several other provisions of the ICCPR in line with sharia, including Article 27 (regarding the rights of minorities “to profess and practice their own religion”).  The government made a formal reservation against being bound by gender equality provisions in Article 3 and Article 23.4 regarding family law and inheritance.

Government Practices

The government continued to state it would consider requests from nonregistered religious groups to acquire a place of worship if they applied to register but, as in previous years, said none had done so.  The government continued to permit adherents of unregistered religious groups, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Baha’i Faith, and unregistered small Christian congregations, to worship privately in rented villas, their homes, workplaces, and with others, although they lacked authorized facilities in which to practice their faiths.

The Office of the Secretary General of the MFA was responsible for handling church affairs, replacing the Department of Consular Affairs within the MFA.  It worked in coordination with the director of the Human Rights Department within the MFA.  This new leadership worked to engage with Christian leaders and reported direct contact and dialogue with the CCSC to develop channels of communication for addressing concerns such as the impact of security restrictions.  In August the assistant office director for services affairs of the Office of the Secretary General met with church leaders at the Mesaymeer Religious Complex also known as “Church City” and located on government-owned land, to discuss challenges faced by the Christian community.  In October the head of the MFA’s Human Rights Department led a delegation of the National Committee for Human Rights in an official visit to the complex.  Church leaders stated both visits were positive, being the first of their kind by high-ranking officials.

The MEIA reported it continued to hire clerics and assign them to specific mosques.  The ministry continued to provide on an ad hoc basis thematic guidance for Friday sermons, focusing mainly on Islamic rituals and social values, with clear restrictions from using the pulpits to express political views or attack other faiths.  The ministry reviewed content but did not require clerics to obtain prior approval of their sermons.  The government reserved the right to take judicial action against individuals who did not follow the guidance.

The MEIA continued to remind the public during Ramadan of its view of the correct way for Muslims to perform their religious duties.  The penal code stipulates that individuals seen eating or drinking during daylight hours are subject to a fine of 3,000 riyals ($820), three months’ imprisonment, or both.  There were no reports of arrests or fines during the year for violation of this stipulation of the code.  All restaurants not located in hotels were required to close in daylight hours during Ramadan.

The government discouraged citizens and residents from taking part in the Umrah or Hajj due to the ongoing dispute with Saudi Arabia that started in mid-2017.  Officials at the MEIA stated the decision was made because of concerns for pilgrims’ security, due to the lack of diplomatic representation or coordination with Saudi religious and security authorities.

In its report on the government’s accession to the ICCPR, Human Rights Watch stated that the government rejected the ICCPR’s gender equality provisions in marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance on grounds that they contravened sharia.  The government also declared it would interpret several provisions of the ICCPR in line with sharia, including those defining cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment; bans on capital and corporal punishment; minimum marriage ages; and freedom of religion.

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

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

In April the ADL reported that in the past year the “government has actually continued to use its prominent platforms to promote strident anti-Semitic preachers…”  The ADL cited imams, including Abdullah al-Naama and Mohammed Hassan al-Muraikhi, who had delivered anti-Semitic sermons at the state-controlled Grand Mosque in Doha.  The minister of the MEIA stated that the ministry did not condone anti-Semitic language and would investigate the matter.  Earlier in the year, the Education City Mosque in Doha, which serves learning institutions on the Education City campus, including branches of several U.S. universities, hosted four Friday sermons by Shaqer al-Shahwani, whose sermons were promoted at government-controlled mosques.  Al-Shahwani had previously stated on Twitter that “the Jews” are “behind every immorality and vice” in the world.  In July the ADL reprinted an article that a member of its staff had written for the online blog, The Long War Journal, stating that al-Naama and al-Muraikhi continued to deliver regular Friday sermons at the Grand Mosque that demonized the Jewish people and told fellow Muslims that Jews and Christians were their natural enemies, according to sermon transcripts on the Grand Mosque’s website.  The report said state television awarded each imam with a series of Ramadan specials during the year.

According to the ADL, the government also demonstrated support during Ramadan for at least five other preachers with hateful messages through the MEIA, using its Twitter account to promote their lectures during the month at prominent locations, including the Grand Mosque, the mosque in Katara cultural village, and the Education City Mosque.  These preachers included Thabit al-Qahtani, who through his Twitter account called upon God to “destroy the Jews”; Mowafi Azab, who declared (on a government website for fatwas called IslamWeb) that “the Jews” used pornographic movies to “destroy the world and control it”; and Ahmed al-Farjabi, who issued rulings on that same website calling the Jewish people “our enemy.”

According to an August 10 article in The Hill newspaper, written by the CEO of the ADL and reprinted on the organization’s website, the government-owned al-Jazeera media network continued “to be a major exporter of hateful content against the Jewish people…”  The report cited a May 23 news story carried by the network that cast doubt on the Nazi genocide of Jews, referring to “the alleged Holocaust.”  In July al-Jazeera broadcast a speech by a Hamas official calling for “the cleansing of Palestine of the filth of the Jews” and called for the establishment of a caliphate “after the [Muslim] nation has been healed of its cancer, the Jews.”  A blog post published on the network’s website accused the Jewish people of “killing the Prophets” and asserted that the historical existence of a Jewish temple in Jerusalem was a fabrication.  A separate article on its Arabic news webpage decried the “control of the Jews over the pornography industry.”

The Mesaymeer Religious Complex continued to provide worship space for the eight registered Christian denominations, with clear government instructions that Christian symbols such as crosses, steeples, and statues, were not permitted on the exterior of church buildings.  The government allowed unregistered churches to worship there as well, but only under the patronage of one of the eight recognized denominations.  The Anglican Center within the Mesaymeer Religious Complex housed a number of other smaller denominations and offered space to 88 congregations of different denominations and languages.  In addition to the primary buildings, the churches were allowed to erect additional tent structures during Easter and Christmas outside of the primary complex to house surge volumes of congregants.

In April the Maronite Patriarch laid the foundation stone at the Mesaymeer Religious Complex for the Saint Charbel Maronite Church, which would be the first Maronite church in the Gulf region.  During the year, the Maronites continued to worship at the Roman Catholic Church building but intended to move to the new church once completed.  Land was designated and fund raising began for a new Ethiopian church.

The CCSC reported that Christian clergy were allowed to visit members of their congregations when they were hospitalized and have monthly trips to both male and female prisons to meet with incarcerated Christians.

The government continued to enforce strict security measures at the Mesaymeer Religious Complex, including closing parking lots, setting a curfew on church access, and using metal detectors.

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

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

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

Leaders of the Evangelical Church Alliance in Qatar (ECAQ) stated that the government, represented by the MOI, retained the possession of a plot of land after it had been allocated to the alliance, saying the plot of land would be used as a police station.  The government promised to provide ECAQ leaders with an alternative plot of land, but as of the end of the year, had not done so.  The ECAQ leaders stated the government’s decision caused the alliance to sustain financial damage because it had already laid a foundation for the building and paid contractors for the work.

The MOI allowed more than 100 house churches to operate throughout the country, including 90 that were allocated to members of the ECAQ.

In December the ADL criticized the government-sponsored Doha International Book Fair for including anti-Semitic books.  The book titles included Lies Spread by the Jews; Talmud of Secrets: Facts Exposing the Jewish Schemes to Control the World; The History of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the History of the Corruption of the Jews, and the Demise of their Entity; Awakening to Jewish Influence in the United States of America by David Duke; The Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Purported Temple; and The Myth of the Nazi Gas Chambers.

On November 29, the government-funded al-Jazeera News Channel broadcast a conference held in Gaza marking the UN-declared International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, during which a Palestinian youth recited a poem entitled “Rifle” that included references to Jewish people as “apes” and “pigs.”

The Ministry of Culture and Sports approved the staging of a major two-day Christian musical conference in Doha in November that was attended by 18,000 persons.

The government-funded DICID, which operated independently, hosted discussions on the freedom to worship within one’s home, and on how seminars and roundtable discussions on religious tolerance could be used to resolve intercommunal strife.  The center also hosted discussions on difficulties faced by non-Muslim groups.  In November the DICIC held its eighth interfaith roundtable, inviting Christian church leaders and Muslim scholars to the event.

In December the Lebanese Maronite Patriarch consecrated a church in Lebanon that was funded by a donation from the emir.  The country’s ambassador to Lebanon, attending the ceremony, stated the emir was a “fervent supporter” of Islamic-Christian dialogue.

Saudi Arabia

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Basic Law of Governance establishes the country as a sovereign Arab Islamic state in which Islam is the official religion.  The Basic Law says sharia is the “foundation of the Kingdom” and states the country’s constitution is the Quran and the Sunna.  The Basic Law contains no legal recognition or protection of freedom of religion.  Conversion from Islam to another religion is grounds for the charge of apostasy, which is legally punishable by death, although courts have not carried out a death sentence for apostasy in recent years.

Blasphemy against Islam may also be legally punishable by death, but courts have not sentenced individuals to death for blasphemy in recent years.  Punishments for blasphemy may include lengthy prison sentences and lashings.  Criticism of Islam, including expression deemed offensive to Muslims, is forbidden on the grounds of preserving social stability.

The 2017 counterterrorism law criminalizes “anyone who challenges, either directly or indirectly, the religion or justice of the King or Crown Prince.”  By year’s end, authorities had not yet issued new implementation regulations, and the implementation regulations of the 2014 counterterrorism law remained in effect.  Those regulations criminalize “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion.”  The right to access legal representation for those accused of violating the counterterrorism law is limited; according to the law, “the Public Prosecutor may, at the investigative stage, restrict this right whenever the interests of the investigation so require.”  There is no right to access government-held evidence.

The Basic Law states the duty of every citizen is to defend Islam, society, and the homeland.  Non-Muslims must convert to Islam before they are eligible to naturalize.  The law requires applicants for citizenship to attest to being Muslim and to obtain a certificate documenting their religious affiliation endorsed by a Muslim religious authority.  Children born to Muslim fathers are deemed Muslim by law.

The country is the home of Mecca and Medina, Islam’s two holiest sites.  The government prohibits non-Muslims from entering central Mecca or religious sites in Medina.  Muslims visit the cities on the annual Hajj pilgrimage and on the Umrah pilgrimage.  The government has stated that caring for the holy cities of Mecca and Medina is a sacred trust exercised on behalf of all Muslims.  The country’s sovereign employs the official title of “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” in reference to the two cities.  The government also establishes national quotas for foreigners and issues permits to Muslim residents (including its own nationals) to participate in the Hajj.

Clerics are vetted and employed by the MOIA.  Only government-employed clerics are permitted to deliver sermons, which must be vetted by MOIA in advance.

Since 2016 Saudi-based clerics traveling abroad for proselytization activities must first obtain the permission of MOIA.  The stated purpose of the regulation is to limit the ability of religious scholars to travel, particularly those the government regards as having questionable credentials, and to prevent the appearance of interference, or actual interference, by Saudi-based clerics in the domestic affairs of other states.

Public school students at all levels receive mandatory religious instruction based on Sunni Islam according to the Hanbali School of jurisprudence.  Private schools are not permitted to deviate from the official, government-approved religious curriculum.  Private international schools are required to teach Saudi students and Muslim students of other nationalities an Islamic studies course, while non-Muslim, non-Saudi students sometimes receive a course on Islamic civilization, or else “free time” in place of the curriculum designed for Saudi students; both courses amount to one hour of instruction per week.  Private international schools may also teach courses on other religions or civilizations.

The CPVPV is a semiautonomous government agency with authority to monitor social behavior and report violations of moral standards consistent with the government’s policy and in coordination with law enforcement authorities.  A 2016 decree limited the CPVPV’s activities to only providing counseling and reporting individuals suspected of violating the law to the police.  CPVPV field officers do not wear uniforms, but are required to wear identification badges and legally may only act in their official capacity when accompanied by regular police.  The CPVPV’s purview includes discouraging and reporting public and private contact between unrelated men and women (gender mixing); practicing or displaying emblems of non-Islamic faiths or failing to respect Islam; “immodest” dress, especially for women; displaying or selling media contrary to Islam, including pornography; producing, distributing, or consuming alcohol; venerating places or celebrating events inconsistent with approved Islamic practices; practicing “sorcery” or “black magic”; and committing, facilitating, or promoting acts, publications, or thoughts considered lewd or morally degenerate, including adultery, homosexuality, and gambling.  The CPVPV reports to the king through the Council of Ministers, and the Ministry of Interior (MOI) oversees its operations on the king’s behalf.

The judicial system is based on laws largely derived from the Quran and the Sunna, developed by fatwas issued by the 21-person Council of Senior Scholars (CSS) that reports to the king, and other royal laws and ordinances.  The Basic Law states governance is based on justice, shura (consultation), and equality according to sharia and further identifies the Quran and the Sunna as the sources for fatwas.  The law specifies a hierarchical organization and composition of the CSS, the Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Religious Rulings (ifta), and the Office of the Mufti, together with their functions.  The Basic Law recognizes the CSS, supported by the Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Religious Rulings, as the supreme authority on religious matters.  The CSS is headed by the grand mufti and is composed of Sunni religious scholars and jurists, 18 of whom are from the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, with one representative of each of the other Sunni schools (Malaki, Hanafi, and Shafi’i).  There are no Shia members.  Scholars are chosen at the king’s discretion and serve renewable four-year terms, with many serving for life.

The country’s legal architecture does not derive from a common law system, and judges are not bound by legal precedent.  In the absence of a comprehensive criminal code, rulings and sentences can diverge widely.  Criminal appeals may be made to the appellate and Supreme courts, although appellate decisions sometimes result in a harsher sentence than the original court decision.  Government universities provide training in all four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, but with a focus on the Hanbali school.

In legal cases involving accidental death or injury, compensation differs according to the religious affiliation of the plaintiff.  In the event a court renders a judgment in favor of a plaintiff who is a Jewish or Christian male, the plaintiff is entitled to receive 50 percent of the compensation a Muslim male would receive; other non-Muslims may only receive one-sixteenth the amount a male Muslim would receive.

Judges have been observed to discount the testimony of Muslims whom they deemed deficient in their knowledge of Islam, and to favor the testimony of Muslims over the testimony of non-Muslims.  Under the government’s interpretation of the Quran, judges may place the value of a woman’s testimony at half that of a man’s in certain cases.

The Basic Law requires the state to protect human rights in accordance with sharia.  The Human Rights Commission (HRC), a government entity, is tasked with protecting, enhancing, and ensuring implementation of international human rights standards “in light of the provisions of sharia,” and regularly follows up on citizen complaints.  There are no formal requirements regarding the composition of the HRC; during the year, the commission had approximately 28 members from various parts of the country, including two Shia members.

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

Government Practices

There were reports of prison authorities abusing Shia prisoners, including one incident leading to death.  Online media and NGOs reported in March that Ahmed Attia, a Shia activist deported to the country from Bahrain in January, reportedly suffered memory loss as a result of physical abuse while in detention in Dammam prison.  Shia Rights Watch (SRW) also reported the March 13 death of 61-year-old Haj Ali Jassim Nazia as a result of physical abuse in prison.

Some human rights organizations stated convictions of Shia on security charges, including several carrying the death penalty, stemming from 2017-18 clashes were motivated by sectarianism, while the government stated the individuals were investigated, prosecuted, and sentenced as a result of security-related crimes and in accordance with the law.  On March 15, UN experts said 15 individuals convicted of spying for Iran and financing terrorism were facing imminent execution after their sentences were referred to the Royal Court for ratification by the king.  The Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced the 15 individuals, all of whom were Shia, to death in December 2016 and further court rulings in July and December 2017 upheld the sentences.  Human rights organizations widely decried the legal process as not heeding international standards for fair trial guarantees and transparency.  At the end of the year, the government had not carried out the sentences.

International NGOs stated they were unable to obtain any information on the status of Ahmad al-Shammari, who had reportedly been sentenced to death for charges related to apostasy in April 2017, and was believed still to be incarcerated.  It was unknown whether any appeals in his case remained pending.

On January 4, the SCC sentenced prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Mohammed al-Habib to seven years in prison after the Public Prosecution’s objection to his 2017 acquittal.  The ruling overturned a previous verdict issued by the SCC in July 2017, acquitting al-Habib of the charges of inciting sedition and sectarianism, incitement against the rulers, and defaming religious scholars.  According to human rights groups, authorities detained al-Habib in response to his public statements urging the government to address anti-Shia sectarianism, including in the educational curriculum, and criticizing government clerics who had espoused anti-Shia views.

In August the public prosecutor announced charges against six Shia activists, including female activist Israa al-Ghomgham, from the Eastern Province arrested between September 2015 and April 2016 based on the Islamic law principle of ta’zir, in which the judge has discretion over the definition of what constitutes a crime and over the sentence.  The charges include “instigating riotous gatherings” in Qatif, “joining a terrorist organization linked to an enemy state,” “chanting anti-government slogans,” and “providing moral support for those rioting and instigating sectarian strife.”  According to HRW, the SCC in the Qatif region was the venue for the defendants’ trial.  There were no updates on the case at year’s end.

Up to 34 individuals, all believed to be Shia, faced the possibility of execution as they awaited implementation orders for death sentences already confirmed by the Supreme Court for their roles in protests in the Qatif area of the Eastern Province in 2011 and 2012, according to human rights organizations.  Up to nine of these persons – including Ali al-Nimr (the nephew of Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed in 2016), Dawood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher, Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, and Mujtaba al-Sweikat – may have been minors at the time they committed the acts for which they were convicted; however, the government disputed these claims, noting the courts and sharia system use the hijri (lunar/Islamic) calendar for age computations.  Human rights organizations said many of the convictions were based on confessions extracted through prolonged solitary confinement and torture.  Many of these individuals alleged authorities tortured them during pretrial detention and interrogation.  Local Shia activists and international human rights groups questioned the competence, independence, and impartiality of the judiciary, and noted that the underlying charges were inconsistent with international principles of freedom of assembly, expression, and association.

The government continued to imprison individuals accused of apostasy and blasphemy, violating Islamic values and moral standards, insulting Islam, black magic, and sorcery.

On June 7, police arrested Vishnu Dev Radhakrishnan, an Indian national and employee of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (also known as Saudi Aramco) for “cybercrime pertaining to blasphemy and spreading messages against the Kingdom through social media.”  Radhakrishnan allegedly sent messages on Twitter criticizing the Prophet Mohammed.  On September 13, a court sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment and a 150,000 riyal ($40,000) fine.

Raif Badawi remained in prison at the end of the year based on his 2013 conviction for violating Islamic values, violating sharia, committing blasphemy, and mocking religious symbols on the internet.  Originally sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in 2013, a court increased Badawi’s sentence on appeal to a 10-year prison term and 1,000 lashes.  By year’s end, the government had not carried out the remaining 950 lashes.

At year’s end, the status of Ahmad al-Shammari’s appeal of his death sentence following his 2017 conviction on charges related to apostasy was unknown.  According to media reports, Shammari allegedly posted videos to social media accounts in which he renounced Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

In September the SCC opened trials against some clerics, academics, and members of the media for alleged association with the MB.  The accused included prominent Muslim scholars Salman al-Odah, Awad al-Qarni, and Ali al-Omari.  The three were arrested in September 2017.  The public prosecutor reportedly sought the death penalty against them.  The public prosecutor leveled 37 charges against al-Odah, the vast majority of which were connected to his alleged ties with the MB and Qatari government, and his public support for imprisoned dissidents.  In reviewing some of the specific charges, HRW noted, “The initial charges are mostly related to his alleged ties to the MB and other organizations supposedly connected to it.”  None referred to specific acts of violence or incitement to acts of violence, according to a HRW statement on September 12.  The 30 charges against al-Omari included “forming a youth organization to carry out the objectives of a terrorist group inside the Kingdom.”  The government continued to regard the MB as a terrorist organization.

Authorities are reported to have arrested cleric Abdelaziz al-Fawzan in July after he spoke out against the arrests of other religious leaders in the country, according to the website Middle Eastern Eye.  The Prisoners of Conscience Twitter account reported that Fawzan, a professor of comparative religious law at the Saudi Higher Institute of Justice, had been arrested over a tweet in which he had “expressed his opinion against the suppression of sheikhs and preachers.”

According to Reuters, the government detained influential religious scholar Safar al-Hawali and three of his sons in July, widening an apparent crackdown against clerics, intellectuals, and rights campaigners.  Al-Hawali, often linked to the MB, rose to prominence 25 years ago as a leader of the Sahwa [Awakening] movement, which agitated to bring democracy to the country and criticized the ruling family for corruption, social liberalization, and working with the West.  Authorities reportedly transferred al-Hawali to a hospital in September after his health deteriorated.

In August multiple media outlets reported that the government detained Saleh al-Talib, an imam and preacher at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, after he reportedly delivered a sermon on the duty in Islam to speak out against the spread of vice.

In September social media and activist websites reported on the suspension or detention of Mecca Grand Mosque imams.  Khalid bin Ali al-Ghamdi was reportedly suspended and ordered to refrain from preaching or engaging in Islamic da’wa (religious outreach).  No reason was announced for the suspension.  Sheikh Faisal bin Jameel al-Ghazawi was reportedly suspended from his position at the Mecca Grand Mosque.  Al-Ghazawi was reportedly also barred from all preaching and da’wa activities.  A third Mecca Grand Mosque imam, Sheikh Bandar Abdulaziz Balila, was reportedly detained by security forces for four days for unknown reasons.

In October the Public Prosecutor’s Office charged cleric Hassan Farhan al-Maliki with calling into question the fundamentals of Islam by casting doubt on prophetic Sunna and hadith (the record of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Mohammad), propagating deviant beliefs, holding an impure (takfiri) ideology, insulting the rulers and CSS and labelling them as extremists, glorifying the Khomeini-led revolution in Iran, and supporting Hizballah and ISIS, among other charges.  He remained in detention waiting a second trial at year’s end.

On July 2, authorities detained Zuhair Hussein Bu Saleh to implement a prior sentence of two months imprisonment and 60 lashes for practicing congregational prayers at his house due to the lack of Shia mosques in the Eastern Province, according to the international NGO European Saudi Organization for Human Rights.  Bu Saleh was previously arrested in 2015 for “calling for unauthorized gatherings,” and the government closed the prayer hall he supervised.

In August authorities referred cleric Ali Al-Rabieei for prosecution for allegedly tweeting sectarian and anti-Shia content, according to media reports.  Al-Rabieei subsequently apologized for this tweet and reportedly fled abroad.

In August the public prosecutor ordered the arrest of a man who appeared in a video carrying machine guns and threatening to kill Shia citizens in Najran, in the southern part of the country.

According to Shia groups that track arrests and convictions of Shia, more than 300 persons remained in detention in prisons throughout the Eastern Province and additional individuals remained subject to travel bans.  Authorities had arrested more than 1,000 Eastern Province Shia since 2011 in connection with public protests demanding greater rights for Shia, including acts of violence, according to NGO reports.  Most were held on charges involving nonviolent offenses, including participating in or publicizing protests on social media, inciting unrest in the country, and insulting the king.

SRW reported in April government forces raided a Shia prayer hall in Qatif, arresting three men.  According to SRW, the forces also surrounded multiple neighborhoods in Qatif, setting up checkpoints and restricting entry to and departure from the areas.  SRW also reported that authorities arrested a teenage female Shia activist, Nour Said Al-Musallam, for tweets critical of the government.

The UK newspaper The Independent reported that social media users who posted or shared satire attacking religion faced imprisonment for up to five years under strict new laws introduced in the country.  Those found guilty of distributing content online deemed to disrupt public order or disturb religious values would also be subject to a fine of three million riyals ($800,000), the country’s public prosecutor’s office said in a statement on Twitter:  “Producing and distributing content that ridicules, mocks, provokes and disturbs public order, religious values and public morals through social media will be considered a cybercrime.”

A December report by the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, issued after a visit to the country in April and May, stated “The special rapporteur is further concerned at the pattern of systematic repression in the country’s Eastern Province, where the majority Shi’a population resides.  The Special Rapporteur has received credible allegations that many individuals protesting against repression of the Shia have been detained.  Their cases are currently making their way through the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC).  Many of these individuals were reportedly peaceful protesters, simply asking for increased religious freedoms, equal rights for the Shi’a community and political reform.  Some have been convicted for the expression of their political views; some for coordinating protests through social media; and some even for providing first aid to protesters.  In this process, a number of individuals who were under the age of criminal responsibility at the time they committed the alleged offences have now been sentenced to death.  Others have already been executed.”

Human rights organizations and legal experts continued to criticize antiterrorism laws for using overly broad and vague language, making them susceptible to politicization and other abuse.

The government continued to prohibit the public practice of any non-Islamic religions.  According to civil society sources and media reports, non-Muslims and many foreign and local Muslims whose religious practices differed from the form of Sunni Islam promoted by the government could only practice their religion in private and remained vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, detention, and, for noncitizens, deportation.

The MOIA maintained active oversight of the country’s religious establishment and provided guidance on the substance of Friday sermons and restricted the inclusion of content in those sermons it considered sectarian or political, promoting hatred or racism, or including commentary on foreign policy.  Mosques continued to be the only legally permissible public places of worship.  The government continued to address ideology it deemed extremist by scrutinizing clerics and teachers closely and dismissing those found promoting views it deemed intolerant, extreme, or advocating violence abroad, including in Syria and Iraq.  The MOIA continued to use ministry inspectors, regional branch inspectors, field teams, citizen feedback, and the media to monitor and address any violations of the ministry’s instructions and regulations in mosques.  MOIA oversight of mosques in less populated areas was not always as strict as it was in urban areas.  In July the MOIA created a hotline for individuals to call in and report on statements by imams that observers considered objectionable.  In August Minister of Islamic Affairs Abdul Latif Al-Sheikh announced the ministry was developing a mobile phone app which would monitor sermons and allow mosque-goers to rate their preacher on a number of aspects of their work content and length.  According to a BBC report in August, the government was engaged in deliberations on the reform of religious teachings and in a debate on unifying the content of sermons to steer people away from “foreign, partisan, or Muslim Brotherhood” thought.

Practices diverging from the government’s official interpretation of Islam, such as public celebrations of Mawlid al-Nabi (the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad) and visits to the tombs of renowned Muslims, remained forbidden.

While authorities indicated they considered members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to be Muslims, the group’s legal status remained unclear, and the mainly foreign resident Ahmadi Muslims reportedly hid their faith to avoid scrutiny, arrest, or deportation.

In March MOIA official Hashem bin Mohammed al-Barzanji referred to Shia as “rejectionists” in a tweet.

Since 2016, authorities permitted large-scale public commemorations of Ashura and other Shia holidays in Qatif, Eastern Province, home to the largest Shia population in the country.  As a result of several 2015 ISIS-inspired or directed attacks on Shia gathering places in the Eastern Province, there was again a significant deployment of government security personnel in the Qatif area during the Ashura commemoration in September.  According to community members, processions and gatherings appeared to increase over previous years due to decreased political tensions and greater coordination between the Shia community and authorities.

According to members of the expatriate community, some Christian congregations were able to conduct large Christian worship services discreetly and regularly without substantial interference from the CPVPV or other government authorities.

The government stated that individuals who experienced infringements on their ability to worship privately could address their grievances to the MOI, HRC, the National Society for Human Rights (a quasi-governmental organization), and, when appropriate, the MFA.  Religious groups reported, however, that officials typically charged those arrested during private worship services with gender-mixing, playing music, or other infractions not explicitly related to religious observance.  There were again no known reports of individuals contacting these or other governmental agencies for redress when their ability to worship privately was infringed.

According to government policy, non-Muslims were prohibited from being buried in the country.  There was, however, at least one public, non-Islamic cemetery in Jeddah, although the government did not support it financially.  The only other known non-Muslim cemetery was private and only available to Saudi Aramco employees.  Diplomatic missions reported most non-Muslims opted to repatriate their deceased to their home countries whenever financially possible.

Authorities generally required Shia mosques to use the Sunni call to prayer, including in mixed neighborhoods of both Sunni and Shia residents.  In some predominantly Shia areas of al-Ahsa Governorate in the Eastern Province, authorities allowed Shia mosques to use the Shia call to prayer.  In smaller Shia villages where there was virtually no CPVPV presence, reports indicated it was common for Shia businesses to close for three prayer times (not five times per Sunnis practice), or not at all.

The government continued to set policy aimed at enforcing Islamic norms; for example, the government threatened to expel foreigners who did not refrain from eating, drinking, or smoking in public during Ramadan.  According to media reports, it prohibited parents from giving their children any of 50 listed names deemed blasphemous, non-Arabic, or non-Islamic.

The CPVPV continued to monitor social behavior and promote official standards of morality, although instances of CPVPV interactions with individuals reportedly decreased significantly in most urban areas, such as Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam.

The government did not recognize certificates of educational attainment for graduates of some Shia religious centers of instruction or provide them employment benefits, which the government provided to graduates of Sunni religious training institutions.

The government continued a multi-year project, begun in 2007, to revise textbooks, curricula, and teaching methods with the stated aim of removing content disparaging religions other than Islam.  The project continued as part of the government’s Vision 2030 development and reform plan announced in April 2016.  The government continued to distribute revised textbooks, although intolerant material remained in circulation, including older versions of textbooks, particularly at the high school level, that contained language disparaging Christians and Jews.  Content included statements justifying the execution of “sorcerers” and social exclusion of non-Muslims, as well as statements that Jews, Christians, Shia Muslims, and Sufi Muslims did not properly adhere to monotheism.  In September Human Rights Watch reported some school textbooks continued to employ biased, anti-Semitic, and anti-Shia language.  Some teachers reportedly continued to express intolerance of other faiths and of alternative viewpoints regarding Islam.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a report on textbooks in November, entitled “Teaching Hate and Violence:  Problematic Passages from Saudi State Textbooks for the 2018-19 School Year.”  The report found that school textbooks for the 2018-19 academic year contained “dozens of troubling passages that clearly propagate incitement to hatred or violence against Jews, Christians, Shi’ite Muslims, women, homosexual men, and anybody who mocks or converts away from Islam.”  In its press release announcing the report, the ADL stated “The Saudi curriculum is replete with intolerant passages about Jews and Judaism; some passages even urge violence against Jews.  Others retread classic anti-Semitic stereotypes and assert conspiracy theories about alleged Jewish and Israeli plots to attack the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.”

Some travelers entering the country reported they were able to import a Bible for personal use, but the government regularly exercised its ability to inspect and confiscate personal non-Islamic religious materials.

Some academic experts reported the government continued to exclude perspectives at variance with the Salafi tradition within Sunni Islam from its extensive government-owned religious media and broadcast programming.

The CPVPV, in coordination with the Information and Communication Technologies Authority, continued to block certain websites as part of a broader policy of censoring online content that reportedly contained “objectionable” content and “ill-informed” views of religion.  The CPVPV shut down or blocked Twitter accounts for users “committing religious and ethical violations,” and authorities arrested an undisclosed number of social media users in accordance with the anticybercrimes law.  The government also reportedly located and shut down websites used to recruit jihadis or inspire violence.  In 2017 authorities announced they unblocked the calling features of certain private messenger apps, including Viber, FaceTime, and Facebook Messenger.  Some users reported that the calling features of WhatsApp and Skype still remained blocked, however.

The government financially supported approximately 70 percent of Sunni mosques, while the remaining 30 percent were at private residences or were built and endowed by private persons.  The construction of any new mosque required the permission of the MOIA, the local municipality, and the provincial government, which allocated space and issued building permits.  The MOIA supervised and financed the construction and maintenance of most Sunni mosques, including the hiring of clerical workers.

Shia Muslims managed their own mosques under the supervision of Shia scholars.  Most existing Shia mosques in the Eastern Province did not seek official operating licenses, as doing so would require asking the government to extend its explicit endorsement of these mosques, according to some NGO reports.  The government did not finance the construction or maintenance of Shia mosques.  Authorities prohibited Shia Muslims outside of the Eastern Province from building Shia-specific mosques.  Construction of Shia mosques required government approval, and Shia communities were required to receive permission from their neighbors to start construction on mosques.  Two Shia mosques in Dammam remained licensed by the government and served approximately 750,000 worshippers.  According to NGO reports, construction of Shia mosques was not approved outside Shia enclave areas.  There continued to be no licensed Shia mosques in major urban centers such as Jeddah, Riyadh, or al-Khobar.  Shia in those areas were therefore forced to hold prayers in private homes and community centers, where some Shia said they were subject to police harassment.  Expatriate Shia reported threats of arrest and deportation if they gathered privately in large groups to worship and were detected by authorities.

Following ISIS attacks against Shia mosques and gathering places in 2015, security services continued to provide protection for many Shia mosques and gathering places in the Eastern Province.  Additionally, media and other sources reported coordination between Shia volunteers and government security services to ensure security outside mosques and other gathering places during Friday sermons or other large public events.

Multiple reports from Shia groups cited discrimination in the judicial system as the catalyst for lengthy prison sentences handed down to Shia Muslims for engaging in political expression or organizing peaceful demonstrations.  The government permitted Shia judges in the Eastern Province to use the Ja’afari School of Islamic jurisprudence to adjudicate cases in family law, inheritance, and endowment management.  There were five Shia judges, all government-appointed, located in the Eastern Province cities of Qatif and al-Ahsa, where the majority of Twelver Shia live.  According to a Human Rights Watch report issued in September “the Saudi judicial system…often subjects Saudi Shia to discriminatory treatment or arbitrary criminalization of Shia religious practices.”

Reported instances of prejudice and discrimination against Shia Muslims continued to occur with respect to educational and public sector employment opportunities.  Shia stated they experienced systemic government discrimination in hiring.  There was no formal policy concerning the hiring and promotion of Shia in the private sector, but some Shia stated that public universities and employers discriminated against them, occasionally by identifying an applicant for education or employment as Shia simply by inquiring about the applicant’s hometown.  Many Shia reportedly stated that openly identifying as Shia would negatively affect career advancement.

Although Shia constituted approximately 10 to 12 percent of the total citizen population and at least one-quarter of the Eastern Province’s population, representation of Shia Muslims in senior government positions continued to be well below their proportion of the population, including in national security-related positions in the Ministry of Defense, the National Guard, and the MOI.  In contrast with previous years, the 35-member cabinet contained one Shia minister.  There were no Shia governors, deputy governors, or ministry branch directors in the Eastern Province.  There were five Shia members of the 150-member Shura Council.  A very small number of Shia occupied high-level positions in government-owned companies and government agencies.

Multiple municipal councils in the Eastern Province, where most Shia were concentrated, had large proportions of Shia as members, including in the two major Shia population centers of Qatif and al-Ahsa, where five of the 12 government-appointed municipal council members were Shia, and Shia held 16 of the 30 elected seats on the municipal councils.  Eastern Province Shia judges dealing with intra-Shia personal status and family laws operated specialized courts.  Shia were significantly underrepresented in national security-related positions, including the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Guard.  According to an article published in September by both Foreign Policy magazine and HRW, “Shiite students are generally kept out of military and security academies, and they rarely find jobs within the security force.”  In predominantly Shia areas, there was some Shia representation in the ranks of the traffic police, municipal government, and public schools.  Shiites are regularly denied access to justice, are arbitrarily arrested, and face discriminatory verdicts.  Scores of them have described the … religiously motivated charges they face in court, including the standard charges of “cursing God, the Prophet, or his companions.”

Shia were reportedly not represented in proportion to their percentage of the population in academic positions in primary, secondary, and higher education, and virtually all public school principals remained Sunni, while some teachers were Shia.  Along with Sunni students, Shia students received government scholarships to study in universities abroad under the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Program for Foreign Scholarship.

There were continued media reports however, that some Sunni clerics, who received government stipends, used anti-Semitic, religiously intolerant language in their sermons.  Cases of government-employed clerics using anti-Semitic language in their sermons, including some instances at Friday prayers in Mecca, were rare and occurred without authorization by government authorities.  During the year, the ministry issued periodic circulars to clerics and imams in mosques directing them to include messages on the principles of justice, equality, and tolerance and to encourage rejection of bigotry and all forms of racial discrimination in their sermons.  According to the ministry, during the year, similar to the previous year, no clerics publicly espoused intolerant views warranting dismissal.  Unlicensed imams, however, continued to employ intolerant views in internet postings or unsanctioned sermons in areas without government monitoring.

The government’s stated policy remained for its diplomatic and consular missions abroad to inform foreign workers applying for visas that they had the right to worship privately and to possess personal religious materials.  The government also provided the names of offices where grievances could be filed.

The government required noncitizen legal residents to carry an identity card containing a religious designation of “Muslim” or “non-Muslim.”  Some residency cards, including some issued during the year, indicated other religious designations such as “Christian.”

The government did not formally permit most non-Muslim clergy to enter the country for the purpose of conducting religious services.  Entry restrictions made it difficult for non-Muslims to maintain regular contact with resident clergy, according to non-Muslim religious groups in neighboring countries.  This was reportedly particularly problematic for Catholic and Orthodox Christians, whose religious traditions require they receive sacraments from a priest on a regular basis.  Multiple press outlets reported that visiting Bishop Anba Morkos of Shoubra el-Kheima held the first Coptic Orthodox Mass in the country in December, in a private residence.

The country’s crown prince told The Atlantic in an April interview that he recognized the right of the Jewish people to have a nation-state of their own next to a Palestinian state.  According to the magazine, no Arab leader has ever acknowledged such a right.  In the interview, he also said that the Shia “are living normally” in the country.

According to NGO reports, Umm al-Qura University’s Department of Islamic Studies continued to teach a course on Judaism saying that Jews rely on three texts:  “The Torah, The Talmud, The Protocols of Zion.” (The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an anti-Semitic tract originally disseminated by the Czarist secret police alleging a Jewish plot aimed at world domination.)  In addition, the reports characterized the university’s course curriculum as heavily anti-Semitic, speaking of the “evil traits” of the Jewish people.

According to the ADL, state television hosted several   hour-long programs   during Ramadan featuring Saad al-Ateeq, a preacher who called   for God to “destroy  ” the Christians, Shia, Alawites, and Jews.  State television also featured Saleh al-Fawzan, who remained   a member of the CSS and was visited   in April by the crown prince, according to al-Arabiya.  The Economist previously reported that Fawzan claimed   ISIS was actually a creation of Jews, Christians, and Shia.  According to Human Rights Watch, he characterized Shia Muslims as “the brothers of Satan.”  According to the ADL, the government gave the honor   of delivering the Eid al-Fitr sermon in June at the Grand Mosque in Mecca to Saleh bin Humaid, who holds a seat   on the CSS.  Bin Humaid previously claimed   it was in Jews’ “nature” to “plot against the peoples of the world.”

According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, anti-Semitic books including Mein Kampf were offered for sale at the Riyadh Book Fair.

During the year, some Qatari nationals reported being unable to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage due to logistical obstacles stemming from the border closures and restrictions imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt on Qatar in 2017.  The government offered Qatari pilgrims internet registration and visa issuance on arrival in Jeddah.  Qatari nationals were purportedly also able to register for Hajj through third country governments.

Al-Monitor, a website covering news from the Middle East, reported in November that the government halted visa issuances to people who held temporary passports and no national identification.  This prevented Palestinians living in Jerusalem and the West Bank, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and elsewhere from traveling to perform religious rites, particularly the Hajj and Umrah.

In April, in the first visit to the country by a senior Catholic official, Chairman of the Pontifical Council for Interfaith Dialogue Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh to discuss the role of followers of religions and cultures in renouncing violence, extremism, and terrorism and achieving worldwide security and stability.  On March 4, the crown prince met publicly with Coptic Pope Tawadros II in Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral.

On November 1, the crown prince met with U.S. evangelical Christian figures in Riyadh.  Following the meeting, the group met with the government-sponsored Muslim World League’s (MWL) Secretary-General Mohammed al-Issa to discuss ways both parties could counter extremism and exchanged ideas on possible initiatives and programs to increase mutual respect at the grass roots level.  Al-Issa stated the meeting was an exchange to advance understanding and the message of a “moderate and tolerant Islam.”  On January 28, al-Issa wrote a public letter to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, calling the Holocaust “an incident that shook humanity to the core, and created an event whose horrors could not be denied or underrated by any fair-minded or peace-loving person.”  In October MWL representatives discussed religious cooperation with several non-Muslim religious community leaders including a prominent U.S. Jewish leader at the MWL-sponsored Cultural Rapprochement Between the US and the Muslim World conference in New York.

Somalia

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The PFC provides for the right of individuals to practice their religion but prohibits the propagation of any religion other than Islam.  It states all citizens, regardless of religion, have equal rights and duties before the law but establishes Islam as the state religion and requires laws to comply with sharia principles.  While the PFC does not explicitly prohibit Muslims from converting to other religions, sharia forbids conversion from Islam.  No exemptions from application of sharia legal principles exist for non-Muslims.

The constitutions of Somaliland in the northwest and Puntland State in the northeast make Islam the state religion, prohibit Muslims from converting, prohibit the propagation of any religion other than Islam, and stipulate all laws must comply with the general principles of sharia.

The Somaliland constitution states:  “Every person shall have the right to freedom of belief and shall not be compelled to adopt another belief.  Islamic Sharia does not accept that a Muslim can renounce his beliefs.”  The Puntland State constitution prohibits any law or culture that contravenes Islam and prohibits demonstrations contrary to Islam.  The constitution and other laws of Puntland State do not define contravention of Islam.

Other interim FMS administrations, including Galmudug, Hirshabelle, Jubaland, and South West State, have constitutions identifying Islam as the official religion.  These constitutions stipulate all laws must comply with the general principles of sharia.  The Galmudug, Hirshabelle, and South West State interim administrations have not enacted laws directly addressing religious freedom.

The national penal code generally remains valid in all regions of the country.  It does not prohibit conversion from Islam to another religion, but it criminalizes blasphemy and “defamation of Islam,” which carry penalties of up to two years in prison.

Both the PFC and the Puntland State constitution require the president, but not other office holders, to be Muslim.  The Somaliland constitution requires, in addition to Somaliland’s president, the candidates for vice president and the House of Representatives to be Muslim.

The judiciary in most areas relies on xeer (traditional and customary law), sharia, and the penal code.  Each area individually regulates and enforces religious expression, often inconsistently.

The Somaliland constitution prohibits the formation of political parties based on a particular religious group, religious beliefs, or interpretation of religious doctrine, while the PFC and the constitutions of state administrations do not contain this prohibition.

The federal Ministry of Religious Affairs has legal authority to register religious groups.  Guidance on how to register or what is required is inconsistent.  The ministry has no ability to enforce such requirements outside of Mogadishu.

Somaliland has no mechanism to register religious organizations and no specific requirements to register Islamic groups.  The Puntland State government has no laws governing registration and no mechanism to register religious groups.  Other FMS administrations have no mechanism to register religious organizations.

In Puntland State, religious schools and formal places of worship must obtain permission to operate from the Puntland Ministry of Justice and Religious Affairs.  In Somaliland, religious schools and formal places of worship must obtain permission to operate from the Somaliland Ministry of Religion.  Neither Puntland State nor Somaliland law delineates consequences for operating without permission.  The FMS administrations require formal places of worship and religious schools to obtain permission to operate from local authorities.

The federal Ministry of Education has the mandate to regulate religious instruction throughout the country.  The PFC and FMS authorities require Islamic instruction in all schools, public or private, except those operated by non-Muslims.  Private schools have more flexibility in determining their curriculum.  These schools must request approval of the federal Ministry of Education; however, requests are infrequent.  Non-Muslim students attending public schools may request an exemption from Islamic instruction, but according to federal and FMS authorities, there have been no such requests.

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

Government Practices

In August Somaliland officials arrested a U.S. citizen employed by a Catholic relief organization in Burao, Somaliland, and accused her of proselytizing.  Somaliland authorities eventually released her and she departed the country.

In April the South West State Ministry of Internal Security, transferred 11 children ages nine to 17 attending an al-Shabaab madrassa in Baidoa District to a rehabilitation center in the town of Baidoa.

Federal and FMS governments maintained bans on the propagation of religions other than Islam, and there was one report of enforcement in Somaliland.

The federal government reportedly continued not to strictly enforce the registration requirement for religious groups opening schools for lay or religious instruction.

The Puntland state government neither banned nor imposed financial penalties on any religious groups.

The federal Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education launched a new national curriculum framework, announced in 2017, and new legislation for public and private primary and secondary schools to implement the curriculum framework.  The initiative mandates Somali as the language of instruction for primary school, Islamic religious instruction at all levels, and Arabic-language Islamic religion courses at the secondary level.

The federal minister of endowments and religious affairs noted the ministry’s ambitious efforts to promote religious tolerance and messaging to counter al-Shabaab ideology but stated such efforts were underresourced.

Sudan

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Interim National Constitution, passed in 2004, provides for freedom of religious creed and worship, and grants individuals the right to declare their religious beliefs and manifest them through worship, education, practice, or performance, subject to requirements of laws and public order.  The constitution prohibits the coercion of individuals to adopt a faith they do not believe in or to engage in rites or services without consent.  The constitution also states that nationally enacted legislation shall be based on sharia.  The government has not amended the constitution to reflect the 2011 independence of South Sudan.

The law does not permit Shia Muslims to hold worship services; however, they are allowed to enter Sunni mosques to pray.

The constitution allows religious groups to establish and maintain humanitarian and charitable institutions, acquire property and materials related to their religious rites and customs, write and disseminate religious publications, teach religion, solicit public and private contributions, select their own leaders, observe days of rest, celebrate religious holidays, and communicate with constituents on matters of religion.

The constitution denies recognition to any political party that discriminates based on religion and specifically prohibits religious discrimination against candidates for the national civil service.  Constitutional violations of freedom of religion may be pursued in the Constitutional Court; however, cases of discrimination often originate and are addressed in lower courts.

National laws are based on a sharia system of jurisprudence.  The criminal code states the law, including at the state and local level, shall be based on sharia sources and include hudood, qisas, and diyah principles (specific serious crimes and related restitution and punishment).  The criminal code takes into consideration multiple sharia schools of jurisprudence (madhahib).  The Islamic Panel of Scholars and Preachers (Fiqh Council) determines under which conditions a particular school of thought will apply.  Other criminal and civil laws, including public order laws, are determined at the state and local level.

The president appoints the Fiqh Council, an official body of 40 Muslim religious scholars responsible for explaining and interpreting Islamic jurisprudence, to four-year renewable terms.  The council advises the government and issues fatwas on religious matters, including levying customs duties on the importation of religious materials, payment of interest on loans for public infrastructure, and determination of government-allotted annual leave for Islamic holidays.  The council’s opinions are not legally binding.  Muslim religious scholars may present differing religious and political viewpoints in public.

The criminal code does not explicitly mention proselytizing, but it criminalizes both conversion from Islam to any other faith (apostasy) and acts that encourage conversion from Islam.  Those who convert from Islam to another religion as well as any Muslim who questions or criticizes the teachings of the Quran, the Sahaba (the Companions of the Prophet), or the wives of the Prophet may also be considered guilty of apostasy and sentenced to death.  Those charged with apostasy are allowed to repent within a period decided by the court but may still face up to five years in prison.  The law does not prohibit individuals from converting to Islam from another religion.

The criminal code’s section on “religious offenses” criminalizes various acts committed against any religion.  These include insulting religion, blasphemy, disturbing places of worship, and trespassing upon places of burial.  The criminal code states, “whoever insults any religion, their rights or beliefs or sanctifications or seeks to excite feelings of contempt and disrespect against the believers thereof” shall be punished with up to six months in prison, flogging of up to 40 lashes, and/or a fine.  The article includes provisions that prescribe penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and 40 lashes for any non-Muslim who curses the Prophet Muhammad, his wives, or members of his respective households.

The Ministry of Guidance and Endowments (MGE) regulated Islamic religious practice, including activities such as reviewing Friday sermons at mosques, supervised churches, and was responsible for guaranteeing equal treatment for all religious groups.  The MGE also provided recommendations to relevant ministries regarding religious issues government ministries encounter.  In September President Omar al-Bashir dissolved the previous government and established a restructured government that eliminated the MGE.  The next month Bashir created a Higher Council for Guidance and Endowments (HCGE) and appointed the former minister of the MGE to be the council’s chairperson.  The HCGE maintains the same mandate as the former ministry.

In October the government formed a new interagency committee to discuss religious coexistence and religious issues more broadly with a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs chairing the committee and members from the security services, HCGE, Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Education, and other bodies.

To gain official recognition by the government, religious groups must register at the state level with the HCGE, or a related ministry such as the Ministry of Culture, or the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), depending on the nature of the group and its activities.  The HAC oversees NGOs and nonprofit organizations.  Religious groups that also engage in humanitarian or development activities must register as nonprofit NGOs by filing a standard application required by the HAC for both local and international NGOs.  Only religious groups that register are eligible to apply for other administrative benefits, including land ownership, tax exemptions, and work permits.

The law does not permit Shia Muslims to hold worship services; however, they are allowed to enter Sunni mosques to pray.

The state-mandated education curriculum requires that all students receive religious instruction.  The curriculum further mandates that all schools, including international schools and private schools operated by Christian groups, provide Islamic education classes to Muslim students, from preschool through the second year of university.  The law does not require non-Muslims to attend Islamic education classes, and it mandates that public schools provide Christian students with other religious instruction if there are at least 15 Christian students in a class.  According to the Ministry of Education, following the separation of South Sudan, this number was not reached in most schools.  Non-Muslim students therefore normally attend religious study classes of their own religion outside of regular school hours to fulfill the religious instruction requirement.

The Ministry of Education is responsible for determining the religious education curriculum.  According to the ministry, the Islamic curriculum must follow the Sunni tradition.

The HCGE determines, along with the state-level entities responsible for land grants and planning, whether to provide authorization or permits to build new houses of worship, taking into account zoning concerns such as the distance between religious institutions and population density (the allocation of land to religious entities is determined at the state level).  The HCGE is mandated to assist both mosques and churches in obtaining tax exemptions and duty-free permits to import items such as furniture and religious items for houses of worship; the HCGE also assists visitors attending meetings sponsored by religious groups and activities to obtain tourist visas through the Ministry of Interior.  The HCGE coordinates travel for the Hajj and Umra.

Public order laws, based largely on the government’s interpretation of sharia, vary by state.  These laws prohibit “indecent” dress and other “offenses of honor, reputation, and public morality.”  Authorities primarily enforce such laws in large cities and enforce laws governing indecent dress against both Muslims and non-Muslims.  The criminal code states that an act is contrary to public decency if it violates another person’s modesty.  In practice, the special Public Order Police and courts, which derive their authority from the Ministry of Interior, have wide latitude in interpreting what dress or behaviors are indecent and in arresting and passing sentence on accused offenders.

Some aspects of the criminal code specify punishments for Muslims based on government interpretation of sharia punishment principles.  For example, the criminal code stipulates 40 lashes for a Muslim who drinks, possesses, or sells alcohol; no punishment is prescribed for a non-Muslim who drinks or possesses alcohol in private.  The criminal code stipulates if a non-Muslim is arrested for public drinking, or possessing or selling alcohol, he or she is subject to trial, but the punishment will not be based on hudood principles.  The penalty for adultery with a married person is hanging and for an unmarried person is 100 lashes.  An unmarried man could additionally be punished with expatriation for up to one year.  These penalties apply to both Muslims and non-Muslims.  Adultery is defined as sexual activity outside of marriage, prior to marriage, or in a marriage that is determined to be void.

Under the law, the justice minister may release any prisoner who memorizes the Quran during his or her prison term.  The release requires a recommendation for parole from the prison’s director general, a religious committee composed of the Sudan Scholars Organization, and members of the Fiqh Council, which consults with the MGE to ensure decisions, comply with Islamic legal regulations.

Under the law, a Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim woman (although most Sudanese sharia schools of thought advise that the non-Muslim women must be “people of the book,” i.e., either Christian or Jewish).  A Muslim woman, however, legally may marry only a Muslim man.  A Muslim woman marrying a non-Muslim man could be charged with adultery.

Separate family courts exist for Muslims and non-Muslims to address personal status issues such as marriage, divorce, and child custody, according to their religion.  By law, in custody dispute cases where one parent is Muslim and the other is Christian, courts grant custody to the Muslim parent if there is any concern that the non-Muslim parent would raise the child in a religion other than Islam.

According to Islamic personal status laws, Christians (including children) may not inherit assets from a Muslim.

Government offices and businesses are closed on Friday for prayers and follow an Islamic workweek of Sunday to Thursday.  The law requires employers to give Christian employees two hours off on Sundays for religious activity.  Leave from work is also granted to celebrate Orthodox Christmas, an official state holiday, along with several key Islamic holidays.

An interministerial committee, which includes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), and in some cases Military Intelligence, must approve foreign clergy and other foreigners seeking a residency permit.

The constitution’s bill of rights says all rights and freedoms enshrined in international human rights treaties, covenants, and instruments ratified by the country are integral parts of the constitution’s bill of rights.

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

Government Practices

According to international reports, on October 13, a group of security agents raided the private home of Tajedin Yousifa, a Christian pastor, in South Darfur and arrested 13 Christian men who were there for a series of prayer meetings.  Of those arrested, reports stated 10 were of Darfuri origin and converts from Islam.  NISS was reportedly monitoring the home and had two pickup trucks parked outside the home.  NISS agents reportedly took the individuals to an unknown NISS facility in Nyala, where they were interrogated.  NISS then transferred the detainees to a Nyala police station on October 18.  Authorities initially charged the men with disturbing public peace but released 12 of the detainees on October 21 with no charges.  All detainees were reportedly in poor health upon release and required medical attention for injuries sustained in police detention.  Authorities kept the pastor in detention for additional questioning.  Initial reports indicated that authorities also charged him with apostasy and crimes against the state, which carry a death sentence if convicted.  Authorities released the pastor on October 23 and dropped all charges.  Authorities stated they also considered the group to be supporters of the leader of an armed Darfuri rebel movement.

In August the Omdurman Criminal Court convicted Samson Hamad Al-Haras, a member of the government-backed Presbyterian Evangelical Community Committee (ECC), of murder in the killing of SPEC elder Yonan Abdullah during an April 2017 altercation between ECC supporters and opponents within SPEC over control of the SPEC-operated Omdurman Evangelical Church School.  Al-Haras was sentenced to death.  The other 60 or more SPEC leaders arrested in opposition to the ECC’s efforts to sell the school remained in various stages of prosecution.

On December 28, government security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades at a group of 300-400 worshippers leaving a mosque associated with the opposition National Umma Party in Omdurman following Friday prayers.  The incident occurred on the 10th day of antigovernment demonstrations and protests of rising food prices, and activists had urged protesters to gather in large numbers following Friday prayers.

According to reports, the Public Order Police frequently charged women with “indecent dress” and “indecent behavior,” and there were numerous court convictions.  Religious leaders and government officials again reported the Public Order Police fined and lashed Muslim and Christian women on a daily basis in Khartoum for wearing pants and other dress the police considered indecent.  In November the Public Order Police arrested a Coptic singer after she performed at a concert for which the organizer had not received the proper permit.  The police searched the singer’s private phone while she was in custody and charged her with indecent behavior because of photographs they found on her phone.  A judge convicted her and sentenced her to 10 lashes and a fine of 5,000 Sudanese pounds ($110).  Authorities lashed her immediately following the conviction.

Minority religious groups, including Muslim minority groups and especially Shia Muslims, expressed concern they could be convicted of apostasy if they expressed beliefs or discussed religious practices that differed from those of the Sunni majority group.  Some Shia reported they remained prohibited from writing articles about their beliefs and religious issues remained a redline for news media to address.  Many individuals from Muslim minorities, such as Shia or Quranist groups, reported that their places of worship had remained closed since 2014.  According to lawyers working on the Quranists’ issues, the Constitutional Court dismissed the court case against them due to mounting international pressure and ordered that the group not gather again.  The lawyers also stated the Quranists needed to keep a low profile regarding their places of worship, as well as religious events and gatherings.

SPEC leaders continued to face lengthy and prolonged trials for charges including “criminal mischief” and “trespassing,” after they continued to use properties belonging to the SPEC.

In early July, the Pentecostal Cultural Centre, located in downtown Khartoum opposite Unity Catholic School, reopened.  The government had closed the center in 2014 and temporarily turned it into a NISS office after the government claimed the church did not have legal documentation proving ownership of the building.

In September an Omdurman court ruled the SCOC national leadership committee led by Moderator Ayoub Tilliano had ownership of the SCOC headquarters in Omdurman.  The leadership committee was engaged in a legal case over ownership of the property following a 2015 raid by security forces on SCOC headquarters, after which the security forces confiscated all their legal documents and brought charges against the leadership council for trespassing.  The committee received the legal documents back from security services on September 24.

Government security services were reported to continue to monitor mosques closely for Friday sermon content.  Multiple sources stated authorities provided talking points and required imams to use them in their sermons.  If an imam’s sermon diverged from the government-provided talking points, the imam would be removed from his position.  Some individuals from minority religious groups expressed concern that the Friday sermons encouraged discriminatory or hateful beliefs against the minority groups.

Prisons provided prayer spaces for Muslims, but sources stated that authorities did not allow Shia prayers.  Shia prisoners were permitted to join prayer services led by Sunni imams.  Some prisons, such as the Women’s Prison in Omdurman, had dedicated areas for Christian observance.  Christian clergy held services in prisons, but access was irregular.

The government continued to state it did not have non-Muslim teachers available to teach Christian courses in public schools.  Some public schools excused non-Muslims from Islamic education classes.  Some private schools, including Christian schools, received government-provided Muslim teachers to teach Islamic subjects, but non-Muslim students were not required to attend those classes.  Most Christian students attended religious education classes at their churches based on the availability of volunteer teachers from their own church communities.  Their families reported that the children’s schools did not usually recognize the classes, and students in those cases did not receive credit.

On February 11, authorities demolished the SPEC church in the Haj Youssef neighborhood of Khartoum North.  Police arrived at the scene following Sunday worship services and ordered congregants to vacate the premises immediately.  Police then confiscated the property inside the church, including the pews and Bibles, and razed the building with a bulldozer.  Church leaders said they had no advance warning of the demolition.  The church had already been seized by a local businessman, who claimed ownership of the church despite ownership deeds in the name of the church dating back to 1989.  At year’s end, the church was engaged in an appeal of the decision and the confiscation of the church’s property, but authorities repeatedly postponed court sessions.  At year’s end, church leaders had yet to receive compensation for damages or been given an alternative site for worship.

In May a Muslim human rights lawyer fled the country after he was arrested and interrogated by security services for his work advocating for minority religious groups.  He had already faced repeated incidents of harassment and intimidation from NISS, including two break-ins of his home the previous year.  Human rights activists expressed concern about the departure of the lawyer from their community, as he was a vocal proponent of religious freedom and worked to defend the rights of religious minorities.

According to various church representatives, the government continued to favor mosques over churches in the issuance of permits for houses of worship.  Some churches reported they were less willing to apply for land permits or to construct churches given the government’s previous repeated denials.  The government attributed its denial of permits to the churches not meeting government population density parameters and zoning plans.

Local parishioners reported that, compared to Islamic institutions, Christian places of worship continued to be disproportionately affected by zoning changes, closures, and demolitions.  The government said places of worship that were demolished or closed lacked proper land permits or institutional registration and that mosques, churches, schools, hospitals, and residences were all affected equally by the urban planning projects.  Sources estimated at least 24 churches, Christian schools, libraries, and cultural centers were “systematically closed,” demolished or confiscated by the government between 2011 and 2017.  During the year, only one church demolition was reported.  Government authorities also stated that mosques were affected and provided photographs of mosque demolitions; however, lack of detailed information on the alleged demolitions made it difficult to verify the information, according to observers.

The NISS noted the locations of churches and mosques it was tracking that were located on what the government referred to as “unplanned areas” in Khartoum State.  Christian leaders and lawyers said that gaining outright land titles remained very difficult given that the government legally owned all land, and thus the legal status of churches remained unclear.

During the year, 22 churches filed complaints with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) following an outreach campaign to Christian religious communities in the Khartoum area by the NHRC.  Most of the complaints related to land and administrative issues.  At year’s end, the commission was following up with the complaints and established a working group to investigate systematic issues related to the registration of and land permits for Christian places of worship.

Following a July 2017 order from the Ministry of Education for Khartoum State mandating that schools (except for Coptic schools) operate from Sunday to Thursday, non-Coptic Christian schools either continued to operate on Sundays to adhere to the national general education guidelines, or they increased instruction hours on other school days to avoid operating on Sundays.  Multiple members of the government, including the foreign affairs minister and the minister of education for Khartoum State, continued to publicly express concern that the order would damage the country’s international reputation and unnecessarily impeded individuals’ religious freedom.  Government officials stated, however, that they were unaware of how to overturn the order because its origins were unclear.

The government continued to restrict some religiously based political parties, including the Republican Brothers Party, which opposes the government’s use of sharia as a source of law.  The Political Parties Affairs Council, which oversees the registration of political parties, refused to register the party in 2014, and the party’s leader filed an appeal of the decision to the Constitutional Court in 2015, but the court refused the appeal.  A local community center and library associated with the party in Omdurman remained closed due to government restrictions on its operation.

Government officials continued to state Islamic principles should inform official policies and often pointed to sharia as the basis for the country’s legal framework.  President Bashir and other senior figures frequently emphasized the country’s Islamic foundation.  In a February speech responding to public opposition to subsidy cuts and a currency devaluation, Bashir said that anyone who protested the economic situation or his administration’s policies was an enemy of Islam and working against the Islamic faith.

The government denied Christian churches or their humanitarian institutions tax-exempt status, although the government granted this status to Muslim relief agencies.  Christian churches reported authorities required them to pay or negotiate taxes on items such as vehicles.

The government continued to restrict non-Muslim religious groups from operating or entering the country and continued to monitor activities and censor material published by religious institutions.  The MGE and the HCGE again said they had granted a limited number of Christian missionary groups permission to engage in humanitarian activities and promote Muslim-Christian cooperation.

Many officials from various churches reported the government refused to grant, or delayed renewing, work and residency visas to church employees of foreign origin, including missionaries and clergy, or to individuals the government believed would proselytize in public places.  Local members of the Catholic Church said these denials had a particularly negative impact on the Catholic Church, whose clergy are mostly of foreign origin, while most clergy of other Christian denominations are ethnically Sudanese or South Sudanese.  The government only granted residence permits with less than a year’s validity.  The government required clergy to pay a fine of 70 Sudanese pounds ($1) for every day they were not in residency status.

The government reportedly closely scrutinized those suspected of proselytizing and used administrative rationales, or other aspects of the law such as immigration status, to either deport or exert financial pressure on such individuals.

Some religious groups reported the government barred the import of unapproved religious texts and said most Christian denominations were unable to import teaching materials and religious texts as guaranteed by the constitution.  According to international reports, in September authorities released two shipping containers with Arabic-language Bibles destined for the Bible Society in Khartoum after they had been detained in Port Sudan for three years.

A small number of Christian politicians, the majority of whom were members of the Coptic Church, continued to hold seats in the government.

During the year, Christian groups called for a Christian director of the MGE Office of Church Affairs.  MGE officials said they agreed to appoint a Christian but had yet to do so because Christian communities could not agree on a representative.  Christian groups said the government never expressed a willingness to appoint a Christian, although government officials publicly stated such willingness on multiple occasions.  After the government dissolved the MGE and established the HCGE, the opportunities for non-Muslim representation were not clear.

In January the government convened a group of representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former MGE, Inter-Religious Council, Ministry of Education, and others to discuss the state of religious coexistence.  The group identified several areas of concern, including religious education inequities, and resolved to establish an intragovernmental working group on religious coexistence.  In October the government formed a new higher-level interministerial group chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the same structure and mandate.

Tunisia

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares Islam is the country’s religion but the constitution also declares the country to be a “civil state.”  The constitution designates the government as the “guardian of religion” and requires the president to be Muslim.  The constitution guarantees freedom of belief, conscience, and exercise of religious practices.  The constitution also states that mosques and houses of worship should be free from “partisan instrumentalization.”  It obligates the state to disseminate the values of moderation and tolerance, protect holy sites, and prevent takfir (Muslim accusations of apostasy against other Muslims).  The law requires that all religious services be celebrated within houses of worship or other nonpublic settings.  These restrictions extend to public advertisement of religious services.  The constitution lists reasons for potential restrictions on the rights and freedoms it guarantees, including protecting the rights of others, requirements of national defense, and public order, morality, or health.

The penal code criminalizes speech likely “to cause harm to the public order or morality,” as well as acts undermining public morals in a way that “intentionally violates modesty.”

There is no legal prohibition of proselytism, but the law criminalizes forced conversions.

Religious groups may form and register associations under the law to establish a bank account and conduct financial activities such as charity work and receive favorable tax treatment, including tax-free donations from government-approved associations, provided the association does not purport to represent all believers of a religious group or use the name of a religious group.  To establish an association, a religious group must submit a registered letter to the Prime Minister’s Office stating the purposes of the association; copies of the national identity cards of its founders, who must be citizens; and two copies of the articles of association signed by the association’s founders or their representatives.  The articles of association must contain the official name of the association in Arabic and any foreign language, if appropriate; its address; a statement of its objectives; membership criteria; membership fees; and a statement of organizational structure, including identification of the decision-making body for the association.  The law requires that associations and political parties respect the rule of law and basic democratic principles.  The law prohibits associations from engaging in for-profit activities, providing material support to individual political candidates, or adopting bylaws or taking actions to incite violence or promote hatred, fanaticism, or discrimination on the basis of religion.  Once established, such an association may receive tax-exempt income from organizations, including foreign organizations that have a prior agreement with the government.

Once the association receives the return receipt from the Prime Minister’s Office, it has seven days to submit an announcement of the name, purpose, and objectives of the association to the government press.  The government press has 15 days to publish the announcement in the government gazette, which marks the association’s official registration.  In the event the government does not return a registered receipt within 30 days, an association may proceed to submit its documents for publication and obtain registration.  A foreign association may establish a branch in the country, but the government may also reject its registration request if the government finds the principles or objectives of the foreign association contravene the law.

Violations of the provisions of the law related to associations are punishable first by a warning of up to 30 days from the secretary general of the government, then by a court order suspending the association’s activities for up to 30 days if the violations persist.  If the association is still in violation of the law, the secretary general may then appeal to the court for dissolution of the association.  Under the law, associations have the right to appeal court decisions.

Registered associations have the right to organize meetings and demonstrations, to publish reports and leaflets, to own real estate, and to engage in “all types of civil activities.”

A 1964 modus vivendi with the Holy See grants official recognition to the Roman Catholic Church.  The concordat allows the Church to function in the country and provides state recognition of the Catholic Church, although it restricts religious activities and services to the physical confines of authorized churches and prohibits construction of new churches and the ringing of church bells.  A limited number of Catholic schools and charities may operate under the concordat, but their financial activities are conducted through registration as an association, and their affiliation with the Church is not publicized.

The law states the government oversees Islamic prayer services by subsidizing mosques, appointing imams, and paying their salaries.  The grand mufti, appointed by the president, is charged with declaring religious holidays, issuing certificates of conversion to Islam, attending to citizens’ inquiries, representing the country at international religious conferences, providing opinions on school curricula, and studying and writing about Islam.  The MRA suggests themes for Friday sermons but does not regulate their content.  The government may initiate administrative and legal procedures to remove imams whom authorities determine to be preaching “divisive” theology.

By law, new mosques may be constructed provided they are built in accordance with national urban planning regulations.  The MRA pays for construction of mosques, although private, and foreign donors also are able to contribute to construction costs.  Mosques become government property upon completion, after which the government must maintain them.

It is mandatory for students in public schools to attend courses on the principles of Islam approximately one hour per week.  Non-Muslim students generally attended these courses but could seek an exemption.  The curriculum for secondary school students also includes references to the history of Judaism and Christianity, according to the Ministry of Education.  Religious groups may operate private schools.

Provisions of law addressing marriage, divorce, and other personal status issues are largely based on principles of civil law, combined with elements of sharia.  Laws of inheritance are principally based on requirements in sharia, but there are some provisions that allow for exceptions as outlined in the Code of Personal Status.

The law does not list religion as a prohibited basis for political parties, but prohibits political parties from using religion to call for violence or discrimination.

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

Government Practices

According to an October report by Amnesty International (AI), “They Never Tell Me Why,” the government imposed restrictions on domestic travel or bans on travelling abroad for some of its citizens, due to security concerns.  According to the AI report, in some cases, “authorities appear to have targeted individuals … on the basis of their perceived religious beliefs or practices, physical appearance, such as having a beard and wearing religious clothing….”  The media also reported police and security forces harassed some women who wore the niqab.

The 1964 modus vivendi with the Holy See effectively limits the Catholic Church’s interactions with citizens, and Christian citizens said there was strong governmental and societal pressure not to advertise publicly about the Church’s activities or theology.  One Christian citizen reported police detained him for displaying books pertaining to Christian theology at a book fair.  He was released without charge, but authorities cited Article 1 of the constitution, which states that the country’s religion is Islam, as the justification for shutting down his book stall.

Fathi Laayouni, the mayor of Tunis suburb El Kram, sparked a debate when he told media on August 16 that his municipality would not validate marriages between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man, as required following the September 2017 repeal of the 1973 ban on such marriages.  In justifying his position, Laayouni cited Articles 1 and 6 of the constitution stipulating that the state religion is Islam and that the government is the guardian of religion.  His statement received a strong rebuke from then Minister of Local Affairs Riadh Mouakher, who promised “sanctions” against Laayouni, adding the mayor had an obligation to uphold the law.  Civil society groups reported anecdotal evidence that Laayouni was not the only mayor to refuse performing marriage services between Muslims and non-Muslims.  Anecdotal evidence provided by members of the Christian community suggested that some mayors’ offices refused to marry two Christian citizens.

In August the Baha’i community received information through its lawyer that the First Instance Court of Tunis had denied the community’s court case pertaining to its petition to be a registered association.  As of December the court had not provided a written judgement outlining the legal grounds for its refusal; the Baha’is stated they planned to appeal the court’s decision.  Baha’is also stated it was not possible to establish houses of worship or conduct some religious activities while they lacked official recognition.  In early 2017, the Baha’i community submitted a formal request to the Ministry of Interior for permission for a dedicated cemetery.  Without a dedicated cemetery, Baha’is have had to hide their religious affiliation to use cemeteries reserved for adherents of other recognized faiths.  As of the end of the year, the ministry had not responded to the Baha’i community’s request.

Members of the Baha’i community said there was increased government interest in learning about the Baha’i Faith.  They expressed concern, however, about discrimination by individual security force personnel.  During the year they said that police officers in different cities interrogated members of the community about their religious practices and beliefs in the course of routine security checks.  Although the individuals were all released from police custody without charge, community members said they believed the individuals faced increased and undue scrutiny due to their faith.

The government publicly urged imams to disseminate messages of moderation and tolerance to counter what it said were threats of violent extremism.  Since 2015, the MRA has conducted regular training sessions for imams on how to disseminate these messages.  According to several local mosque committees in charge of mosque operations and chosen by congregation members, the government generally allowed the committees to manage the daily affairs of their mosques and choose their own imams, with the exception of imams for Friday prayers, who were selected exclusively by the MRA.  Regional MRA representatives within each governorate had to vet, approve, and appoint both the committees and the imams.  According to an official from the MRA, the government standardized and enforced mosque opening and closing times, except for certain mosques with cultural or historical significance and very small community mosques.  In the run-up to May 6 municipal council elections, in keeping with national law, the Ministry of Local Affairs issued a public statement stating it had reminded imams and other religious leaders not to make political statements inside of mosques prior to the elections.

Members of the Christian community reported the government allowed churches to operate freely and provided security for their services.  The government, however, restricted public religious services or processions outside the churches.  Christian citizens reported the government did not fully recognize their rights, particularly regarding the establishment of a legal entity or association that would grant them the ability to establish an Arabic-language church or a cemetery for Christian citizens.  The local Christian community did not submit a formal request for an association or legal status during the year.  There are existing Christian cemeteries for foreign members of the Christian community; Christian citizens, however, need permission from the government to be buried in a Christian cemetery.  Citizens reported they generally did not request this permission due what they said was a pattern of governmental nonresponse.  Church leaders stated that while there did not appear to be organized discrimination against Christians, there were also few protections.  If an individual police officer or administrative official treated a member of the Christian community poorly, church leaders said authorities were slow to investigate these abuses or to provide redress in cases of wrongdoing.

Jewish groups said they continued to worship freely, and the government continued to provide security for synagogues and partially subsidized restoration and maintenance costs.  Government employees maintained the Jewish cemetery in Tunis, but did not maintain those located in other cities, including Sousse and El Kef.

The Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities issued a statement on August 18, condemning the refusal by the management of El Mornaguia prison in Mornaguia, southwest of Tunis, to apply an authorization granted by an investigating judge for a Jewish prisoner to receive kosher meals.  According to members of the Jewish community, however, once the prison was made aware of the prisoner’s family’s request to bring kosher meals more frequently than the three days normally allowed by the prison to accept meals from family members, the prison accommodated this request.

Minister of Religious Affairs Ahmed Adhoum hosted two conferences on religious tolerance and coexistence, the first in Tabarka on January 30-February 1 and the second held in connection with the Lag B’Omer Pilgrimage in Djerba May 3-4.  During the conferences, Adhoum, the minister of tourism, and the minister of cultural affairs emphasized that peace and religious tolerance were essential to countering terrorism.  On May 31, then Minister for Human Rights, Constitutional Bodies, and Civil Society Mehdi Ben Gharbia hosted an interfaith iftar with the grand mufti, grand rabbi, and archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church.

On June 12, the presidentially-appointed Committee on Individual Freedoms and Equality published a report that presented a series of recommended changes to the country’s laws that would align them with the 2014 constitution and international human rights laws and treaties to which the country is a signatory.  The committee’s recommendations included decriminalization of homosexuality; allowing inheritance equality between genders; equality between men and women in marriage and parenting; cancellation of government circulars that continue to be used to justify closing cafes during Ramadan; and a prohibition on the degradation of another’s religion, including a criminalization of “all contempt of others’ religions with the aim to incite violence and hatred.”  In addition, the report stated that discrimination in all of its forms violated existing provisions of the constitution and international laws.  The report recommended changes to legislation to prohibit discrimination based on religion and belief.  Legislation based on the report’s recommendations was introduced in parliament in October and remained pending at the end of the year.

On August 13, in his annual Tunisian Women’s Day address, President Caid Essebsi announced plans to present a draft law to parliament revising the 1956 Personal Status Code to allow inheritance equality, but leaving the option for families to follow Islamic principles favoring male heirs if they chose.  During his speech, he said there was a moral and legal imperative to work for this change using an approach that is based on the country’s constitution, not religious texts.

During an April 9-19 visit, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed examined the extent to which the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and belief was being respected, protected, and promoted.  In his preliminary findings, he concluded the government had a strong commitment to equality and freedom of religion or belief but identified several legal provisions, legislative gaps, and deficits in the rule of law that could undermine the protection of religion or belief, such as the use of public morality laws to enforce religious tenets.

Authorities again provided a heightened level of security for the annual Lag B’Omer festival held at the El-Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba in May, including security cameras and personnel around the synagogue.

In accordance with government permits, the Jewish community operated private religious schools, and Jewish children were allowed to split their academic day between public schools and private religious schools or attend either type of school full-time.  The government-run Essouani School and the Houmt Souk Secondary School in Djerba remained the only public schools where Jewish and Muslim students studied together, primarily because of the small size and geographic concentration of the Jewish community.  At these schools, Muslim students attended Islamic education lessons on Saturdays while their Jewish classmates could choose to attend classes on religion at a Jewish school in Djerba.

Turkey

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 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 President, with its head appointed by the president and administered by a 16-person council elected by clerics and university theology faculties.  The Diyanet has five main departments, called high councils:  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 religious leaders such as imams, priests, and rabbis 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.

The law criminalizes “insulting values held sacred by a religion,” interfering with a religious group’s services, or defacing its property.  Insulting a religion is punishable by six months to one year in prison.

Interfering with the service of a religious group 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 recognized religious groups.

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

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.

Although registration with the government is not mandatory for religious groups to operate, it is required to request legal recognition for places of worship.  Gaining legal recognition 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, the majority of which are associated with the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish communities.  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 Ministry of Culture and Tourism, regulates the activities and affiliated properties of all foundations, and it 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.  Only a court order may close a foundation of any category, except under a state of emergency, during which the government may close foundations by decree.  The state of emergency instituted in 2016 ended in July.

A foundation may earn income through companies and rent-earning properties, as well as from donations.  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.

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 an application to the provincial governor’s office with supporting documentation, including bylaws and a list of founding members.  In addition to its bylaws, a group must obtain and submit permission from the Ministry of the Interior as part of its application if a foreign association or nonprofit organization is listed as a founding member; 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 for actions deemed to violate the organization’s bylaws.  Only a court order may close an association, except under a state of emergency, 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.

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 Muslims 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 allow religious groups to offer books and other materials that are a part of the prisoner’s faith.

The constitution establishes compulsory religious and moral instruction in public and private primary, middle, and high schools, with content determined by the Ministry of National Education’s Department of Religious Instruction, which as of July falls under the authority of the Office of the Presidency.  Religion classes are two hours per week for students in grades four through 12.  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, Baha’is, Yezidis, or those who left the religion section blank on their national identity card are not exempt from the classes.  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 religion.  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 reversal of the employment decision.

New national identity cards, which the government began distributing at year’s end, contain no specific section to identify religious affiliation.  National identity cards issued in the past, which continue in circulation, contained a space for religious identification with the option of leaving the space blank.  These old cards included the following religious identities as options:  Muslim, Greek Orthodox, non-Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist, No Religion, or Other.  Baha’i, Alevi, Yezidi, and other religious groups with known populations in the country were not options.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with one reservation regarding Article 27, which states 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

A state of emergency instituted after the July 2016 coup attempt ended in July, although parliament passed a law codifying many of the expanded powers shortly afterward.  The government continued to blame the coup attempt on Muslim cleric and political figure Fethullah Gulen and his followers, whom it designated the “Fethullah Terror Organization.”  Since the coup attempt, police arrested more than 80,000 individuals for allegedly having ties to the Gulen movement, according to a statement by Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu in April.

The government also continued to detain foreign citizens in relation to the coup attempt, including U.S. citizen and Christian pastor Andrew Brunson.  On October 12, the Second Heavy Penal Court of Izmir convicted Brunson on charges of support for a terrorist group and sentenced him to just over three years.  Initially detained in October 2016, Brunson remained in detention until his release to house arrest on July 25 as his trial continued.  In July the public prosecutor broadened the investigation in the case to include Brunson’s wife and 65 additional individuals, including other U.S. citizens.  The indictment referenced “Christianization” activities related to his alleged crimes.  The court suspended his sentence to time served and lifted his travel ban, thereby allowing him to leave the country after nearly two years in custody.  Brunson immediately departed the country.  Brunson was one of several U.S. citizens detained under the state of emergency; the other cases did not involve religious figures.

The indictment of Brunson included The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the list of religious groups that allegedly participated in conspiracies against the state.  In April The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stated that for safety reasons it would remove its volunteers and international staff from the country, a policy Church leadership said continued through the end of the year.

Alevi groups expressed concerns about detentions of their members, which the groups said were arbitrary.  In March authorities in Erzincan detained 16 members of the Alevi Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association, including the vice chairman, on charges of providing support to a terrorist organization.  Local representatives of the association said they were detained because of their work to protect and promote the Alevi faith.  A court later ordered the arrest of eight of them, including the vice chair.  In August a court indicted all 16 individuals for “inciting hatred among the public” and “membership in a terrorist organization.”  In December 12 of the 17 defendants were convicted and sentenced to between two and six and one-half years in prison.

In July authorities denied the request of former Republican People’s Party (CHP) Member of Parliament, Eren Erdem, to see an Alevi cleric (dede) while in Silivri prison, where he remained detained at year’s end on terrorism charges.  Erdem’s lawyer said the decision was a violation of his client’s right to have weekly access to a cleric.  The next hearing was scheduled for January 2019.

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 November a judge again postponed the next hearing until March 2019 pending the result of an investigation of two local security officials allegedly involved.

In July an Istanbul criminal court accepted an indictment from the Chief Prosecutor’s Office bringing charges of insulting religious values, sometimes referred to locally as “blasphemy charges,” against actress Berna Lacin for her post on Twitter about the alleged number of rapes in Medina.  The tweet was in response to calls by the Grand Union Party, families of victims, and some newspapers to reinstate capital punishment for child abuse crimes following a wave of molestation reports in media.  “If capital punishment was a solution, the city of Medina would not be breaking records in rape cases,” Lacin said in her post.  In the indictment, the prosecutor said Lacin insulted people’s religious values and went beyond what is permissible under the freedom of expression.  Following the first hearing in November, the court postponed the trial until February 2019.

In January the governor’s office in Adana, with the approval of the Interior Ministry, temporarily banned the activities of Furkan Foundation, a Sunni organization that describes itself as a social and religious civil society group.  Police arrested 45 members of the foundation, including its president, on charges that included founding a criminal organization and supporting terror.  In July authorities issued a decree permanently closing the foundation on national security grounds.  The case continued at year’s end.

In December, following a 2017 government regulation allowing female military personnel to wear headscarves, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, rejected a petition calling for the reinstatement of the ban.

In September the military implemented a one-time paid deferment option that closed November 3 under which individuals born before January 1, 1994 could pay a fee instead of performing full military service; however these individuals must complete 21 days of basic military training.

During the year, 68 Jehovah’s Witnesses faced prosecution as conscientious objectors to military service.  Jehovah’s Witnesses officials stated the government continued to subject conscientious objectors from their community “to unending call-ups for military duty, repeated fines, and threats of imprisonment.”

Some Protestants and other minority community members expressed concern that some indictments submitted by prosecutors and inquiries by police officials indicated certain religious public speech and activism, including proselytism, were regarded with suspicion.  Some of these groups said they subsequently decided to conduct fewer public engagements to avoid anticipated pressure from authorities.  Proselytization remained legal at year’s end.

In May some students and parents in Viransehir District of Urfa complained a school principal had threatened female students they would fail their classes unless they covered their hair.  The Ministry of Education started an investigation of the case, which continued at year’s end.

In February the broadcast sector regulatory body Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) fined TV8, a private station, more than one million Turkish lira (TL) ($189,000) for broadcasting a song performed during a talent show that contained lyrics referring to God as “Father.”  The report prepared by the council members said the lyrics were against the fundamentals of Muslim faith and claimed referring to God as “Father” was a Christian and Jewish tradition.

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, overseen by separate governing boards, to hold and control individual religious properties.  Members of religious communities said the inability to hold elections for foundation governing boards remained an impediment to managing their affairs.  In 2013, the government repealed regulations dealing with the election of foundation board members, which prohibited subsequent elections from taking place.  Without the ability to hold new elections, governing boards lose the capacity to manage the activities and properties of the community and run the risk of the foundations becoming inactive without newly elected leadership.

The government continued not to recognize the ecumenical patriarch as the leader of the world’s approximately 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 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 2011 stopgap 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 February the Istanbul governor’s office denied a 2017 application by the elected trustee of the Armenian Patriarchate to hold a patriarchal election, stating the patriarchate had not met the required conditions for an election.  The governor’s office also said it considered all decisions by the trustee null and barred any election as long as the incumbent patriarch was alive.  Incumbent Patriarch Mesrob II remained unable to perform his duties since 2008, because of his medical condition, and an acting patriarch continued to fill the position.  In July President of the Spiritual Assembly of the Armenian Patriarchate Bishop Sahak Masalyan wrote a letter to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan requesting help in overcoming bureaucratic hurdles to holding the patriarchal election.  There was no response by the year’s end.

A majority of Protestant churches continued to report 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 six foundations (four existing before the passage of a foundation law in 1935), 36 associations, and more than 30 representative offices linked with these associations.

In May President Erdogan promised to grant legal status for Alevi cemevis as part of his election platform for the presidential elections, but he took no steps to do so after winning re-election on June 24.  At year’s end, the government still had not legally recognized cemevis as places of worship.

In November the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that cemevis are places of worship and therefore they should receive the same benefits as Sunni mosques, such as being exempt from paying utility bills.  In a similar case in 2015, the Supreme Court gave the same judgment.  Since then, Alevis have called on the government to comply with the ruling.  A European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision in 2014 serves as the basis for court decisions in favor of recognition for individual cemevis.  Alevi representatives, however, said they remained concerned about the lack of a comprehensive solution and the fact the government had not implemented this ruling nationwide by year’s end.  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 their utility bills.  In March the head of the Diyanet stated mosques were the places of worship for both Alevis and Sunnis.

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, which they permitted to build mosques in malls, airports, and other smaller spaces.  The Protestant groups said they again had not applied for permits to build any new churches during the year, in part because of the zoning requirements.

By year’s end, the government had not addressed the May 2016 ECHR ruling that Turkey had violated the religious freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Izmir and Mersin by refusing to provide them appropriate places of worship and thereby directly interfered with the community’s freedom of religion.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, five municipalities denied requests made by Jehovah’s Witnesses to obtain a religious facility location on municipal zoning maps throughout the year.  Thirty-four different municipalities had denied 96 requests in recent years.  Local governments did not permit zoning for any Kingdom Halls in the country.

Religious communities continued to challenge the government’s 2016 expropriation of their properties damaged in clashes between government security forces and the U.S. government-designated terrorist group Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).  The government expropriated those properties for its stated goal of “post-conflict reconstruction.  For the second straight year, the government had not returned or completed repairs on any of the properties in the historic and ancient Sur District of Diyarbakir Province, including the Kursunlu Mosque; Hasirli Mosque; Surp Giragos Armenian Church; Mar Petyun Chaldean Church; Protestant Church; and the Armenian Catholic Church.  Of these two Islamic and four Christian sites, the government began restoration of one of the Christian sites.  In September 2016, the GDF began restoring the expropriated Armenian Catholic Church; the restoration remained in progress at the end of the year, and the church was not accessible for public use.  The government said the Ministry of Culture would coordinate the restoration of some properties held by the government, and the GDF would restore properties it owned; however, no additional restorations occurred by the end of the year.  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.  During the year, the government did not pay restitution and compensation to the religious groups for the expropriation of property damaged in fighting with the PKK.

In May the government returned 56 properties in Mardin to the Syriac community through an omnibus bill passed by parliament.  According to media reports, the properties were among 110 Syriac properties turned over to government entities in 2014 amid changes to the zoning plans that went into effect without the knowledge of the community.  Following the decision, the Mor Gabriel Foundation received the returned properties, and its chair, Kuryakos Ergun, explained to media outlets that while the decision brought joy to the community, there were still disputes over additional monasteries, churches, cemeteries, and their adjacent land.

The government did not return any additional properties it had seized in previous decades by year’s end.  From 2011, when the compensation law was passed, through 2013, when the period for submitting compensation applications expired, the GDF received 1,560 applications from religious minority foundations that sought compensation for seized properties.  Because the period for submitting new applications expired in 2013, no new applications were filed during the year.  In previous years, the GDF returned 333 properties and paid compensation for 21 additional properties.  The GDF had rejected the other applications pending from 2011; it said the applications did not meet the criteria as outlined in the 2011 compensation law.  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, submitted from 2011 until 2013 were an issue for their communities.  Due to their legal status, recognized religious foundations were eligible to receive compensation for their seized properties, but religious institutions and communities without legally recognized foundations were not.

Throughout the month of Ramadan, for the fourth 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.  The Hagia Sophia was an Orthodox church and cathedral of the Byzantine Empire from 537-1453, and a mosque from 1453-1931.  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.  In September the Constitutional Court rejected on procedural grounds an appeal from a private association to allow regular Muslim prayers to take place in the Hagia Sophia.

Religious communities, particularly Alevis, raised concerns about several of the government’s education policies.  At year’s end, the government continued not to comply with a 2013 ECHR ruling that found the government’s compulsory religion courses in public schools violated educational freedom.  The ECHR 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 the community’s religious convictions.  Authorities added material on Alevism to the religious course curriculum in 2011 after the ECHR decision, but Alevi groups stated the material was inadequate and in some cases incorrect.

In December a group of students at a public high school in Istanbul’s Kadikoy District protested their school administration for being pressured by “Islamist students supported by school principals” to attend “religious conversations” in their spare time.  The school administration started an investigation of students who participated in the protests according to media reports.  Egitim-Is, an education sector union, criticized the school administration and contended the government handed secular schools over to religious groups.

Some secular individuals, Alevis, and others continued to criticize the Ministry of National Education’s extensive July 2017 revision of the school curriculum.  The criticisms focused on increased Sunni Muslim content in the textbooks and cuts to 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.  In September Alevi associations and foundations in Izmir protested compulsory religion classes and issued a press statement that criticized the education policies for ignoring Alevi citizens.

In January the Diyanet issued a memorandum to its local directorates for Sunni preachers to provide seminars for middle school students on “moral values,” including martyrdom.  With the approval of the governor’s office, five schools in Canakkale were included in the program.

The teachers’ union Egitim-Sen applied to the Council of State, which hears cases seeking to change administrative policies of the government, to end a “moral values” education protocol.  The council did not rule on the request by year’s end.  In December 2017, the Ministry of National Education signed a three-year protocol with the Islamist Hizmet Foundation to provide “moral values” education across the country during regular school hours.  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 an illegal religious group.  In January a group of parents in Izmir’s Buca District petitioned to obtain information on the courses provided by the foundation and said students were given Quran classes and not “moral values” education.  In response, the school canceled the classes the same month.

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.”

In September the National Education Ministry issued a regulation allowing separate classrooms for girls and boys in multi-program high schools.  Egitim-Sen and secularist groups criticized the decision as undermining secular education in the country.  Officials from the Ministry of Education denied allegations the change was a step towards creating single gender classrooms in all schools.  Multi-program schools bring regular, technical, and vocational high schools together in less populated areas where the requirement for the minimum number of students for each program cannot be met.

Secular education proponents continued to criticize publicly the assignment of Diyanet employees to university dormitories as an example of greater religious influence on the education system.  In September 2017 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 provide the Diyanet’s provincial mufti with performance reviews every six months.

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 Christian denominations, stated the courses largely reflected Hanafi Sunni Islamic doctrine and contained negative and incorrect information about other religious groups, such as some educational texts referring to the Alevi beliefs as mysticism.

Members of other minority religious groups, including Protestants, also said they continued to have 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 provide funding for public, private, and religious schools teaching Islam.  It did not do so for minority schools recognized under the Lausanne Treaty, except to pay the salaries for courses taught in Turkish, such as Turkish literature.  The minority religious communities funded all their other expenses through donations, including from church foundations and alumni.

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 continued to legally classify 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.  According to members of the Syriac Orthodox community, which has operated a preschool since 2014, the community was still unable to open additional schools due to financial reasons.  The government did not grant permission to other religious groups to operate schools.

The government continued to limit the number of students admitted to public secondary schools and assigned tens of thousands of students to state-run “imam hatip” religious schools based in part on their entrance exam scores, proximity, and other admissions factors.  The government continued to convert many nonreligious public schools to imam hatip schools, citing demand, and students and families reported this created a geographic hurdle for those who preferred to attend secular public schools.  Enrollment in the imam hatip schools increased to more than 1.3 million students, up from approximately one million in 2015.  Since the 2016 coup attempt, the government has closed at least 1,065 private schools, many affiliated with the Gulen movement or related groups, on antiterror grounds.  The government converted some of these private schools to imam hatip schools.

Many public buildings, including universities, maintained small mosques in which Muslims could pray.  In June 2017, the Ministry of National Education issued a regulation requiring every new school to have 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 the approximately 2,500 to 3,000 cemevis in the country were insufficient to meet demand.  The government continued to state that Diyanet-funded mosques were available to Alevis and all Muslims, regardless of their school of religious thought.

In January the Ministry of National Education allowed distribution in schools of a book containing text from an Islamic association that insulted Jews and Alevis.  The book described Alevis as atheists and asked students “not to become like Jews.”

The government continued to provide training for Sunni Muslim clerics while restricting other religious groups from training clerics inside the country.  Because of the lack of monastic seminaries within the country, the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox Patriarchates remained unable to train clerics.  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I 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.  A 1971 Constitutional Court ruling prohibited the operation of private institutions of higher education and led to the seminary’s closure.  According to the Ecumenical Patriarch, the continued closure interrupted a tradition of instruction dating back centuries to the historical roots of the school as a monastery.  In July the Diyanet announced plans to open an Islamic educational center on the same island as the shuttered seminary.

The government continued not to authorize clerics of religious groups designated as non-Islamic to register and officiate at marriages on behalf of the state.  Imams received this authority in November 2017.  Some critics continued to state 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 109,332 Sunni personnel at the end of 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, compared with 112,725 in 2016.  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 still had been no action on this issue.

The government continued to provide land for the construction of Sunni mosques and fund their construction through municipalities.  According to the Diyanet’s most recent published statistics, early in the year, there were 88,021 mosques in the country.  Although Alevi groups were able to build new cemevis, the government continued to decline to provide financial support for their construction.

In April Diyanet President Ali Erbas described deism as heresy in an interview and said no Turkish citizen would follow such a “heretical and superstitious” philosophy.

In September a teacher in Arnavutkoy district of Istanbul said a meal prepared by an Alevi could not be eaten.  Upon complaints by Alevi students and associations, the Education Directorate dismissed the teacher the same month.

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 September the acting Armenian patriarch led a Mass at the historic Armenian Ahtamar Church near Van.  The minister of tourism and culture also attended.  Authorities had canceled annual services starting in 2015 due to security concerns caused by clashes between the Turkish military and the PKK.

In July the assembly of the GDF passed a decision that allowed allocation of places of worship under GDF ownership to different religious minorities free of charge.  With the decision, previously expropriated churches and synagogues could be reopened for use by religious minorities.  Following passage of the resolution, Sacre Coeur, a Jesuit church built in 1910 in Istanbul, was allocated for use of the Syriac Catholic community.  Mar Yuhanna Church in Hatay, formerly a Syriac church that was no longer in use, was also allocated for use of the Greek Orthodox Church Foundation in Hatay.  The GDF renovated and reopened Mar Yuhanna in 2017.

Renovations concluded in May on a church in Bursa.  In April 2017, then Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak announced government funds would renovate the church.  The church remained open for religious services during the renovation.  Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Turkish Protestant congregations continued to share the building, owned by the GDF for more than 10 years.  In June a local court in Bursa approved the application by the Protestant community in Bursa to start a foundation.  In September the foundation applied to the GDF for long-term use of the church, which all denominations would continue to use.  At year’s end the government had not responded to its request.

Government funding for dailies and weeklies published by minority communities increased from 150,000 Turkish Lira (TL) ($28,400) in 2017 to TL 200,000 ($37,900) in 2018.

According to media reports, multiple government officials made anti-Semitic statements during a pro-Palestinian rally in May, including drawing parallels between the Israeli government and Hitler.  In November President Erdogan referred to the head of Open Society Foundations George Soros as “the famous Hungarian Jew,” adding, “This is a man who was assigned to divide nations and shatter them.”  In August Muharrem Ince, CHP’s presidential candidate in the June elections, posted a tweet criticizing Erdogan and the ruling party, “You are the ones whose services have earned you the Jewish Courage Prize and who deem the award worthy of yourselves,” alluding to Erdogan’s 2005 receipt of the Courage to Care Award from the Anti-Defamation League.  Ince later apologized.

Ankara University hosted an event to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 25, in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Ambassador Volkan Bozkir, chairman of the parliamentary foreign relations commission, 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, a ship that sank off the coast of Istanbul in 1942.  The Governor of Istanbul, MFA representatives, Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva, other members of the Jewish community, and members of the diplomatic community attended the commemoration.  Speakers at the commemoration emphasized the importance of not forgetting such tragedies to preventing future atrocities.

Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious leaders again joined representatives from various municipalities in Istanbul for a public interfaith iftar in June and exchanged messages of coexistence and tolerance.

In January President Erdogan presided over the reopening ceremony of the Sveti Stefan Bulgarian Orthodox Church after a seven-year restoration with funding mainly from the Istanbul Municipality.  Then Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov also attended the ceremony.

In April the governor of Batman District opened Mor Aho Syriac Orthodox Monastery in Gercus District for cultural site visits after two years of renovation.

In September President Erdogan sent a message to the Jewish community celebrating Rosh Hashanah and said “religious diversity is part of Turkey’s wealth.”  In December the Jewish community celebrated the conclusion of Hanukkah with a ceremony at a public park in Istanbul’s Nisantisi neighborhood in which members of the community, local officials, and members of the diplomatic community took turns lighting a menorah.  President Erdogan also released a statement noting the country had always attached great importance “to our citizens living together in peace without facing any discrimination…and to the freedom of religion and faith,” and wished the community peace on the holiday.

United Arab Emirates

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution designates Islam as the official religion.  It guarantees freedom of religious worship “in accordance with established customs,” provided this “does not conflict with public policy or violate public morals.”  The constitution states all citizens are equal before the law, and prohibits discrimination on grounds of religious belief.

The law prohibits black magic, sorcery, and incantations, which are punishable by a prison term ranging from six months to three years, and deportation for noncitizens.

The law does not directly prohibit Muslims from converting to other religions; however, the penal code defers to sharia on matters defined as crimes in Islamic doctrine, which in many interpretations prohibits apostasy.

The law provides for imprisonment of up to five years for preaching against Islam or proselytizing to Muslims.  The law also prohibits “abusing” a holy shrine or ritual of any religion, insulting any religion, inciting someone to commit sin or contravene national values, labeling someone an infidel or unbeliever, and forming groups or holding meetings with the purpose of provoking religious hatred.  Offenders are subject to fines up to two million dirhams ($545,000) and imprisonment generally ranging from five to 10 or more years.

The law prohibits blasphemy, defined as any act insulting God, religions, prophets, messengers, holy books, or houses of worship.  Offenders are subject to imprisonment for five or more years and fines from 250,000 dirhams ($68,100) to two million dirhams ($545,000); noncitizens may be deported.

The law does not require religious organizations to register; however, the formation of a legal entity, which requires some form of registration, is necessary for operational functions such as opening a bank account or renting space.  Each emirate oversees registration of non-Muslim religious organizations and the process differs by emirate, organization, and circumstance.  Currently, there is no consistent legal framework across the seven emirates for registering non-Muslim religious organizations and, as a result, different religious organizations register under different ministries.  In Dubai, religious organizations are required to obtain a license from the Community Development Authority (CDA).  The government has also granted some religious organizations land in free trade zones, where they legally registered by applying for a trade license, which allows them some operational functions.

The law requires Muslims and non-Muslims to refrain from eating, drinking, and smoking in public during fasting hours during the month of Ramadan.

The law prohibits churches from erecting bell towers or displaying crosses or other religious symbols on the outside of their premises, although they may place signs on their properties indicating they are churches.

Islamic studies are mandatory for all students in public schools and for Muslim students in private schools.  The government does not provide instruction in any religion other than Islam in public schools.  In private schools, non-Muslim students are not required to attend Islamic study classes.  All students, however, are required to take national social studies classes, which include some teaching on Islam.  The government permits Christian-affiliated schools to provide instruction tailored to the religious background of the student, for example, Islamic studies for Muslim students, Christian instruction for Christian students, and ethics or comparative religions for others.

Private schools deemed to be teaching material offensive to Islam, defamatory of any religion, or contravening the country’s ethics and beliefs face potential penalties, including closure.  All private schools, regardless of religious affiliation, must register with the government.  Private schools are required to have a license from the federal Ministry of Education and their curriculum must be consistent with a plan of operation submitted to and approved by the ministry.  Administrative oversight of the schools is a responsibility of each emirate’s government.

The law prohibits the distribution of religious literature the government determines is contradictory to Islam, as well as literature it deems blasphemous or offensive towards religions.

Land ownership by non-citizens is restricted to designated freehold areas.  Outside of special economic zones and designated freehold areas, the law restricts the majority company ownership to citizens.  This restriction is an impediment to most minority religious communities (which consist of noncitizens) from purchasing property to build houses of worship.

The law prohibits multiple forms of discrimination, including religious discrimination, and criminalizes acts the government interprets as provoking religious hatred or insulting religion through any form of expression.  It also criminalizes the broadcasting, publication, and transmission of such material by any means, including audio/visual or print media, or via the internet, and prohibits conferences or meetings the government deems promote discrimination, discord, or hatred.

According to the constitution, sharia is the principal source of legislation, although the judicial system applies two types of law, depending on the case.  Sharia forms the basis for judicial decisions in most family law matters for Muslims, such as marriage and divorce, and inheritance for both Muslims and non-Muslims; however, in the case of noncitizens, the parties may petition the court to have the laws of their home country apply, rather than sharia.  Sharia also applies in some criminal matters.  Civil law provides the basis for decisions on all other matters.  Shia Muslims in Dubai may pursue Shia family law cases through a special Shia council rather than through the regular judicial system.  When sharia courts try non-Muslims for criminal offenses, judges have the discretion to impose civil or sharia penalties.  Higher courts may overturn or modify sharia penalties.

Under the law, Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women who are “people of the book” (Christian or Jewish).  Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men.  Non-Muslim men and Muslim women who marry are subject to arrest, trial, and imprisonment on grounds of engaging in extramarital sex, which carries a minimum sentence of one year in jail, as the marriage is considered invalid; any extramarital sex between persons of any religion is subject to the same penalties.

In the event of a divorce between a Muslim father and non-Muslim mother, sharia law will usually apply.  Strict interpretation of sharia – which oftentimes favors the father – does not apply to child custody cases.  The father, deemed the guardian, provides for the child financially, while the mother, the custodian, provides day-to-day care of the child.  Non-Muslim wives of citizens are ineligible for naturalization.  There is no automatic spousal inheritance provision for wives under the law if the husband is Muslim and the wife is non-Muslim.  Such wives may not inherit their husband’s property unless named as a beneficiary in their husband’s will.

Abu Dhabi’s judicial department permits Christian leaders to legally mediate divorces for Christians and agnostics if the bride and groom are both residents of the emirate.  The government permits church officials to officiate at weddings for non-Muslims, but the couple must also obtain the marriage certificate from the Abu Dhabi Justice Department.  In both cases of marriage and divorce, the church official must be registered with the Ministry of Justice as officially recognized to perform these acts.

Noncitizens may register wills in the emirate in which they live.  In the absence of a will filed with the government, the assets of foreigners who die are subject to sharia.  Non-Muslims are able to register their wills with the Abu Dhabi judicial system as a way to safeguard their assets and preserve their children’s inheritance rights.  In Dubai, foreigners may file wills at the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) Court Wills and Probate Registry and include their own choice of law clause.  The DIFC Wills Service Center allows non-Muslim business owners and shareholders to designate an heir.  Dubai wills not filed in the DIFC Court are subject to sharia.  The DIFC’s jurisdiction extends to the Emirate of Ras al Khaimah.  There are courts for Personal Status and for Inheritance for non-Muslims in the Abu Dhabi Court of First Instance.

The law prohibits activities the government deems supportive of political or extremist interpretations of Islam.  These include the use of the internet or any other electronic means to promote views the government believes insult religions, promote sectarianism, damage national unity or the reputation of the state, or harm public order and public morals.  Punishments include imprisonment and fines from 500,000 dirhams ($136,000) to one million dirhams ($272,000).  In August the government increased the penalties for electronic violations of the law, including raising the maximum fine to four million dirhams ($1.09 million).  The law prohibits membership in groups the government designates as terrorist organizations, with penalties up to life imprisonment and capital punishment.

In May the president issued a federal law declaring that local authorities concerned with mosque affairs are responsible for naming mosques, providing and supervising the needs of mosques and prayer spaces, determining the timing of the second call to prayer, organizing religious lectures, and preparing sermons.  The law also defined acts prohibited in mosques, prayer spaces, and Eid Musallas (open prayer spaces outside of mosques or prayer halls smaller than mosques) without a license, such as giving lectures or sermons, holding Quran memorization circles, fundraising, and distributing written and visual material.  The law further stipulates that citizen applicants must be given first consideration for vacant positions at mosques.  The law prohibits those working in mosques from belonging to any illegal group or from carrying out any political or organizational activities.

The law restricts charitable fundraising activities, including by religious organizations, by prohibiting the collection of donations or advertising fundraising campaigns without prior approval from authorities.

In May the president approved a federal law on charitable endowments, clarifying circumstances under which fundraising was permissible.  The law classifies charitable endowments into three categories:  where proceeds are designated for the founder’s offspring; where proceeds are designated for charitable endeavors supporting the underprivileged; and where the proceeds are designed for both offspring and the general public.

The Dubai CDA is the official body mandated to oversee all civil institutions and nonprofits in the emirate, including non-Muslim religious groups.  The CDA issues operating licenses and permits for events, and monitors fundraising activities.  The law also states that civil institutions may only collect donations or launch fundraising campaigns after obtaining the CDA’s written approval.  Fines for noncompliance range from 500 dirhams ($140) to 100,000 dirhams ($27,200).

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

Government Practices

According to press, in July the criminal court of Ajman sentenced “an Arab man” to seven years of imprisonment, deportation upon completion of jail time, and a fine of 500,000 dirhams ($136,000) on blasphemy charges for an allegedly offensive voice mail that, according to media reports, contained offensive words and insulted God.

In January a court sentenced a Dominican woman and her child’s Yemeni biological father to a suspended one-month jail term and deportation for violating the country’s interpretation of sharia by engaging in extramarital sex.

Police and courts continued to enforce laws against sorcery.  In February the Federal Supreme Court upheld an 18-month jail term against someone identified in the press as “an Arab man” for charges of witchcraft, fraud, and trying to coerce sex from a woman.

There were reports of government actions targeting the Muslim Brotherhood, designated by the government as a terrorist organization, and individuals associated with the group.

Within prisons, the authorities required Muslims to attend weekly Islamic services.  In Abu Dhabi, some Christian clergy reported difficulties visiting Christian prisoners and raised concerns about lack of worship space for incarcerated Christians.  They reported that when they were granted prison access, they were permitted to take Bibles to the prisoners.

The country’s two primary internet service providers, both majority-owned by the government, continued to block certain web sites critical of Islam or supportive of religious views the government considered extremist, including Islamic sites.  The service providers continued to block other sites on religion-related topics, including some with information on Judaism, Christianity, atheism, and testimonies of former Muslims who converted to Christianity.

In June the cabinet approved the formation of the UAE Fatwa Council, headed by President of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah.  The cabinet tasked the council with presenting a clear image of Islam, including issuing general fatwas and licensing individuals to issue fatwas, train muftis, and conduct research in coordination with the Awqaf.  In a July statement to the official Emirates news agency, Sheikh bin Bayyah declared, “Unofficial and rogue fatwas are the first gateway to extremist ideologies, and now is the time to demolish the misuse of this platform and end the distortion of fatwas to serve terrorism, murder, and destruction, both in Muslim countries and among Muslim minorities in different countries of the world.”

The Awqaf continued to vet and appoint Sunni imams, except in Dubai, based on their gender, educational background and knowledge of Islam, along with security checks.  According to the federal Awqaf, the government continued to fund Sunni mosques, with the exception of those considered private, and retained all Sunni imams as government employees.

The federal Awqaf continued to oversee the administration of Sunni mosques, except in Dubai, where they were administered by the IACAD.  On its website, the Awqaf stated its goals included offering “religious guidance in the UAE to instill the principle of moderation in Islam.”  It continued to distribute weekly guidance to Sunni imams regarding subject matter, themes, and content of Friday Islamic sermons; published a Friday sermon script every week; and posted the guidance on its website.  The Awqaf applied a three-tier system in which junior imams followed the Awqaf Friday sermon script closely; midlevel imams prepared sermons according to the topic or subject matter selected by Awqaf authorities; and senior imams had the flexibility to choose their own subject and content for their Friday sermons.  Some Shia sheikhs (religious leaders) chose to follow Awqaf-approved weekly addresses, while others wrote their own sermons.  In June the Awqaf launched the first English-language Friday sermons in Ras Al Khaimah.  In September the Awqaf launched an initiative to translate Friday sermons for reading and listening into English and Urdu on its website and mobile application.

Dubai’s IACAD controlled the appointment of Sunni clergy and their conduct during worship in Dubai mosques.  All of the imams in Dubai’s more than 2,000 Sunni mosques were government employees and included both citizens and noncitizens.  Qualification requirements were more stringent for expatriate imams than for local imams, and starting salaries much lower.

The Jaafari Affairs Council, located in Dubai, managed Shia affairs for all of the country, including overseeing mosques and community activities, managing financial affairs, and hiring preachers.  The council complied with the weekly guidance from IACAD and issued additional instructions on sermons to Shia mosques.  In May, acting on an initiative of Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, emirate officials inaugurated the Imam Al Sadiq Center in Dubai for Shia religious and community activities.  The site is intended to hold 2,400 people.

The government did not appoint sheikhs for Shia mosques.  Shia adherents worshiped in and maintained their own mosques.  The government considered all Shia mosques to be private; however, they were eligible to receive some funds from the government upon request.

The Awqaf operated official toll-free call centers and a text messaging service for fatwas in three languages (Arabic, English, and Urdu).  Fatwa categories included belief and worship, business transactions, family issues, women’s issues, and other Islamic legal issues.  Callers explained their question directly to an official mufti, who then issued a fatwa.  Both female (muftiya) and male (mufti) religious scholars worked the phones at the fatwa hotline.

The government permitted Shia Muslims to observe Ashura in private, but not in public.  There were no public processions in Dubai or the northern emirates.

Representatives of non-Islamic faiths said registration procedures and requirements for minority religious groups remained unclear in all emirates other than Dubai.  The government did not require non-Muslim religious groups to register, but according to some observers, the lack of a clear legal designation continued to result in an ambiguous legal status for many groups and created difficulties in carrying out certain administrative functions, including banking or signing leases.  For example, the government required religious groups to register as a precondition for establishing formal places of worship, such as temples, mosques, or churches, or for holding religious services in rented spaces such as hotels or convention centers.  Community sources indicated that the government permitted unregistered religious organizations to rent spaces at hotels in some circumstances.  The government permitted groups that chose not to register to practice in private homes, as long as this activity did not disturb neighbors through excessive noise or vehicle congestion.

The government required all conference organizers, including religious groups, to register conferences and events, including disclosing speaker topics.

In Dubai, there were reports of delays in obtaining permits to worship in spaces outside of government-designated religious compounds from the CDA, tasked with implementing a new oversight structure for civil institutions and nonprofits and with regulating non-Muslim faith communities in the emirate.  There were also reports of additional restrictions on holding some religious services in hotels, due to confusion and uncertainty regarding CDA policies, and last-minute event cancellations affecting religious groups.

Immigration authorities continued to ask foreigners applying for residence permits to declare their religious affiliation on residence applications.  School applications also asked for family religious affiliation.  Applicants were required to list a religious affiliation, creating potential legal issues for atheists and agnostics.  According to Ministry of Interior officials, the government collected this information for demographic statistical analysis only.

Individuals belonging to non-Islamic faiths, including Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Judaism, said they generally could worship and practice without government interference within designated compounds or buildings, or in private facilities or homes.  While the government did not generally allow non-Muslims to worship, preach, or conduct prayers in public, there were reports of government-sanctioned exceptions, such as the annual Easter celebrations held on a beach.

The government continued to provide land for non-Islamic cemeteries.  There were cremation facilities and associated cemeteries for the large Hindu community.  The Al Ain municipality in Abu Dhabi Emirate also ran a cremation facility.  Non-Muslim groups said the capacity in crematoriums and cemeteries was sufficient to meet demand.  The government required residents and nonresidents to obtain a permit to use cremation facilities, and authorities routinely granted such permits.  The government allowed people from all religious groups except Islam to use the cremation facilities.

In November the Abu Dhabi International Airport opened a multi-faith prayer room for use by the general public.

Some religious groups, particularly Christians and Hindus, advertised religious functions in the press or online, including holiday celebrations, memorial services, religious conventions, and choral concerts, without government objection.  The government also allowed businesses to advertise, sell merchandise, and host events for non-Islamic religious holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and Diwali.  The government allowed local media to report on non-Islamic religious holiday celebrations, including service times and related community-safety reminders.

In spite of legal prohibitions on eating during daytime hours of Ramadan, in Dubai and several northern emirates, non-Muslims were exempt from these laws in hotels and most malls; non-Muslims could eat at some stand-alone restaurants and most hotels in Abu Dhabi as well.  In Dubai and several northern emirates, the emirate governments permitted most licensed restaurants to offer alcohol during Ramadan.

The government did not always enforce the law against bell towers and crosses on churches, and some churches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai displayed crosses on their buildings or had ornamental bell towers; none of them used the towers to ring or chime bells.

Customs authorities continued to review the content of religious materials imported into the country and occasionally confiscated some materials, such as books.  Additionally, sometimes customs authorities denied or delayed entry to passengers carrying items deemed intended for sorcery, black magic, or witchcraft.  Specific items airport inspectors reportedly confiscated included amulets, animal bones, spells, knives, and containers of blood.

Officials from the Awqaf’s Department of Research and Censorship reviewed religious materials such as books and DVDs published at home and abroad.  The department’s Religious Publications Monitoring Section continued to limit the publication and distribution of religious literature to those it considered consistent with moderate interpretations of Islam and placed restrictions on non-Islamic religious publications, such as material that could be considered proselytizing or promoting another religion over Islam.  The section issued permits to print the Quran and reviewed literature on Quranic interpretation.  The government continued to prohibit the publication and distribution of literature it believed promoted extremist Islam and overtly political Islam.  The Religious Publications Monitoring Section inspected mosques to ensure prohibited publications were not present.

The Anti-Defamation League noted that despite the central government’s policy of promoting religious tolerance, the Dubai emirate sponsored three speakers with a history of anti-Semitic comments at an emirate-sponsored Ramadan event, a ceremony for the Dubai Holy Quran Award.  Omar Abdel Kafi, also spoke at the opening session of the May 2018 “Tolerance and Diversity of Cultures” conference in Abu Dhabi, held at the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research.  Another of the speakers identified in the report, Saleh al-Maghemsy, spoke at the April “Al-Quds – Location and Status” conference in Abu Dhabi, under the patronage of the Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan.

The government continued to grant permission to build houses of worship on a case-by-case basis.  Minority religious groups said, however, the construction of new houses of worship had not kept up with demand from the country’s large noncitizen population.  Many existing churches continued to face overcrowding and many congregations lacked their own space.  In Dubai, overcrowding of the emirate’s two church compounds was especially pronounced, and routinely led to congestion and traffic.  Media reports highlighted that holiday services often attract tens of thousands of worshippers to Dubai’s church compounds.  Some smaller congregations met in private locations, or shared space with other churches to which rulers had given land.  Noncitizen groups with land grants did not pay rent on the property.  Several emirates also continued to provide free utilities for religious buildings.

Noncitizens, who make up the membership of most minority religious groups, relied on grants and permission from local rulers to build houses of worship.  For these groups, land titles remained in the respective ruler’s name.  There were approximately 42 Christian churches, built on land donated by the ruling families of the emirates in which they were located.  Ajman and Umm Al Quwain were the only emirates without dedicated land for Christian churches, although congregations gathered in other spaces, such as hotels.

There are two Hindu temples and one Sikh temple in Dubai.  Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed allocated land in Al-Wathba, Abu Dhabi, for the construction of a privately funded Hindu temple, scheduled to be completed by 2020.  In January the minister of tolerance and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East inaugurated Saint Elias Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Abu Dhabi.  There were no Buddhist temples; some Buddhist groups met in private facilities.  There were no synagogues for the expatriate resident Jewish population, but regular communal worship took place on the Sabbath and holidays in a private villa in Dubai.  In December Bloomberg published an article about the Dubai Jewish community with the permission of its leaders, marking the first time the worship space had been publicly acknowledged.  Construction was underway on a new Anglican church in Abu Dhabi; the projected completion date is not clear.

Although the government permitted non-Muslim groups to raise money from their congregations and from abroad, some noncitizen religious groups were unable to open bank accounts because of the lack of a clear legal category to assign the organization.  Several religious minority leaders reported this ambiguity created practical barriers to renting space, paying salaries, collecting funds, and purchasing insurance, and made it difficult to maintain financial controls and accountability.

In Islamic court cases involving non-Muslim defendants, judges had the discretion to impose civil or sharia penalties, and sources said the judges generally imposed civil penalties.

Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan often spoke publicly in support of free practice of religion, including during a February address to a delegation from the Catholic University of Paris.  The minister continued to host the International Institute of Tolerance, which sponsored the Dubai-based World Tolerance Summit in November, which featured messaging on respect for religious pluralism.

The government engaged with religious minorities frequently.  In January the minister of tolerance hosted senior Christian leaders from across the Gulf Cooperation Council at his palace in Abu Dhabi and discussed interfaith relations and their ability to worship in the UAE.  In January Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister and ruler of Dubai, hosted Aga Khan IV, imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, as part of the Aga Khan’s diamond jubilee tour as spiritual leader and to promote the Aga Khan Foundation.

In October Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces Mohammed bin Zayed and numerous other officials hosted a visiting evangelical Christian delegation from the United States to discuss promotion of tolerance and religious pluralism.

During the St. Anthony’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral’s Christmas celebration, Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan addressed the congregation and condemned the terrorist attack against the Church of Mar Mina in Cairo and affirmed the country’s commitment to religious tolerance and interfaith understanding.

In June Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan met with Pope Francis and other senior Vatican officials in Rome.  Local media reports noted that the discussions included promoting interfaith dialogue and increased bilateral cooperation.

Some Muslim and non-Muslim groups reported their ability to engage in nonreligious charitable activities, such as providing meals or social services, was limited because of government restrictions.  For example, the government required groups to obtain permission prior to any fundraising activities.  Religious groups reported official permission was required for any activities held outside of their place of worship, including charitable activities, and this permission was sometimes difficult to obtain.

In Dubai, representatives of the CDA attended interfaith iftars and suhoors (predawn meals during Ramadan) hosted by several Christian congregations, the Sikh Gurudwara, and the Ismaili Center.  Dubai’s Al Manara Islamic Center hosted an interfaith iftar, and invited attendees to share their thoughts on the themes of tolerance and happiness.  The iftar was broadcast live on the center’s website.  Dubai’s grand mufti addressed the diverse group of minority religious leaders and diplomats in attendance.

In June 2018 Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited the Akshardham Hindu temple in New Delhi, India, as part of an official visit.

Prominent government figures and social media influencers routinely acknowledged minority religious holidays using various platforms.  For example, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister and ruler of Dubai, tweeted wishes for a happy Diwali and encouraged observers to use social media to share pictures of Diwali celebrations around the country.

Yemen

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares Islam to be the state religion.  It provides for freedom of thought and expression “within the limits of the law” but does not mention freedom of religion, belief, or conscience.  The constitution states sharia is the source of all legislation, although it coexists with secular common law and civil code models of law in a hybrid legal system.

Sharia serves as the basis of the legal system.  The courts of the first instance address civil, criminal, commercial, and personal status cases.  Informal tribunals, operating mostly in rural areas, administer customary law in addition to sharia to resolve disputes.

The constitution states the president must be Muslim (“practices his Islamic duties”); however, it allows non-Muslims to run for parliament, as long as they “fulfill their religious duties.”  The law does not prohibit political parties based on religion, but it states parties may not claim to be the sole representative of any religion, oppose Islam, or restrict membership to a particular religious group.

The criminal code states “deliberate” and “insistent” denunciation of Islam or conversion from Islam to another religion is apostasy, a capital offense.  The law allows those charged with apostasy three opportunities to repent; upon repentance, they are absolved from the death penalty.

Family law prohibits marriage between a Muslim and an individual whom the law defines as an apostate.  Muslim women may not marry non-Muslims, and Muslim men may not marry women who do not practice one of the three Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, or Judaism).  By law, a woman seeking custody of a child “ought not” to be an apostate; a man “ought” to be of the same faith as the child.

The law prohibits proselytizing directed at Muslims.  The law prescribes up to three years’ imprisonment for public “ridicule” of any religion, and prescribes up to five years if the ridiculed religion is Islam.

There is no provision for the registration of religious groups.

By law, the government must authorize construction of new buildings.  The law, however, does not mention places of worship specifically.

Public schools must provide instruction in Islam but not in other religions.  The law states primary school classes must include knowledge of Islamic rituals and the country’s history and culture within the context of Islamic civilization.  The law also specifies knowledge of Islamic beliefs as an objective of secondary education.  Public schools are required to teach Sunni and Shia students the same curriculum; however, instructional materials indicate that schools in Houthi controlled areas are teaching Zaydi principles.

The Houthis and officials residing in Houthi-controlled areas representing the largest secular political party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), jointly established the Supreme Political Council (SPC) in July 2016.  The SPC is a 10-member entity organized to establish and determine a governing structure for Yemen under the Houthi-led regime in Sana’a.  The government and the international community have deemed the SPC unconstitutional and illegitimate.

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

Government Practices

The cabinet, with the exception of President Hadi, Vice President Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, and Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, who remained in Saudi Arabia, returned to Aden under the leadership of the new Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed in late October.  The government, however, did not exercise effective legal or administrative control over much of the country.

Although causes for the war are complex, sectarian violence has accompanied the civil conflict.  Since March 2015, the government has engaged in a military conflict with Ansar Allah (Houthis).  After the Houthis established control over Sana’a in September 2014, and expanded their control over significant portions of the country, senior government officials fled to Saudi Arabia, where they requested assistance from Saudi Arabia and other regional states.  As noted by the BBC, “Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring [President] Hadi’s government.”  The BBC report later described the conflict as “part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.”

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes damaged places of worship and religious institutions and caused casualties at religious gatherings, according to the UN, nongovernmental organizations, and media.

Prior to the outbreak of the current military conflict, the government permitted the use of Hindu temples in Aden and Sana’a as well as existing church buildings for religious services of other denominations.  Due to the conflict, information on the use of these religious sites was not available during the year.

The government was unable to verify the content of the religious curriculum taught in some private schools, although the government said it was aware of the forced introduction of Zaydi Shia teaching into the curriculum of schools within Houthi-controlled areas.  Some Muslim citizens attended private schools that did not teach Islam.  Most non-Muslim students were foreigners and attended private schools.  According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, schools were open for only a few hours a day in many areas and over 2,000 were closed because of damage or because displaced persons or armed groups had occupied them.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future