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Crimea

Executive Summary

In February 2014, Russian military forces invaded and occupied Crimea.  United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262 adopted on March 27, 2014, and entitled Territorial Integrity of Ukraine, states the Autonomous Republic of Crimea remains internationally recognized as within Ukraine’s international borders.  The U.S. government does not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and considers that Crimea remains a part of Ukraine.

IN THIS SECTION: UKRAINE | CRIMEA (BELOW)


In February 2014, armed forces of the Russian Federation seized and occupied Crimea.  In March 2014, Russia announced Crimea had become part of the Russian Federation.  A UN General Assembly resolution declared continued international recognition of Crimea’s inclusion within Ukraine’s international borders.  The U.S. government continues not to recognize the purported annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and recognizes that Crimea continues to be part of Ukraine.  Occupation forces continue to impose the de facto implementation of the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory of Crimea.

In a joint 2014-2018 report for the UN Committee against Torture, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Regional Center for Human Rights, and Media Initiative for Human Rights reported religious activists were among victims of torture.  According to the report, despite the health problems of Arsen Dzhepparov and Uzeir Abdullayev, detained by the FSB on suspicion of involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, occupation authorities denied medical assistance to them.

The Russian government reported there were 831 religious communities registered in Crimea, compared with 812 in 2017, a number that dropped by over 1,000 since occupation began in 2014, the last year for which Ukrainian government figures were available.  According to religious activists, human rights groups, and media reports, Russian authorities in occupied Crimea continued to persecute and intimidate minority religious congregations, Jehovah’s Witnesses, UOC-KP members, and Muslim Crimean Tatars.  Occupation authorities continued to subject Muslim Crimean Tatars to imprisonment and detentions, especially if the authorities purportedly suspected the individuals of involvement in the Muslim political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is legal in Ukraine.

Due to the close links between religion and ethnicity, it was sometimes difficult for human rights groups to categorize incidents as solely based on religious identity.

According to Forum 18, an international religious freedom NGO, administrative court hearings under Russian law imposed on Crimea for “missionary activity” doubled in Crimea compared to the previous year.  There were 23 prosecutions for such activity, most of which ended in convictions with some type of monetary fine.

Greek Catholic leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation authorities.  The UGCC said it continued to have to operate under the umbrella of the Roman Catholic Church.  The UOC-KP reported continued seizures of its churches.  Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate attacks on Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all.

Religious and human rights groups continued to report Russian media efforts to create suspicion and fear among certain religious groups, especially targeting Crimean Tatar Muslims, whom media repeatedly accused of links to Islamist groups designated by Russia as terrorist groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Russian media also portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists.”

The U.S. government continued to condemn the intimidation of Christian and Muslim religious groups by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea and to call international attention to the religious abuses committed by Russian forces.  U.S. government officials remained unable to visit the peninsula following its occupation by the Russian Federation.  Embassy officials, however, continued to meet in other parts of Ukraine with Crimean Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders to discuss their concerns over actions taken against their congregations by the occupation authorities, and to demonstrate continued U.S. support for their right to practice their religious beliefs.

Section I. Religious Demography

The Crimean peninsula consists of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (ARC) and the City of Sevastopol.  According to the State Statistics Service of Ukraine 2014 estimates, the total population of the peninsula is 2,353,000.  There are no recent independent surveys with data on the religious affiliation of the population, but media outlets estimate the number of Crimean Tatars, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, at 300,000, or 13 percent of the population.

According to the information provided by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture in 2014 (the most recent year available), the UOC-MP remains the largest Christian denomination.  Smaller Christian denominations include the UOC-KP, the Roman Catholic Church, UAOC, UGCC, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with Protestant groups, including Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Lutherans.  Adherents of the UOC-MP, Protestants, and Muslims are the largest religious groups in Sevastopol.

There are several Jewish congregations, mostly in Sevastopol and Simferopol.  Jewish groups estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before the Russian occupation began.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Pursuant to international recognition of the continued inclusion of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea within Ukraine’s international borders, Crimea continues to be officially subject to the constitution and laws of Ukraine.  In the aftermath of Russia’s occupation, however, occupation authorities continue their de facto implementation of the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory.

Government Practices

On December 22, the UN General Assembly issued a resolution condemning Russian occupation authorities for “the ongoing pressure exerted upon religious minority communities, including through frequent police raids, threats against and persecution of those belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, the Protestant Church, mosques and Muslim religious schools, Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses.”  The UN also condemned the “baseless prosecution of dozens of peaceful Muslims for allegedly belonging to Islamic organizations.”  Such prosecutions were primarily of Muslims occupation authorities claimed were members of the Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, banned in Russia, but legal in Ukraine.

In a joint 2014-2018 report for the UN Committee against Torture, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Regional Center for Human Rights, and Media Initiative for Human Rights reported religious activists were among victims of torture.  According to the report, despite the health problems of Arsen Dzhepparov and Uzeir Abdullayev, detained by the FSB on suspicion of involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, occupation authorities denied medical assistance to them.

Forced psychiatric examinations of Crimean Tatar Muslim prisoners continued throughout the year.  The Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG) said on December 13, Server Mustafayev was placed in a psychiatric institution for a month-long forced examination.

On June 30, the NGO Krymska Solidarnist quoted human rights attorney Emil Kurbedinov as saying the occupation authorities had subjected Muslim activist Neriman Memedeminov to forced psychiatric examination.

According to media, from June 26 to July 18, Muslim detainee Emir-Huseyn Kuku was on a hunger strike to show his solidarity with other political prisoners and to call attention to their treatment.  On August 26, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld the Ukrainian government’s petition to require Russia to share information about Kuku’s state of health and the medical care provided to him.  According to a September 6 BBC News Ukraine report, the ECHR press service quoted the Russian government as saying that Kuku was receiving proper medical care and was not on a hunger strike at that time.

According to the CHRG, in December the number of Crimean Tatars charged in connection with their Hizb ut-Tahrir membership totaled 29, including Ruslan Zeytullayev, Rustem Vaitov, Nuri Primov and Ferat Sayfullayev, who were serving their prison sentences in Russia.  These four were arrested in Sevastopol in 2015 and charged with participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Additionally, defendants in the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case (Enver Bekirov, Vadim Siruk, Muslim Aliyev, Emir Usein Kuku, Refat Alimov, and Arsen Dzhepparov) and the Bakhchisarai Hizb ut-Tahrir case (Enver Mamutov, Remzi Memetov, Zevri Abseitov and Rustem Abiltarov) were in a detention center in Rostov while their trials continued.

Prisoners in the Bakhchisarai Hizb ut-Tahrir case (Ernes Ametov, Marlen Asanov, Seyran Saliyev, Memet Belialov, Timur Ibragimov, Server Zakiryayev, Server Mustafayev and Edem Smailov), Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir case (Teymur Abdullayev, Rustem Ismailov, Ayder Saledinov, Uzeir Abdullayev, Emil Djemadenov), and Sevastopol Hizb ut-Tahrir case (Enver Seytosmanov), and activist of Krymska Solidarnist Nariman Memedeminov were held in pretrial detention in Simferopol.  Server Mustafayev, Edem Smailov and Nariman Memedeminov were held in pretrial detention in Simferopol.

According to Krymska Solidarnist, on March 22, FSB officers detained blogger Nariman Memedeminov following a search at his home in Kholmovka village in Bakhchisarai District.  The NGO linked the arrest to his reporting on the human rights situation in Crimea.  On March 23, the Kyivsky District Court in Simferopol sanctioned his arrest on terrorist charges, citing his involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir.

According to Krymska Solidarnist, on December 24, Roman Plisko, judge of the North Caucasus District Court in Rostov, sentenced Enver Mamutov to 17 years in a maximum-security prison.  Ruslan Abiltarov, Remzi Memetov, and Zevri Abseitov each received nine-year maximum-security prison sentences.  They were arrested in Bakhchisarai in 2016 and charged with participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir.

According to the Krym Realii news website, on December 6-7, the Kyivsky District Court in Simferopol prolonged until March 9, 2019, the detentions of Seyran Saliyev, Memet Belyalov and Timur Ibragimov, Marlen Asanov, Server Zekiryayev, and Ernes Ametov for their suspected involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir in Bakhchisarai.

According to Krymska Solidarnist, on December 3, Russia’s Rostov District Military Court extended until February 27, 2019, the detentions of Ayder Saledinov, Teymur Abdullayev, Uzair Abdullayev, Emil Dzhemadenov, and Rustem Ismailov, whom the FSB had detained on suspicion of involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir in Simferopol.

According to Krymska Solidarnist, on November 22, the Rostov District Military Court prolonged the detentions of Muslims Aliyev, Emir-Useyn Kuku, Vadym Siruk, Enver Bekirov, Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov until February 28, 2019.  The court cited their suspected involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir in Yalta.

According to an OHCHR quarterly report issued in September, since the beginning of the Russian occupation, at least 33 Crimean residents were arrested for alleged ties with radical Muslim groups.  OHCHR reported four of them were convicted in the absence of “any credible evidence that the defendants called for the use of force, violated public order, or engaged in any unlawful activity in Crimea.”

According to CHRG, on December 24, Inna Semenets, magistrate of the Evpatoriya Judicial District, fined the Karaite religious community for failing to place an identifying sign on the building of a religious organization.  In December the Crimean magistrates reviewed at least five cases pertaining to “illegal missionary activity.”  During the year, 30 of these cases were reviewed, and the magistrates imposed an administrative penalty, fines of 5,000-30,000 Russian rubles ($72-430) and a warning in at least 18 cases.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Forum 18, on November 14, the Russian FSB opened the first criminal case in occupied Crimea against a Jehovah’s Witness, Sergei Filatov, on extremism-related charges.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Filatov is a former head of their Sivash community in Dzhankoy.  Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that on November 16, 200 FSB officers raided Filatov’s home and the homes of seven other Jehovah’s Witnesses in the northern Crimean town of Dzhankoy.  During the raid, officers reportedly pinned 79-year-old Oleksandr Ursu to a wall, forced him to the ground, and handcuffed him.  Ursu spent his childhood years with his family in Soviet exile in Siberia.  Later the authorities rehabilitated him as a victim of Soviet political repression.  According to JW.org and Forum 18, two Jehovah’s Witness members were hospitalized for high blood pressure, and 22-year-old Zhanna Lungu suffered a miscarriage following the raid.

The investigation of Ervin Ibragimov’s 2016 kidnapping continued with no new information on his whereabouts at year’s end.  According to media sources, in March Simferopol’s Kyiv District Court dismissed a complaint by his family’s lawyer about lack of police response to attorney inquiries regarding the investigation of the case.  In May 2016, unidentified uniformed men kidnapped Ibragimov, a Muslim and member of the Bakhchisarai Mejlis and of the Coordinating Council of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, after stopping his car on the side of the road.

According to Forum 18, administrative court hearings under Russian law imposed on Crimea for “missionary activity” doubled in Crimea compared to the previous year.  There were 23 prosecutions for such activity, 19 of which ended with some type of punishment.  Many of those prosecuted had been sharing their faith on the street or holding worship at unapproved venues.  According to Forum 18, 12 Russian citizens were fined approximately 10 days’ average local wages.  Six Ukrainian citizens were given higher fines of up to nearly two months’ average local wages.  Forum 18 stated these six cases, in addition to the case of another Ukrainian who was prosecuted, appear to be the first use in Crimea of a Russian Administrative Code on “foreigners conducting missionary activity” that is “specifically aimed at non-Russians.”

According to Forum 18, occupation authorities brought an additional 17 cases against individuals and religious communities for failing to use the full legal name of a registered religious community.  The punishments generally involved fines of approximately 10 days’ wages, according to Forum 18.  Occupation authorities brought an additional 14 cases against individuals and religious communities for failing to use the full legal name of a registered religious community.

According to Forum 18, local authorities maintained a ban on the Tablighi Jamaat Muslim missionary movement in Crimea under the 2009 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.  Forum 18 reported on its website on November 28 that the trial of four alleged members of the Tablighi Jamaat Muslim missionary movement on extremism-related charges was imminent at the Crimea “Supreme Court” in Simferopol.  The four men, all members of the Tatar minority, were arrested in October 2017.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, local authorities maintained a ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crimea under the 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.

According to the Ministry of Justice of Russia, 831 religious organizations were registered in Crimea, including 69 in Sevastopol, as of year’s end.  These included the two largest religious organizations – the Christian Orthodox UOC-MP and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea (SAMC) – as well as various Protestant, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Greek Catholic communities, among other religious groups.

According to data collected by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture in 2014 (the most recent year available), there were 2,083 religious organizations (a term including parishes, congregations, theological schools, monasteries, and other constituent parts of a church or religious group) in the ARC and 137 in Sevastopol.  The numbers included organizations both with and without legal entity status.  Muslim religious organizations constituted the largest number of religious organizations in the ARC, most of which were affiliated with the SAMC, Ukraine’s largest Muslim group.

The OHCHR report on the most recent number of registered religious communities indicated more than 1,000 religious communities recognized under Ukrainian law had not reregistered.  According to the OHCHR, stringent legal requirements under Russian legislation continued to prevent or discourage reregistration of many religious communities.

According to human rights groups, occupation authorities continued to restrict the rights of Crimean Tatars, who are predominantly Muslim, following the 2016 designation of the Mejlis, recognized under Ukrainian law as the democratically elected representative council of the Crimean Tatars, as an “extremist organization.”

Human rights groups reported occupation authorities continued to require imams at Crimean Tatar mosques to inform them each time they transferred from one mosque to another.

The Roman Catholic Church reported it continued to operate in the territory as a pastoral district directly under the authority of the Vatican.  Polish and Ukrainian Roman Catholic Church priests were permitted to stay in the territory for only 90 days at a time and then were required to remain out of Crimea for 90 days before returning.

According to the UGCC, it could still only operate as a part of the pastoral district of the Roman Catholic Church.

According to the UOC-KP, Russian occupation authorities continued to pressure the UOC-KP Crimean diocese in a bid to force the UOC-KP to leave the region.  Only five of the 15 UOC-KP churches located in Crimea prior to the Russian occupation remained functioning at the end of the year, compared with eight in 2017.

On June 3, the “Government of Sevastopol” returned to the Roman Catholic Church the vacant former Church of St. Clement.  According to the media, “Governor of Sevastopol” Dmitry Ovsyannikov called the decision a “restoration of historical justice.”

According to media sources, Russian authorities ordered the relocation of human remains from an ancient Muslim cemetery near Bakhchisaray due to road construction through the cemetery.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Following an October 17 mass shooting in a Kerch college, Russian media widely discussed a claim that the shooter’s mother was a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses “sect.”

On July 18, local authorities in Kerch said they had identified a group of teenagers who during that month had destroyed 15 tombstones in a Muslim cemetery in Bagerovе.  Local government representatives said the suspects would face administrative penalties.

According to Krym Realii news website, on the night of June 18-19, unidentified individuals painted neo-Nazi graffiti on a fence surrounding a mosque in Bilohirsk.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. government continued its efforts to focus international attention on the religious freedom-related abuses committed by Russian forces and occupation authorities in Crimea, especially on actions taken by those forces and authorities against Christians and Muslims.  U.S. government and embassy officials condemned the continuing intimidation of minority religious congregations, including Christians and Muslim Crimean Tatars.  On December 20, among the frequent public statements and tweets to amplify U.S. government support for religious freedom, including the rights of religious minorities, the Ambassador stated, “Tolerance, restraint, and understanding are decisive factors that provide an opportunity for people with different religious beliefs to live and flourish peacefully together.”

Although embassy and other U.S. government officials remained unable to visit Crimea following the Russian occupation, embassy officials continued to meet in other parts of Ukraine with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders.  The leaders discussed their concerns over actions taken against congregations by the occupation authorities and reassured the religious leaders of continued U.S. support for the right of all to practice their religious beliefs.  Embassy officials told religious leaders the United States would continue to support religious freedom in Crimea and press the occupation authorities to return confiscated property and release prisoners incarcerated for their religious or political beliefs.


IN THIS SECTION: UKRAINE | CRIMEA (ABOVE)

Germany

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the practice of one’s religion.  The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy on registration of religious groups and other matters.  Unrecognized religious groups are ineligible for tax benefits.  The federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of certain Muslim groups.  Authorities also monitored the Church of Scientology (COS), which reported continued government discrimination against its members.  Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, for some state employees, particularly teachers and courtroom officials.  While senior government leaders continued to condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, some members of the federal parliament and state assemblies from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party again made anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements.  The federal and seven state governments appointed anti-Semitism commissioners for the first time, following a recommendation in a parliament-commissioned 2017 experts’ report to create a federal anti-Semitism commissioner in response to growing anti-Semitism.  The federal anti-Semitism commissioner serves as a contact for Jewish groups and coordinates initiatives to combat anti-Semitism in the federal ministries.  In July the government announced it would increase social welfare funding for Holocaust survivors by 75 million euros ($86 million) in 2019.  In March Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said he did not consider Islam to be a part of the country’s culture, and that the country was characterized by Christianity.  In May the Bavarian government decreed that every public building in the state must display a cross in a clearly visible location near its entrance.

There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents.  These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism.  Most anti-Christian incidents involved actions by Muslim migrants against migrant converts.  Jews expressed security concerns after several widely publicized anti-Semitic attacks, coupled with reports of anti-Semitic bullying in schools.  Final federal crime statistics cite 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes during the year, including 69 involving violence, an increase of 20 percent compared with 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes, of which 37 were violent, in 2017.  The federal crime statistics attributed 93 percent of the 2017 crimes to the far right.  A study covering 2007-2017 by the Technical University of Berlin found online anti-Semitism was at its highest level ever recorded.  There were demonstrations expressing anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment and protests against what participants described as radical Islam.  The Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) continued to make public statements opposing the COS.

The U.S. embassy and five consulates general monitored the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance and expressed concerns about anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-Muslim acts.  Embassy representatives met regularly with the newly appointed federal government anti-Semitism commissioner at the Ministry of Interior.  The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on their concerns about religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 80.5 million (July 2018 estimate).  Unofficial estimates based on the census and figures provided by religious groups indicate approximately 29 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, and 27 percent belongs to the EKD – a confederation of Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist), and United (Prussian Union) Protestant regional churches.  Other Protestant denominations, including the New Apostolic Church, Baptist communities, and nondenominational Christians, combined account for less than 1 percent of the population.  Orthodox Christians represent 2.4 percent of the population.

According to government estimates, approximately 6.3 percent of the population is Muslim, of which 75 percent is Sunni, 13 percent Alevi, and 7 percent Shia; the remainder identifies simply as “Muslim.”  According to the Ministry of Interior, approximately 25 percent of Muslims are recent immigrants; between 2011 and 2015, an estimated 1.2 million refugees arrived from predominately Muslim countries.  Estimates of the Jewish population vary widely; the Central Council of Jews estimates it at 200,000.  The Central Welfare Office for Jews in Germany reported that Jewish communities had approximately 100,000 members at the end of 2017.  According to Religious Studies Media and Information Service (REMID), a secular, religious studies NGO, groups that together constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Buddhists (270,000); Jehovah’s Witnesses (222,000); Hindus (100,000); Yezidis (100,000); The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) (40,000); Sikhs (15,000); and COS (5,000-10,000).  All of REMID’s estimates are based only on members who have registered with a religious group.  According to the nonprofit Research Group Worldviews Germany, approximately 36 percent of the population either has no religious affiliation or belongs to religious groups not counted in the government’s statistics.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution (also known as the basic law) prohibits discrimination based on religious opinion and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed and to practice one’s religion.  The constitution also prohibits an official state church.  It stipulates no one shall be required to disclose his or her religious convictions nor be compelled to participate in religious acts.  The constitution states religious instruction shall be part of the curriculum in public schools and that parents have the right to decide whether their children shall receive religious instruction.  It recognizes the right to establish private denominational schools.  The constitution guarantees the freedom to form religious societies and states groups may organize themselves for private religious purposes without constraint.  It allows registered religious groups with Public Law Corporation (PLC) status to receive public subsidies from the states and provide religious services in the military, at hospitals, and in prisons.

The federal criminal code prohibits calling for violence or arbitrary measures against religious groups or their members or inciting hatred against them.  Violations are punishable by up to five years in prison.  It also prohibits “assaulting the human dignity of religious groups or their members by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming them,” specifying a maximum penalty of five years in prison, although prison sentences are rare.  The prohibition and the penalties apply equally to online speech.  The federal criminal code prohibits disturbing religious services or acts of worship, with violators subject to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.  The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred, specifying a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment.

The law permits the federal government to characterize “nontraditional” religious groups as “sects,” “youth religions,” and “youth sects,” and allows the government to provide “accurate information” or warnings about them to the public.  The law does not permit the government to use terms such as “destructive,” “pseudo-religious,” or “manipulative” when referring to these groups.  Several court decisions have ruled the government must remain neutral towards a religion and may provide a warning to the public only if an “offer” by a religious group would endanger the basic rights of an individual or place the individual in a state of physical or financial dependence.

Religious groups wishing to qualify as nonprofit associations with tax-exempt status must register.  State-level authorities review registration submissions and routinely grant tax-exempt status; if challenged, their decisions are subject to judicial review.  Religious groups applying for tax-exempt status must provide evidence through their statutes, history, and activities that they are a religious group.

A special partnership exists between the states and religious groups with PLC status, as outlined in the constitution.  Any religious group may request PLC status, which, if granted, entitles the group to levy tithes on members (averaging 9 percent of income tax) that each state collects on its behalf, separately from income taxes, but through the state’s tax collection process.  PLCs pay fees to the government for the tithing service, but not all groups with PLC status utilize the service.  PLC status also allows for tax exemptions (larger than those given to groups with nonprofit status), representation on supervisory boards of public television and radio stations, and the right to special labor regulations, for example, requiring employees in hospitals, kindergartens, or NGOs run by a religious group to be members of that group.  State governments subsidize institutions with PLC status providing public services, such as religious schools and hospitals.  Due to historic “state-church contracts” dating back to before the Weimar republic, all state governments except for Bremen and Hamburg subsidize the Catholic Church and the EKD with different yearly amounts.

According to the constitution, the decision to grant PLC status is made at the state level.  Individual states base PLC status decisions on a number of varying qualifications, including an assurance of the group’s permanence, size, and respect for the constitutional order and fundamental rights of individuals.  An estimated 180 religious groups have PLC status, including Catholics, the EKD, Baha’is, Baptists, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Mennonites, Methodists, the Church of Jesus Christ, the Salvation Army, and Seventh-day Adventists.  Ahmadi Muslim groups have PLC status in the states of Hesse and Hamburg; no other Muslim communities have PLC status.  The COS does not have PLC or nonprofit status in any state.

According to a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court, general headscarf bans for teachers at public schools are a violation of religious freedom, but implementation is left to the states, which may determine if special circumstances apply.  Bavaria, North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), and Saarland render decisions on a case-by-case basis.  Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, and Bremen do not prohibit headscarves for teachers.  Hesse permits teachers to wear headscarves as long as doing so does not impair “school peace” or threaten perceptions of state neutrality.  A law in Berlin bans visible signs of religious affiliation for police, lawyers, judges, law enforcement staff, and primary and secondary public school teachers.  The Berlin law permits teachers at some categories of institutions, such as vocational schools, to wear headscarves.  Other states have laws that restrict religious attire in certain circumstances.

In April the Bavarian Parliament amended its legislation to prohibit judges, prosecutors, and judicial trainees from wearing religious symbols in court.

Citing safety reasons and the need for traffic law enforcement, federal law prohibits the concealment of faces while driving.  Infractions are punishable by a 60 euro ($69) fine.

Some federal and state laws affect religious practices.  Federal animal protection laws prohibit the killing of animals without anesthesia, including as part of halal and kosher slaughter practices.  However, there are exceptions.  Pursuant to a Federal Administrative Court decision, trained personnel may kill animals without anesthesia in a registered slaughterhouse under observation of the local veterinary inspection office if the meat is for consumption only by members of religious communities whose beliefs require slaughtering animals without anesthesia.

According to federal law, religious groups may appoint individuals with special training to carry out circumcision of males under the age of six months.  After six months, the law states circumcisions must be performed in a “medically professional manner” and without unnecessary pain.

All states offer religious instruction and ethics courses in public schools.  Religious communities with PLC status (or without such status that have concluded a special agreement with the state that grants them this right) appoint religion teachers and work with the states to set the curriculum for religious education in line with the constitution; the states pay the teachers’ salaries.  Most public schools offer the option of Protestant and Catholic religious instruction in cooperation with those Churches, as well as instruction in Judaism if enough students (usually 12, although regulations vary state to state) express an interest.  The states of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Berlin, Hesse, Lower Saxony, NRW, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein also offer some religious instruction in Islam, with the teachers provided by the religious community or by the government, depending on the state.  In Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein, the state provides this instruction; in the other federal states, Muslim communities or associations do.  In Hamburg and Bremen, nondenominational religious instruction for all students is offered by the Protestant Church and the state, respectively.

In Bavaria, teachers provide Islamic instruction to approximately 15,000 students in 219 primary schools and 118 middle and secondary schools under a pilot program expiring in 2019.  In the fall, NRW began providing Islamic religious instruction in 20 occupational (vocational) schools.

Students who do not wish to participate in religious instruction may opt out; in some states those who opt out may substitute ethics courses.  State authorities generally permit religious groups to establish private schools as long as they meet basic curriculum requirements.  Schooling is constitutionally mandated, and homeschooling, including for religious reasons, is prohibited in all the states.

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

Government Practices

In January the federal government created the new position of commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against anti-Semitism.  The new commissioner, Felix Klein, started work in May.  The appointment followed federal parliament enactment of a resolution entitled “Resolutely Combating Anti-Semitism” on January 18.  The resolution called for creation of an anti-Semitism commissioner and expressed appreciation for the government’s 2017 decision to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA’s) working definition of anti-Semitism.  It also called for deportation of foreigners that incite anti-Semitic hatred, “determined” countering of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, continued punishment for persons who denied or trivialized the Holocaust, and further financing – including with Muslim organizations and mosques – for projects to combat anti-Semitism, as well as continued financial support for Jewish communities and memorials of the Holocaust.  A 2017 report on anti-Semitism in the country by independent experts had also called for the appointment of a federal commissioner on anti-Semitism, as well as improved documentation and punishment of anti-Semitic crimes and better advisory services for those affected by anti-Semitism.

In October Klein announced that he planned to implement a nationwide system of recording anti-Semitic incidents below the threshold of criminal offenses.  During a visit to Israel, he announced cooperation with the Israeli government in encouraging third party states to apply the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and to develop codes of conduct for governments’ interactions with social media companies to combat online anti-Semitism.  On December 20, Klein announced the 2019 launch of a nationwide online platform for reporting anti-Semitic incidents.  The platform will be run by the Research and Information Center for Anti-Semitism (RIAS), a nonprofit organization that receives some federal and state funding.  The Ministry of Interior also announced it would establish a separate anti-Semitism department and add experts on Jewish life to the religious department.  Klein repeatedly encouraged the federal states to establish their own anti-Semitism commissioners.

Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse, Bavaria, Saarland, Saxony-Anhalt and NRW established anti-Semitism commissioners.  The responsibilities and functions of the position varied by state, but generally included developing contacts with the Jewish community, collecting statistics on anti-Semitic incidents, and designing education and prevention programs.  In November the federal and state level anti-Semitism commissioners met for the first time to discuss best practices and identify areas of cooperation.

In November Baden-Wuerttemberg opened an anti-discrimination office.  The state government said it would serve as a point of contact for those experiencing any form of discrimination, including religious discrimination.

In March NRW Minister-President Armin Laschet advocated granting PLC status to Muslim organizations.  In January the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat requested PLC status in NRW, and the application was pending at year’s end.

In November Rhineland-Palatinate announced it was planning to sign a state agreement with the Muslim Alevite community.  According to the state chancellery, the agreement would outline conditions for Alevi holidays and religious instruction in schools.  At year’s end, four Rhineland-Palatinate elementary schools offered Alevi religious instruction.  The government was scheduled to sign the agreement in March 2019.

In August the state of Rhineland-Palatinate announced it would stop negotiations to establish a “religion treaty” with the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) and three other Islamic organizations, Schura Rheinland-Palatinate, Ahmadiyya, and the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers.  Such an agreement would have been a precondition for introducing state-wide Islamic religious education in public schools, but the state followed two expert opinion reports that had questioned DITIB’s independence from the Turkish government and the organizations’ “constitutional adequacy” as official partners for the state.  State authorities also classified DITIB and Schura as “suspicious.”

In December media reported the Hesse State criminal police office started an investigation of a possible neo-Nazi network in Frankfurt’s police force after a group of police officers allegedly sent a threatening letter to a German lawyer of Turkish origin.  In August investigators said they had found police officials used a work computer to look up the lawyer’s personal information without an official reason, and also found a group of five police officers had been sharing neo-Nazi images and content.  Authorities suspended the five officers from duty, and the case remained under investigation at year’s end.

According to reports from the federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC) – the domestic intelligence service – and state OPCs and COS members, the federal and state OPCs in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Thuringia continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating Scientology publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution.  In September following the opening of new representational COS offices in Stuttgart, a Baden-Wuerttemberg state OPC spokesperson said state and national COS membership had decreased by one third since 1997, and suggested that the OPC’s monitoring of the COS deterred membership.  COS leadership disputed the state OPC’s statement that membership had declined.  At least four major political parties (the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the Federal Democratic Party (FDP)) continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership.

Federal and state OPCs continued to monitor a number of Muslim groups, including Salafist movements, ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, Turkish Hezbollah (TH), Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama’at, Millatu Ibrahim, the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH), the Muslim Brotherhood, and Milli Gorus.  The website of NRW’s OPC stated the Muslim Brotherhood “rejects democracy.”

Groups under OPC observation continued to say their status as meriting OPC scrutiny implied they were extremist and constrained their ability to apply for publicly funded projects.

In January the Hamburg Regional Court acquitted 12 alleged members of the banned Salafist group Millatu Ibrahim.  The Hamburg state attorney’s office charged that the men had, among other offenses, stormed a mosque in Luebeck, Schleswig-Holstein in 2013 and threatened to kill those who did not adhere to Millatu Ibrahim’s convictions.  The state attorney’s office stated it was convinced of the defendants’ guilt but that it had failed to prove the allegations.

In July Hamburg began to record hate crimes in a more detailed manner.  Hamburg Justice Senator (the city-state’s minister of justice) Till Stefen told the newspaper Welt in June the statistics would improve sentencing and make sociopolitical developments more visible.  Stefen added, “We need new sources to make anti-Semitic crimes visible.”  Hamburg State Attorney General Jorg Frohlich stated that collecting the new statistics would require significant additional work but that “every progress is worthwhile” when combating hate crime.

In September Bavaria established a hotline for reporting anti-Semitic incidents, according to the state’s anti-Semitism commissioner.  Bavarian authorities said the hotline would begin operations in spring 2019.

In May federal statistical data on the number of anti-Muslim and anti-Christian hate crimes became available for the first time.  Police had added the categories to their criminal statistics in 2017.  Anti-Semitism was already a category of hate crime in federal crime statistics.

In February Baden-Wuerttemberg announced the state would start organizing training for Muslim chaplains at correctional facilities, rather than rely on outside organizations to conduct the training.  In the same month media reported the state OPC had barred three of 16 imams who were graduates of a third-party training course from serving as prison chaplains because of what the OPC said were the imam’s contacts with radical Islamist organizations.

In May Bavarian Minister-President Markus Soeder announced a decree requiring public offices to display a cross in a visible place at the entrance area of the building where they were located.  According to Soeder, the decree was intended to highlight Bavaria’s cultural and historical roots.

In March the Federal Constitutional Court dismissed the suit of a woman who wanted to drive wearing a niqab.  The court stated the woman had not sufficiently demonstrated how the law prohibiting driving with a face covering restricted her religious freedom.

In March the Koblenz police district completed a disciplinary review of a male Muslim police officer who in 2017 refused to shake the hand of a female colleague, citing religious reasons.  Police officials disciplined the officer, and ordered him to pledge his allegiance to the constitution in writing and pay a fine of 1,000 euros ($1,100).  They also instructed the officer, on penalty of dismissal, not to refuse to shake the hands of women in the future when acting in an official capacity.

In May the Berlin Labor Court ruled against a teacher in Berlin who had sued the school system in 2017 for transferring her from a primary school to a school for older children because state law barred women who wore a headscarf from teaching younger children.  The court decided the state administration had the right to transfer its teachers to any other post of the same salary level.

In November the State Labor Court of Berlin and Brandenburg awarded approximately 5,000 euros ($5,700) to a job applicant in compensation for discrimination on the grounds of religion.  The job applicant, trained in information technology, said the school where she applied to work as a teacher had rejected her because she wore a headscarf.  In May the local labor court had ruled that, because teachers served as a model for young students, the school was justified in limiting her religious freedom and asking her to teach without a headscarf.  The state court, however, saw no indication that a teacher wearing a headscarf would have threatened “school peace,” and quoted the Federal Constitutional Court’s 2015 decision that such a threat was a necessary condition for prohibiting teachers from wearing headscarves.

In April the NRW integration ministry announced it would examine legal requirements for a headscarf ban for girls younger than 14, the age of so-called “religious majority.”  The state integration minister stated in an interview that wearing a headscarf was a personal decision, but children lacked the self determination to decide and should not be pressured.  Critics of the proposed ban, including some teachers, asked how the ban would be enforced.  The federal integration commissioner and the chairwoman of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency spoke against the ban while federal FDP Party Chair Christian Lindner and CDU Party Vice Chair and federal Minister of Agriculture Julia Kloeckner supported it.  By year’s end, the NRW state government had not decided on the proposed ban and said it expected to continue debating the issue through the end of 2019.

In April a Muslim woman wearing a niqab left a reception by Heiner Bernhard (SPD Party), the mayor of Weinheim in Baden-Wuerttemberg, after she refused a request by a town employee to show her face.  The mayor stated he wished “to greet all citizens of his town face to face,” and that he considered it a “citizen’s duty” to show one’s face in a democratic state.  Shortly before the incident, the municipality had refused to process a pending passport application for the woman’s child because, according to Mayor Bernhard, the mother declined to show her face for identification purposes, as required by law, while applying for the passport on behalf of her child.  Bernhard told the newspaper Welt, “For identity verification, we had to see the woman’s face.  She could have gone to a separate room in our town hall.”

In September the city of Pforzheim announced it had reversed a regulation requiring Muslim women wishing to wear a headscarf in their driver’s license photograph to present evidence of their faith through a certificate from their mosque or religious community.  Earlier in the year, a Muslim woman’s tweet about the requirement had generated strong criticism of it on social media.  The new policy required certificates of faith only in cases where there was reasonable doubt about the religious motivation of those seeking to wear a headscarf in the photograph.

In February the AfD put forward a motion requesting the government to introduce legislation in parliament to prohibit full-face veils in public.  Citing the individual rights of Muslim women, the AfD motion stated that wearing a full-face veil was “an expression of the oppression of women” and of conscious distancing from “Western liberal society.”  At year’s end parliament was still debating the motion in committee.

In March the Bavarian Administrative Court rejected the complaint of a judicial trainee in Augsburg who in 2014 had sued to contest a Bavarian Ministry of Justice rule denying judicial trainees the right to wear a headscarf in court.  A lower court had previously sided with the plaintiff in 2016.

In July a majority of the citizens of Kaufbeuren, Bavaria voted in a referendum against leasing (for a symbolic fee) municipal real estate to the local DITIB organization on which to build a mosque.

In March the Higher Administrative Court in Muenster, NRW ruled that an event venue owner could not rent his venue for a Muslim circumcision celebration scheduled for Good Friday.  The ruling reaffirmed a December 2015 ruling by the Administrative Court in Cologne.  The circumcision itself had taken place several weeks before the scheduled celebration and the court ruled that the jubilant nature of the event contradicted the quiet nature of the Christian Good Friday observance, which several federal states, including NRW, legally enforced.

In February the Gelsenkirchen Administrative Court in NRW banned outdoor amplification of the call to prayer via speakers by a local mosque.  Following legal action by nearby residents in 2015, the Muslim community had to stop amplifying the prayer call outside of the mosque’s premises pending a court decision.  The court justified its decision in this specific case with the lack of citizen involvement and dialogue in the city’s first decision to grant the permit for the call to prayer but did not prohibit the call to prayer altogether.  In March the city announced it would appeal the decision prohibiting the amplification.  The city’s lawyer compared the call to prayer with the ringing of church bells and said the court had not respected the religious freedom of the Muslim community.

In October the Federal Labor Court ruled on new guidelines for the rights of religious communities as employers, ruling on a case in which the EKD-owned charity organization Diakonie denied employment to a social worker because she was not a member of a religious community.  Although the job description required applicants to belong to a Christian church, the court ruled that Diakonie could not deny her employment solely on that basis.  The court’s decision stated religious communities could no longer require applicants to belong to a religious community as a condition of employment unless religious communities could demonstrate that membership was required to perform the job.

In March the European Court of Human Rights unanimously held that the country’s courts’ decisions in 2013 to take Twelve Tribes Church children living in Bavaria into state care because of reports that Church members punished their children by caning had not violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In March Foreign Minister Heiko Maas condemned rising anti-Semitism at schools after Muslim immigrant children bullied a Jewish girl at a Berlin elementary school.  The bullying reportedly included death threats.

In May the NRW Ministry of Schools and Education distributed resources on countering anti-Semitic bullying in schools to all schools and education authorities in the state.  The action followed reports indicating that bullying of Jewish students rose in 2017.  Politicians from the CDU/CSU called for action, including that schools pay more attention to communicating religious tolerance.

In December Hamburg’s parliament passed a resolution to strengthen preventive work against anti-Semitism.  The parliament allocated an additional 300,000 euros ($344,000) for school programs to combat anti-Semitism, including educational visits to former concentration camps, adult education, and anti-discrimination counseling.  The parliament said it would cooperate with Hamburg’s Jewish community and organizations to support their efforts to combat anti-Semitism, and that its efforts would target right-wing extremist groups.

In May the education ministry of Brandenburg, and the education ministries of Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate in June, signed declarations of intent with Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel to collaborate on Holocaust education in the states’ schools.  In November Hamburg’s education ministry introduced educational materials on Jewish life from Yad Vashem as part of a broader effort to combat anti-Semitism in schools.  Yad Vashem said it had concluded such agreements with 15 of 16 states in the country.

In June the Baden-Wuerttemberg state government announced plans to reorganize Islamic religious education in public schools.  Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann said that, because of the absence of a single Islamic partner organization, he proposed establishing a Sunni Muslim educational foundation that would serve as a mediator between the state and various Islamic associations.  The state government did not reach a decision on a new model for Islamic religious education and announced it would continue the existing system for an additional school year.

The Alevi Muslim community continued to offer separate religious lessons in schools in eight states for approximately 1,400 students.

In June Berlin Humboldt University, a public university, created an institute for Islamic theology and said it would begin training imams and religion teachers in 2019.  The state of Berlin pledged to provide 13.8 million euros ($15.83 million) in funding for the institute through 2022.  Humboldt University created the institute in cooperation with three Muslim associations – the Central Council of Muslims, Islamic Federation, and Islamic Association of Shia Communities – and the associations were to have a voice in selecting the institute’s professors.  Critics, including student organizations and the Berlin CDU, said they disapproved of the extent of the associations’ control over the institute’s board, or of what they described as the associations’ conservative orientation.

During campaigning for the October Bavarian state elections, the Bavarian AfD distributed posters calling for “Islam-free schools,” which the party explained as a call to end “Islamic education and headscarves in schools.”

The COS continued to report governmental discrimination.  “Sect filters,” which were signed statements by potential employees to confirm they had no contact with the COS, remained in use in the public and private sectors.  According to the COS, in September a Munich school refused to hire a teacher due to his membership in the COS.  The COS said the government also discriminated against firms owned or operated by its members.  According to the COS, Hamburg city officials asked one COS member to sign a “sect filter” when he attempted to purchase land from the city for his company.

In April the Berlin Administrative Court dismissed a suit that the mosque association Neukoellner Begegnungsstaette (NBS) had brought against the Berlin OPC in 2017.  NBS had sought to have the Berlin OPC remove the association’s name from its annual report and to stop stating NBS had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.  The court ruled that the Berlin OPC’s statements that NBS had had contacts with the Islamic Community in Germany and that the latter group organized followers of the Muslim Brotherhood were valid.

In May the NRW state chancery spokesperson told media the state government stopped cooperation with DITIB due to the Turkish government’s influence over the group.

In July the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference) and the government announced an increase of 75 million euros ($86 million) of government funding for social welfare services for Holocaust survivors, raising the yearly contribution from 405 million euros ($464.45 million) in 2018 to 480 million euros ($550.46 million) in 2019.  According to the commission, the increased funds would finance additional home care, food support, medicine, and transportation services for Holocaust survivors.

The government continued to subsidize some Jewish groups.  Based on an agreement between the federal government and the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the federal government increased its yearly support from 10 to 13 million euros ($11.47 to $14.91 million) to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage, restore the Jewish community, and support integration and social work.  In addition, the federal government provided financial support to the Institute for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg, the Rabbi Seminar at the University of Potsdam, and the Leo Baeck Institute, an international research group on the history and culture of German Jewry.

State governments continued to provide funds to Jewish communities and organizations in various amounts, for such purposes as the renovation and construction of synagogues.  The federal government continued to cover 50 percent of maintenance costs for Jewish cemeteries.  State and local police units continued to provide security for synagogues and other Jewish institutions.

In September the NRW government announced a ten-year plan totaling 44 million euros ($50.46 million), beginning in 2018 and ending in 2028, for the modernization and new construction of Jewish facilities and institutions.  The state said funding would begin at three million euros ($3.44 million) and be increased by 200,000 euros ($229,000) annually until reaching the maximum funding level of five million euros ($5.73 million) in 2028.  Separately, NRW again provided three million euros ($3.44 million) to support and upgrade security in Jewish buildings.

On November 8, the city of Dessau-Rosslau in Saxony-Anhalt presented the Jewish community with a piece of land to build a new synagogue in the center of town.  The community received 195,000 euros ($224,000) from the city and 300,000 euros ($344,000) from the state’s lottery commission for the construction of the building, as well as 700,000 euros ($803,000) from the federal government.  The Minister-President of Saxony-Anhalt, Reiner Hasselof, welcomed the new synagogue, stating it would increase the visibility of Jewish life in the city.

According to the Humanistic Union, an independent civil liberties organization, total state contributions during the year to the Catholic Church and the EKD amounted to approximately 538 million euros ($616.97 million).  The union said it calculated its estimate based on the federal states’ budgets.

In June the NRW state government’s Center for Political Education organized six one-day information programs in six cities entitled Diverse Islam versus Violence-Prone Salafism:  Opportunities for Intervention and PreventionThe stated goals were to help teachers and educators distinguish between Islam as a religion and what the organizers described as violent Islamist extremists, and to engage with youths vulnerable to religiously based extremism.  Presenters were Muslim and non-Muslim academics, members of NGOs, and state government employees.  Muslim religious leaders did not participate in the programs.

In July the NRW Ministry for Children, Family, Refugees, and Integration awarded 160,000 euros ($183,000) to the Central Council of Muslims in support of its Hands-on Diversity:  Students against anti-Semitism project.

In January the Federal Constitutional Court reversed the 2016 acquittal by the Wuppertal Regional Court of seven members of a self-declared “Sharia Police” on charges of violating the prohibition on wearing uniforms as expressions of a common political opinion.  Dressed in yellow vests marked “Sharia Police,” the men patrolled Wuppertal in September 2014 to counter “non-Muslim behavior.”  The Constitutional Court remanded the case back to the lower court and stated the latter had failed to consider whether the uniforms caused intimidation or were otherwise threatening to the public.  At year’s end the lower court had not scheduled a new trial date.

On July 9, the Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and anti-Semitism, in conjunction with several other Jewish organizations in the country, published a “declaration of principles on the fight against anti-Semitism.”  While applauding several “well-intentioned” federal- and state-level public statements and initiatives over the previous months, the declaration called on the government to back up policies with concrete action.  It cited the need to take victims seriously, distinguish anti-Semitism as a specific form of discrimination, and apply the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism.  The signatories called upon the newly appointed federal and state commissioners on anti-Semitism to develop more effective preventative measures to combat it and to learn from the experiences of victims to develop more effective preventive measures.  They also called on federal and state government agencies and publicly funded institutions to explicitly distance themselves from all form of anti-Semitism, including campaigns such as BDS.

Frankfurt Deputy Mayor and City Treasurer Uwe Becker targeted the BDS movement against Israel on numerous occasions and called for a ban of BDS in Germany.  In April Becker said “Frankfurt will, in the future, only work with banks which do not maintain business relations with the anti-Semitic BDS movement.”  In June he added that artists who supported the BDS movement were not welcome in Frankfurt and festivals or organizations in Frankfurt supporting BDS or providing a platform to its supporters risked losing city funding.

In September the NRW State Parliament condemned the BDS movement and its calls to boycott Israeli products and companies, as well as Israeli scientists and artists in NRW.  The parliament also requested that all NRW government organizations deny BDS requests to use city, municipality, and county spaces.

In December Jewish community leaders in Duesseldorf said they believe NRW could still do more to combat anti-Semitism, and they found state-level responses to the BDS movement to be insufficient and weak.

On January 1, the government implemented procedures for registering complaints and violations of the law barring hate speech enacted in late 2017.  The procedures stipulated operators of social networks with more than two million users in the country, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, must delete or block “obviously illegal content” within 24 hours after notification or, in more complex cases, within seven days.  Operators must name a representative in the country able to react to complaints within 48 hours.  Operators failing to comply systematically with the requirements were subject to fines of up to 50 million euros ($57.34 million).  By year’s end the government had not penalized any companies under the law.  Anti-Semitism Commissioner of Baden-Wuerttemberg Michael Blume reported the new law had had little effect on the spread of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate speech, as groups simply chose to use other, less public social media forms such as WhatsApp groups and video game chat rooms not covered by the law.

In March federal Interior Minister Seehofer stated the phrase “Islam is part of Germany,” which former President Christian Wulff and other politicians had popularized, was wrong.  “No.  Islam is not part of Germany,” he said.  Seehofer added that Muslims in the country “are, of course, part of Germany,” but that he did not consider Islam to be a part of the country’s culture.  The minister’s statements led to a public debate on the role of Islam and Muslims in the country.  Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that, while the country was shaped by its Judeo-Christian heritage, “Now there are four million Muslims living in Germany” who “can live their religion here, too.”  Several Muslim associations criticized the minister’s statements.  Gokay Sofuoglu, chair of the advocacy group Turkish Community in Germany, said, “At a time when there are more and more attacks on mosques and Muslims, it is not a good start if the minister of the interior begins with such a statement.”  He also stated that “it is not his [Seehofer’s] job to decide who belongs to Germany and who does not.”  Addressing Seehofer’s remarks, Islamic Council Chair Burhan Kesici said, “He does not have the decency to withhold his opinion.…It would be better to recognize reality and see Muslims as part of society.  Only then could prejudices be reduced.”  Ayman Mazyek, Chair of the Central Council of Muslims, commented, “Against the backdrop of the mosque fires and the increased Islamophobic attacks, I would have expected the new interior minister to stand behind German Muslims.”

In September Hans Peter Stauch, an AfD state parliament member in Baden-Wuerttemberg, posted a video on Facebook entitled “The Power of the Rothschilds.”  The video included statements that the Rothschilds, a Jewish banking family, were responsible for World War II and the Holocaust.  Baden-Wuerttemberg’s state commissioner for anti-Semitism and the heads of the state-level Green, SPD, and FDP parties criticized Stauch, saying that he was spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.  Stauch responded that he had only posted the video without commentary and said he was exercising his freedom of speech.

In January AfD Bundestag (federal parliament) member Beatrix von Storch tweeted that Cologne police were appeasing “barbaric, gang-raping, Muslim hordes” when the police tweeted a New Year’s Day greeting in Arabic.  Twitter briefly suspended von Storch’s account.  Thomas Held, spokesman for the Cologne police, confirmed to media that the Cologne police initiated a criminal report against von Storch for suspicion of inciting hatred, stating that this was “a completely normal procedure” which they were “legally obliged” to start upon the suspicion of a criminal offense.  Additionally, approximately 100 private individuals reported von Storch’s tweet to police.  Twitter also deleted a tweet by AfD Parliamentary Caucus Chief Alice Weidel, defending her colleague by using the phrase “imported, marauding, grabbing, beating, knife stabbing migrant mobs.”

In May Weidel argued in a parliamentary debate that the uncontrolled immigration of Muslims endangered the wealth of the country, stating, “Burquas, headscarf girls, subsidized knife men, and other good-for-nothings will not secure our wealth, the economic growth, and most of all our welfare state.”  Representatives of all other parties present in parliament reacted with interjections and booing.  Parliament President Wolfgang Schaeuble called her to order for “discriminating against all women who wear a headscarf.”

In July a group of AfD party members from Weidel’s Bodensee electoral district in Baden-Wuerttemberg visited the Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial in Brandenburg State as part of a trip to Berlin sponsored by the federal press office.  According to the memorial site’s staff, some participants continuously interrupted the guided tour with inappropriate comments, including speech that trivialized Nazi crimes and questioned the existence of gas chambers.  The federal press office stated one participant made anti-Semitic statements.  Neuruppin public prosecutor Wilfried Lehman was investigating the case, and stated in November that his office hoped to complete the investigation by year’s end, and he already had sufficient evidence for one case of Holocaust denial.

On April 26, the Bundestag condemned the increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents and attacks in the country, and emphasized its support for Israel’s right to exist.  “It is intolerable when Jewish life in Germany is not possible without fear,” said SPD party leader Andrea Nahles.  Volker Kauder (who at the time was CDU/CSU parliamentary caucus leader), said “Everyone has a place in this society,” but that there was no place for anti-Semitism.

In May the Rostock District Court upheld a lower court’s 2016 finding that AfD state Member of Parliament (MP) Holger Arppe was guilty of hate speech against Muslims for comments he wrote on the right-wing website Politically Incorrect in 2010, while using a pseudonym.  The court increased Arppe’s fine from 6,300 to 9,000 euros (from $7,200 to $10,300).

On February 8, the Stuttgart Higher Regional Court found the creator of the banned Altermedia neo-Nazi website guilty of leadership in a criminal association and inciting racial hatred and sentenced him to two and a half years in prison.  Three women, charged with supporting the website and incitement, were convicted and received suspended sentences ranging from eight months to two years.  The court declared the platform a criminal organization.  It had published content that denied the Holocaust and targeted Jews, immigrants, and foreigners; the federal interior minister closed it in 2016.

According to the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD), political parties continued to distance themselves from Islamic associations because they were concerned foreign nations and organizations could influence Muslims with money and by sending radical imams to mosques in the country.

As part of the coalition agreement between the ruling CDU/CSU and SPD parties, the government agreed to continue the German Islam Conference dialogue between representatives of the government and Muslims in the country, which began in 2006.  The conference’s aim was to improve the religious and social participation of the Muslim population in the country, give greater recognition to Muslims’ contributions to society, and, in the absence of a central organization representing all Muslims in the country, further develop partnerships between the government and Islamic organizations.  In November the government held its fourth German Islam Conference, a two-day conference with 240 participants.  Conference attendees included representatives of Muslim associations, communities, scholars, and activists.  Interior Minister Seehofer called on Muslim communities to cut their ties with sources of foreign funding and influence, develop their own training systems for the country’s imams, and increase their cooperation with the country’s government.  Federal Integration Commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz, reiterating concerns about the foreign financing of the country’s mosques, said, “Those who want to be part of Germany as a Muslim organization cannot remain part of Ankara.”

In January Sawsan Chebli, a Berlin state legislator of Palestinian heritage, proposed the government require that “everybody living in this country” visit Nazi concentration camp memorials at least once.  She added that newly arrived immigrants should visit the memorials as part of programs to integrate them into society, in order to sensitize them to Nazi crimes against Jews and combat anti-Semitism.  The country’s Central Council of Jews and the World Jewish Congress endorsed the proposal.  Council President Josef Schuster told Deutschlandfunk Radio that migrants who had fled or been expelled from their home countries could develop empathy by visiting such memorials.  The proposal generated debate and was not adopted.  Critics said such visits should be voluntary and preceded by prior education about the Holocaust.  Gunter Morsch, Director of the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation and head of the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, said, “It seems to me an illusion to believe that such a visit can help to counter a strongly entrenched prejudice.”

In March NRW Minister-President Laschet hosted an iftar at the state chancery, the first NRW minister-president to do so.

The government created the position of federal commissioner for worldwide religious freedom within the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and in April it appointed MP Markus Gruebel as the first commissioner.  Gruebel stated the government wanted to send a clear signal on the importance it places on religious freedom and the strengthening of common values.

The country is a member of the IHRA.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents, including assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism.  Most anti-Christian incidents involved actions by Muslim migrants against migrant converts.  According to Ministry of Interior federal crime statistics, there were 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes committed during the year – including 69 incidents involving violence – a 20 percent increase over the 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes, of which 37 were violent, reported in 2017.  The interior ministry attributed 93 percent of the incidents in 2017 to the far right but stated its methodology was not exact.

The federal OPC’s annual report stated the number of violent right-wing anti-Semitic incidents decreased from 31 in 2016 to 28 in 2017.  It noted membership in neo-Nazi groups remained steady at approximately 6,000 persons.

NGO RIAS, to which victims can report anti-Semitic incidents independently of filing charges with police, reported 527 anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin in the first six months of the year, including 18 involving violence or attempted violence, compared with 514 incidents over the same period a year earlier.  RIAS used different categories than official police statistics and counted anti-Semitic incidents that did not rise to the level of a criminal offense, such as “hurtful behavior.”

According to the anti-Semitism commissioner in Bavaria, incidents of anti-Semitism were increasing in the state.  He said perpetrators were from both the extreme left and right, as well as the Muslim community.

In 2017, the first year in which authorities maintained a tally of anti-Muslim and anti-Christian incidents, the Ministry of Interior registered 1,075 incidents against Muslims and Muslim institutions, such as mosques or community centers, including 56 attacks involving bodily harm.  Other recorded infractions included online hate speech against Muslims, hate mail, and aggressive behavior in the street.  The ministry also recorded approximately 90 demonstrations against the “Islamization of Germany.”

The Ministry of Interior counted 129 incidents against Christians in 2017, including 34 cases involving violence.  It classified a majority of these incidents as motivated by religious ideology.  In at least 14 cases, the victims were refugees.  Media reported that refugees who had converted from Islam to Christianity experienced aggression from Muslim refugees, especially if they were housed in the same refugee shelter.

In February an unknown perpetrator fired shots with an air gun from a high-rise building towards a mosque in Halle and injured a Syrian man.  Federal Immigration Commissioner Aydan Oezoguz (SPD) visited the site to talk to members of the Muslim community.  In June one or more unidentified individuals fired shots from an air gun near the same mosque that hit a man of Syrian origin.  Police investigated, but by year’s end had not identified a suspect in either incident.

On June 3, according to RIAS, three men accosted four teenagers listening to an Israeli song on a cell phone at a subway station in Berlin.  The men asked the cell phone owner if he was Jewish.  When he said yes, they told him they were from Gaza City, that Jews had been killing children for 70 years, and that if he showed up again they would slit his throat, calling him a [expletive] Jew.  The men then tried to push the cell phone owner onto the subway tracks and injured one of the other youths with broken glass.  The attackers fled when police appeared.  There were no arrests.

In September the president of the Jewish amateur sports club Makkabi Germany, Alon Meyer, said club members increasingly faced anti-Semitic abuse from other competitors during sporting events, ranging from insults to physical violence and knife attacks.  According to Meyer, insults included “filthy Jew” and “Jews into the gas.”  He added, “It’s not stopping at insulting, it will be fisticuffs, it will be knife attacks.”  Meyer attributed the attacks mostly to an increase in migrants and refugees with a Muslim-Arab background.

In February the regional court in Traunstein, Bavaria sentenced an Afghan man to life in prison.  The court found the man guilty of stabbing a woman to death in 2017, in part because she had converted from Islam to Christianity.  According to the court, the attacker killed the victim, who was also from Afghanistan, in front of her young sons.

On August 31, the Dresden District Court convicted a man charged with bombing a mosque in 2016 of attempted murder, arson, and causing a bomb explosion and sentenced him to nine years and eight months in prison.

In June police reported three men with extreme far-right views attacked a Jewish man from Dortmund, attempting to punch him in the head and insulting him.  The victim said he encountered the attackers for a second time that same day, and they again insulted and threatened him and made the Nazi salute.  The Dortmund police intelligence service published a call for witness accounts and launched an investigation, which was ongoing at year’s end.  Three days earlier, the victim said one of the three men had pushed him and directed anti-Semitic insults at him.  At that time, police had verified the identities of alleged perpetrator and victim and were investigating the former for possible charges, including incitement to violence.

In July in Bonn, a 20-year old citizen of Palestinian descent assaulted a visiting Israeli professor from Johns Hopkins University.  The attacker, upon seeing the professor, shouted “No Jews in Germany!” and then knocked the yarmulke off his head.  When police arrived, the attacker fled the scene.  The police mistakenly believed the victim to be the attacker and used force to detain him.  Police later apprehended the alleged perpetrator and charged him with incitement of hate and causing bodily harm.  They later released him.  The Cologne police opened an internal investigation of the Bonn police actions in the incident, and the police officers involved were assigned to desk jobs pending the investigation’s results.

In April a group of three men reportedly insulted two men wearing yarmulkes across a street in Berlin.  In court, the victims stated their attackers had shouted insults at them in Arabic.  A video then showed one of the perpetrators, a Syrian refugee, crossing the street towards one victim, hitting him with a belt, and screaming the Arabic word for Jew.  The victim was an Arab-Israeli who had received the yarmulke as a gift.  In June the local court in Berlin-Tiergarten sentenced the attacker to four weeks in jail.  Since the man had been in pretrial detention for two months, authorities set him free immediately, as they considered the sentence served.  The man sought monetary compensation for the excess time he had served in prison, but authorities denied his claim.  While his lawyer initially announced in July he would appeal the decision not to compensate him, the lawyer withdrew the appeal in October.

On August 26, the AfD and the group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) organized a peaceful rally in Chemnitz after the killing of a citizen, reportedly by two refugees from Syria and Iraq.  Later that day, approximately 800 persons marched in another demonstration in downtown Chemnitz and reportedly shouted anti-immigrant slogans, attempted to attack persons who appeared to be migrants, and clashed with police.  On August 27, a group of 12 individuals who yelled “Get out of Germany, you Jewish pig” attacked the Jewish owner of the Schalom restaurant in Chemnitz, throwing rocks and bottles at the restaurant and injuring the owner, before running away.  At year’s end Chemnitz police were still investigating the case.  Saxony Minister-President Michael Kretschmer strongly condemned the attack, which occurred after social unrest in the city.  The same day, according to press reports, approximately 6,000 right-wing demonstrators and 1,500 counterdemonstrators marched in Chemnitz.  Newscasts showed demonstrators shouting anti-immigrant slogans and making the Nazi salute.  Two police and 18 demonstrators were injured.  Because ethnicity and religion are closely linked, it was difficult to categorize the demonstrations as being solely based on religious identity.

In May a 67-year-old man allegedly hit a woman wearing a headscarf in the face at a bus stop in Berlin.  The man had asked the woman about the headscarf, and she had told him she was a Muslim and liked to wear it.  Police identified a suspect and opened an investigation.

In August the Berlin-Tiergarten local court convicted a 68-year-old woman of committing deliberate bodily harm and insult for hitting a Muslim woman in the face and trying to rip off her headscarf in an incident in January.  The victim and her daughter managed to detain the perpetrator until police arrived.  The court fined the perpetrator 2,400 euros ($2,800).

In separate incidents during one week in March, unknown individuals threw Molotov cocktails at a mosque in Berlin, at a Turkish club in Meschede, and at a Turkish greengrocer in Itzehoe.  The newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that, between mid-January and mid-March, individuals carried out 26 attacks on mosques, of which 18 belonged to DITIB.  According to the same newspaper, after an attack with Molotov cocktails on a building belonging to the Muslim group Milli Gorus in Laufen-am-Neckar in March, what appeared to be anti-Turkish Kurds said in an online video the attacks were in retaliation for Turkish army raids against the northern Syrian city of Afrin.  In a joint statement, DITIB, the Central Council of Muslims, and the Islamic Council expressed the Muslim community’s perception that politicians and the public were not taking their concerns about their safety and that of their mosques seriously.  At year’s end authorities continued to investigate these incidents and had made no arrests.

A Berlin-based Jewish-Israeli restaurant owner who appeared in a 2017 video that received widespread online attention showing him as the target of verbal anti-Semitic aggression received death threats and hate mail, and individuals threw firecrackers at his restaurant.  According to a media report in September, hate mail he received filled 31 pages.  Police investigated but could not identify any of those sending death threats.  In July the man who had initiated the original diatribe against the restaurant owner in 2017 received a seven months’ suspended prison sentence.

The Duesseldorf Jewish Community said attendance at two Jewish schools it sponsored in the city had spiked up due to increased anti-Semitism in schools around Duesseldorf.  According to the group, the schools, which the NRW government funded, had been established to enable Jewish students to strengthen their Jewish identity.  Most students, however, were enrolling because they sought a safe haven from increased bullying due to their Jewish faith.  According to NRW Ministry of Education officials, much anti-Semitism in schools came from students’ parents and media, and anti-Semitism among Muslim children was particularly difficult to change.

The Catholic Church and the EKD continued to oppose the COS publicly.  “Sect commissioners” or “departments on sects and worldview matters” of the EKD and the Catholic Church investigated “sects and cults” and publicized what they considered to be the dangers of these groups.  On its website, the EKD Center for Questions of World Views warned the public about what it said were the dangers posed by multiple religious groups, including the COS, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Bhagwan-Osho, Transcendental Meditation, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Universal Life, and continued to produce literature criticizing these groups.

A study on discrimination against migrants in the labor market by the Scientific Center Berlin for Social Research released in June reported that Muslims experienced discrimination when looking for a job.  According to the study, which included more than 6,000 fictitious job applications, Muslim job applicants were 7 percent less likely to receive a positive answer than Christian applicants with the same qualifications.

In April the Center to Combat Antidiscrimination and Counselling on Racism and Anti-Semitism (SABRA) held an all-day conference on Anti-Semitism and Refugees.  The Duesseldorf Jewish Community established SABRA in 2017 as a new service to combat anti-Semitism.  SABRA is part of a network of state government-supported organizations throughout NRW that provide services to immigrants to help them integrate into society.  Conference participants stated that, although anti-Semitism had always been present in the country, the influx of a large number of mostly Muslim refugees exacerbated anti-Semitism.  The program focused on supporting individuals who were victims of anti-Semitism, racism, and discrimination by providing counseling and legal services and helping to resolve cases of discrimination; sponsoring prevention programs in schools; and monitoring incidents of anti-Semitism throughout the state.  SABRA also provided support for victims of anti-Semitic incidents that did not meet the threshold for filing criminal charges.

In November Abraham Lehrer, Vice President of the Central Council of Jews, told media that he expected anti-Semitism among Arab or Muslim immigrants to increase and called for combating anti-Semitism through education.  Lehrer said, “Many of these people were influenced by regimes in which anti-Semitism is part of the rationale of the state and the Jewish state is denied the right to existence.”  As a remedy, Lehrer proposed integration courses tailored to immigrants’ country of origin, with intensive teaching of such values as democracy and the treatment of women in society.

In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism.  EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 1,233 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of Germany responded to the online survey.  Twenty-nine percent said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 41 percent reported being harassed over the same period.  Thirty-seven percent said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief.  Eighty-nine percent said anti-Semitism had increased during the previous five years.

According to a survey of more than 2,000 German-speaking residents released in September by the Social Science Institute of the Protestant Church, 54 percent did not agree with the statement that “Islam fits into German society,” and 31 percent agreed.  While 69 percent agreed that Muslims were part of everyday life in the country, only 27 percent said they were well or very well informed about Islam.  A third of respondents approved of Islamic religious instruction in schools.

PEGIDA continued to organize weekly demonstrations in Dresden.  Journalists said PEGIDA supporters pushed and threatened them when they were reporting on the demonstrations.  On September 3, police detained a PEGIDA demonstrator who had allegedly attacked a journalist, according to Deutschlandfunk online.  On September 24, several PEGIDA demonstrators attacked two journalists, hitting one reporter in the face and kicking the other, while other PEGIDA supporters stood nearby and cheered, according to the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.  Some members of the crowd then reportedly helped the perpetrators escape.  Amid calls to curb immigration, PEGIDA supporters regularly expressed anti-Muslim sentiments during the rallies, including by carrying posters expressing opposition to women who wear religious head coverings.

The number of participants at PEGIDA marches remained constant at approximately 1,500-2,000 protesters per rally, according to several media reports.  An exception was the October 21 rally in Dresden, when 4,500 supporters marked the group’s fourth anniversary.  On the same day in Dresden, approximately 10,000 persons marched in support of tolerance and against PEGIDA.  Among the participants in the counterdemonstration were Saxony Minister-President Kretschmer, Dresden Mayor Dirk Hilbert, and several state ministers.  The October 21 demonstrations were largely peaceful, but police reported five incidents of assault.  Early in the year AfD parliamentarians gave multiple speeches at PEGIDA rallies.  In January the magazine Der Spiegel cited AfD Bundestag member Siegbert Droese as stating that in Saxony there was close cooperation between his party and PEGIDA.

In what organizers said was a sign of solidarity with Jews in Germany, hundreds of persons wearing yarmulkes demonstrated against anti-Semitism in several cities around the country, including in Berlin, Cologne, Erfurt, Magdeburg, and Potsdam, in April and May.  During the Berlin demonstration, where there were approximately 2,500 participants, authorities reported incidents in which counterprotesters spit on demonstrators, called them terrorists, and violently removed an Israeli banner.

Between May and August Realitaet Islam (Reality Islam), a group that said it aimed to strengthen the Islamic identity of Muslims in the country, campaigned in Frankfurt and other cities in Hesse against a headscarf ban.  The group said it targeted young Muslims and had collected more than 140,000 signatures from throughout the country.  The Hesse state OPC stated to media on August 29 that, while the campaign itself was not illegal, the group rejected the country’s liberal democratic order and was striving for a theocracy, and a “high Islamic radicalization potential” for the group “could not be excluded.”

On January 17, approximately 300 persons demonstrated against the construction of a mosque by the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Erfurt.  The AfD leadership in Thuringia supported the demonstration, and state AfD Chairperson Bjoern Hoecke said the mosque’s construction was “part of a long-standing land grab project.”  Mosque opponents subsequently organized a series of smaller demonstrations against the construction.  For example, in June David Koeckert, who press reported was a former member of the National Democratic Party, widely described as a neo-Nazi group, organized an event at an Erfurt market where protestors staged a fake execution, shouting “Allahu akbar” (“God is great” in Arabic) and pretending to cut a woman’s throat using imitation blood.  Left Party state MP Steffen Dittes called the act disgusting.  According to police, authorities filed charges against the organizers for insult and damage to property.

In September demonstrators against the construction of the mosque wore masks depicting what they considered to be stereotypical Middle Eastern faces and “Arab” garb.  Numbering fewer than 20 participants, the demonstrators also marched in front of Green Party state MP Astrid Rothe-Beinlich’s home.  Rothe-Beinlich criticized local authorities for authorizing a demonstration directly in front of her house, which she described as a personal threat.  Authorities permitted the masks’ use, stating there was no violation of the ban on face coverings during demonstrations, because protestors could be identified with their identification documents.  Critics stated there was no exception to the ban on face coverings during demonstrations.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Erfurt moved forward with the construction and celebrated the laying of the foundation stone on November 13.  The ceremony was accompanied by loud protests from approximately 60 opponents of the mosque, as well as a counterdemonstration by persons calling for religious freedom and tolerance.

Construction of a mosque in Sulzbach, Saarland was ongoing at year’s end.  The citizen’s group Sulzbach wehrt sich (Sulzback Fights Back) continued to protest the construction of the mosque.  In April the group organized a protest as well as a concert with the band Kategorie C/Hungrige Wolfe that the OPC said it was monitoring for its connection to right wing extremists.  The city tried to prevent the concert in a municipal building, stating the group had misled it in registering the event without the band’s name.  The Saarland Higher Administrative Court ruled in April the city had to allow the concert to take place since it could not show sufficient cause for cancelling it.  Approximately 200 representatives of political parties, trade unions, and churches protested against the concert.

In June Ruhrtriennale, a cultural festival receiving state financial support in NRW, invited the Scottish band Young Fathers to play a concert.  The private company Kultur Ruhr GmbH organizing the festival said it cancelled the appearance when it learned the band supported the BDS movement.  The organizers stated they later reversed their decision and reinvited the band so they could publicly explain their views, but the band declined.  State Minister of Culture and Science Isabel Pfeiffer-Poensgen criticized the organizer’s reinvitation of the band in a press statement, and the minister-president cancelled his attendance.  Jewish organizations criticized the scheduling of a panel discussion at the festival about the BDS debate because it took place on the Sabbath and featured Jewish artists who supported BDS.  A Jewish activist, Malca Goldstein-Wolf, organized a demonstration headlined “No support for BDS with taxpayers’ money.”  The demonstration took place in Bochum on August 18, and there were approximately 250 participants.

In August the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel called for a boycott of the Berlin Pop-Kultur Festival, and several artists from the United Kingdom and the United States cancelled their appearances.  The Israeli embassy had supported the festival with 1,200 euros ($1,400) and appeared on the festival’s website as a “partner.”  During the festival, the BDS movement put up posters in Berlin that mimicked the festival’s logo, stating “pop culture – sponsored by apartheid.”  BDS activists also disrupted the festival’s opening event.

According to a study the Technical University of Berlin issued in July, anti-Semitic online hate speech reached record levels on social media, blogs, websites’ comment sections, and thematically unrelated websites and online forums.  The researchers stated that, since online communication was becoming more important, acceptance of anti-Semitism could increase.  The study, which distinguished between anti-Semitism and political criticism of Israel, evaluated 30,000 German language online statements made between 2014 and 2018 on Twitter, Facebook, and the comment sections of mainstream media outlets.  The study also evaluated 20,000 emails sent to the Israeli embassy in Berlin and the Central Council of Jews in Germany.  According to the report authors, between 2007 and 2017, anti-Semitic content in the texts had tripled “in some instances.”  The study identified an increased use of comparisons of Israel to Nazis; fantasies of violence targeting Jews, e.g., references to asphyxiating Jews in pig excrement and to hunting and killings Jews; and dehumanizing or demonizing characterizations of Jews, such as “pest,” “cancer,” or “filth.”  Almost half of the texts used centuries-old anti-Semitic stereotypes, such as portraying Jews as strangers, usurers, exploiters, vindictive intriguers, blood cult practitioners, robbers, and murderers.  According to the authors, anti-Semitism related to Israel was encountered in a third of all texts.

In April the German Music Federation awarded rappers Farid Bang and Kollegah, whose songs include anti-Semitic lyrics, the country’s Echo music award based on high record sales.  Civil society groups, artists, politicians, and Jewish groups criticized the award.  Several musicians who were past recipients of the Echo, returned their awards in protest, and singer Peter Maffay and Foreign Minister Maas both said awarding the prize on Holocaust Remembrance Day was “shameful.”  After the award ceremony, 11 persons reported the rappers to police for “incitement of hatred.”  In June the Duesseldorf public prosecutor’s office declined to prosecute them.  The Duesseldorf prosecutor stated that, while their songs contained anti-Semitic and misogynist lyrics, the lyrics were characteristic of their genre and a form of protected artistic freedom.  Following the controversy, the federation revoked the Echo prize given to Farid Bang and Kollegah, and the organizers announced they would discontinue the award.

In April a satirical play based on Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf was performed in Constance, Baden-Wuerttemberg.  The play’s organizers promised free entry to spectators who wore the swastika, and those who paid for a ticket had to wear a Star of David “as a sign of solidarity with the victims of Nazi barbarism.”  Several legal complaints were filed against the theater.  Although the law prohibits the public display of Nazi symbols and several legal complaints were reportedly filed against the theater, local prosecutors allowed the theater to present the play and allow free entry for those wearing swastikas, citing free speech laws that permit artistic performances.  The region’s German-Israeli Society called for a boycott of the play.

On April 20, approximately 1,300 neo-Nazis gathered in the town of Ostritz in Saxony to commemorate Hitler’s birthday.  Thorsten Heise, chairman of the National Democratic Party of Germany, organized the event.  On the same date, also in Ostritz, opponents held a peace festival, a counterrally of approximately the same size.  Police were present in force, and both events were largely peaceful.  According to press reports, one person was slightly injured during scuffles between the opposing groups, and police detained one man for making the Nazi salute.  The same organizers organized a neo-Nazi Shield and Sword (SS) rock festival in Ostritz on November 1-4.  In another peace festival, approximately 3,000 opponents protested again.  Police stopped another right-wing rock concert in Ostritz on December 1, after neighbors reported hearing the participants yell the Nazi slogan, “Sieg Heil.”  Authorities were investigating the incident at year’s end.

On September 21, an estimated 100 neo-Nazis rallied in Dortmund, NRW, chanting anti-Semitic slogans, such as, “He who loves Germany is anti-Semitic,” and carrying symbols such as the “Reich” flag.

At a Unification Day demonstration on October 3 in Berlin with approximately 2,000 participants, media reported a few participants performed the Nazi salute, and several dozen displayed neo-Nazi tattoos, inscriptions on their clothes, or posters.  Several counterdemonstrations with a similar total number of participants took place in Berlin at the same time.  All the demonstrations were peaceful.

In May authorities arrested 89-year-old Ursula Haverbeck after she failed to appear to serve her prison sentence for Holocaust denial.  In 2017, the Regional Court Verden sentenced Haverbeck to two years’ imprisonment after convicting her on eight counts of incitement of hate.  In February the Celle Higher Regional Court rejected her appeal.  In August the Federal Constitutional Court refused to accept her complaint that Holocaust denial was covered by the protected constitutional right of freedom of expression and not a punishable offense.  At year’s end, Haverbeck was serving her sentence and publishing messages from prison on her website, Freedom for Ursula.

In May unknown perpetrators spray-painted a swastika on a house in the town of Kirchhain in Hesse and covered commemorative cobblestones for Nazi victims (Stolpersteine) with black paint.

According to state authorities and local media, religious establishments in Ulm in Baden-Wuerttemberg experienced increased vandalism over the course of the year.  In September unknown individuals painted swastikas and other pro-Nazi symbols or writing on the door and pews of the Protestant cathedral in Ulm.  State authorities said they had found similar anti-Semitic graffiti in Ulm and the surrounding area in the preceding months, including at a local synagogue and a Turkish mosque.

In September unknown persons targeted the Al-Nour Mosque in Hamburg, just before its opening, with anti-Muslim graffiti.  The mosque was converted from a former Protestant church.  According to a mosque official, the mosque had held open days for city residents in an effort to engage with non-Muslims and be as transparent as possible with the project.

In February the Duesseldorf Memorial and Education Center, a museum, research center, and archive of the Holocaust, started a research project aimed at identifying the number of victims in NRW of the November 1938 Pogromnacht (Kristallnacht) pogrom, as well as how the victims had died.  The center published a report of its findings on the 80th anniversary of the pogrom, on November 9.  The report detailed the cases of the approximately 127 persons from NRW who lost their lives as a result of the pogroms.

According to local officials, legal proceedings against a bus driver in Emden, Lower Saxony for refusing a pregnant woman wearing a full-face veil onto his bus on three occasions, were continuing at year’s

In May Hamburg’s Jewish Community ordained five rabbis, its first ordination since World War II.  Hamburg Mayor and Minister-President Peter Tschentscher (SPD) attended the ceremony.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. embassy and the five consulates general continued to engage closely with the government regarding responses to incidents of religious intolerance.  Embassy officials regularly met with the Ministry of Interior’s federal government commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against anti-Semitism.  Consulate general officials in Frankfurt and Munich met with the Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bavaria commissioners for anti-Semitism to express concern about anti-Semitism and discuss ways of ensuring anti-Semitic incidents were correctly recorded.

Embassy and consulate general representatives met with members and leaders of numerous local and national religious and civil society groups about their concerns related to freedom of worship.  Topics of discussion with Jewish groups included concerns about what they characterized as the growing acceptability of anti-Semitism through the country’s changing political landscape (for example, the cooperation of the AfD with extreme right groups, especially in Chemnitz), the rise of the BDS movement, and concern that refugees and other migrants might be bringing concepts of anti-Semitism into the country.  Embassy and consulate general representatives also discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance with the Catholic, Evangelical, and other Protestant churches; COS; ZMD; Association of Islamic Cultural Centers; the Central Council of Jews in Germany; Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany; Alevi Muslims; Council of Religions Frankfurt; Jehovah’s Witnesses; and human rights NGOs.

In January the Charge d’Affaires met with the head representative of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Jewish Claims Conference) in Frankfurt am Main to discuss the status of claims negotiations.

In March the embassy sponsored the visit of 11 young Muslim leaders from Berlin and Heilbronn to participate in a program in the United States on community outreach and engagement.  Program topics included community efforts to combat violent extremism, particularly of Muslim youth, strengthening civil society and citizen participation, combating hate speech, and developing leadership skills to connect with and engage Muslim youth.

The embassy funded the participation of a U.S. photographer in a photography project titled A World of Faith – 4 Perspectives on Religion, in which four photographers presented pictures highlighting aspects of the beliefs of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  A display of the project at a Berlin art gallery in January and February encouraged interreligious dialogue among visitors and media.  During a visit to the exhibition, the Charge d’Affaires stressed to organizers the importance of religious freedom and tolerance and commended the gallery and participating photographers for their efforts to promote understanding among people of different faiths.

To commemorate Religious Freedom Day on January 16, the Charge d’Affaires visited the photography exhibition Religion behind Bars that discussed religiosity in prison.  The embassy supported the exhibition with a travel fund for one of the photographers.  During the visit, the Charge stressed the importance of religious tolerance and freedom of religion.

On April 18, the Charge d’Affaires hosted a Celebrate Diversity Month reception for approximately 100 religious, government, and civil society leaders from a variety of backgrounds to encourage them to find common ground and engage in productive dialogue over shared values.  In his remarks, the Charge spoke of religious diversity and freedom.

In June the Ambassador discussed Jewish life in the country and the community’s concerns about anti-Semitism and intolerance with Rabbi Gesa Ederberg of the New Synagogue on Oranienburger Street in Berlin and Rabbi Joshua Spinner, Executive Vice President of the Ronald Lauder Foundation in the country.

In July the Ambassador met with the Kreuzberger Initiative against anti-Semitism (KIGA), a Berlin-based NGO that trains students from Kreuzberg (a neighborhood with a high number of Muslim immigrants) to work with students and talk to school classes to promote tolerance and combat anti-Semitism.

In September the Ambassador hosted a screening of Yezidi activist Duezen Tekkal’s documentary Hawar – My Journey to Genocide, which focused on the atrocities committed by ISIS against the Yezidi people in Iraq in 2014.  The Ambassador delivered remarks on the importance of religious freedom and commended the work that Tekkal and fellow Yezidi activist and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Nadia Murad have done to highlight abuses by ISIS.  The Ambassador said the Baden-Wuerttemberg state government’s efforts to resettle approximately 2,500 Yezidi women and children were “courageous,” and cited it as an example of Germany’s commitment to defend religious freedom.

In October the Ambassador hosted a 20th anniversary celebration in honor of international Jewish NGO AJC’s Berlin Ramer Institute.  In his speech, the Ambassador highlighted the significance of religious freedom and efforts to combat anti-Semitism.  He stressed the importance of German government restitution of Jewish property seized in World War II, compensation for Holocaust survivors, and promotion of Holocaust education.

In October the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues visited Berlin and Magdeburg and met with representatives of the Jewish community to discuss how to best combat anti-Semitism.  In Magdeburg, the special envoy attended a board meeting of the German Lost Art Foundation, which focused on provenance research for art and cultural assets the Nazis confiscated from Jews.

On November 9, the 80th anniversary of the Pogromnacht (Kristallnacht) pogrom, the Ambassador met with the head of Deutsche Bahn’s (German Railway’s) historical section at the Track 17 memorial, one of three deportation points for Berlin Jews during World War II, and toured the memorial.  Embassy officials also cleaned defaced commemorative cobblestones for Nazi victims (Stolpersteine) throughout Berlin.

In November the Ambassador participated in a roundtable with KIGA peer trainers and program participants to discuss the importance of tolerance and religious freedom.  The Ambassador also listened to the participants’ views on KIGA’s training, as well as their experiences with combatting anti-Semitism in their communities.

On November 13, the U.S. Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence and State Secretary at the German Ministry of Finance Rolf Bosinger hosted a discussion at the AJC’s Berlin Ramer Institute on the U.S. Treasury’s role in assisting Jews in Europe during the Holocaust, as well on Germany’s contributions to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

In November the Charge d’Affaires delivered remarks on religious freedom and the importance of restitution for Holocaust victims and their heirs at the German Lost Art Foundation’s Conference.  On the margins of the conference, the German government signed a joint declaration with the U.S. government that reaffirmed both governments’ commitment to find just and fair solutions for the return of stolen artwork to Holocaust survivors and their heirs.

On December 2, the Ambassador gave remarks on religious tolerance and nondiscrimination at an embassy reception to mark Hanukkah, in advance of an annual menorah lighting ceremony in central Berlin.

The embassy and consulates general provided small cash grants to support programs promoting religious tolerance, such as the Jewish Cultural Days in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, Jewish Week in Leipzig, Saxony, and Yiddish Summer in Weimar, Thuringia.  These events featured music, dancing, film screenings, exhibitions, and speakers that raised awareness about the Jewish community and Jewish culture.

Iran

Executive Summary

The constitution defines the country as an Islamic republic, and specifies Twelver Ja’afari Shia Islam as the official state religion.  It states all laws and regulations must be based on “Islamic criteria” and an official interpretation of sharia.  The constitution states citizens shall enjoy human, political, economic, and other rights, “in conformity with Islamic criteria.”  The penal code specifies the death sentence for proselytizing and attempts by non-Muslims to convert Muslims, as well as for moharebeh (“enmity against God”) and sabb al-nabi (“insulting the Prophet”).  According to the penal code, the application of the death penalty varies depending on the religion of both the perpetrator and the victim.  The law prohibits Muslim citizens from changing or renouncing their religious beliefs.  The constitution also stipulates five non-Ja’afari Islamic schools shall be “accorded full respect” and official status in matters of religious education and certain personal affairs.  The constitution states Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians (excluding converts from Islam) are the only recognized religious minorities permitted to worship and to form religious societies “within the limits of the law.”  The government continued to execute individuals on charges of moharebeh, including two Kurdish minority prisoners at Rajai Shahr Prison on September 8.  Human rights groups raised concerns regarding the use of torture, forced confessions, and denials of access to legal counsel.  On June 18, the government executed Mohammad Salas, a member of the minority Gonabadi Sufi Dervish Order, for allegedly killing three police officers during clashes between Gonabadi Sufis and security forces in February.  Human rights organizations widely decried Salas’ conviction and execution, noting marked irregularities in his case and allegations of forced confession under police torture.  The authorities reportedly denied Salas access to a lawyer and dismissed defense witnesses who could have testified to the fact that Salas was already in custody at the time of the police officers’ deaths.  Salas’ execution and alleged show trial was largely seen by the international community as being part of the region’s broader crackdown on Sufi dervishes.  International media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported authorities detained more than 300 Gonabadi Sufi dervishes after police open fired on them during February 19-20 demonstrations in Tehran where they were protesting the house arrest of their spiritual leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh.  One of the Sufi dervishes arrested in February, Mohammed Raji, died in police custody.  The Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced 20 of the detained Gonabadi Sufis to lengthy prison terms for crimes of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “disturbing public order,” “disobeying law enforcement agents,” and “propaganda against the state.”  The Iran Prison Atlas, compiled by the U.S.-based NGO United for Iran, stated at least 272 members of minority religious groups remained imprisoned for being religious minority practitioners.  The government continued to harass, interrogate, and arrest Baha’is, Christians (particularly converts), Sunni Muslims, and other religious minorities, and regulated Christian religious practices closely to enforce a prohibition on proselytizing.  The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported that the government banned Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi, the country’s leading Sunni cleric and Friday prayer leader of Zahedan, from traveling outside of Zahedan.  Mohabat News, a Christian news website, reported the detention and abuse of Karen Vartanian, an Armenian Christian.  Vartanian reportedly experienced physical and psychological abuse and suffered a heart attack as a result of beatings.  According to media and NGO reports in early December, the government arrested 142 Christians across multiple cities in one month, including 114 in one week.  According to Sufi media and NGOs, Shia clerics and prayer leaders continued to denounce Sufism and the activities of Sufis in both sermons and public statements, and the government closed Sufi websites, such as the Gonabadi Sufi Order’s websites, in an attempt to erase their online identity.  Yarsanis stated they continued to face discrimination and harassment by authorities.  The government reportedly denied building permits for places of worship and employment and higher educational opportunities for members of religious minorities, and confiscated or restricted their religious materials.  There were continued reports of authorities placing restrictions on Baha’i businesses or forcing them to shut down.  On November 23, the Baha’i International Community (BIC) reported the government arrested more than 20 Baha’is in multiple cities in the provinces of Tehran, Isfahan, Mazandaran, and East Azerbaijan over the course of two weeks.  On October 16, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported the government arrested more than 20 Baha’is in Shiraz, Karaj, and Isfahan on unknown charges in August and September.  CHRI reported the government detained Shiraz city council member Mehdi Hajati for 10 days for defending the “false Baha’i faith” after he tweeted about his attempts to free two Baha’i detainees.  The judiciary subsequently placed Hajati under judicial surveillance and banned him from his seat on the council.

According to multiple sources, non-Shia Muslims and those affiliated with a religion other than Islam, especially members of the Baha’i community, continued to face societal discrimination and harassment, and employers experienced social pressures not to hire Baha’is or to dismiss them from their private sector jobs.  Baha’is reported there were continued incidents of destruction or vandalism of their cemeteries.

The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with the country.  The U.S. government used public statements, sanctions, and diplomatic initiatives in international forums to condemn the government’s abuses and restrictions on worship by religious minorities.  Senior U.S. government officials publicly reiterated calls for the release of prisoners held on religious grounds.  In July the Secretary of State called attention to the situation of religious freedom in the country in a speech and USA Today op-ed piece.  In his opinion piece, he said, “Hundreds of Sufi Muslims in Iran remain imprisoned on account of their beliefs, with reports of several dying at the hands of Iran’s brutal security forces.  The religious intolerance of the regime in Iran also applies to Christians, Jews, Sunnis, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, and other minority religious groups simply trying to practice their faiths.”  At the July U.S.-hosted Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the U.S. and four other governments issued a statement on Iran.  In the statement, the governments said, “As representatives of the international community, we stand together in condemning the systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom taking place in Iran and call on authorities to ensure religious freedom for all.”  During a September press briefing, the Special Representative for Iran called for an end of religious persecution in the country, stating:  “What we are demanding of the Iranian regime…stop persecuting civil society, please provide all Iranian citizens with due process regardless of their political and religious beliefs.”  In June a Department of State spokesperson condemned the “the Iranian government’s execution of Mohammad Salas, a member of the long-persecuted Iranian Gonabadi Sufi dervish community.”  The United States supported the rights of members of religious minority groups in the country through actions in the UN, including votes to extend the mandate of the special rapporteur.  The U.S. government also supported resolutions expressing concern over the country’s human rights practices, including the continued persecution of religious minorities.

Since 1999, Iran has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.  On November 28, the Secretary of State redesignated Iran as a CPC.  The following sanction accompanied the designation:  the existing ongoing travel restrictions based on serious human rights abuses under section 221(a)(1)(C) of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 83 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to U.S. government estimates, Muslims constitute 99.4 percent of the population; 90-95 percent are Shia and 5-10 percent Sunni (mostly Turkmen, Arabs, Baluchis, and Kurds living in the northeast, southwest, southeast, and northwest, respectively).  Afghan refugees, economic migrants, and displaced persons also make up a significant Sunni population but accurate statistics on the breakdown of the Afghan refugee population between Sunni and Shia are unavailable.  There are no official statistics available on the number of Muslims who practice Sufism, although unofficial reports estimate several million.

According to U.S. government estimates, groups constituting the remaining less than 1 percent of the population include Baha’is, Christians, Jews, Sabean-Mandaeans, Zoroastrians, and Yarsanis.  The three largest non-Muslim minorities are Baha’is, Christians, and Yarsanis.

According to HRW data, Baha’is number at least 300,000.

According to World Christian Database statistics, there are approximately 547,000 Christians, although some estimates suggest there may be many more Christians than actually reported.  While the government Statistical Center of Iran reports there are 117,700 Christians, Elam Ministries, a Christian organization, estimates that there could be between 300,000 and one million Christians.  The majority of Christians are ethnic Armenians concentrated in Tehran and Isfahan.  Estimates by the Assyrian Church of the total Assyrian and Chaldean Christian population put their combined number at 7,000.  There are also Protestant denominations, including evangelical groups, but there is no authoritative data on their numbers.  Christian groups outside the country estimate the size of the Protestant community to be less than 10,000, although many Protestants and other converts to Christianity from Islam reportedly practice in secret.

There is no official count of Yarsanis, but the Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) estimates there are up to two million.  Yarsanis are mainly located in Loristan and the Kurdish regions.

According to Zoroastrian groups and the government-run Statistical Center of Iran, the population includes approximately 25,000 Zoroastrians.

According to the Tehran Jewish Committee, the population includes approximately 9,000 Jews, while a British media report estimated their number at 18,000-20,000.

The population, according to one international NGO, includes 5,000-10,000 Sabean-Mandaeans.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as an Islamic republic and designates Twelver Ja’afari Shia Islam as the official state religion.  The constitution stipulates all laws and regulations must be based on “Islamic criteria” and an official interpretation of sharia.  The constitution states citizens shall enjoy all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, “in conformity with Islamic criteria.”

The constitution prohibits the investigation of an individual’s ideas, and states no one may be “subjected to questioning and aggression for merely holding an opinion.”  The law prohibits Muslim citizens from changing or renouncing their religious beliefs.  The only recognized conversions are from another religion to Islam.  Apostasy from Islam is a crime punishable by death.  Under the law, a child born to a Muslim father is Muslim.

By law, non-Muslims may not engage in public persuasion or attempted conversion of Muslims.  These activities are considered proselytizing and punishable by death.  In addition, citizens who are not recognized as Christians, Zoroastrians, or Jews may not engage in public religious expression, such as worshiping in a church or wearing religious symbols such as a cross.  Some exceptions are made for foreigners belonging to unrecognized religious groups.

The penal code specifies the death sentence for moharebeh (enmity against God), fisad fil-arz (“corruption on earth,” which includes apostasy or heresy), and sabb al-nabi (“insulting the prophets” or “insulting the sanctities”).  According to the penal code, the application of the death penalty varies depending on the religion of both the perpetrator and the victim.

The constitution states the four Sunni (Hanafi, Shafi, Maliki, and Hanbali) and the Shia Zaydi schools of Islam are “deserving of total respect” and their followers are free to perform religious practices.  It states these schools may follow their own jurisprudence in matters of religious education and certain personal affairs, including marriage, divorce, and inheritance.

The constitution states Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians are the only recognized religious minorities.  “Within the limits of the law,” they have permission to perform religious rites and ceremonies and to form religious societies.  They are also free to address personal affairs and religious education according to their own religious canon.  Any citizen who is not a registered member of one of these three groups, or who cannot prove that his or her family was Christian prior to 1979, is considered Muslim.

Since the law prohibits citizens from converting from Islam to another religion, the government only recognizes the Christianity of citizens who are Armenian or Assyrian Christians, since the presence of these groups in the country predates Islam, or of citizens who can prove they or their families were Christian prior to the 1979 revolution.  The government also recognizes Sabean-Mandaeans as Christian, even though the Sabean-Mandaeans state that they do not consider themselves as such.  The government often considers Yarsanis as Shia Muslims practicing Sufism, but Yarsanis identify Yarsan as a distinct faith (known as Ahle Haq or Kakai).  Yarsanis may also self-register as Shia in order to obtain government services.  The government does not recognize evangelical Protestants as Christian.

Citizens who are members of one of the recognized religious minorities must register with the authorities.  Registration conveys certain rights, including the use of alcohol for religious purposes.  Authorities may close a church and arrest its leaders if churchgoers fail to register or unregistered individuals attend services.  Individuals who convert to Christianity are not recognized as Christian under the law.  They may not register and are not entitled to the same rights as recognized members of Christian communities.

The supreme leader oversees extrajudicial Special Clerical Courts, not provided for by the constitution.  The courts, headed by a Shia Islamic legal scholar, operate outside the judiciary’s purview and investigate offenses committed by clerics, including political statements inconsistent with government policy and nonreligious activities.  The courts also issue rulings based on independent interpretation of Islamic legal sources.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) monitor religious activity.  The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) also monitors churches.

The constitution provides for freedom of the press except when it is “harmful to the principles of Islam or the rights of the public.”

The Ministry of Education (MOE) determines the religious curriculum of public schools.  All school curricula, public and private, must include a course on Shia Islamic teachings, and all pupils must pass this course in order to advance to the next educational level through university.  Sunni students and students from recognized minority religious groups must take and pass the courses on Shia Islam, although they may also take separate courses on their own religious beliefs.

Recognized religious minority groups, except for Sunni Muslims, may operate private schools.  The MOE supervises the private schools operated by the recognized minority religious groups and imposes certain curriculum requirements.  The ministry must approve all textbooks used in coursework, including religious texts.  These schools may provide their own religious instruction and in languages other than Farsi, but authorities must approve those texts as well.  Minority communities must bear the cost of translating the texts into Farsi so the authorities can review them.  Directors of such private schools must demonstrate loyalty to the official state religion.  This requirement, known as gozinesh review, is an evaluation to determine adherence to the government ideology and system as well as knowledge of the government interpretation of Shia Islam.

The law bars Baha’is from founding their own educational institutions.  A Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology order requires universities to exclude Baha’is from access to higher education or expel them if their religious affiliation becomes known.  Government regulation states Baha’is are only permitted to enroll in universities if they do not identify themselves as Baha’is.  To register for the university entrance examination, Baha’i students must answer a basic multiple-choice question and identify themselves as followers of a religion other than Baha’i (e.g., Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or Zoroastrian).  To pass the entrance examination, university applicants must pass an exam on Islamic, Christian, or Jewish theology based on their official religious affiliation.

According to the constitution, Islamic scholars in the Assembly of Experts, an assembly of 86 popularly elected and supreme leader-approved clerics whose qualifications include piety and religious scholarship, elect the supreme leader, the country’s head of state.  To “safeguard” Islamic ordinances and to ensure legislation passed by the Islamic Consultative Assembly (i.e., the parliament or “Majles”) is compatible with Islam, a Guardian Council composed of six Shia clerics appointed by the supreme leader, and six Shia legal scholars nominated by the judiciary, must review and approve all legislation.  The Guardian Council also vets all candidates for the Assembly of Experts, president, and parliament and supervises elections for those bodies.

The constitution bans the parliament from passing laws contrary to Islam and states there may be no amendment to its provisions related to the “Islamic character” of the political or legal system or to the specification that Twelver Ja’afari Shia Islam is the official religion.

Non-Muslims may not be elected to a representative body or hold senior government, intelligence, or military positions, with the exception of five of the 290 parliament seats reserved by the constitution for recognized religious minorities.  There are two seats reserved for Armenian Christians, one for Assyrian and Chaldean Christians together, one for Jews, and one for Zoroastrians.

The constitution states in regions where followers of one of the recognized schools of Sunni Islam constitute the majority, local regulations are to be in accordance with that school within the bounds of the jurisdiction of local councils and without infringing upon the rights of the followers of other schools.

According to the constitution, a judge should rule on a case on the basis of the codified law, but in a situation where such law is absent, he should deliver his judgment on the basis of “authoritative Islamic sources and authentic fatwas.”

The constitution specifies the government must “treat non-Muslims in conformity with the principles of Islamic justice and equity, and to respect their human rights, as long as those non-Muslims have not conspired or acted against Islam and the Islamic Republic.”

The law authorizes collection of “blood money” or diyeh as restitution to families for the death of Muslims and members of recognized religious minorities.  Baha’i families, however, are not entitled to receive diyeh.  This law also reduces the diyeh for recognized religious minorities and women to half that of a Muslim man.

By law, non-Muslims may not serve in the judiciary, the security services (separate from regular armed forces), or as public school principals.  Officials screen candidates for elected offices and applicants for public sector employment based on their adherence to and knowledge of Islam and loyalty to the Islamic Republic (gozinesh requirements), although members of recognized religious minorities may serve in the lower ranks of government if they meet these loyalty requirement.  Government workers who do not observe Islamic principles and rules are subject to penalties and may be fired or barred from work in a particular sector.

The government bars Baha’is from all government employment and forbids Baha’i participation in the governmental social pension system.  Baha’is may not receive compensation for injury or crimes committed against them and may not inherit property.  A religious fatwa from the supreme leader encourages citizens to avoid all dealings with Baha’is.

The government does not recognize Baha’i marriages or divorces but allows a civil attestation of marriage to serve as a marriage certificate, which allows for basic recognition of the union but does not offer legal protections in marital disputes.  Baha’i activists report this often leaves women without the legal protections of government-recognized marriage contracts.

Recognized religious groups issue marriage contracts in accordance with their religious laws.

The constitution permits the formation of political parties based on Islam or on one of the recognized religious minorities, provided the parties do not violate the “criteria of Islam,” among other stipulations.

The constitution states the military must be Islamic, must be committed to Islamic ideals, and must recruit individuals who are committed to the objectives of the Islamic revolution.  In addition to the regular military, the IRGC is charged with upholding the Islamic nature of the revolution at home and abroad.  The law does not provide for exemptions from military service based on religious affiliation.  The law forbids non-Muslims from holding positions of authority over Muslims in the armed forces.  Members of recognized religious minorities with a college education may serve as officers during their mandatory military service, but may not continue to serve beyond the mandatory service period to become career military officers.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but at ratification entered a general reservation “not to apply any provisions or articles of the Convention that are incompatible with Islamic Laws and the international legislation in effect.”

Government Practices

According to Amnesty International (AI) and other international human rights NGOs, the government convicted and executed dissidents, political reformers, and peaceful protesters on charges of moharebeh and anti-Islamic propaganda.  According to AI and CHRI, authorities executed Zaniar Moradi and Loghman Moradi, two Kurdish minority prisoners, at Rajai Shahr Prison on September 8 after they were convicted on charges of moharebeh and murder, despite concerns of AI, CHRI, and other human rights NGOs regarding the use of torture, forced confessions, and denials of access to legal counsel.  Prior to the executions, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran and the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions released a joint statement writing, “We urge the Government of Iran to immediately halt their executions and to annul the death sentences against them.  We are alarmed by information received that Zanyar and Loghman Moradi suffered human rights violations before and during their trial, including torture and other ill-treatment and denial of access to a lawyer.”

Media outlets reported that on September 3, authorities hanged three Baluchi prisoners whom the Zahedan Revolutionary Court had sentenced to death in November 2017 on charges of moharebeh for allegedly participating in a firefight with police forces that led to the death of a police officer.  According to HRANA, “the three wrote an open letter detailing mistreatment and torture at the hands of their interrogators.”

International media and human rights organizations reported that the government executed Mohammad Salas, a member of the Gonabadi Sufi Dervish Order, on June 18 for allegedly killing three police officers during clashes between Gonabadi Sufis and security forces in February.  Human rights organizations, including AI, CHRI, and HRANA, decried Salas’ conviction and execution, noting marked irregularities in his case and allegations of forced confession under police torture.  The authorities reportedly denied Salas access to a lawyer and dismissed defense witnesses who could have testified to the fact that Salas was already in custody at the time of the police officers’ deaths.  According to AI, “Mohammad Salas’ trial was grossly unfair.  He said he was forced under torture to make a ‘confession’ against himself.  This ‘confession,’ taken from his hospital bed, was…used as the only piece of evidence to convict him.  He was not allowed access to his chosen lawyer.”

Human rights organizations widely reported the detention of Zeinab Taheri, a human rights lawyer, who was defending Salas.  Authorities arrested Taheri one day after Salas was executed.  On June 19, the Prosecutor’s Office for Culture and Media summoned Taheri and detained her on charges of “disturbing the public opinion,” “spreading propaganda against the system,” and “publishing lies.”  Tehran prosecutor Jafari Dolatabadi subsequently said during a press conference that Taheri had “incited the public opinion and mobilized the counterrevolution against the judiciary,” and that “the hostile media used her remarks to published reports against the judiciary.”

Residents of provinces with large Sunni populations, including Kurdistan, Khuzestan, and Sistan and Baluchistan, reported continued repression by judicial authorities and members of the security services, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest, and torture in detention, as well as discrimination, including suppression of religious rights, lack of basic government services, and inadequate funding for infrastructure projects.  The March report by UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran Asma Jahangir highlighted the disproportionately large number of executions of Sunni Kurdish prisoners.  The report stated authorities often detained Sunni Kurds “on charges related to various activities such as environmental activism, eating in public during the month of Ramadan, working as border couriers engaged in smuggling illicit goods, or for celebrating the results of the referendum held in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan,” among other political or security-related charges.

Human rights NGOs, including HRANA, reported throughout the year on the extremely poor conditions inside Ardabil Prison, including reports of Shia guards routinely torturing Sunni prisoners.  In March CHRI reported that Mohammad Saber Malek-Raeisi, a Baluchi Sunni Muslim, who had been imprisoned since 2009, was suffering from serious injuries as a result of repeated beatings by guards during the four years he has been held in Ardabil Prison.  According to CHRI, prison authorities severely beat and tortured Malek-Raeisi in December 2017 after he went on a hunger strike to protest conditions.  Since then, his mother reported him ill and unable to see in one of his eyes.

HRANA also reported increased pressure on Sunni inmates at Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj and Dizal Abad Prison in Kermanshah.  According to HRANA, on August 7, approximately 30 MOIS agents and 50 Special Forces raided a ward at Rajai Shahr housing minority Sunni inmates, beating the prisoners and taking their belongings.  The security forces reportedly insulted the Sunni prisoners’ religious beliefs during the raid.  Authorities reportedly denied medical treatment to those injured from the beatings.  The Rajai Shahr incident was reportedly retribution for the inmates’ religious and political activities.

In February HRANA reported seven Sunni prisoners in Rajai Shahr Prison detained since 2009 continued to await a new trial after the Supreme Court rejected the death sentences handed down to them in 2015.  The prisoners denied engaging in violence and said the authorities arrested them because of their religious beliefs and activities, including attending religious meetings and disseminating religious material.

According to Baluchi rights activists, Baluchis faced government discrimination as both Sunni religious practitioners and an ethnic minority group.  Baluchi rights activists reported continued arbitrary arrests, physical abuse, and unfair trials of journalists and human rights activists.  Baluchi rights activists reported that authorities often pressured family members of those in prison to remain silent.  HRANA reported that on June 17, authorities arrested Sunni Baluchi civil rights activist Abdollah Bozorgzadeh for joining a gathering in support of the 41 “Iranshahr Girls,” whom a group of well-connected men reportedly raped in the southeastern city of Iranshahr, located in the predominately-Sunni province of Sistan and Baluchistan.  Upon his arrest, authorities transferred Bozorgzadeh to an IRGC-run Zahedan detention center, where Bozorgzadah said he was tortured.  In July CHRI reported that authorities arrested at least 10 Baluchi activists for protesting the alleged rapes.  At his sermon on June 15, Iranshahr’s Sunni Friday Prayer Leader Mohammad Tayyeb Mollazehi reportedly stated that a suspect in custody had confessed he and several other men had raped 41 women.  However, according to CHRI, officials denied either that the rapes happened or claimed elements of the case had been falsified.  According to Iran Wire, the country’s prosecutor general threatened legal action against the Sunni prayer leader because the alleged perpetrators belonged to some of the city’s most influential families, including connections to or membership in the IRGC, Basij, military, and police.

The government continued to incarcerate numerous prisoners on various charges related to religion.  According to the Iran Prison Atlas, a database of political prisoners compiled by the U.S.-based NGO United for Iran, at least 272 members of minority religious groups remained imprisoned for being religious minority practitioners.  Of the total number of prisoners in the database, at least 165 were imprisoned on charges of moharebeh, 34 for “insulting the Supreme Leader and Ayatollah Khomeini,” 21 for “insulting Islam,” and 20 for “corruption on earth,” a term according to the Oxford Dictionary of Islam meaning in Quranic usage “corrupt conditions, caused by unbelievers or unjust people, that threaten social and political wellbeing.”  Shia religious leaders who did not support government policies reportedly continued to face intimidation and arrest.

Various media outlets and human rights organizations reported incidents of severe physical mistreatment of the Gonabadi Sufi minority.  According to CHRI, guards at the Great Tehran Penitentiary attacked and beat Gonabadi detainees on August 29.  Several of the inmates reportedly were badly injured, suffered broken bones, and were moved to solitary confinement.  HRANA specified that the guards attacked at least 18 dervishes with batons and electroshock weapons in response to the prisoners’ protests of the beating of female Sufis in Gharchak Prison.

International media and NGOs widely reported more than 300 Gonabadi Sufi dervishes were detained after police open fired on them during February 19-20 demonstrations in Tehran to protest the house arrest of their spiritual leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh.  Authorities held Tabandeh, aged 91, under house arrest in Tehran since at least February and denied him access to urgently needed medical care.  According to HRW, Mohammed Raji, one of those arrested in February, died in police custody.  Authorities told Raji’s family on March 4 that he died from repeated blows to the head.  The family said that Raji was injured, but alive at the time of his arrest.  HRW stated that authorities refused to clarify the sequence and timing of events that led to Raji’s death.

According to CHRI and other human rights organizations, the Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced 20 of the detained Gonabadi Sufis to lengthy prison terms for crimes of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “disturbing public order,” “disobeying law enforcement agents,” and “propaganda against the state.”  Mostafa Abdi received the most severe sentence with 26 years in prison, 148 lashes, two years of internal exile in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, a two-year ban on social activities, and a two-year prohibition on traveling abroad.  In August HRW reported that authorities had sentenced at least 208 dervishes since May “to prison terms and other punishments that violate their basic rights.”  The courts delivered sentences that included prison terms ranging from four months to 26 years, flogging, internal exile, travel bans, and a ban on membership in social and political groups.  CHRI reported that on February 19 Iranian security forces arrested Reza Entessari and Kasra Nouri, reporters with the Sufi news website Majzooban-e-Noor, while they were covering the violent dispersal of protests of treatment of the Gonabadi dervishes in Tehran.

On March 3, according to CHRI, the Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced Mohammad Ali Taheri, founder of the spiritual doctrine Interuniversalism and the Erfan-e Halgheh group, to five years in prison for a second time, on charges of “spreading corruption on earth.”  This sentence followed the Supreme Court’s rejection of Taheri’s prior death sentence in December 2017.  According to press, the Supreme Court ordered Taheri retried, citing a faulty investigation.  The case of Taheri, imprisoned since 2011, drew widespread international condemnation, including from human rights organizations, NGOs, and the UN special rapporteur.

On August 19, according to CHRI, a court sentenced journalist and satirist Amir Mohammad Hossein Miresmaili to 10 years in prison for “insulting sacred tenets and the imams,” “insulting government and judicial officials,” “spreading falsehoods to disturb public opinion,” and “publishing immoral and indecent matters.”  Authorities had arrested him in April after he posted a tweet criticizing the Friday prayer leader of Mashhad and referencing a Shia imam.

On October 25, according to CHRI, the government arrested journalist Pouyan Khoshhal and charged him with “insulting the divinity of Imam Hossein and other members of the prophet’s blessed household” after he used the word “demise” instead of “martyrdom” in referring to Imam Hossein in an article.

There continued to be reports of arrests and harassment of Sunni clerics and congregants.  In February CHRI reported government officials banned Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi , the country’s leading Sunni cleric and Friday prayer leader of Zahedan, from traveling outside of Zahedan.  According to a July Radio Farda report, Member of Parliament (MP) Mahmoud Sadeghi, along with 20 other legislators, called upon the intelligence minister to lift the travel ban imposed on “Iran’s most prominent Sunni clergyman.”  The MPs questioned the government’s reason for the travel restrictions and reiterated the right to freedom of movement.

On September 22, HRANA reported the Special Clerical Court of Hamedan arraigned Sunni preacher and activist Hashem Hossein Panahi, “presumably for participating in the funeral of executed political prisoner Ramin Hussein Panahi.”  After he delivered a sermon at the funeral, MOIS filed charges against Hashem Hossein Panahi with the Special Clerical Court, which is under the direct control of the supreme leader.  The charges included “propaganda against the regime” and “disturbing public opinion.”

In response to the September 22 terrorist attack on a military parade in Ahvaz, Khuzestan, a region with a sizeable Sunni Arab population and where international media report longstanding economic and social grievances have led to sporadic protests, international press and human rights organizations reported domestic backlash against Arab Sunnis.  AI and the Ahvaz Human Rights Organization reported the authorities arrested hundreds of Ahvazi political and minority activists in the aftermath of the September 22 attack.

CHRI reported that authorities detained Sunni rap artist Shah Baloch, whose real name is Emad Bijarzehi, on June 20 in the southeastern port city of Chabahar for singing about state oppression against ethnic and religious minorities in Sistan and Baluchistan Province.  According to CHRI, authorities did not permit Baloch access to legal counsel.

Human rights organizations and Christian NGOs continued to report authorities arrested Christians for their religious affiliation or activities, including members of unrecognized churches for operating illegally in private homes or on charges of supporting and accepting assistance from “enemy” countries.  Many arrests reportedly took place during police raids on religious gatherings and included confiscations of religious property.  News reports stated that authorities subjected arrested Christians to severe physical and psychological mistreatment, which at times included beatings and solitary confinement.

CHRI reported that on January 6 the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced Shamiram Isavi, the wife of Victor Bet Tamraz, who formerly led the country’s Assyrian Pentecostal Church, to five years in prison.  The judge convicted her on charges of “acting against national security by organizing home churches, attending Christian seminars abroad, and training Christian leaders in Iran for the purpose of espionage.”  Authorities arrested Isavi and her husband in their home in Tehran on December 26, 2014, along with their son, Ramin Bet Tamraz, and 12 Christian converts.  In June 2016, the revolutionary court judge sentenced Victor Bet Tamraz and Christian converts Hadi Asgari and Kavian Fallah Mohammadi to 10 years in prison each, while convert Amin Afshar Naderi received a 15-year prison sentence.  In February 2018, the UN special rapporteurs on freedom of religion or belief, on the situation of human rights in Iran, on minority issues, and on the right to health issued a joint public statement expressing concern at the lengthy sentences for Bet Tamraz, Asgari, Naderi, as well as reports of their mistreatment in prison, and, broadly, the targeting of religious minorities, particularly Christian converts.  Authorities released Bet Tamraz, Asgari, Mohammadi, and Naderi on bail while they appealed their sentences.

According to international media and various NGOs, including the Christian World Watch Monitor (CWWM) and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), on May 2, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, Yasser Mossayebzadeh, Saheb Fadaie, and Mohammad Reza Omidi received notification that the appeals court upheld their 10-year prison sentences for “acting against national security” by “promoting Zionist Christianity” and running house churches.  Instead of utilizing the customary summons procedure, CWWM and CSW reported that authorities took Nadarkhani and the three other sentenced Christians to Evin Prison following a series of violent raids on their homes in late July, which included beatings and electroshock weapons.  According to NGOs, the authorities also sentenced Nadarkhani and Omidi to two years internal exile in the southern region of the country, far from their homes in the country’s north near the Caspian Sea.  As of May Omidi, Mossayebzadeh, and Fadaie still awaited the outcome of the appeal of their September 2016 sentence of 80 lashes for consumption of communion wine.  According to CSW, the government sentenced Fadaie to an additional 18 months and another Christian, Fatemaeh Bakhteri, to 12 months in prison for “spreading propaganda against the regime.”  Fadaie also received two years in internal exile in a remote area near the Afghanistan border after his prison sentence.

On November 16, according to NGOs and media reports, security forces arrested Christian converts Behnam Ersali and Davood Rasooli in separate raids and took them to unknown locations.  Six security agents arrested Ersali at his friend’s home in Masshad and two security agents arrested Rasooli at his home in Karaj.

Mohabat News reported the detention and abuse of Karen Vartanian, an Armenian Christian whom authorities initially arrested in December 2017 after participating in student protests at Arak University.  Vartanian faced a number of political charges, including “promoting Christianity and anti-Islamic activities.”  According to Mohabat News and local media, Vartanian reportedly experienced physical and psychological abuse, lost at least 15 kilograms (33 pounds) and suffered a heart attack as a result of beatings.

According to a December 5 article in World Watch Monitor, citing information from the NGO rights group Article 18, the government arrested 142 Christians across multiple cities in one month.  The authorities asked them to write down the details of their Christian activities and told them not to have any more contact with Christians or Christian groups.  The authorities released most of them after a few hours or days, but kept the suspected leaders in detention.

Activists and NGOs reported Yarsani activists and community leaders continued to be subject to detention or disappearance for engaging in awareness raising regarding government practices or discrimination.  In March the Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN) reported authorities arrested Yarsani activist Seyyed Peyman Pedrood.  According to KHRN, Pedrood disappeared in late December 2017 after leaving home, and his family later received unofficial information that security forces had arrested and transferred him to an unknown location.

According to the BIC, approximately 90 Baha’is were in prison as of November.  The BIC stated that all arrests and detentions were directly linked to the individual’s professed faith and religious identity.  Charges brought against Baha’is included “insulting religious sanctities,” “corruption on earth,” “propaganda against the system,” espionage and collaboration with foreign entities, and actions against national security.  Charges also included involvement with the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), a university-level educational institution the government considered illegal.  According to the BIC, in many cases, the authorities made arrests in conjunction with raids on Baha’i homes, during which they confiscated personal belongings, particularly religious books and writings.

HRW reported the government arrested more than 20 Baha’is in Shiraz, Karaj, and Isfahan on unknown charges in August and September.  According to Iran Press Watch (IPC), MOIS officials on September 15 and 16 detained six Baha’i environmental activists, Sudabeh Haghighat, Noora Pourmoradian, Elaheh Samizadeh, Ehsan Mahboub Rahvafa, Navid Bazmandegan and his wife Bahareh Ghaderi, on unknown charges in Shiraz.  Human rights organizations and media reported agents searched the home of Basmandegan and Ghaderi and took the couple to an unknown location away from their five-year-old daughter Darya, who suffered from cancer and required care post-treatment.

On November 23, BIC reported the government arrested more than 20 Baha’is in multiple cities in the provinces of Tehran, Isfahan, Mazandaran, and East Azerbaijan over the course of two weeks.  The government also sentenced up to a dozen Baha’is, including nine Baha’is in Isfahan, who received a combined sentence of more than 40 years in prison on charges of “membership in the unlawful administration of the perverse Baha’i sect for the purpose of action against internal security” and “engaging in propaganda against the regime of the Islamic Republic.”

CHRI reported the government detained Shiraz City Council member Mehdi Hajati for 10 days in September for defending the “false Baha’i faith” after he tweeted about his attempts to free two Baha’i detainees.  The judiciary subsequently placed Hajati under judicial surveillance and banned him from his seat on the council

According to CHRI, on April 23 authorities returned to Rajai Shahr Prison Afif Naeimi, one of the seven leaders of the Yaran, a former group that tended to the social and spiritual needs of the Baha’i community and that was formed with the knowledge and approval of the government.  He had been on medical furlough due to life-threatening ailments.  CHRI reported, however, that upon return to prison, his condition was still poor and the judiciary’s own medical experts had ruled him too ill to be incarcerated.  In 2008, authorities arrested the seven individuals and sentenced them to 20 years in prison for “disturbing national security,” “spreading propaganda against the regime,” and “engaging in espionage” before the sentences were reduced to 10 years each on appeal.  Since September 2017, authorities released the other six leaders – Mahvash Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm – upon completion of their sentences.  According to BIC, authorities targeted these individuals because of their religious affiliation.

In May BIC reported a series of arrests of Baha’is.  On May 1, authorities detained Baha’i Kaviz Nouzdahi at his home in Mashhad and took him to the city’s Vakilabad Prison.  BIC also reported that the next day MOIS agents arrested a man identified only as “Motahhari” at his home in Isfahan.  According to Iran Wire, on May 6, Ministry of Information agents conducted an orchestrated raid of the residences of four Baha’is, during which they arrested three Baha’is, Nooshin Afshar, Neda Sabeti, and Forough Farzaneh, and took them to an unknown location.  Authorities reportedly searched their homes and confiscated their mobile phones, computers, and religious books.  BIC reported that the May arrestees faced charges because of their religious beliefs.  In a May 25 statement, BIC said the “systematic nature” of the arrests in a number of provinces suggested “a coordinated strategy on the part of government authorities.”

According to CHRI, on July 22 an appeals court in Kurdistan upheld a one-year sentence for Zabihollah Raoufi, whom authorities accused of proselytizing his Baha’i Faith.  The court upheld Raoufi’s conviction on charges of “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security by promoting Baha’ism.”  According to Iran Wire, on October 31 the 70-year-old Raoufi reported to prison to start serving his sentence.

According to Iran Wire, on January 28 a court sentenced Fataneh Nabilzadeh, a Baha’i resident of Mashhad, to one year in prison on the charge of “propaganda against the regime.”  MOIS officials had arrested Nabilzadeh in 2013 for administering tests to her son and another Baha’i student on behalf of the BIHE.

According to January reports by CWWM and CSW, authorities sentenced two Christians, Eskander Rezaie and Soroush Saraei, in Shiraz to eight years in prison for “action against national security,” proselytizing, and holding house church meetings.  Authorities also charged Saraei, the pastor of the Church of Shiraz, with “forgery” for providing letters for students who did not want to attend Islamic studies classes.  The advocacy group Middle East Concern reported both men appealed their sentences.  During the same court hearing, a Christian woman, Zahrar Nourouzi Kashkouli, received a one year prison sentence, for “being a member of a group working against the system.”

According to the World Watch Monitor website, Article 18 reported Christian convert Ali Amini remained in Tabriz Prison following his arrest by authorities in December 2017 and had his laptop and cell phone confiscated.  He remained in a Tabriz Prison as of February.

Many Baha’is reportedly continued to turn to online education at BIHE despite government censorship through use of internet filters, blocking of websites, and the arrests of teachers associated with the program.  Since the BIHE’s online and offline operations remained illegal, students and teachers continued to face the risk of arrest for participation.  BIHE instructor Azita Rafizadeh remained in prison serving a four-year sentence for teaching at the institution.  Rafizadeh’s husband, Peyman Koushk-Baghi, continued serving a five-year sentence.  According to Payam News, officials initially arrested Koushk-Baghi in March 2016 while visiting his wife at Evin Prison.  Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced them on charges of “membership in the illegal and misguided Baha’i group with the aim of acting against national security through illegal activities at the BIHE educational institute.”  CHRI reported that on January 3 Evin Prison authorities told Rafizadeh she would only be considered for furlough if she apologized for teaching online classes to members of her faith.  Authorities reportedly said she must sign a statement to repenting for her work and promising she would not work there again.

Christians, particularly evangelicals and converts from Islam, continued to experience disproportionate levels of arrests and detention, and high levels of harassment and surveillance, according to Christian NGO reports.  Numerous Christians remained imprisoned at year’s end on charges related to their religious beliefs.  Prison authorities reportedly continued to withhold medical care from prisoners, including some Christians, according to human rights groups.  According to human rights NGOs, the government also continued to enforce the prohibition on proselytizing.

According to Mohabat News, the Revolutionary Court of Bushehr on June 20 sentenced Christian convert Payam Kharaman and 11 other Christians to one year in prison on the charge of “propaganda” activities against the government and promotion of “Zionist Christianity” through house meetings, evangelism, and proselytizing.  Authorities initially arrested the 12 Christians in Bushehr in April 2016.  CWWM reported that on March 2 authorities arrested 20 Christians in a workshop near the city of Karaj when security forces raided the premises.  Among those detained, authorities reportedly permitted Christian convert Aziz Majidzadeh to contact his family in April; he informed them that he and the others were being held at Evin Prison awaiting formal charges.  He reportedly said his interrogators focused on activities related to his Christian faith.  Article 18 reported on May 20 that authorities had released Majidzadeh pending a full investigation and trial.

Various media outlets and NGOs reported that on June 25, authorities released Mohammadali Yassaghi, a Christian also known as Estifan, from prison following a hearing at the Revolutionary Court in Babolsar, in which the presiding judge dismissed the charges against him.  The authorities arrested Yassaghi on April 10 on accusations of “spreading propaganda against the establishment” and later transported him to Babol Prison in Mazandaran Province.  According to CSW, Yassaghi was a member of the Church of Iran and converted to Christianity more than 20 years ago.

International media reported that on March 6 government officials detained Shia cleric Hossein Shirazi, the son of Ayatollah Sadegh Shirazi.  Both Hossein Shirazi and his father, a senior cleric in the Qom Seminary, were reportedly critical of the government.  Authorities detained Hossein Shirazi in Qom after he attended an Islamic theology class.  During a lecture in February, Hossein Shirazi reportedly likened the country’s principle of Velayat Faghih – or the rule of a single jurist – to the “regimes of pharaohs in Egypt.”  He also reportedly accused the country’s leaders of tyranny.  Ayatollah Sadegh Shirazi’s opponents have accused him of promoting “British Shiism” and receiving funds from Britain and Saudi Arabia.

In January HRANA reported that security forces arrested Shia cleric Mohammad Mehdi Nekounam, son of Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Nekounam, a senior cleric detained in October 2017.  According to HRANA, authorities also raided Mohammad Mehdi Nekounam’s home and seized all communication devices, including cell phones and laptops, without providing an arrest warrant.  Authorities arrested his father, Ayatollah Nekounam, in 2015 and sentenced him to five years in prison and an undisclosed number of lashes.  The court also stripped Ayatollah Nekounam of his right to clerical office.  The court reportedly said it would not disclose any details about either case to “protect” the status of the clergy.  Sources stated the arrests were related to Nekounam’s indirect criticism of other clerics.  Reportedly he indirectly criticized Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi’s opposition to fast internet services and also criticized an incident in Isfahan in which individuals threw acid on women to punish them for improper hijabs.  In an interview, Nekounam stated, “The one who throws acid [at others] is the most violent person.”  HRANA reported in January of Ayatollah Nekounam’s ailing health following a stroke in the Qom Prison, but said authorities denied him access to his medications.

There were continued reports of authorities placing restrictions on Baha’i businesses or forcing them to shut down after they had temporarily closed in observance of Baha’i holidays or of authorities threatening shop owners with potential closure, even though businesses could legally close without providing a reason for up to 15 days a year.  In November BIC reported that authorities shut down more than a dozen Baha’i businesses in Khuzestan Province after the owners closed their businesses temporarily in observance of two Baha’i holidays.  According to IPC, on July 28 authorities shut down a Baha’i-owned business in the city of Kashan.  HRANA reported that the “Kashan Office of Properties refused to issue a business permit for optician shop of Javad Zabihian, due to his Baha’i Faith.  The Office of Properties then shut down and sealed Mr. Zabihian’s business.”  According to HRANA, the Superior Administrative Court on August 16 denied a petition to open 24 shuttered Baha’i-owned businesses in Urmia.  From July 9 through mid-August 2017, authorities reportedly sealed the businesses for closing in observance of a Baha’i holy day.  In August HRANA reported three Baha’is, Sahba Haghbeen, Samira Behinayeen, and Payam Goshtasbi, were fired from their jobs in Shiraz in a “continued effort to put economic constraints on Iranian Baha’is.”  HRANA also reported that on May 10, the MOIS office in Maku summoned Shahin Dehghan, a Baha’i citizen, and informed him that he had 10 days to sell his business or it would be confiscated and he would be sent to prison.  According to BIC, the government continued to raid Baha’i homes and businesses and confiscate private and commercial property, as well as religious materials.

The government continued to hold many Baha’i properties it seized following the 1979 revolution, including cemeteries, holy places, historical sites, and administrative centers.  The government also continued to prevent Baha’is from burying their dead in accordance with their religious tradition.  According to HRANA, security forces in Kerman prevented the burial of a Baha’i from Kerman, Hussein Shodjai, who died on August 26, and forced his family to bury the deceased in the city of Rafsanjan.  The authorities’ demand contravened Baha’i burial laws, under which the distance from the place of death to the burial place should not exceed one hour, according to the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the central holy book of the Baha’i Faith.  IPC also reported that on March 16 authorities sealed the Baha’i cemetery of Kerman (known as the Eternal Garden) without specific justification.

In August BIC reported continued instances of the desecration and destruction of Baha’i property and holy sites.  Many government offices, including the City Council, the governor’s office, and the deputy governor’s office refused to take any action.  In November CHRI reported local authorities relocated the buried body of a Baha’i woman without the permission of the family.

According to human rights organizations, Christian advocacy groups, and NGOs, the government continued to regulate Christian religious practices.  Official reports and the media continued to characterize Christian house churches as “illegal networks” and “Zionist propaganda institutions.”  Christian community leaders stated that if the authorities learned Armenian or Assyrian churches were baptizing new converts or preaching in Farsi, they closed the churches.  Authorities also reportedly barred unregistered or unrecognized Christians from entering church premises and closed churches that allowed them to enter.

Christian advocacy groups continued to state the government, through pressure and church closures, had eliminated all but a handful of Farsi-language church services, thus restricting services almost entirely to the Armenian and Assyrian languages.  Security officials monitored registered congregation centers to perform identity checks on worshippers to confirm non-Christians or converts did not participate in services.  In response, many Christian converts reportedly practiced their religion in secret.  Other nonrecognized religious minorities such as Baha’is and Yarsanis were also forced to gather in private homes to practice their faith in secret.

The government continued to curb Christian practices at cemeteries, and authorities confiscated properties owned by Christian religious organizations.  CHRI reported that on March 7 a group controlled by the supreme leader issued an eviction order for Sharon Gardens, a Christian retreat center occupying 2.5 acres of land in in the Valadabad District of Karaj, 32 miles west of the capital.  The center was owned by the country’s largest Christian Protestant organization, the Jama’at-e Rabbani Church Council, also known as the Iran Assemblies of God, since the early 1970s; the eviction reflected a 2015 revolutionary court order for its confiscation.

The government continued to monitor the statements and views of senior Shia religious leaders.  Shia religious leaders who did not support government policies or Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s views reportedly continued to face intimidation, arrest, and imprisonment on charges related to religious offenses.

Critics stated the government used extrajudicial special clerical courts to control non-Shia Muslim clerics, as well as to prosecute Shia clerics who expressed controversial ideas and participated in activities outside the sphere of religion, such as journalism or reformist political activities.

The government continued to require women of all religious groups to adhere to “Islamic dress” standards in public, including covering their hair and fully covering their bodies in loose clothing – a manteau (overcoat) and a hijab (headscarf) or, alternatively, a chador (full body length semicircle of fabric worn over both the head and clothes).  Although the government at times eased enforcement of rules for such dress, it also punished “un-Islamic dress” with arrests, lashings, fines, and dismissal from employment.  The government continued to crack down on other public displays it deemed counter to its interpretation of Shia Islam laws, such as dancing and men and women appearing together in public.  In June security agents arrested a female teenager, Maedeh Hojabri, for posting videos of herself dancing without a hijab on Instagram.  Authorities then aired on state television a video of Hojabri, who acknowledged breaking moral norms while insisting that she was not encouraging others to follow her example, according to a report by Radio Farda.  International media widely reported her arrest, as well as an outpouring of social media support for Hojabri from fellow citizens.  According to a February report by HRW, authorities arrested at least three women protesting the country’s dress code/hijab laws in January and February.  Officials arrested Nargess Hosseini on January 29 when she took off her headscarf in a public protest against the hijab laws.  They arrested Azam Jangravi on February 14 and Shaparak Shajarizadeh on February 21 in similar circumstances.  On June 13, authorities arrested Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights attorney who had represented the women, telling her husband that authorities were taking her to prison for a sentence she had received in absentia.  Authorities sentenced Hosseini in March to 24 months in prison, suspending 21 months of her sentence.  On social media, Shajarizadeh stated on July 9 that a court had sentenced her to 20 years in prison, suspending 18 years of the sentence.

HRW also reported that on July 27, state TV’s “20:30” program featured an interview with the sister of anti-hijab activist Masih Alinejad, denouncing Alinejad’s advocacy against compulsory hijab laws.  In a post on social media and in a New York Times op-ed piece, Alinejad stated that, despite her sister’s statements that she had appeared on the program of her own free will, authorities pressured her family to denounce her on state television.

Authorities reportedly continued to deny the Sabean-Mandaean and Yarsan religious communities access to higher education and government employment unless they declared themselves as Christian or Muslim, respectively, on their application forms.

Public and private universities continued to deny Baha’is admittance and to expel Baha’i students once their religion became known.  In September BIC and IPC reported that at least 60 Baha’is were banned from universities during the year due to their religious beliefs and despite passing the entrance exam “under the false pretenses that they had ‘incomplete files’ or that their names were not in the registration list.”  The report also stated that officials told many Baha’i students who passed the grueling National University Entrance Exam, known as “Konkur,” that they might be able to study, but that they would need to write a letter and disavow their faith in order to do so.

CHRI reported that from March to September authorities expelled at least 50 Baha’i students from universities because of their religious beliefs.  In July CHRI reported a Baha’i woman, Sarir Movaghan, was expelled from the Islamic Azad University in Isfahan.  Movaghan declared she was Baha’i on the university enrollment form and was accepted, but four years later and just before her final exams, she was expelled.  According to CHRI, the university contacted Movaghan in May and told her that, as a Baha’i, she should have known that she could not be at the university.  Many Baha’is reportedly did not try to enroll in state-run universities because of the Baha’i Faith’s tenet not to deny one’s faith.

According to BIC, government regulations continued to ban Baha’is from participating in more than 25 types of work, many related to food industries, because the government deemed them “unclean.”

According to Mazjooban Noor, the official website of the Gonabadi dervishes, authorities continued to dismiss Gonabadi dervishes from employment and bar them from university studies for affiliation with the Sufi order.  CHRI reported that authorities expelled Sepideh Moradi Sarvestani, a member of the Gonabadi dervishes, from Tehran’s Tarbiat Modares University on February 3 “for refusing to formally pledge not to engage in activities deemed unacceptable by officials.”

Members of the Sunni community continued to dispute statistics published in 2015 on the website of the Mosques Affairs Regulating Authority stating there were nine Sunni mosques operating in Tehran and 15,000 across the country.  Community members said the vast majority of these were simply prayer rooms or rented prayer spaces.  International media and the Sunni community continued to report authorities prevented any new Sunni mosques from being built in Tehran.  Sunnis reported the number of mosques in the country did not meet the demands of the population.

Because the government barred them from building or worshiping in their own mosques, Sunni leaders said they continued to rely on ad hoc, underground prayer halls, or namaz khane, to practice their faith.  Security officials continued to raid these unauthorized sites.  In August international media reported police dispersed Sunni worshipers who had gathered outside a prayer hall in Tehran’s eastern Resalat neighborhood.  Authorities barred the worshipers from entering the venue to hold communal prayers on Eid al-Adha.  The Sunni congregation had reportedly obtained an official permit from the Ministry of Interior and the Tehran governorate’s political deputy.

MOIS and law enforcement reportedly continued to harass Sufis and Sufi leaders.  Media and human rights organizations reported continued censorship of the Gonabadi order’s Mazar Soltani websites, which contained speeches by the order’s leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh, and articles on mysticism.

International media and NGOs reported continued government-sponsored anti-Christian propaganda to deter the practice of or conversion to Christianity.  According to Mohabat News, the government routinely propagated anti-Christian publications and online materials, such as the book Christian Zionism in the Geography of Christianity, published in 2017.

According to members of the Sabean-Mandaean and Yarsan religious communities, authorities continued to deny them permission to perform religious ceremonies in public and to deny them building permits for places of worship.

Yarsanis reported continued discrimination and harassment in the military and school systems.  They also continued to report that the birth registration system prevented them from giving their children Yarsani names.  A March report by the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran stated Yarsanis continued to face a range of human rights violations, including attacks on their places of worship, the destruction of community cemeteries, and arrests and torture of community leaders.  The report provided “accounts of individuals being fired after it is discovered that they are Yarsan, and of individuals being forcibly shaved (the moustache is a holy symbol for the Yarsan community) when they refused to pray, for example when undertaking military service.”

According to the Tehran Jewish Committee, five Jewish schools and two kindergartens continued to operate in Tehran, but authorities required their principals be Muslim.  The government reportedly continued to allow Hebrew language instruction but limited the distribution of Hebrew texts, particularly nonreligious texts, making it difficult to teach the language, according to the Jewish community.  The government reportedly required Jewish schools to remain open on Saturdays, in violation of Jewish religious law, to conform to the schedule of other schools.

According to Christian NGOs, government restrictions on published religious material continued, including confiscations of books about Christianity already on the market, although government-sanctioned translations of the Bible reportedly existed.  Government officials frequently confiscated Bibles and related non-Shia religious literature, and pressured publishing houses printing unsanctioned non-Muslim religious materials to cease operations.  Books about the Yarsan religion remained banned.  Books published by religious minorities, regardless of topic, were required to carry labels on the cover denoting their non-Shia Muslim authorship.

Sunni leaders continued to report authorities banned Sunni religious literature and teachings from religion courses in some public schools, even in predominantly Sunni areas.  Other schools, notably in the Kurdish regions, included specialized Sunni religious courses for the students.  Assyrian Christians reported the government continued to permit their community to use its own religious textbooks in schools after the government reviewed and authorized their content.  Unrecognized religious minorities, such as Yarsanis and Baha’is, continued to report they were unable to legally produce or distribute religious literature.

In July Sepanta Niknam, a Zoroastrian, was restored to his position on the Yazd City Council following a ruling that constitutionally recognized religious minorities could run in local elections.  According to CHRI, on July 21, by a two-thirds majority, the Expediency Council, the country’s highest arbiter of disputes between state branches, voted to amend the Law on the Formation, Duties, and Election of National Islamic Councils, thereby affirming the right of constitutionally recognized religious minorities to run in local elections.  In September 2017, local and international media reported that the Yazd Court of Administrative Justice called for the suspension of Niknam.  After being re-elected to the council in May 2017, the court forced him to step down after issuing a ruling that as a member of a religious minority, Niknam could not be elected to a council in a Muslim-majority constituency.  The ruling was in response to a complaint lodged by his unsuccessful Muslim opponent.

Sunnis reported continued underrepresentation in government-appointed positions in the provinces where they formed a majority, such as Kurdistan and Khuzestan, as well as an inability to obtain senior government positions.  In January CHRI observed that while there were 21 Sunni representatives in the 290-member parliament, no Sunni had served in a ministerial position since the founding of the Islamic Republic despite comprising a significant percent of the population.

Sunni activists continued to report that throughout the year, and especially during the month of Moharam, the government sent hundreds of Shia missionaries to areas with large Sunni Baluch populations to try to convert the local population.

International media quoted Jewish community representatives such as Siamak Morsadegh, the sole Jewish member of parliament, as stating that there continued to be government restrictions and discrimination against Jews as a religious minority, but that there was little interference with Jewish religious practices.  According to the Tehran Jewish Committee, there were 31 synagogues in Tehran, more than 20 of them active, and 100 synagogues throughout the country.  Jewish community representatives said they were free to travel in and out of the country, and the government generally did not enforce a prohibition against travel to Israel by Jews, although it enforced the prohibition on such travel for other citizens.

Government officials continued to employ anti-Semitic rhetoric in official statements and sanction it in media outlets, publications, and books.  During remarks on June 15, Supreme Leader Khamenei said, “the Zionist regime, which has a legitimacy problem, will not last… and through Muslim nations’ vigilance, be certainly destroyed.”  Government-sponsored rallies continued to include chants of “death to Israel” and participants accused other religious minorities, such as Baha’is and Christians, of collusion with Israel.  Local newspapers carried editorial cartoons that were anti-Semitic in nature, often focusing on developments in Israel or elsewhere in the region, including the move of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.  The May 15 edition of the newspaper Tasnim carried a cartoon that portrayed Israel as a snake intent on devouring Jerusalem.  On February 13, the website Javan published an article, entitled “The Use of Corrupt Jewish Women by Secret Spy Services to Trap Important World Figures,” that claimed that Jewish religious law allowed Jewish women to use their gender and femininity to gather intelligence for Mossad.

According to human rights activists, the government maintained a legal interpretation of Islam that required citizens of all faiths to follow strict rules based on the government’s interpretation of Shia jurisprudence, creating differentiation under the law between the rights granted to men and women.  The government continued to enforce gender segregation and discrimination throughout the country without regard to religious affiliation.

The government continued to maintain separate election processes for the five seats reserved for representatives of the recognized religious minority communities in parliament.

The government continued to allow recognized religious minority groups to establish community centers and certain self-financed cultural, social, athletic, and/or charitable associations.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Baha’is and those who advocated for their rights reported that Baha’is continued to be major targets of social stigma and violence, and that perpetrators continued to act with impunity or, even when arrested, faced diminished punishment following admissions that their acts were based on the religious identity of the victim.

There continued to be reports of non-Baha’is dismissing or refusing employment to Baha’is, sometimes in response to government pressure, according to BIC and other organizations monitoring the situation of Baha’is in Iran.  BIC continued to report instances of employment discrimination and physical violence committed against Baha’is based on their faith.  Baha’is reported there were continued incidents of destruction or vandalism of their cemeteries.

In October IPC reported “tens of thousands more [Baha’is] experience educational, economic and cultural persecution on a daily basis for merely practicing their faith.”  According to BIC, anti-Baha’i rhetoric increased markedly in recent years.  In August a BIC report noted the continued harassment, vilification, and psychological pressure children and adolescents known to be Baha’is experience in primary, middle, and high schools throughout the country.

Yarsanis outside the country reported that widespread discrimination against Yarsanis continued.  They stated Yarsani children were socially ostracized in school and shared community facilities.  Yarsani men, recognizable by their particular mustaches, often faced employment discrimination.  According to reports, Shia preachers often encouraged such social discrimination against Yarsanis.

According to CSW, Open Doors USA, and others, converts from Islam to Christianity faced ongoing societal pressure and rejection by family or community members.

Shia clerics and prayer leaders reportedly continued to denounce Sufism and the activities of Sufis in both sermons and public statements.

Sunni students reported professors routinely continued to insult Sunni religious figures in class.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with the country, and therefore, did not have opportunities to raise concerns directly with the government over its religious freedom abuses and restrictions.

The U.S. government continued to call for the government to respect religious freedom and continued to condemn its abuses of religious minorities in a variety of ways and in different international forums.  This included public statements by senior U.S. government officials and reports issued by U.S. government agencies, support for relevant UN and NGO efforts, diplomatic initiatives, and sanctions.  Senior U.S. government officials publicly reiterated calls for the release of prisoners held on grounds related to their religious beliefs.

In July the Secretary of State called attention to the situation of religious freedom in the country in a town hall speech on “Supporting Iranian Voices” and an opinion editorial appearing in USA Today.  In his op-ed, the Secretary of State said, “Hundreds of Sufi Muslims in Iran remain imprisoned on account of their beliefs, with reports of several dying at the hands of Iran’s brutal security forces.  The religious intolerance of the regime in Iran also applies to Christians, Jews, Sunnis, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, and other minority religious groups simply trying to practice their faiths.”  At the July U.S.-hosted Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the U.S. and four other governments issued a statement on Iran.  In the statement, the governments said, “Many members of Iranian religious minorities – including Baha’is, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Sunni and Sufi Muslims – face discrimination, harassment, and unjust imprisonment because of their beliefs….The Iranian regime continues its crackdown on Gonabadi Sufis.…Baha’is also face particularly severe ill-treatment.  As with many other minority communities, Iranian authorities reportedly harass, arrest, and mistreat Baha’is on account of their faith, and in May the Baha’i International Community reported an uptick in arbitrary arrests and raids across the country.…The Government of Iran continues to execute dissidents, political reformers, and peaceful protesters on charges brought because of their peaceful religious beliefs or activities.  Blasphemy, apostasy from Islam, and efforts to proselytize Muslims are punishable by death, contrary to Iran’s international human rights obligations….We strongly urge the Government of Iran to cease its violations of religious freedom and ensure that all individuals – regardless of their beliefs – are treated equally and can live out their lives and exercise their faith in peace and security.”

During a September press briefing, the Special Representative for Iran called for an end to religious persecution in Iran, stating:  “What we are demanding of the Iranian regime…stop persecuting civil society, please provide all Iranian citizens with due process regardless of their political and religious beliefs.”  In June a Department of State spokesperson condemned “the Iranian government’s execution of Mohammad Salas, a member of the long-persecuted Iranian Gonabadi Sufi Dervish community.”

The United States again supported an extension of the mandate of the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran in a vote at the UN Human Rights Council.  The United States also voted in December in the General Assembly in favor of a resolution expressing concern over Iran’s human rights practices, including the continued persecution of religious minorities.

Since 1999, Iran has been designated as a CPC under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.  On November 28, the Secretary of State announced the redesignation of Iran as a CPC and identified the existing sanctions as ongoing travel restrictions based on serious human rights abuses under section 221(a)(1)(C) of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Italy

Executive Summary

The constitution protects freedom of religion and the right of religious communities to establish their own institutions.  The constitution specifies the state and the Catholic Church are independent, their relations governed by treaties, including a concordat granting the Church a number of privileges and benefits and financial support.  Twelve other groups have accords granting most of the same benefits in exchange for a degree of government monitoring.  Religious groups must register to request an accord.  Unregistered religious groups operate freely but are not eligible for the same benefits as groups with accords or must apply for them separately.  The government did not submit any new accords to parliament for approval despite reports it had negotiated several accords with religious groups in the previous year.  The Muslim community, which did not have an accord, continued to experience difficulties in acquiring permission from local governments to construct mosques or keep them open; there were approximately 800 unofficial Muslim places of worship.  Politicians from several political parties, including leader of the League (Lega) Party Matteo Salvini, who in June became deputy prime minister and minister of interior, made statements critical of Islam and against the construction of new mosques.  As chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the country hosted several events promoting religious tolerance.

There were reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents, including harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism.  A Jewish nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported 185 anti-Semitic incidents, most involving hate speech on social media, compared with 130 in 2017.  A local Arab NGO reported a 35 percent increase in incidents against Muslims in schools, hospitals, and on public transport in 2017 compared to the previous year.  In April a pig’s head was left in front of a building in Reggio Emilia Province that Muslims planned to convert into a place of worship.  The press reported examples of anti-Semitic graffiti and posters in major cities and elsewhere.  Jewish leaders called for greater vigilance against anti-Semitism.

Representatives from the U.S. embassy and consulates general met with national and local government officials to encourage respect for religious freedom and equal treatment for all faiths and discussed the integration of new migrants, many of whom were Muslim, Orthodox, or Hindu, and of second-generation Muslims.  Embassy, consulate, and Department of State representatives met with religious leaders and civil society to promote interfaith dialogue and awareness, social inclusion of immigrants, and the empowerment of faith groups through social media and the mobilization of youth leaders among faith groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 62.2 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to a 2017 survey by independent research center IPSOS, approximately 74 percent of all residents identify as Roman Catholic.  According to government officials, religious groups together accounting for less than 10 percent of the population include other Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Baha’is, and Buddhists.  Non-Catholic Christian groups include Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Assemblies of God, the Confederation of Methodist and Waldensian Churches, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), and a number of smaller Protestant groups.  The remaining 16 percent report no religious affiliation.  According to estimates by the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an independent research center, of the more than five million resident foreigners, there are almost two million Muslims, 1.7 million Eastern Orthodox Christians, one million Roman Catholics, and 700,000 Protestants.  The government and the Jewish community estimate the Jewish population at 30,000.

According to the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and the national agency for statistics, the Muslim population is composed of native-born citizens, immigrants, and resident foreigners, but most of its growth comes from large numbers of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, the majority of whom live in the north.  Moroccan and Albanian immigrants are the two largest groups.  The MOI reports Muslims are overwhelmingly Sunni.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states all citizens are equal before the law regardless of religion and are free to profess their beliefs in any form, individually or with others, and to promote them and celebrate rites in public or in private, provided they are not offensive to public morality.  According to the constitution, each religious community has the right to establish its own institutions according to its own statutes as long as these do not conflict with the law.  The constitution stipulates the state may not impose special limitations or taxes on the establishment or activities of groups because of their religious nature or aims.  The constitution specifies the state and the Catholic Church are independent of each other, and their relations are governed by treaties, which include a concordat between the government and the Holy See.

The law considers insults against any divinity to be blasphemy, a crime punishable by a fine ranging from 51 to 309 euros ($58-$350).  The government generally does not enforce the law against blasphemy.

The constitution states all religious groups are equally free and relations between the state and non-Catholic groups are governed by law based on agreements (“accords”) between them.  Representatives of a non-Catholic faith requesting an accord must first submit their request to the Office of the Prime Minister.  The government and the group’s representatives then negotiate a draft agreement, which the Council of Ministers must approve.  The prime minister then signs and submits the agreement to parliament for final approval.  Once parliament approves the implementing legislation, the accord governs the relationship between the government and the religious group, including state support.  Twelve groups have an accord:  the Confederation of Methodist and Waldensian Churches, Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God, Jews, Baptists, Lutherans, the Church of Jesus Christ, the Orthodox Church of the Constantinople Patriarchate, the Italian Apostolic Church, the Buddhist Union, Soka Gakkai Buddhists, and Hindus.

The law provides religious groups with tax-exempt status and the right to recognition as legal entities, as long as they have completed a registration process with the MOI.  Legal registration is a prerequisite for any group seeking an accord with the government.  A religious group may apply for registration by submitting to a prefect, the local representative of the MOI, a request including the group’s statutes; a report on its goals and activities; information on its administrative offices; a three-year budget; certification of its credit status by a bank; and certification of the Italian citizenship or legal residency of its head.  To be approved, a group’s statutes must not conflict with the law.  If approved, the group must submit to MOI monitoring, including of their budgets and internal organization.  The MOI may appoint a commissioner to administer the group if it identifies irregularities in its activities.  Religious groups that are not registered may still operate legally as NGOs and obtain tax-exempt status, legal recognition of marriages, access to hospitals and prisons, and other benefits, but having an accord with the government facilitates the process.  The Catholic Church is the only legally recognized group exempted from MOI monitoring, in accordance with the concordat between the government and the Holy See.

An accord grants clergy automatic access to state hospitals, prisons, and military barracks; allows for civil registry of religious marriages; facilitates special religious practices regarding funerals; and exempts students from school attendance on religious holidays.  Any religious group without an accord may request these benefits from the MOI on a case-by-case basis.  An accord also allows a religious group to receive funds collected by the state through a voluntary 0.8 percent set-aside on taxpayer returns.  Taxpayers may specify to which eligible religious group they would like to direct these funds.  The government set aside 1.23 billion euros ($1.41 billion) via this mechanism during the year, of which more than 81 percent went to the Catholic Church.

Veneto regional legislation prohibits the use of burqas and niqabs in public institutions such as hospitals.

The concordat provides for the Catholic Church to select teachers, paid by the state, to provide instruction in weekly “hour of religion” courses taught in public schools.  The courses are optional, and students who do not wish to attend may study other subjects or, in certain cases, leave school early with parental consent.  Church-selected instructors are lay or religious, and the instruction includes material determined by the state and relevant to non-Catholic religious groups.  Government funding is available only for these Catholic Church-approved teachers.  If a student requests a religion class from a non-Catholic religious group, that group must provide the teacher and cover the cost of instruction; it is not required to seek government approval for the content of the class.  Some local laws provide scholarship funding for students to attend private, religiously affiliated schools, usually but not always Catholic, that meet government educational standards.

According to law, hate speech, including instances motivated by religious hatred, are punishable by up to four years in prison.  The law applies to denial of genocide or crimes against humanity.

All missionaries and other foreign religious workers from countries that are not European Union members or signatories to the Schengen Agreement must apply for special religious activity visas before arriving in the country.

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

Government Practices

Although in 2017 the government had reportedly negotiated draft agreements governing its relations with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Romanian Orthodox Church, and Episcopal Church, it continued its negotiations with those groups during the year and again did not submit any agreements to parliament for approval.

According to leaders of the Rome Islamic Cultural Center, the government did not make significant progress on an accord in its dialogue with Muslim religious communities.  The MOI legally recognized as a religious entity only the Cultural Islamic Center of Italy, which ran the Great Mosque of Rome.  The government recognized other Muslim Islamic groups only as nonprofit organizations.

Muslims continued to encounter difficulties acquiring permission from local governments to construct mosques.  There were five mosques regional governments and Muslim religious authorities both recognized, one each in Ravenna, Rome, Colle Val d’Elsa in Tuscany, Milan, and Forli in Emilia-Romagna.  In addition, there were many sites recognized as places of worship by local governments but not considered fully-fledged mosques by Muslim authorities because they lacked minarets or other key architectural features.  There were more than 800 unofficial, informal places of worship for Muslims, known colloquially as “garage” mosques.  Authorities tolerated most of these but did not officially recognize them as places of worship.

On March 12, the Latium regional court ordered the closure of a garage mosque in Rome on the grounds that the venue was only authorized to host a workshop.  The Muslim community that worshipped in the garage mosque initiated talks with local authorities to identify a viable alternative.  At year’s end authorities had not identified such a venue.

On July 15, the local Muslim community in Empoli, Tuscany inaugurated a new place of worship with a capacity of 250 worshippers.  While local government authorities had issued a permit for use of the venue as a place of worship, both they and Muslim religious authorities stated it did not meet all requirements of a proper mosque, such as having a minaret.

Local officials, who were entitled to introduce rules on planning applicable to places of worship, continued to cite a lack of zoning plans allowing for the establishment of places of worship on specific sites as a reason for denying construction permits.  Although municipalities could and did withhold construction permits for other religious groups, Muslim leaders – for example, Rosario Paquini Shaykh, Deputy Chairman of the Islamic Center of Milan and Lombardy – said the shortage of formal places of worship was most acute for Muslims.

On June 6, Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala presented a plan on religious infrastructure proposing the regularization of four existing Muslim places of worship that lacked legal status and the allocation of an additional 18 sites to non-Catholic religious groups.  The city was to assign three of these to evangelical churches, and two to Coptic Orthodox churches.  In addition, the city was to assign six sites to the Catholic Church to establish churches in newly built neighborhoods.  Information as to the implementation of the plan was unavailable at year’s end.

Local politicians from conservative parties, including Jacopo Alberti, a Lombardy Regional Councilor of the League Party, expressed concerns over Muslim community proposals to build new mosques.  On September 11, League members of the Lombardy Regional Council and other center-right parties passed a motion urging the regional government to conduct a census of Islamic places of worship, install camcorders in them, and monitor the texts used and sermons delivered therein.  The same regional council members joined with members of the Five Star Movement, a political party, to pass a resolution calling on the regional government to adopt a law prohibiting the regularization of existing unauthorized places of worship.  Neither resolution was binding on the Lombardy government.

On October 8, the Regional Administrative Court of Lombardy accepted an appeal by the Muslim community of Varese of a denial of a permit to build a mosque in Sesto Calende.  The regional court issued a ruling that did not overturn the denial but requested the Constitutional Court to re-examine the constitutionality of a 2015 amendment to a local law that did not impose any deadline on local authorities to decide where religious communities might open a place of worship.  According to the Lombardy court, the lack of a deadline might violate “the right of freedom of religion” guaranteed by the constitution.  At year’s end the Supreme Court had not decided whether to hear the case on the constitutionality of the local law.

On March 10, the Regional Administrative Court of Lombardy annulled the 2017 decision of the City Council of Sesto San Giovanni, near Milan, blocking the construction of an Islamic cultural center and mosque on the grounds that the center did not comply with all the requirements agreed to by the city council and the Muslim community.  In April local authorities appealed the regional court’s ruling to the Council of State (Italy’s highest administrative court), which conducted a preliminary review of the case on August 1 but postponed a final ruling until 2019.  At year’s end the construction of the cultural center and mosque remained suspended pending resolution of the case.

In October, according to press reports, League leaders denied the Bergamo Muslim Association permission to purchase a chapel in Bergamo at auction, despite theirs being the highest offer.  The group outbid the Romanian Orthodox Church, which had been using the building for religious services.  Lombardy President and League official Attilio Fontana said the Lombardy Region would exercise its right of first refusal and acquire the chapel instead.  Fontana said there would be no appeal.  League leader Salvini said in a statement, “Centuries of history risk disappearing if Islamization, which up until now has been underestimated, gains the upper hand.”

On August 27, the Regional Administrative Court of Lombardy upheld the September 2017 order of the Mayor of Cantu, Edgardo Arosio, (League Party), barring worship in a warehouse bought by a Muslim association, Assalam, in 2017.  According to the ruling, the association had stated that it would only carry out cultural activities in the facility, but the court verified unauthorized religious activities had taken place.

On July 31, Bologna Mayor Virginio Merola issued a decree granting a Muslim association the right to use a piece of land, on which it had already established an Islamic cultural center, for 99 years.  Leading League politicians, such as League head Salvini, opposed the decision.  On social media, Salvini called the mayor’s decision “crazy.”

A request for authorization to construct a new mosque the Muslim community in Pisa submitted to the local administration in December 2017 remained pending with Pisa authorities at year’s end.  The Muslim community submitted the request after the city’s former mayor refused to hold a referendum on the matter.

Pursuant to a December 2017 agreement between the local Muslim community and the City of Florence, Florence University, and the Catholic Church on the construction of a new mosque in Sesto Fiorentino, the Catholic Church sold a piece of land to the Muslim association to establish a mosque next to a new center for religious activities that the diocese would build.  At year’s end, however, the local Muslim community had not built the mosque and was operating in a temporary place of worship.

The mosque the Muslim community of Thiene had been building since receiving a building permit in 2015 from the Veneto regional government remained unfinished, reportedly because of insufficient funds.

At year’s end the city of Mestre had not authorized the Muslim community to open a new mosque there as the city pledged to do after the municipal government, citing a lack of permits, closed down a garage mosque in April 2017.

Local governments continued to rent out public land at discounted rates to religious groups, usually Catholic, for constructing places of worship.  Government funding also helped preserve and maintain historic places of worship, which were almost all Catholic.

In June the government sponsored the visit by a group of 50 Moroccan theologians and imams to more than 50 Muslim congregations in the Piedmont Region to discuss religious education and ways for Muslim immigrants to interact with, and integrate into, local society while preserving Muslim values.  The Moroccan Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Turin-based Italian Islamic Confederation trained the visiting clerics, in cooperation with the MOI and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The visit concluded with a Quran recitation contest in Turin.

Politicians from several political parties, including the League, Brothers of Italy, and CasaPound, again made statements critical of Islam.  On February 7, League leader Salvini said, “The problem with Islam is that it is a law, not a religion, and is incompatible with our values, rights, and freedoms.”  On February 8, Giorgia Meloni, president of the Brothers of Italy Party, concurred with Salvini, adding on social media, “We can’t deny there is a process of Islamization going on in Europe.  Islam is incompatible with our values, civilization, and culture.”  Al Jazeera reported that during the campaign for the March parliamentary election Salvini said, “Islam is incompatible with the constitution.”  The news service cited Mohamed Ben Mohamed, Imam of al-Huda in Centocelle, one of the largest unrecognized mosques in Rome, as stating, “During the election campaign, Salvini said he would close mosques and not allow any new ones to open….There’s no regulation for places of worship, the law remains vague, and every municipality interprets it its own way.”

As chair of the OSCE during the year, the country hosted several events promoting religious and ethnic tolerance.  In January it hosted a conference on combating anti-Semitism that brought together representatives from government, civil society, and religious communities from across Europe.  Conference participants agreed to strengthen their efforts to combat anti-Semitism throughout the continent through government-led public information campaigns, interfaith dialogue, and greater security measures for Jewish communities.  To commemorate the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp on Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, President Sergio Mattarella hosted a ceremony in which he stressed the need to remain vigilant against the return of “the ghosts of the past.”  On January 18 and 19, Minister of Education Valeria Fedeli accompanied a group of 100 students to visit Auschwitz in cooperation with the Union of Italian Jewish communities (UCEI).

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Contrary to previous years, the government did not issue statistics on religiously motivated incidents.  The Anti-Semitism Observatory of the Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center Foundation (CDEC), an NGO, recorded 185 incidents of anti-Semitism, compared with 130 in 2017.  Reports of anti-Semitic incidents published on CDEC’s website included discrimination, verbal harassment, particularly at soccer matches and other sporting events, online hate speech, and derogatory graffiti.  Internet hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of anti-Semitic incidents, according to CDEC, which continued to operate an anti-Semitism hotline for victims of, and witnesses to, anti-Semitic incidents.  The NGO Communities of the Arab World in Italy reported a 35 percent increase in incidents against Muslims in schools, hospitals, and on public transport in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, compared to the previous year, but it did not provide details on the total number or types of incidents.

Noemi Di Segni, President of UCEI, urged authorities “to pay attention to all forms of radicalization of anti-Semitism.”  During a meeting to mark the 80th anniversary of the Fascist-era “racial” laws, Ruth Dureghello, President of Rome’s Jewish community, stated, “anti-Semitism is resurfacing and should be combated with all means.”

In September Yassine Lafram, who was elected President of the Union of Islamic Organizations and Communities in Italy in July, told Al Jazeera that “On social media, messages, Facebook pages, and groups are increasingly aggressive against migration and Islamic culture,” and expressed concern that “words may turn into the actions of a few people.”

In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism.  EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 682 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of Italy responded to the online survey.  Nineteen percent said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 25 percent reported being harassed over the same period.  Seventeen percent of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 81 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.

On April 20, in Veggia di Casalgrande in the Province of Reggio Emilia, unknown persons left a pig’s head in front of the entrance to a facility the Islamic Cultural Association of Sassuolo had purchased for the purpose of establishing a place of worship.  Commenting on the plan to establish a place of worship there, the local Catholic priest said that a mosque “would attract more Muslims,” and result in social tensions.  He added, “Islamic culture is deeply intertwined with religion, it is not like ours.  Let’s build flats for the poor instead.”

On January 25, the National Soccer Federation fined Rome soccer club Lazio 50,000 euros ($57,300) for an October 2017 incident in which far-right Lazio fans placed anti-Semitic stickers depicting Anne Frank wearing the jersey of city rivals AS Roma in Rome’s Olympic Stadium.  The federation did not impose the additional penalty, which the prosecutor had requested, of barring Lazio fans from attending two team games.

In October the press reported the Kempinski Hotel in Venice suspended an employee for anti-Semitic comments made on Facebook, and a hotel in Pavia suspended an employee over the summer for anti-Semitic comments he made in an email exchange with customers.

Amnesty International reported that, of 787 instances of hate speech on social media during the three weeks of the 2018 national electoral campaign in February and March, approximately 11 percent contained anti-Islamic messages.

The press reported examples of anti-Semitic graffiti and posters, including depictions of swastikas on walls, anti-Semitic stereotypes, and praise of neo-Nazi groups in cities such as Rome, Milan, and Pisa.  On September 12, authorities found swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti, including insults against Jews, at the entrance of a theater in Pisa.  On September 6, police found a graffito reading, “Jews should burn,” in front of a school in the outskirts of San Benedetto del Tronto.  On February 28, five slogans were discovered on walls in Cesiomaggiore, in the province of Belluno.  One of them read, “Jews, we will reopen the ovens.  Free Palestine.”

According to representatives of the Jewish community, some Jewish residents believed many of the new Muslim arrivals from Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East faced hardships integrating into Italian society and were susceptible to anti-Semitic propaganda, especially in the outskirts of big cities, where they said some far-right groups were already spreading such messages.

On June 12, unknown individuals left a graffito reading, “this is a Jewish shop” on the shutters of a shop owned by a Jewish family in San Maurizio Canavese, near Turin.  In addition, a car was set on fire near the vandalized shop.  Authorities said they believed the two incidents were connected.  On January 25, authorities in Florence found a flagstone commemorating victims of the Holocaust overturned and damaged.  On December 10, authorities in Rome discovered 20 commemorative cobblestones had been stolen from a street in front of a house where Jewish deportees had lived during World War II.  Police had not identified any suspects at year’s end.  Other cases of vandalism included the theft of commemorative stones or plaques dedicated to victims of the Holocaust.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Representatives from the U.S. embassy and consulates general met with representatives of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Interior, and local government officials in Rome, Sicily, Naples, Milan, Turin, Bologna, Florence, Modena, Reggio Emilia, and Pisa to discuss the establishment of new places of worship as requested by religious groups, relations between the government and Muslim religious communities, anti-Semitic incidents, and assistance in tracing the contents of the Jewish communal library of Rome, which the Nazis looted in 1943.  During these meetings, embassy and government officials also discussed integration of asylum seekers and migrants, many of whom were Muslim, Orthodox, or Hindu.

The U.S. embassy and consulates general and visiting Department of State officials met with the Muslim and Jewish communities to stress the importance of interfaith dialogue and to share U.S. best practices regarding education, integration of second generation Muslims, and social media networking.

U.S. embassy and consulates general officials continued to meet with representatives of civil society groups, including Caritas, Sant’Egidio, and Anolf, as well as Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish leaders in cities throughout the country.  The U.S. officials urged the social inclusion of immigrants, many of whom were Muslim, and dialogue among various religious groups, and monitored groups’ ability to practice their religion freely.

In June the embassy organized a series of meetings for U.S. NGO Welcoming America and U.S. local government officials, who engaged with national and local authorities and ethnic and religious leaders and gave presentations on their activities aimed at engaging local governments, businesses, and civil society groups to support immigrants and refugees of various ethnic backgrounds and religious faiths and promote participation in the development of their communities.

In January the embassy invited a U.S. policy expert to discuss inclusive educational polices in the United States for persons with different religious backgrounds and the role of schools and communities in fostering integration.

Embassy officials met with the president of UCEI and Rome Jewish community leaders to discuss how to support their efforts to counter anti-Semitism among far-right groups and civil society.

In September the embassy sponsored the participation of a Muslim trainee lawyer in criminal law and immigration law in a program in the United States on American Pluralism – Politics, Policy, Economics.  In September the embassy invited a community activist responsible for interreligious dialogue and youth affairs from a provincial Islamic federation to participate in a program in the United States on empowering youth leaders from the Near East and North Africa.

On June 3, the embassy hosted an iftar inviting Muslim communities, including the leaders of the largest religious confederations, young activists, and members of other organizations working on integration programs.  Participants engaged in a discussion of religious freedom in the country.

Russia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, equal rights irrespective of religious belief, and the right to worship and profess one’s religion.  The law states government officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association for violating public order or engaging in “extremist activity.”  The law lists Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country’s four “traditional” religions and recognizes the special role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).  Authorities continued to enforce the Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling that criminalized the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist” and reportedly detained at least 47 Witnesses and put 72 under investigation.  Authorities banned Jehovah’s Witnesses literature, raided homes, seized personal property and religious literature, and subjected individuals to lengthy interrogations.  Authorities continued to detain, fine, and imprison members of other minority religious groups and minority religious organizations for alleged extremism, including followers of Muslim theologian Said Nursi.  At least 11 of his followers were tried or jailed during the year, with four convicted of allegedly belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir, and seven more detained on the suspicion that they were members of the organization.  In one case, according to the nongovernmental human rights organization (NGO) Memorial, authorities beat and verbally abused an individual allegedly from Hizb ut-Tahrir in a pretrial detention facility.  Memorial stated the government held 177 political prisoners who were jailed because of their religious beliefs, the majority of whom were Muslim.  Authorities convicted and fined several individuals for “public speech offensive to religious believers.”  In some cases, it was difficult for minority religious organizations to obtain state registration.  The government prosecuted members of many Christian denominations and others for alleged unlawful missionary activity under the amendments to antiterrorism laws passed in 2016, known as the Yarovaya Package.  Police conducted raids on the private homes and places of worship of religious minorities.  Religious minorities said local authorities used anti-extremism laws to add to the government’s list of banned religious texts.  Local officials continued to prevent minority religious organizations from obtaining land and denied them construction permits for houses of worship.  The government continued to grant privileges to the ROC not accorded to any other church or religious association, including the right to review draft legislation and greater access to public institutions.  The government fined and issued deportation orders for foreign nationals engaging in religious activity, including a rabbi and two African Pentecostals.

Media, NGOs, and religious groups reported a number of attacks on individuals based on their religious identity.  For example, since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling classifying the religion as “extremist,” Jehovah’s Witnesses reported beatings, arson attacks on their homes, and employment discrimination.  Reports also indicated that hundreds fled the country in fear of persecution.  According to the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis (SOVA Center), a local NGO, there were several reported cases of vandalism during the year targeting religious properties.  These included unknown assailants knocking down crosses and desecrating Jewish cemeteries.  In separate instances, arsonists attacked two Orthodox churches and set fire to a Jewish leader’s vehicle.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officials met with a range of government officials to express concern over the treatment of religious minorities, particularly the use of the law on extremism to restrict the activities of religious minorities, and the revocation of the registration of some minority religious organizations.  Throughout the year, the Ambassador met with representatives of the ROC and minority faiths to discuss concerns about religious freedom in the country, including with leaders of the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC), the National Coalition of Supporting Eurasian Jewry, the Church of Scientology (COS), and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).  In addition, consular officers participated in many administrative hearings involving U.S. citizens accused of violating visa or other administrative requirements.  Some of the U.S. citizens in these cases said the government targeted them because they were members of the Church of Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or other religious minorities.  Other representatives from the embassy and Consulates General in Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok met regularly with religious leaders and representatives from multiple faiths to discuss developments related to religious legislation, government practices, and specific religious freedom cases.  The embassy sponsored visits of members of different faiths from several regions of the country to the United States to engage in the topics of religious freedom and countering violent extremism.  The embassy also used its social media platforms during the year to highlight religious freedom concerns.

On November 28, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State placed Russia on a Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 142.2 million (July 2018 estimate).  A 2015-2016 poll by the Pew Research Center reported 71 percent of the population is Orthodox, while 10 percent identify as Muslim.  Religious groups constituting less than 5 percent of the population each include Buddhists, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, Baha’is, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), pagans, Tengrists, Scientologists, and Falun Gong practitioners.  The 2010 census estimates the number of Jews at 150,000; however, the RJC stated in October that the actual Jewish population is nearly one and a half million, most of whom live in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  Immigrants and migrant workers from Central Asia are mostly Muslim.  The majority of Muslims live in the Volga Ural region and the North Caucasus.  Moscow, St. Petersburg, and parts of Siberia also have sizable Muslim populations.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

The law states those who violate religious freedom will be “held liable under criminal, administrative, and other legislation.”  The administrative code and the criminal code both punish obstruction of the right to freedom of conscience and belief with imprisonment of up to three years and fines of up to 200,000 rubles ($2,900) or 500,000 rubles ($7,200), depending upon which code governs the offense.

Incitement of “religious discord” is punishable by up to four years in prison.  Under the criminal code, maximum fines and prison sentences for “actions directed to incite hatred or enmity” on the basis of religion may be punished by fines of 300,000 to 500,000 rubles ($4,300 to $7,200), compulsory labor for up to four years, or imprisonment for up to five years.  If these actions are committed with violence by a person with official status (a term which applies to anyone working for the government or state-owned entities, as well as people in management roles at commercial or nongovernment entities), or by a group of individuals, the punishment is 300,000 to 600,000 rubles ($4,300 to $8,600), compulsory labor for up to five years, or imprisonment for up to six years.

The law criminalizes offending the religious feelings of believers; actions “in public demonstrating clear disrespect for society and committed with the intent to insult the religious feelings of believers” are subject to fines of up to 300,000 rubles ($4,300), compulsory labor for up to one year, or imprisonment for up to one year.  If these actions are committed in places of worship, the punishment is a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($7,200), compulsory labor for up to three years, or a prison sentence of up to three years.

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

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

Local laws in several regions, including Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan, ban “extremist Islamic Wahhabism” in the territories of these republics but do not define the term.  Administrative penalties are applied for violating these laws.

A Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling criminalized the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist” and banned their activities.  The court’s ruling says that the constitution guarantees freedom of religious beliefs, but this right is limited by other rights, including the “existing civil peace and agreement.”

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

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

A “local religious organization” (LRO) may register with the MOJ if it has at least 10 citizen members who are 18 or older and are permanent local residents.  LROs have legal status and may open bank accounts, own property, issue invitation letters to foreign guests, publish literature, receive tax benefits, and conduct worship services in prisons, hospitals, and the armed forces.  “Centralized religious organizations” (CROs) may register with the MOJ at the regional or federal level by combining at least three LROs of the same denomination.  In addition to having the same legal rights as LROs, CROs also may open new LROs without a waiting period.

To register as an LRO or CRO, an association must provide the following:  a list of the organization’s founders and governing body, with addresses and passport information; the organization’s charter; the minutes of the founding meeting; certification from the CRO (in the case of LROs); a description of the organization’s doctrine, practices, history, and attitudes towards family, marriage, and education; the organization’s legal address; a certificate of payment of government dues; and a charter or registration papers of the governing body in the case of organizations whose main offices are located abroad.  Authorities may deny registration for reasons including incorrect paperwork, failure to meet different administrative requirements, national security reasons, or placement on the list of extremist or terrorist organizations.  Denial of registration may be appealed in court.  The law imposes reporting requirements on CROs and LROs receiving funding from abroad.  They are required to report an account of their activities, a list of leaders, the source of foreign funding, and plans for how the organization intends to use any funds or property obtained through foreign funding.  Reports are annual by default, but the MOJ may require additional ad hoc reports.

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

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

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

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

Federal law, as amended by the so-called Yarovaya Package passed in 2016, defines missionary activity as the sharing of one’s beliefs with persons of another faith or nonbelievers with the aim of involving these individuals in the “structure” of the religious association.  According to the law, in order to share beliefs outside of officially sanctioned sites (which include buildings owned by a religious organization, buildings whose owners have given permission for activities to take place, pilgrimage destinations, cemeteries and crematoria, and indoor spaces of educational organizations historically used for religious ceremonies), an individual must have a document authorizing the individual to share beliefs from a religious group or registered organization.  This letter must be provided to the authorities and the individual must carry a copy of it.  The law explicitly bans any beliefs from being shared in residential buildings without such documentation (unless in the form of a religious service, rite, or ceremony), or on another organization’s property without permission from that organization.  Materials disseminated by missionaries must be marked with the name of the religious association providing the authorization.

Engaging in missionary activity prohibited by law carries a fine of 5,000 to 50,000 rubles ($72 to $720) for individuals and 100,000 to 1,000,000 rubles ($1,400 to $14,400) for legal entities (which includes both LROs and CROs).  Foreign citizens or stateless persons who violate restrictions on missionary activities may be fined 30,000 to 50,000 rubles ($430 to $720) and are subject to administrative deportation.

Several regional governments have their own restrictions on missionary activity.

Republics in the North Caucasus have varying policies on wearing the hijab in public schools.  Hijabs are banned in public schools in Stavropol and Mordovia, rulings that have been upheld by the Supreme Court.  The law in Chechnya permits schoolgirls to wear hijabs.

The law does not provide precise criteria on how written religious materials may be classified as “extremist.”  Within the MOJ, the Scientific Advisory Board reviews religious materials for extremism.  Composed of academics and representatives of the four traditional religions, the board reviews materials referred to it by judicial or law enforcement authorities, private citizens, or organizations.  If the board identifies material as extremist, it issues a nonbinding advisory opinion, which is then published on the MOJ website and forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation.  In addition to the Scientific Advisory Board, regional experts also may review religious materials for extremism.  In 2009 the MOJ established the Expert Religious Studies Council and gave it wide powers to investigate religious organizations.  Some of the council’s powers include reviewing organizations’ activities and literature and determining whether an organization is “extremist.”  The council also advises the MOJ on the issue of giving religious organization status to a religious group.

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

According to the administrative code, mass distribution, production, and possession with the aim of mass distribution of extremist materials by private individuals may result in 15 days’ imprisonment or a fine of 1,000 to 3,000 rubles ($14 to $43), or 2,000 to 5,000 rubles ($29 to $72) for public officials, as well as the confiscation of these materials.  Courts may suspend for 90 days the operations of legal entities found to be in possession of extremist materials and fine them 100,000 to 1,000,000 rubles ($1,400 to $14,400).  Individuals who produce materials later deemed extremist may not be punished retroactively but must cease production and distribution of those materials.

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

In July the State Duma adopted, and on August 3 the president signed, a new law allowing religious organizations to use buildings that were not originally authorized for religious purposes to be used as such if they were part of a property which served a religious purpose.  The law allows, for example, a group to establish a Sunday school in a warehouse on the property of a church.  If a structure (i.e. the warehouse) does not meet legal requirements and is not made legal by submitting proper paperwork by 2030, it would be destroyed.

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

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

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

There is compulsory military service for men, but the constitution provides for alternative service for those who refuse to bear arms for reasons of conscience, including religious belief.  The standard military service period is 12 months, while alternative service is 18 months in a Ministry of Defense agency or 21 months in a nondefense agency.  Failure to perform alternative service is punishable under the criminal code, with penalties ranging from an 80,000 ruble ($1,100) fine to six months in prison.

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

The ROC and all members of the Public Chamber (a state institution established in 2005 and made up of representatives of public associations) are granted the opportunity to review draft legislation pending before the State Duma on a case-by-case basis.  No formal mechanism exists for permanent representation of religious organizations in the Public Chamber, but individuals from both traditional religions and others may be selected to serve on the Chamber, first by the president, then subsequently the selectees themselves select additional members to serve in the group.  The Duma passed legislation in 2007 barring any member of an organization who had been accused of extremism from serving on the Public Chamber.

The law states foreigners or stateless individuals whose presence in the country is deemed “undesirable” are forbidden to become founders, members, or active participants in the activities of religious organizations.  The same is true for individuals whose activities are deemed extremist by the courts or who are subject to prosecution under the law on combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism.  The Duma passed a bill in September restricting any foreign citizen or person without citizenship from entering the country if he or she “participates in the activities of the organizations included in the list of organizations and individuals in respect of whom there is information about their involvement in extremist activities or terrorism[.]”

Religious work is not permitted on humanitarian visas, nor are there missionary visas.  Those engaging in religious work require both a contract with a legally registered religious organization and a work visa.

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

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

Government Practices

Reports indicated authorities continued to physically abuse individuals on account of their religious beliefs or affiliation.  For instance, authorities detained Eduard Nizamov, the purported head of the Russian branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir, in Kazan on October 11, and, according to Memorial, beat and verbally abused him while in pretrial detention.  He was charged with organizing a terrorist organization.  Hizb ut Tahrir remained banned by the government as a terrorist organization, but according to Memorial, it was a “non-violent international Islamic organization.”  On October 12, the Vakhitovsky District Court of Kazan ordered Nizamov detained until November 21.  Nizamov refused to testify, and remained in detention at year’s end.  At the same time, authorities arrested Ildar Akhmetzyanov and Raisa Gimadeev as alleged leaders of the Hizb ut-Tahrir regional group in Tatarstan, and also charged them with organizing a terrorist organization, according to Memorial.

According to Memorial, in December the North Caucasian Military District Court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Crimean Tatar Remzi Memetov to 17 years in a penal colony.  The court also sentenced Crimean Tatar Enver Mamutov, Rustem Abiltarov, and Zevri Abseitov to nine years each in a penal colony.  The four were arrested in Crimea, Ukraine in 2016, accused of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir and “preparing for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order,” and transported to Russia.  Human Rights advocates noted that the case appeared to be retaliation against these men for their opposition to Russia’s occupation of Crimea.

Memorial reported that in December Babushkinsky district court in Moscow found eight Muslims guilty of “organization and participation in an extremist organization” for their involvement in Tablighi Jamaat, an organization designated by the Supreme Court as “extremist” which Memorial characterized as an international Islamic missionary movement.  The district court sentenced the men to prison terms ranging from four to six and a half years.

In its annual October report, Memorial published a list of political prisoners in the country, which included 177 persons persecuted for their religious beliefs or affiliation (meaning they were in custody or under arrest and being criminally prosecuted) – more than double the previous year’s figure of 70.  The report stated that none of the persons on the list used violence, called for violence, or planned violent acts.  The majority of persons included in Memorial’s list were Muslims.  Memorial also published a separate list of approximately 240 people in detention as of the end of the year for alleged involvement with the banned organization Hizb ut-Tahrir.

According to the international religious freedom NGO Forum 18, the government continued to restrict the exercise of freedom of religion during the year.  Forum 18 found that authorities continued to pursue multiple cases against Muslims on extremism charges for reading the works of the Turkish theologian Said Nursi, many of which were banned as extremist.  On August 21, the NGO reported that three Muslims were on trial or under investigation, and another three were sentenced to prison terms for being members of “Nurdzhular,” an organization reportedly based on Nursi’s teachings banned as extremist by the authorities.  Experts from the SOVA Center continued to maintain that “Nurdzhular” did not actually exist in the country.

Forum 18 reported that on August 14, a Krasnoyarsk court handed Sabirzhon Kabirzoda a two-year suspended sentence for “extremism” after participating in a meeting to study Nursi’s works.  FSB (Federal Security Service) “experts” said he had incited religious hatred by comparing Muslims to non-Muslims.  According to the NGO, a suspended sentence could include a travel ban and voting restrictions.  District court staff, however, told Forum 18 they were not “authorized” to specify the conditions of the court’s decision.  In the town of Sharypovo, criminal cases against Andrei Rekst in Krasnoyarsk and Yevgeny Sukharev in connection with reading Nursi’s teachings were ongoing at year’s end.  Andrei Dedkov of Krasnoyarsk, also an alleged member of Nurdzhular, was released in July after paying a 250,000 ruble ($3,600) fine for organizing the activity of a banned religious organization in connection with extremism.  Prosecutors lodged an appeal in June and argued for a longer jail sentence.

The ECHR found in August that court decisions to prohibit Nursi’s books violated the guarantee of the right to freedom of expression contained in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.  It ruled that the country’s courts did not provide sufficient and relevant grounds for interfering with the applicants’ right to freedom of expression and that their intervention could not be considered necessary in a democratic society.  The court further ruled that the government should pay one of the plaintiffs 7,500 euros ($8,600) in compensation for non-pecuniary damages.  As of year’s end, the government had not acted on the ECHR ruling.

The SOVA Center, Memorial, and the media reported that during the year at least six Muslims were serving prison terms on charges connected to reading Nursi’s work:  Ziyavdin Dapayev was serving a four-year term; brothers Sukhrab and Artur Kaltuyev three year terms; Yevgeny Lvovich Kim, a three year, nine-months term; Ilgar Aliyev an eight-year term after losing his appeal in July.  On June 29, a court sentenced Komil Odilov to two years in prison.

The media reported official harassment against Muslims.  In October police officers wearing masks and fatigues surrounded approximately 100 Muslims exiting a mosque in Mytishi, Moscow Oblast.  The police told the crowd they were not arresting anyone, but detained them on a bus for five hours.  The worshipers were subsequently released without explanation.

In December the NGO Free Russia Forum said that during the year “the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses reached mass levels.”  A report by Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that police, Special Purpose Police Unit (OMON) forces, and Federal Security Service (FSB) personnel raided the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the year.  During these raids authorities reportedly entered homes, sometimes by forcing the door open; conducted unauthorized and illegal searches; failed to declare their purpose or show a court order; ordered people (including children and the elderly) around at gunpoint and pushed them to the floor or against the wall; seized personal belongings, including mobile phones, tablets, Bibles and Bible-related literature, documents, and money; brought adults and children to police stations for interrogation; and charged some with extremist activity and held them in pretrial custody.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, at 7:00 A.M. on July 4 in Omsk, police forces raided the homes of at least four Witnesses and searched their houses, land plots, outbuildings, and vehicles until the late afternoon.  In one instance, a couple was asleep when the police invaded their home.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that although the husband offered no resistance, the police beat him severely.

From January through April authorities raided the homes of more than 45 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Shuya, Vladivostok, Polyarny, Zaton, Oryol, Belogorod and Kemerovo, according to the official Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website jw.org.  This was twice the number reported during the corresponding period in 2017.  In May Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that a Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman said that 150 law enforcement personnel raided more than 20 Witnesses home in Birobidzhan in the Jewish Autonomous Region on May 16.

The Investigative Committee, the FSB, and officers of the Interior Ministry’s Center for Countering Extremism carried out raids on Jehovah’s Witnesses in 22 regions between January and August.  As of year’s end, 79 Jehovah’s Witnesses were subject to criminal investigations, according to Forum 18.  Of these, 22 were in pretrial detention, 17 were under house arrest, and 30 were under travel restrictions.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, authorities detained 72 individuals during the year, including minors.

According to the SOVA Center, in October alone, authorities arrested two Jehovah’s Witnesses in Smolensk and another five in Kirov, ordered two who had been arrested in April in Murmansk to remain in detention, and told seven not to leave Orenburg.  In the same month, authorities began auctioning Jehovah’s Witnesses’ properties in Krasnodar, Tatarstan, and Buryatia, and voided initiatives by Jehovah’s Witnesses to transfer properties to foreign affiliates.

International media reported that Denis Christensen, a Danish citizen and elder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Oryol Congregation who was detained in May 2017, remained in detention and on trial in Oryol’s Railway District Court at year’s end for “extremist activity.”  According to Forum 18, between October 2017 and September 2018 Christensen appeared in court 38 times.

On February 14, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Ruslan Sokolovsky, a blogger from Yekaterinburg, who was arrested in 2016 for “inciting enmity and hatred” and “offending the feelings of believers” by playing the game Pokemon Go in an Orthodox church and posting antireligious videos online.  In 2017, the Sverdlovsk District Court on appeal upheld his conviction of incitement to hatred and offense of religious feelings but overturned his convictions on other charges and reduced his suspended prison sentence to two years and three months.

According to COS representatives and media, in October authorities extended through February 2019 the detention of Ivan Matsitsky and Sahib Aliyev, director and accountant, respectively, of the St. Petersburg branch of the COS.  Matsitsky and Aliyev were arrested in June 2017 along with three other COS St. Petersburg leaders as part of a probe into what police said was possible “illegal entrepreneurship” (i.e., selling religious books), incitement of hatred, and organizing an extremist conspiracy.  As of the year’s end, two other defendants in the case remain under house arrest, and one was released from house arrest in June but remained under investigation.  Authorities continued to refuse to register the St. Petersburg and Moscow COS branches as religious organizations despite a 2014 ECHR ruling that the government’s refusal was a violation of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

According to the Russian Legal Information Agency, the government opened a criminal case in April against one of the COS leaders in St. Petersburg, who was alleged to have laundered 17 million rubles ($244,000), but the agency did not name the individual.

Imam Makhmud Velitov of Moscow’s Yardam Mosque filed a case with the ECHR in October 2017 related to his conviction in 2017 on terrorism charges for advocating the “doctrine of political Islam” of the Hizb ut-Tahrir organization.  The ECHR communicated the complaint to the government in January and in October the government asked the ECHR to reject the case.  The ECHR’s decision remained pending at year’s end.

In January the Kurgan Regional Court dismissed a prosecutor’s appeal of the acquittal of Imam Ali Yakupov of the Kurgan Mosque, who was charged in 2015 with inciting hatred for comments he allegedly made saying God would punish Chinese Communists for prohibiting hijabs.  According to the SOVA Center, the court found that the case had already been thoroughly investigated by lower courts.

In January the Magistrate Court of Sochi dismissed a case against Viktor Nochevnova, who was found guilty in 2017 of insulting the feelings of believers and fined 50,000 rubles ($720) for reposting seven cartoon depictions of Jesus on his social media VKontakte page.

Maria Motuznaya, from Barnaul, was put on trial on August 6 for publishing two side-by-side images on her VKontakte page, one depicting Jesus Christ expelling cigarette smoke through a hole in his palm, and another depicting a religious procession along a broken road, accompanied by the comment, “Two main evils of Russia.”  The government charged her with “demeaning the dignity of race and insulting the feelings of believers.”  On October 9, a court returned the case to the prosecutor for further development.  The case remained pending at year’s end.  According to the SOVA Center, Motuznaya said in October she had left the country for Ukraine, and intended to seek political asylum abroad.

According to the Ministry of Justice, at the end of the year there were 31,054 registered religious organizations in Russia, most of which were ROC-affiliated.

In some cases it was difficult for minority religious organizations to obtain state registration.  In September the SOVA Center reported that the parish of St. Maria Gatchinskaya in the Leningrad Region convinced the city court to invalidate the MOJ’s opinion blocking its registration as a religious organization.  While the court directed the MOJ to reconsider the registration, it refused to require the MOJ to register the parish.  The parish belonged to the Suzdal Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, which is not affiliated with the ROC.

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

The SOVA Center, the NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers International, and religious groups said the Expert Religious Studies Council members lacked appropriate academic and religious credentials to advise the MOJ about which groups should be permitted to register as religious organizations or to review an organization’s literature and activities to determine whether the organization was “extremist.”  In June the Expert Religious Studies Council recommended the MOJ deny religious organization status to the “Community of Slavic Faith on Vyatka (Kirovskaya).”

The government continued to restrict missionary activity, with officials often citing concerns about missionaries being sources of foreign influence.  For example, according to the SOVA Center, in July in Bryansk Region, Vitaly Boksha, a Baptist layperson, was fined for “illegal” missionary work occurring on May 15, when the court said he gave neighbors literature describing evangelical Baptist beliefs.  Neighbors stated that they received the literature, but did not attend a service at the church.  On July 3, the Mglinsky District Court convicted Boksha and fined him 5,000 rubles ($72).  Boksha filed an appeal with the regional court, and in August the higher court vacated the conviction and fine.

Representatives of minority religious associations and NGOs continued to state that the Yarovaya Package, enacted for the stated purpose of enhancing the country’s antiterrorism capability, was employed by authorities to limit religious freedom.  They said the broad definition of “missionary activity” in the legislation meant it included not only proselytizing, but also disseminating religious materials, preaching, and engaging in interfaith discussions about religion, including in private residences, without prior authorization.  In April Forum 18 said the legal framework for an individual exercising his or her beliefs outside a designated place of worship was unclear and that the authorities applied the law inconsistently.  Forum 18 stated, “This imposes a large burden on individuals and organizations in fines, legal costs, and bureaucratic hurdles – particularly for smaller religious communities.”  In April ISKCON attorney Mikhail Frolov told Forum 18, “The fines are large, and where the boundaries of lawful behavior lie is incomprehensible….  [E]veryone has become much more cautious in their public actions.  The public activity of religious associations has decreased noticeably.”  In April Pentecostal Union attorney Vladimir Ozolin told Forum 18 that “religious associations are also worried because they do not know how to profess their religion now and share it with others without violating the law.  Churches face extra problems here, because no one knows what the permission to carry out missionary activity should look like – its form has not been established by law.  In addition, state bodies do not conduct explanatory work and do not use warnings, but immediately issue fines.”

Forum 18 said authorities were pursuing more cases under the missionary provisions of the Yarovaya Package and fewer cases using laws regarding procedures for “gathering, meeting, demonstration, procession or picket” during the year, thus yielding potentially larger fines of up to 50,000 rubles ($720).  According to the SOVA Center, the government prosecuted 42 legal entities and 105 individuals during the first six months of the year for missionary activity.  In its December report, Free Russia Forum said that in 2017 (the most recent data available) the courts received approximately 488 cases of illegal missionary activity, sentenced 274 people, and imposed fines totaling 3,594,700 rubles ($51,600).  According to Forum 18, in 2017 (the most recent data available) religious communities and individuals prosecuted for missionary activity included Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Baptist Union, the Council of Churches, ISKCON, Muslims, individuals associated with the Bible distribution organization the Gideons, Seventh-day Adventists, Hindus, a Kabbalah teacher, the New Apostolic Church, and the ROC Abroad.  Authorities reportedly charged individuals with unauthorized missionary activity for activities such as holding prayer meetings at home, posting worship times on a religious community’s website, and giving a lecture on yoga.  Forum 18 reported courts often imposed the minimum fines for first time offenses and larger fines for repeat offenses.

Free Russia Forum said that in 2018 authorities began using new means to restrict so-called missionary activity, including confiscating and demolishing Protestant houses of worship and restricting leaders of certain religious communities from entering the country.  According to the SOVA Center, in one instance the Russian Border Service denied entry to Evgeny Peresvotov, a Ukrainian national and pastor of the Russian Christian Center “Vosstanovleniye.”

According to Forum 18, in March the Constitutional Court issued a partial clarification of the Yarovaya Package amendment on missionary activity.  The court ruled that providing information about religious events would constitute an “offense” only if it were aimed at attracting people who were not already members of the religious organization.

Religious minorities said local authorities continued to use the country’s anti-extremism laws to ban sacred religious texts and other books relating to religion, other than the four holy books recognized by law – the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, Quran, and Kanjur.

According to the SOVA Center, during the first half of the year, authorities added several Islamic and Jehovah’s Witnesses texts to the MOJ’s list of extremist materials.  The list grew to 4,514 entries by October, reflecting a slightly smaller increase than in 2017.  During the first six months of the year, authorities imposed 1,133 sanctions for distribution of extremist materials, compared to 1,846 imposed in all of 2017.  The SOVA Center also noted 24 cases through November 1 of prosecutors sanctioning library staff of schools, training centers, and prisons for being noncompliant with the Federal List of Extremist Materials.  According to Forum 18, in some cases, those in charge of places of worship and other public or semipublic spaces were often held responsible for distribution of banned religious publications, which could have been left at the site by anyone at any time, even before the ban.

In February the SOVA Center reported that the local prosecutor’s office in Kabardino-Balkaria Republic sent four cases to the court in order to restrict access to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ websites.  The office noted that the sites included “various sections, publications, magazines, books, videos, [and] news about the religious organization.”  Seventh-day Adventist lawyer Vasily Nichik told Forum 18 a month later that Nizhny Novgorod was “among the foremost in terms of persecution in the field of religious freedoms,” and added, “In these matters, very often everything depends on the personalities within the system.”

According to Forum 18, since 2017 authorities levied several fines or imposed other rulings against Jesus Embassy, a Pentecostal church in Nizhny Novgorod, and its members.  During the year a court fined the church for not specifying its full name in videos of worship services, the posting of which was also alleged to constitute “missionary activity,” resulting in more fines.  Authorities also fined and ordered deported two Pentecostal African students for unauthorized “missionary activity.”  Kudzai Nyamarebvu, a medical student from Zimbabwe, faced prosecution three times in six months, first for posting a video inviting fellow African students to a “welcome party” at the church, which her attorney maintained was a secular event; second, for reposting a video of another African student talking about how God had helped her recover from an illness; and third, for an interview she gave discussing her first two prosecutions, which was published on the Pentecostal Union’s website.  Forum 18 said that in June a Prioksky District Court judge found her guilty of “hidden missionary activity, not expressed in either words or gestures.”

According to Forum 18, an unknown person removed a church sign showing a Seventh-day Adventist church’s full official name in Nizhny Novgorod and replaced it with one bearing an incomplete name.  In the morning, a group of police officers arrived, and the community, primarily composed of retirees, was fined 30,000 rubles ($430) for incorrect signage.

Reports persisted that local officials fined members of religious groups for using land, including their homes, “not for its intended purpose” (i.e., for religious services), continued to prevent minority religious organizations from obtaining land, and continued to deny construction permits for houses of worship.  In a March report, Forum 18 stated that, within a contradictory and unclear legal framework, officials increased the numbers of fines for meeting for worship on land designated for residential or commercial use only.  Forum 18 reported one defense lawyer said inspections and punishments were like “a lottery.”

In April a senior member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights and Development of Civil Society said there was a new tendency among regional authorities to restrict the construction or restoration of houses of prayer and churches on residential lands.  In two separate cases in March, authorities demolished residences on private land that were being used as churches, one in Novorosijsk and one in Abinsk.

Forum 18 reported that after two rounds of appeals, on January 25, a court upheld a 10,000-ruble ($140) fine imposed on Oleg Leshchenko, owner of a house in the Rostov Region town of Volgodonsk in which the Rebirth of the Don Missionary Society of Evangelical Christians held services three times per week.  The court fined Leshchenko for conducting religious services on premises that were not designated for religious services (his own house).

According to the SOVA Center, in September the ECHR informed the government that it had accepted the complaint of the Trinity Parish of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) in the Moscow Region concerning a federal court decision to demolish its church in Noginsk.  Authorities ordered the church, which was erected in 2015, be demolished after an ROC priest reportedly convinced local officials to bring suit against the church in a local court in 2016.  The complaint was pending in the ECHR at year’s end.

The SOVA Center said in January that monks in a Buddhist monastery on Kachkanar Mountain (approximately 125 miles north of Yekaterinburg) challenged the findings of a study commissioned by the regional governor that found it was not a legitimate religious community.  These developments were part of a long-running case in which a metallurgical company sought the demolition of the monastery, which had been tentatively scheduled to occur during the winter of 2017-18 but had not begun by year’s end.

According to a November article in World Religion News, the government continued to criticize the Enlightenment Stupa in Moscow.  In September local authorities tried to remove the stupa but backed down due to protests.  Authorities denied Buddhists access to the stupa in 2017, resulting in it falling into disrepair.  The article stated that the International Center of the Roerichs, an art museum, tried to fix the stupa, but authorities prevented its repair.  The article said the shrine continued to await possible repair or relocation.

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

In October the Ecumenical Patriarchate released a statement agreeing to grant autocephalous (independent) status to a new unified Ukrainian Church.  According to a September 30 article in The Wall Street Journal, the Russian government had pressed Patriarch Bartholomew not to take this step.  Prior to Patriarch Bartholomew’s decision, a group of government-connected hackers, indicted in the United States in July, reportedly stole thousands of email messages from his aides.  According to article, the government also “resorted to traditionally bullying, issuing unspecified threats and denouncing Patriarch Bartholomew as an agent of the U.S. and the Vatican.”

Members of the Jewish community reported President Vladimir Putin stated during an interview in March that interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections came from “Ukrainians, Tatars, and Jews.”

On December 11, at a Kremlin meeting with the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, political scientist Yekaterina Shulman told President Putin,  “Of the 489 entries on the list of extremist organizations, 404 of them were Jehovah’s Witnesses chapters even though they do not incite violence or carry it out.”  President Putin responded, “Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too.  I don’t quite understand why they are persecuted.  So this should be looked into.”  According to the state-run news agency TASS, on December 18, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters, “Here we need to analyze each particular case.”  TASS quoted Peskov as saying, “It is impossible here to solve this problem conceptually because there are various pros and cons, but an additional study on this issue will be carried out at least.”

In January the ECHR informed the government that it had accepted Pentecostal pastor Victor-Immanuel Mani’s challenge of a fine levied against him under the Yarovaya Package for missionary activity.  According to Forum 18, Mani, an Indian national with a Russian-citizen wife and child, had held religious meetings in rented premises in Naberezhnye Chelny and advertised them on the church’s social network VKontakte page without necessary authorization documents from the local religious organization.  In November 2017, the Supreme Court overturned a deportation order of the lower court but left a 30,000-ruble ($430) fine in place.

Novaya Gazeta and international media reported that in October the Supreme Court upheld the deportation of Chief Rabbi of Omsk Asher Krichevsky, an Israeli-born U.S citizen.  In January officials revoked his residency permit, along with those of his wife and six children, after the FSB accused him of planning or supporting “terrorist activity.”  In May a lower court ordered him deported for “threatening national security and the constitutional order.”  Krichevsky was the ninth foreign-born rabbi deported in the past 10 years, according to The Jewish Chronicle.

According to the SOVA Center, in August the Borisoglebsk City Court of the Voronezh Region discontinued proceedings in the case of the pastor of the local religious organization, the Restoration Christian Center.  In 2017, authorities filed a criminal case against organizers of the center, alleging they illegally held six drug addicts and kidnapped two others, despite other drug addicts at the center testifying they were there voluntarily.  Authorities detained five of the center’s Russian employees, three of whom were later released and placed under house arrest.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on May 3, the St. Petersburg Court upheld a 2017 ruling by the district court ordering the confiscation of the St. Petersburg headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Jehovah’s Witnesses said that on August 3, the property was officially registered in the name of the government.

In January the ECHR accepted complaints from Jehovah’s Witnesses related to, among other things, the seizure of properties valued at 79.2 million euros ($90.8 million).  On September 17, Deputy Minister of Justice Mikhail Halperin requested an additional three months to respond to ECHR questions.  At end of year, the case was still pending.

Although it lacked legal status as a religious organization, COS of Moscow was able to provide various services such as assistance to drug addicts throughout the country.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On September 17, two passengers on a subway stabbed a man in the back after they argued with him about Christianity and allegedly took offense at how he wore a cross, according to the SOVA Center.  The man was hospitalized.

Reports indicated that hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses had fled the country in fear of persecution since the start of the government’s crackdown and related societal violence.  Since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling that the religion is “extremist,” Jehovah’s Witnesses have reported beatings and arson attacks on their homes.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, adherents were increasingly harassed at their workplaces and in some cases dismissed or forced to resign when their coworkers became aware of their religious beliefs.  For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses said two members were forced to resign in Saint Petersburg and the Sverdlovsk Region, and four were fired, two in the Murmansk region and two in the Smidovichskiy Region.

On July 19 in Razdolnoye, Primorskiy Territory, seven people, including three armed men wearing masks, reportedly broke into the apartment of an elderly Jehovah’s Witness couple and their ill daughter.  The assailants shouted, “Lie down!  Hands behind your back!”  They forced the husband’s hands behind his back, knocked him down, and bruised his nose and cheek.  The 52-year-old daughter lost consciousness during the attack, and the mother suffered severe shock.

The SOVA Center reported 21 incidents of religiously motivated vandalism in 14 regions of the country during the year.  These included vandalism in December of the obelisk commemorating concentration camp victims in St. Petersburg and the Church of Elijah the Prophet in Petrozavodsk in the Republic of Karelia.  According to the SOVA Center, on November 6, a temporary structure housing the Orthodox Church of St. John the Divine in Moscow was burned beyond repair, with damage estimated at 1 million rubles ($14,400).  In October in Pervouralsk, vandals twice damaged a foundation stone for a church dedicated to a figure revered by the ROC.  The local priest said he believed the vandals opposed the building of a church at the site.  In the same month, unknown individuals knocked down a cross in Stavropol and painted a swastika and other symbols on it.  In August unknown persons left graffiti, including “Jews get out of Russia,” on the fence of a Hassidic cemetery in Lyubavichi, Smolensk Region.  Several graves were desecrated at a Jewish cemetery in Voronezh in June, as were tombstones in three others in Skopin in April.  In March vandals cut down a cross in the Artemye-Verkolsky Monastery, Arkhangelsk.  In January unknown individuals set fire to an Orthodox church and a trailer used to teach Sunday school in Mytishchi.  In the same month, the vehicle of a Jewish leader in Murmansk was set on fire twice in three days.

According to a study published in May by the SOVA Center and the NGO Fare Network, during the 2017-18 soccer season, the display of discriminatory banners, some of which included neo-Nazi symbols, continued to decline.  The number of discriminatory chants, however, including neo-Nazi songs, increased considerably.  The report noted soccer league and law enforcement agencies were making efforts to curb the presence of far-right symbolism at matches.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and embassy representatives met with a range of government officials throughout the year and expressed concern regarding the treatment of religious minorities and the revocation of the registration of some religious organizations.

Consular officials attended many administrative hearings of U.S. citizens accused of violating visa or other administration requirements.  Some of the U.S. citizens in these cases stated they believed the government targeted them for being members of the Church of Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or other religious minorities.

The Ambassador and embassy representatives also met with members of religious and nongovernmental organizations, and held discussions with leaders from multiple religious organizations to emphasize a commitment to religious freedom and the value of interfaith dialogue.  For example, in January the Ambassador met with Mufti Sheikh Gaynutdin, the head of the Moscow Cathedral Mosque.  In October the Ambassador met with the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry and attended the Russian Jewish Congress International Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism.  He met with Jewish leaders, including Berel Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia, and emphasized the U.S. commitment to combating anti-Semitism, and discussed the challenges the Jewish community faced.  Throughout the year, the Ambassador also met with representatives of the ROC, legal representatives of the COS, and a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ to discuss concerns about religious freedom in the country.

Other representatives from the Consulates General in Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok met regularly with the ROC, rabbis and leaders of the Jewish community, muftis and other Islamic leaders, Protestant pastors, Catholic priests, and representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  These discussions covered developments related to legislation impacting religious liberty, government practices, and specific religious freedom cases.

The embassy sponsored the visits of 10 Russians to the United States on two exchange programs focusing on religious freedom, engagement, and countering violent extremism.  The groups were made up of Muslim, Jewish, and Baptist community leaders, and represented four Russian regions.  Participants met with U.S. government, nongovernmental, research, and civil society organizations.

The embassy used its social media platforms during the year to highlight issues related to religious freedom, including expressing specific concern over the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On November 28, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State placed Russia on a Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Turkey

Executive Summary

The constitution defines the country as a secular state.  It provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship and prohibits discrimination based on religious grounds.  The Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), a state institution, governs and coordinates religious matters related to Islam; its mandate is to promote and enable the practice of Sunni Islam.  The government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim minorities, especially those not recognized under the government’s interpretation of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which includes only Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians.  The government continued to treat Alevi Islam as a heterodox Muslim “sect” and not to recognize Alevi houses of worship (cemevis), despite a Supreme Court of Appeals ruling in November that cemevis are places of worship.  The government did not recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service.  Religious minorities reported bureaucratic and administrative impediments to religious freedom remained, including the prevention of governing board elections for religious foundations, which manage many activities of religious communities.  The government continued to restrict efforts of minority religious groups to train their clergy, the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed, and the Diyanet announced plans to construct an Islamic educational center on the same island as the shuttered seminary.  Religious minorities reported experiencing difficulties resolving land and property disputes, operating or opening houses of worship, and obtaining exemptions from mandatory religion classes in schools.  The legal challenges of churches whose lands the government previously expropriated continued; some members of the churches said they still did not have access to many of their properties.  The government provided security support for religious minority communities, returned some previously expropriated properties, including 56 to the Syriac community, and paid for the renovation and restoration of some registered religious properties.  Following the July 2016 coup attempt, the government arrested more than 80,000 individuals with alleged ties to Muslim cleric and political figure Fethullah Gulen – whom the government blamed for the attempted putsch – including U.S. citizen and Pastor Andrew Brunson.  In October a court in Izmir convicted Brunson of supporting a terrorist group but suspended his sentence, allowing him to depart the country.

Alevis expressed concern about continued anonymous threats of violence and the arrest of members of an Alevi association on charges of supporting a terrorist organization.  ISIS and other actors continued to threaten Jews, Protestants, and Muslim groups in the country.  Anti-Semitic discourse continued, as some progovernment news commentators published stories and political cartoons seeking to associate the 2016 attempted coup plotters and the economic difficulties of the country with the Jewish community.  Anti-Semitic rhetoric, especially on social media, peaked during periods of heightened tension in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, according to social media analysis.

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

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 81.3 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the Turkish government, 99 percent of the population is Muslim, approximately 77.5 percent of which is Hanafi Sunni.  Representatives of other religious groups estimate their members represent 0.2 percent of the population, while the most recent published surveys suggest approximately 2 percent of the population is atheist.

Alevi foundation leaders estimate Alevis comprise 25 to 31 percent of the population; Pew Research Center reporting indicates five percent of Turkish Muslims state they are Alevis.  The Shia Jafari community estimates its members make up 4 percent of the population.

Non-Muslim religious groups are mostly concentrated in Istanbul and other large cities as well as in the southeast.  Exact figures are not available; however, these groups self-report approximately 90,000 Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians (including migrants from Armenia); 25,000 Roman Catholics (including migrants from Africa and the Philippines); and 16,000 Jews.  There are also approximately 25,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians (also known as Syriacs); 15,000 Russian Orthodox Christians (mostly immigrants from Russia who hold residence permits); and 10,000 Baha’is.

Other groups include fewer than 1,000 Yezidis; 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses; 7,000 members of Protestant denominations; fewer than 3,000 Chaldean Christians; and up to 2,000 Greek Orthodox Christians.  There also are small, undetermined numbers of Bulgarian Orthodox, Nestorian, Georgian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Catholic, and Maronite Christians.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints estimates its membership at 300 individuals.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship.  It stipulates 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.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Alevis expressed concern about continued anonymous threats of violence and the arrest of members of an Alevi association on charges of supporting a terrorist organization.  ISIS and other actors continued to threaten Jews, Protestants, and Muslim groups in the country.  Some progovernment news commentators published stories and political cartoons seeking to associate the 2016 attempted coup plotters and the economic difficulties of the country with the Jewish community.

Members of the Jewish community continued to express concern about anti-Semitism and threats of violence throughout the country, although there were no incidents of violence reported during the year.  According to the community, the government continued to provide the community with extensive security against a possible attack by ISIS, based on previous threats and attacks.  Jewish community members said the government measures were helpful and that the government was responsive to requests for security.

Anti-Semitic rhetoric, especially on social media, peaked during periods of heightened tension in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  According to a 2018 report on hate speech by the civil-rights organization, Hrant Dink Foundation, there were 427 published instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric between January and April.  The foundation’s hate speech monitoring project consistently reported anti-Semitic statements and commentary in media during the year that attributed conspiratorial plots, negative characteristics, and “fascist beliefs” to Jews and other groups.

In January a columnist in daily Dirilis Postasi argued that the Middle East was a victim of “Jewish and Christian terror.”  In March a columnist in the progovernment Takvim daily claimed “crusader Christians and Zionist Jews” were in an alliance to undermine Turkey’s progress.  In June a columnist in a local newspaper in Ankara called for boycotting “all Jewish goods” to undermine the economy of Israel.

Several Christian places of worship experienced acts of vandalism and received threats.  In February a group of attackers threw a smoke bomb into the courtyard of Santa Maria Catholic Church in Trabzon.  Police detained five individuals following the occurrence and released them after taking statements.  In March a man fired a gun at the same church.  Police took him into custody after he fled the scene.

In April local press quoting police sources reported that an individual suffering from mental disorders vandalized the Surp Takavor Armenian Church in Istanbul’s Kadikoy District.  Vandals dumped garbage in front of the church’s main gate and wrote “This country is ours.” on the walls.  The Kadikoy municipality issued a written statement condemning the occurrence and reported that the gate was cleaned by municipal workers.

In October representatives of the Turkish Orthodox Church, a small nationalist organization not recognized by any of the other autocephalous Orthodox Churches, filed an official complaint against Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and members of the Synod following their decision to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  In its complaint, the Turkish Orthodox Church stated that the autocephaly decision “incited hatred and enmity among the public, abused their religious authority, involved activity against fundamental national interests, and provoked war against the country.”  The prosecutor office did not take action on the complaint at year’s end.

In July TV8 blurred the crucifix necklace of a U.S. singer when her picture appeared on the screen.  Many social media users and some newspapers criticized the channel for being disrespectful.

In July a columnist in the Turkiye daily stated in his column that non-Sunnis were heretics and they would burn in hell.  Also in July another columnist for the Star daily said non-Sunni scholars in theology faculties were “heretics” and should not be part of the faculty.

In June the Syriac Orthodox community reached an agreement with the Roman Catholic community to build a second church in Istanbul to accommodate its growing population.  The Syriac Orthodox community to date had only one church in Istanbul to serve an estimated local population of 17,000 to 20,000.  Because the land offered by the Istanbul municipality to the Syriac Church Foundation to build a second church previously belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, the Regional Board for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage required a written agreement between the two communities before the project could proceed.

Various nationalist Islamic groups continued to advocate for transforming some former Orthodox churches, including Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum, into mosques.  In May approximately 2,500 individuals gathered outside Hagia Sophia to participate in the morning prayer in celebration of the anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul, an annual gathering organized by the Islamist Anatolian Youth Association.  After the prayer, the group called for reopening the museum as a mosque.  The campaigns intensified after the Hagia Sophia of Trabzon, a 12th-century Byzantine church that had been operating as a museum for the previous 50 years, was converted into a mosque in 2013.

In June the Jewish community again hosted an iftar at the Grand Edirne Synagogue for hundreds of participants, including Muslims and Christians.  On June 6, then Deputy Prime Minister Hakan Cavusoglu attended a joint iftar dinner hosted by the religious minority communities in Istanbul.  Speakers at the iftar underlined Turkey’s history of coexistence and referred to pluralism as “richness.”

According to Turkish polling firm Konda, 40 percent of respondents in a poll conducted during the year accepted the idea of having a son or daughter-in-law of a different religion, compared with 30 percent in 2008.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Charge d’Affaires, other U.S. embassy and consulate officials, and other visiting U.S. officials regularly engaged with government officials throughout the year, including at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diyanet, and GDF.  They underscored the importance of religious freedom, interfaith tolerance, and condemning hateful or discriminatory language directed at any religious groups.  Among other issues, they urged the government to implement reforms aimed at lifting restrictions on religious groups, raised the issue of property restitution and restoration, and discussed specific cases of religious discrimination.  Senior U.S. government officials continued to view the Hagia Sophia as a site of extraordinary significance and to support its preservation in a manner that respects its complex history.  They raised the issue with government officials and emphasized that the Hagia Sophia is a symbol of peaceful coexistence, meaningful dialogue, and respect among religions.  Senior U.S. officials and official visitors urged the rapid restitution of church properties expropriated in Diyarbakir and Mardin and expressed appreciation for those returned.

The President, Vice President, and the Secretary of State publicly called for the immediate release of Andrew Brunson on multiple occasions.  In August the U.S. government imposed Global Magnitsky sanctions on the ministers of interior and of justice for playing leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Brunson; those sanctions were lifted in November following Brunson’s release.  Senior U.S. government officials, the Charge d’Affaires, and embassy staff visited Brunson while in detention and under house arrest.

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

In January the Charge d’Affaires attended a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Ankara University with senior government officials and the leadership of the country’s Jewish community, which was well received in local media.

Senior U.S. embassy and consulate officials regularly engaged with a wide range of religious community leaders to hear and address their concerns, visit their places of worship, and promote interreligious dialogue.  Officials from the embassy and consulates met with members of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christian, Armenian Protestant, Armenian Catholic, Protestant, Alevi, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Baha’i Faith communities, among others, throughout the country.  The embassy and consulates utilized Twitter and Facebook to emphasize the importance of inclusion of religious minorities, including messages under hashtags such as #DiniÖzgürlükGünü and #ReligiousFreedomDayIsEveryday on designated days for recognizing and underscoring U.S. commitment to religious freedom and human rights.

Ukraine

Executive Summary

In February 2014, Russian military forces invaded and occupied Crimea.  United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262 adopted on March 27, 2014, and entitled Territorial Integrity of Ukraine, states the Autonomous Republic of Crimea remains internationally recognized as within Ukraine’s international borders.  The U.S. government does not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and considers that Crimea remains a part of Ukraine.

IN THIS SECTION: UKRAINE (BELOW) | CRIMEA


The constitution protects freedom of religion and provides for the separation of church and state.  By law, the objective of domestic religious policy is to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship.  In October the Ecumenical Patriarchate announced its intention to grant autocephaly (independence) to a new Ukrainian church after receiving a joint appeal from the government and bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP), Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), as well as several bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC-MP), affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate.  In November Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew initiated steps to implement that decision.  In December the UOC-KP, UAOC, and several UOC-MP representatives formed the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and elected its leader at their Establishment Council in Kyiv.  Government leadership called on all parties to refrain from violence and respect the choice of those who decided to remain within the Moscow Patriarchate.  According to human rights groups, documented acts of anti-Semitism declined from previous years.  Some Jewish leaders continued to state their concerns about what they considered impunity for and long delays in completing investigations of acts of anti-Semitism.  Religious leaders also continued to urge the government to establish a transparent legal process to address property restitution claims.  In various regions of the country, minority religious groups continued to report discriminatory treatment by local authorities in land allocation for religious buildings.  According to the UOC-MP, law enforcement gave far-right groups a “free hand” to pressure UOC-MP parishioners into leaving the Church, although some media reports stated the Russian government sought to spread trumped up charges of pressure on the UOC-MP.

According to media sources, religious freedom activists, the UOC-KP, Muslims, Protestant churches, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian proxy authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (regions) intensified pressure on minority religious groups.  In Luhansk, proxy authorities banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization and the “Supreme Court” in Donetsk upheld a similar ban.  In June proxy authorities raided and later closed the one remaining independent mosque in Donetsk.  Proxy authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk adopted laws requiring all religious organizations except the UOC-MP to undergo “state religious expert evaluations” and reregister with them.  According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), more than 1,000 religious groups recognized under Ukrainian law had not reregistered because of stringent legal requirements under Russian legislation preventing or discouraging reregistration of many religious communities.  Many religious groups refused to reregister because they did not recognize the self-proclaimed proxy authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk.  Russia-led forces also continued to occupy religious buildings of minority religious groups and use them as military facilities.  Crimea is reported in an appendix following the report on the rest of Ukraine.

There were continued reports of what some media and political observers characterized as far-right nationalist political groups physically assaulting and pressuring UOC-MP supporters and vandalizing UOC-MP property.  In July supporters of the Svoboda Party physically assaulted the chief editor of a newspaper in Chernihiv Oblast for reportedly publishing a report about a UOC-MP-organized summer camp.  In January representatives of C14, which observers describe as a far-right group, and others tore down an information board near UOC-MP churches in Kyiv.  Two individuals doused the same UOC-MP church with flammable liquid, stating the act was in retaliation for the Moscow Patriarchate’s endorsement of Russian aggression against Ukraine.  UOC-MP leaders stated the UOC-KP continued to seize churches belonging to the UOC-MP.  The UOC-KP again stated parishioners and not the UOC-KP had initiated the transfers of affiliation.  A group of local residents tried to prevent the construction of a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) facility in Bila Tserkva, Kyiv Oblast.  Members of the Jewish community stated their continued concern about new construction on a site at Lviv’s Krakivskiy Market located on the grounds of an ancient Jewish cemetery.  There were again reports of vandalism of Christian monuments; Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries; and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Halls.  The All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) and the All-Ukrainian Council of Religious Associations (AUCRA) continued to promote interfaith dialogue and religious diversity.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials met with the Administration of the President, ministry officials, and members of parliament to discuss the protection of religious heritage sites, manifestations of anti-Semitism, and issues within the Orthodox Churches.  In connection with the move towards autocephaly for the OCU, the Ambassador urged government and religious leaders to practice tolerance, restraint, and mutual understanding to ensure respect for all individuals’ religious freedom and preferences.  The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to urge religious groups to resolve property disputes peacefully and through dialogue with government officials, in particular the dispute regarding the location of parts of the Krakivskiy Market on the site of Lviv Old Jewish Cemetery.  Embassy officials continued to meet with internally displaced Muslims from Crimea to discuss their continuing inability to practice their religion freely in Crimea.  In September the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited Kyiv.  He met with government, religious, and community leaders to promote religious freedom, encourage interfaith dialogue, and assure leaders of U.S. support for all people to practice freely their faiths.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 44 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the annual March national survey conducted by the Razumkov Center, an independent public policy think tank; 67.3 percent of respondents self-identify as Christian Orthodox; 9.4 percent Greek Catholic; 2.2 percent Protestant; 0.8 percent Roman Catholic; and 0.4 percent Jewish.  Another 7.7 percent self-identify as “simply a Christian” and 11 percent say they do not belong to any religious group.  Small percentages of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, adherents of other religions, and individuals who chose not to disclose their beliefs constitute the remainder of the respondents.

The same survey breaks down the 67.3 percent identifying as Christian Orthodox:  28.7 percent UOC-KP (26.5 percent in 2017); 12.8 percent UOC-MP; 23.4 percent “just an Orthodox believer”; 0.3 percent the UAOC; 0.2 percent Russian Orthodox Church (as distinct from the UOC-MP); and 1.9 percent undecided.  In a separate Razumkov survey conducted in September after the government, UOC-KP, UAOC, and some bishops representing the UOC-MP petitioned the Ecumenical Patriarchate for autocephaly, the number of respondents self-identifying as UOC-KP increased to 45.2 percent, while 16.9 percent of respondents self-identified as UOC-MP, and 33.9 percent “just as an Orthodox believer.”

According to the Ministry of Culture, the UOC-KP has followers primarily in the central and western oblasts, with a smaller number in Zakarpattya Oblast.  The UOC-MP is present in all regions of the country, but it has a smaller presence in Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv Oblasts in the western part of the country.  Most UAOC adherents are in the western part of the country.  According to the Ministry of Culture, the UOC-MP had 12,348 congregations throughout the country, compared with 12,328 in 2017, while the UOC-KP had 5,167, compared with 5,114 in 2017, and the UAOC had 1,167, compared with 1,195.

According to government statistics, followers of the UGCC reside primarily in the western oblasts of Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivsk.  Most Roman Catholic Church congregations are in Lviv, Khmelnytsky, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsya, and Zakarpattya Oblasts in the western part of the country.

The Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine is the largest Protestant community.  Other Christian groups include Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Calvinists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).

Government agencies and independent think tanks estimate the Muslim population at 500,000.  Some Muslim leaders put the number at two million.  According to government figures, 300,000 of these are Crimean Tatars.

The Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD) states there are approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country.  According to VAAD, before the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, approximately 30,000 Jewish persons lived in the Donbas region.  Jewish groups estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.  There are also Buddhists, practitioners of Falun Gong, Baha’is, and adherents of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship.  By law, the government may restrict this right only in the “interests of protecting public order, the health and morality of the population, or protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons.”  The constitution provides for the separation of church and state and stipulates, “No religion shall be recognized by the state as mandatory.”

By law, the objective of religious policy is to “restore full-fledged dialogue between representatives of various social, ethnic, cultural, and religious groups to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship.”

The law requires a religious institution seeking official status as a legal entity to register both as a religious organization and as a nonprofit organization.  Religious organizations include congregations, theological schools, monasteries, religious brotherhoods, missions, and religious associations consisting of religious organizations.  To obtain official religious status, an organization must register either with the Ministry of Culture, the government agency responsible for religious affairs, or with regional government authorities, depending upon the nature of the organization.  Religious centers, administrations, monasteries, religious brotherhoods, missions, and religious schools register with the Ministry of Culture.  Religious congregations register with the regional authorities where they operate, either with the city government in Kyiv or the respective oblast government outside of Kyiv.  While these religious congregations may form the constituent units of a nationwide religious organization, the nationwide organization does not register on a national basis and may not obtain recognition as a legal entity; rather, the constituent units register and obtain legal entity status.

To be eligible for registration, a religious congregation must have at least 10 adult members and must submit its statutes to the registration authorities.  To obtain status as a nonprofit organization, a religious organization must register with the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for maintaining the government’s register of legal entities.  This register lists all entities with this status, including religious ones.  The law does not specify which of the two registration procedures must be undertaken first.

Without legal entity status, a religious group may not own property, conduct banking activities, or publish materials.  Per the stipulation against national registration, only the registered constituent units of a nationwide religious organization may own property or conduct business activities, either for themselves or on behalf of the nationwide organization.  The law grants property tax exemptions to religious organizations and considers them nonprofit organizations.

The law requires commanders of military units to allow their subordinates to participate in religious services but bans the creation of religious organizations in military institutions and military units.  The Ministry of Defense defines selection criteria for clerics to become chaplains, the status of chaplains in the chain of command, and their rights and duties in the armed forces, National Guard, and State Border Guard Service.

The law gives prison chaplains access to both pretrial detainees and sentenced inmates.  It also protects the confidentiality of confession heard by prison chaplains, prohibits the use of information received during confession as evidence in legal proceedings, and does not allow the interrogation of clerics, interpreters, or other persons about matters associated with the confidentiality of confession.

According to the constitution, organizers must notify local authorities in advance of any type of planned public gathering, and authorities may challenge the legality of the planned event.  According to a 2016 Constitutional Court decision, religious organizations need only inform local authorities of their intention to hold a public gathering, and need not apply for permission or notify authorities within a specific period in advance of the event.

The law allows religious groups to establish theological schools to train clergy and other religious workers, as well as seek state accreditation through the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance for their curriculum.  The law states theological schools shall function based on their own statutes.

Government agencies authorized to monitor religious organizations include the Prosecutor General, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and all other “central bodies of the executive government.”

Only registered religious groups may seek restitution of communal property confiscated by the Communist regime.  Religious groups must apply to regional authorities for property restitution.  The law states the authorities should complete their consideration of a restitution claim within a month.

The law prohibits religious instruction as part of the mandatory public school curriculum and states public school training “shall be free from interference by political parties, civic, and religious organizations.”  Public schools include ethics of faith or similar faith-related courses as optional parts of the curriculum.

The law provides for antidiscrimination screening of draft legislation and government regulations, including based on religion.  The law requires the legal department of each respective agency responsible for verifying the draft legislation conduct the screening, in accordance with instructions developed by the Cabinet of Ministers, to ensure the draft legislation does not contain discriminatory language and to require changes if it does.  Religious groups may participate in screening draft legislation at the invitation of the respective agency.

The law allows alternative nonmilitary service for conscientious objectors.  The law does not exempt the clergy from military mobilization.

The Office of the Parliamentary Human Rights Ombudsman is constitutionally required to release an annual report to parliament with a section on religious freedom.

The law restricts the activities of foreign-based religious groups and defines the permissible activities of noncitizen clergy, preachers, teachers, and other representatives of foreign-based religious organizations.  By law, foreign religious workers may “preach, administer religious ordinances, or practice other canonical activities,” but they may do so only for the religious organization that invited them and with the approval of the government body that registered the statute of the organization.  Missionary activity is included under permissible activities.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  Since 2015, the government has exercised the right of derogation from its obligations under the ICCPR with regard to the portions of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts under the control of foreign forces, including the ICCPR provisions pertaining to religious freedom.

Government Practices

On December 26, President Petro Poroshenko signed amendments to a 1991 law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations.  The objective of the amendments was to require religious organizations with a “governing center” in a country designated by law as a state that “committed military aggression against Ukraine and temporarily occupied Ukraine’s territory” to use the full title of the foreign religious organization in its name.  In practice, this meant the UOC-MP was required to change its official title to reflect its affiliation with the Moscow Patriarchate.  The amendments also restricted access of clerics belonging to such organizations to the armed forces and other military organizations.  President Poroshenko stated, “It is easier to make a choice when all things are called by their names, when there is enough information to make this choice voluntary.  The implementation of the law will give the citizens full information.”  The UOC-MP criticized the bill as governmental interference in religious life.

On October 26, the Odesa Regional Administrative Court overturned a decision by the State Migration Service to deny refugee status to a young Jehovah’s Witness woman, an Iranian citizen, and allowed her to remain in the country.

On June 14, following intervention by the parliament’s Human Rights Ombudsman, the village council in Zvedenivka, Vinnytsya Oblast dropped its demand that local Jehovah’s Witnesses conduct their ministry “under control of village council members or police officers.”

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, between September 2017 and November 2018, its congregations reported 19 cases involving municipal officials or police officers demanding that they stop public missionary work, comparing it to commercial advertising.  At times, the officials reportedly used abusing language and threats.

In his annual address to parliament on September 20, President Poroshenko noted that the creation of a united autocephalous Orthodox Church would help strengthen national unity.  He said the state would not interfere in internal affairs of the church and would respect the choices of those who decide to remain with the Moscow Patriarchate.

On October 10, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul stated it would proceed towards granting autocephalous status to a Ukrainian Orthodox Church after receiving a joint appeal from the Ukrainian government and bishops from the UOC-KP and UAOC and some UOC-MP bishops on April 20.  The statement said the Holy and Sacred Synod in Istanbul also revoked the right of the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv.

On November 3, Patriarch Bartholomew and President Poroshenko signed a Bilateral Agreement on Cooperation and Coordination “within the framework of granting autocephaly to the unified Orthodox Church in Ukraine.”  On November 29, the Holy and Sacred Synod in Istanbul announced it had drafted the Constitutional Charter for an autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine.  Also on November 29, President Poroshenko announced publicly that the Ecumenical Patriarchate had approved the text of a decree that would grant autocephaly to a new Ukrainian Church.

In mid-December the UAOC and UOC-KP disbanded themselves to create a united Orthodox Church.  On December 15, representatives of the UOC-KP, UAOC, and some UOC-MP representatives, including two metropolitans, formed the OCU and chose Metropolitan Epiphaniy of the former UOC-KP as its head at an Establishment Council in Kyiv.  The UOC-MP declared the OCU as a “union of schismatics” that had “no relation” to the UOC-MP, and suspended the clerics who participated in the Establishment Council.  At year’s end, administrative centers of the UOC-KP and UAOC continued to exist as legal entities pending state registration of the OCU administration.

The UOC-MP stated law enforcement gave far-right groups a “free hand” to pressure and intimidate UOC-MP parishioners to leave the Church, although some media reports stated the Russian government sought to spread trumped up charges of pressure on the UOC-MP.

On October 12, following UOC-MP allegations of possible attempts by radical groups to seize its major monasteries, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov issued a statement that religion-based violence and extremism were “unacceptable.”  He called on political and public figures to refrain from provocations and attempts to destabilize the situation in the country.  The minister promised a “tough” response to extremism and religious hatred.  He repeated the pledge in an Interfax-Ukraine interview on December 29.

On November 22, the government hosted a meeting with Muslim community leaders, discussing ways to amend regulations that would allow Muslim women to wear head coverings for internal passport (passport for domestic use only) photographs.

On October 3, the Rivne Oblast State Administration registered a statute of a local Jehovah’s Witnesses organization pursuant to a court order overturning the 2017 refusal by the administration to approve the registration request.  The court had rejected the administration’s 2017 claim that members of the organization were not allowed to preach or study the Bible outside Kingdom Halls because by law religious groups may preach outside their places of worship and there is no regulation banning missionary work.

On October 10, the Supreme Court upheld a petition by a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Tetiyiv, Kyiv Oblast, against the local government’s attempts to fine the congregation for an alleged violation of zoning regulations during the recent construction of its Kingdom Hall.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that from September 2017 to November 2018 local authorities in Myropil, Zhytomyr Oblast, Tetiyiv, Kyiv Oblast, Torun, Transcarpathia Oblast, and Kharkiv denied zoning permits or created other impediments to construction of Kingdom Halls.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, UOC-MP representatives campaigned against the construction of a Kingdom Hall in Myropil, Zhytomyr Oblast.  On June 19, UOC-MP representatives reportedly prevented the Myropil town council from designating a Jehovah’s Witnesses-owned plot of land for the constriction project, advocating that other religious denominations should not be present in the town.  On August 3 and November 2, the council rejected a resolution to designate the land for construction.  On December 3, the Lviv District Administrative Court began examining a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ appeal against the council’s inaction on their request.

On April 19, the government revived the Interagency Commission to Realize the Rights of Religious Organizations.  Although inactive since 2012, the commission was established in 2008 to address complex restitution issues as well as promote dialogue between the government and religious groups.  The commission discussed ways to streamline registration procedures for religious organizations, respond to what it characterized as massive violations of religious freedom in the occupied areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, and address religious property restitution.

The Pastoral Council for Religious Support of the Penitentiary System, an advisory interfaith board designed to promote prison chaplaincy established in 2017, worked with the Ministry of Justice to develop guidance for chaplains ministering to prisoners who faced torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.

The UOC-MP said that on July 25, representatives of the Svoboda Party, which political observers describe as a nationalist party, threatened to burn the buses of local bus companies in Nizhyn, Chernihiv Oblast, if they provided transportation for local pilgrims planning to participate in the July 27 UOC-MP procession in Kyiv celebrating St. Volodymyr’s Day.

On November 30, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) searched a country residence of Metropolitan Pavel, abbot of the UOC-MP Kyiv Pechersk Monastery, and the monastery farm office, calling the search an investigation into charges of incitement to religious hatred.  On December 3, the metropolitan rejected the hate speech charges and condemned the searches as political pressure.

On December 5, following several days of searches at UOC-MP buildings in Kyiv and Zhytomyr Oblast, the SBU said it had identified an organized network that distributed materials inciting religious hatred.  The SBU posted copies of several confiscated UOC-MP leaflets presenting the Church’s view on Orthodox Church autocephaly, and labeling Jehovah’s Witnesses as a “sect.”

On November 5, officers of the SBU Rivne Oblast branch interrogated 12 UOC-MP priests as part of an investigation into cases of hate speech and high treason.  The religious news website risu.org.ua and news website charivne.info said a local UOC-MP priest faced treason charges because the Russian media were using his commentaries about regional parish jurisdiction disputes in false reports about “religious war” in Ukraine.  The UOC-MP denied the charges.

On March 6, according to the Umma Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine, approximately two dozen SBU and Kyiv City procuracy representatives conducted a search of the Kyiv Islamic Cultural Center.  According to the search warrant, SBU officials were looking for materials promoting “violence, racial, interethnic or religious hatred.”  Members of the Umma said the law enforcement officials did not allow the cultural center’s security guard to inform them by phone about the raid.  According to the Umma representatives who witnessed the search, the law enforcement representatives planted and immediately “found” “extremist” materials in the library, school premises, and bookstore and also planted and “found” two “extremist” publications during a search in a librarian’s apartment.  The Kyiv City procuracy said authorities conducted the search “in strict accordance with the law.”  It described the search as part of SBU-initiated operations to stop distribution of materials promoting violence.  In 2012, an Odesa court banned distribution of the books seized by the SBU.

Umma Administration leaders said the SBU did not follow legal protocols for search and seizure because it did not employ independent witnesses required to observe the search to prevent attempts to fabricate evidence.  Instead, the law enforcement officers reportedly brought “their own” witnesses who were biased and paid no attention to SBU officers planting the publications.  Umma representatives said this was the third search of congregations associated with Umma in less than a year in which they said law enforcement authorities planted the same books.  In 2017, law enforcement authorities conducted searches at Islamic centers in Sumy and Zhytomyr.

Small religious groups stated local governments continued to discriminate with regard to allocating land for religious buildings in Chernivtsi, Mykolayiv, Odesa, and Ternopil Oblasts, and the city of Kyiv.  Roman Catholics, UOC-KP members, UGCC members, the UAOC, and Muslims continued to report cases of discrimination.  UGCC representatives said local authorities in Sumy and Odesa were still unwilling to allocate land for UGCC churches.  UOC-MP representatives said local authorities in the Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk Oblasts continued to refuse to allocate land for UOC-MP churches.  UOC-KP representatives said the Haisyn District State Administration refused their request to build a church in the town.  Roman Catholic Church leaders stated they continued to ask authorities to return former Church properties in the western part of the country and elsewhere.  Roman Catholics stated the government continued to refuse to support the restitution of Odesa’s Roman Catholic seminary building, which the Soviet regime had confiscated.  Church of Jesus Christ representatives stated the Kyiv City government continued to fail to reinstate a lease, first revoked in 2015, on land to build a house of worship.  The UAOC said the Chernivtsi City Council was unwilling to finalize allocation of land for a UAOC diocesan administration office in the city.

According to the UOC-MP, in February the village council in Stary Hvizdets, Ivano Frankivsk Oblast, illegally transferred ownership of the local UOC-MP Annunciation Church from the government to the UOC-KP.  Local police reportedly opened an investigation.

On February 7, the Volyn Oblast Appellate Court rejected a petition by the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ) to remove a private industrial facility from the grounds of a Jewish cemetery near Toykut village in Volyn Oblast.

Kyiv’s Muslim community said the local government, which allocates land for cemeteries, had not acted on the community’s request for additional free land in Kyiv for Islamic burials, which was their legal right.  Muslim community leaders said they were running out of land for burials of their members.

All major religious organizations continued to appeal to the government to establish a transparent legal process to address property restitution claims.  Most organizations said they experienced continued problems and delays in the restitution process to reclaim property seized by the Communist regime.  They said the consideration of claims often took longer than the month prescribed by law.  Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups stated a number of factors continued to complicate the restitution process, including intercommunity competition for particular properties, current use of some properties by state institutions, the designation of some properties as historic landmarks, local governments disputing jurisdictional boundaries, and previous transfers of some properties to private ownership.  They continued to report local officials taking sides in property restitution disputes, such as the case of the Lviv city government continuing to deny Roman Catholic Church requests for restitution of several properties turned over to the UGCC.

Muslim community leaders expressed concern over the continued lack of resolution of restitution claims involving historic mosques in Mykolayiv.

The AUCCRO, a longstanding independent interfaith board representing more than 90 percent of all religious organizations in the country, continued to appeal to parliament to impose a moratorium on the privatization of previously confiscated religious buildings.  Despite renewed government promises to address the issue, the government had taken no action by the end of the year.

The Jewish community expressed concern over the continued failure of national and local government authorities to protect historic religious properties, particularly historic synagogues in Lviv, Brody, Sokal, Stryi, Zhokva, Berezhany, Husyatyn, Pidhaytsi, and Dubno.

Jewish community leaders said they continued to experience difficulties with the Ternopil municipal and district governments with regard to property restitution.  The Ternopil District Council continued to reject local Jewish community requests to return a prayer house confiscated during the Soviet regime.  On October 25, local authorities in Chortkiv, Ternopil Oblast, transferred a former synagogue building that had been used as a warehouse to the Jewish community.

On July 25, the Dnipro City Council returned to the Muslim community a mosque confiscated by the Soviet government.

On February 5, the Ministry of Culture issued a statement saying that the UOC-MP had constructed Sts. Volodymyr and Olga Church in central Kyiv on the grounds of a state-run national museum.  On February 9, the Municipal Development Commission of the Kyiv City Council upheld a petition to demolish the building.  The government stated that in 2013, the UOC-MP built the church without legal permission.  The building was still standing at year’s end.

UOC-MP representatives continued to object to what they characterized was the central government’s inadequate response to discrimination and intolerance toward its members by UOC-KP and UGCC representatives and high-ranking UOC-KP and UGCC supporters in some local governments.  According to the UOC-MP, law enforcement agencies ignored its requests to bring to justice a Sokal District administration official who intimidated UOC-MP parishioners in Shpykolosy village, Lviv Oblast, over their refusal to join a newly created local UOC-KP congregation.

On December 11, the Lviv Oblast Council declared 2019 as the Year of Stepan Bandera and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).  The Council issued the decision to mark the 110th anniversary of Bandera’s birth and the 90th anniversary of OUN’s establishment.  Jewish community representatives criticized the decision.  In the 1940s, OUN led the nationalist partisan movement, some of whom were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews.

On December 18, the parliament adopted a resolution to mark a number of significant anniversary dates in 2019, including the 110th anniversary of the birth of Ivan Klymiv, one of the leaders of the OUN.  Jewish community representatives criticized the decision due to his role in instigating anti-Semitic pogroms in Nazi-occupied Lviv in 1941.

On September 20, the Kyiv District Administrative Court reaffirmed its 2017 ruling against a proposal to rename a city street in honor of Roman Shukhevych, one of the OUN leaders and commander of the Nazi-controlled Nachtigall Battalion.

In an interview with the Insider news website published on June 25, Deputy Prosecutor General Anatoliy Matios suggested, “Jews seek to drown Ukraine in blood.”  He compared a Jew facing terrorism charges to Jewish communist Alexander Parvus.  Matios said Parvus “who brought money to Lenin for the revolution that flooded Slavs with streams of blood” was also Jewish.  “In this case, they want to do the same to Ukraine,” he said.  Eastern Europe Simon Wiesenthal Center Director Efraim Zuroff publicly condemned Matios’ statements as “outrageous and false,” and called for his dismissal.

On May 14, Ukrainian Jewish Committee Director Eduard Dolinsky filed a formal complaint to authorities regarding anti-Semitic remarks Skole mayor and Right Sector member Volodymyr Moskal reportedly made in 2017 that “the government of Moskovites and Yids” is running Ukraine and Jews seek to dominate the world, treat all other nations as “subhumans” and destroy them.  The local procuracy and police opened an investigation.  There was no progress reported in the investigation by year’s end.

On May 2, Odesa Oblast Right Sector leader Tetyana Soykina said during a rally held by representatives of Svoboda, Right Sector, and National Militia in the city that “Ukraine will belong to Ukrainians, not to kikes, not to oligarchs!”  On May 4, President Poroshenko condemned all manifestations of intolerance and anti-Semitism and pledged the government’s “swift” and “resolute” reaction to any attempt to sow enmity in society.

During a meeting with Kyiv Chief Rabbi Jonathan Markowitz on May 7, Interior Minister Avakov condemned the Odesa rally and all other manifestations of anti-Semitism as “unacceptable.”  He added that the Russian government might have orchestrated some anti-Semitic acts in an effort to destabilize Ukraine.  The Odesa police investigated the May 2 act as a criminal code violation of racial and ethnic equality.

According to media reports, on April 18, the Kostopil District State Administration, Rivne Oblast, urged law enforcement agencies to identify and bring to justice perpetrators who in mid-April painted a swastika on a Holocaust memorial near the town.  Local college students removed the graffiti, and an investigation into the case continued at year’s end.

The AUCCRO continued to appeal to the government to adopt a draft bill entitled, “The Concept of Relations between the State and Religious Denominations,” which would shape cooperation between the government and religious groups and provide long-term basis for legislation on religious issues.

In an April 16 meeting with UOC-KP Patriarch Filaret and again during a July 4 meeting with the AUCCRO, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman reaffirmed the government’s commitment to promoting religious freedom and dialogue with religious communities.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

Russia-led forces in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts continued to detain and imprison members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as other religious leaders.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on November 30, representatives of the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”) detained Jehovah’s Witness Mykhailo Papeta as he was travelling to Luhansk through an “LPR” checkpoint.  During a search of his vehicle, they found a business card containing a jw.org address.  They told him that all Jehovah’s Witnesses material and ministry had been banned.  According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, “LPR” representatives took the detainee to a police station, handcuffed, and beat him.  While under detention, “LPR” personnel searched Papeta’s home and confiscated some of his religious books.  After several hours, they released Papeta, threatening to imprison him again in the future.

According to media, on September 26 the “Supreme Court” of the Russia-controlled “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) upheld the “DPR’s” acting prosecutor general’s request to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization.  The “LPR” authorities introduced a similar ban earlier in the year.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Russian government reportedly sent seven FSB (Federal Security Service) representatives to the “DPR” to intensify harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In October and November, “DPR” and “LPR” “law-enforcement agencies” reportedly received orders to identify and prosecute Jehovah’s Witnesses who did not comply with the ban on their ministry.  The authorities summoned several Jehovah’s Witnesses for interrogation.

During home visits in Boykovske (formerly Telmanove), “DPR police” warned all local Jehovah’s Witnesses about the ban on their activity and collected their signatures to acknowledge receipt of the warning.

On February 2, the Russia-controlled “LPR People’s Council” adopted the Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations.  The law requires all religious organizations except for the UOC-MP to undergo “state religious expert evaluation” and reregister by August 2.  The council later extended the deadline to October 15.  In October the Ukraine-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Institute of Religious Freedom quoted Protestant leaders as saying that the “LPR” had denied reregistration applications of Baptist and Pentecostal churches and Seventh-day Adventists, citing negative results of the “evaluation.”  The leaders described the refusal as a complete ban on their religious activities, including prohibiting religious ceremonies held by believers at their homes.  According to “LPR” proxy authorities, to be eligible for registration a “local religious organization” must have at least 30 adult members, while a “centralized religious organization” must be composed of at least five such local organizations.  These requirements effectively outlawed some smaller religious associations.  The law requires Christian Orthodox congregations to register as part of a “diocese recognized by the Orthodox Churches around the world within the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate,” putting at risk the further existence of several remaining UOC-KP parishes.

On April 13, the Russia-controlled “DPR People’s Council” amended the 2016 Law on the Freedom of Worship and Religious Associations banning all religious organizations that do not meet a March 1, 2019, registration deadline.  The revised law gave the “DPR’s Ministry of Culture” additional powers to monitor the registration of religious associations in the region and to abolish them on various grounds.  The requirement remained for a “religious group,” a newly created religious association not seeking legal entity status, to submit written notification to authorities about its function, location, administration, and the names and home addresses of its members.  The “DPR” authorities had 10 days to either put the group on the Register of Religious Groups or cancel the group’s legal status.  The “DPR” authorities had a month to examine the application documents of “religious organization,” a religious association seeking legal status.  In either case, the “DPR” authorities could conduct a “state religious expert evaluation” of the documents, which could take up to six months, or deny a registration request on a number of grounds, such as missing required information or if authorities had banned the registration of the religious entity that was applying.  All religious organizations and religious groups had to notify authorities about their continued existence annually.  The law required the UOC-MP to undergo a simplified “legalization” procedure without reregistration and “state religious expert evaluation.”

According to Muslim community and Ukrainian media reports, in late June the “Ministry of State Security of the DPR” raided Al-Amal Mosque in Donetsk, seizing prayer books and other religious materials.  The proxy authorities interrogated the mosque’s imam and congregation members.  Subsequently, the “DPR” proxy authorities closed the mosque based on what the Muslim community and some Ukrainian media reports called fabricated extremism charges.

According to the All-Ukraine Baptist Union, on June 3, the “LPR State Security Ministry” raided a Baptist church when its members convened for a religious service at a private apartment in Luhansk.  The authorities confiscated religious literature and sealed the entrance to the apartment.  All-Ukraine Baptist Union sources said that on August 2, proxy authorities ordered the head of the congregation to pay a fine of 8,000 Russian rubles ($110).  Following the raid, in July the “LPR State Security Ministry” labeled the All-Ukraine Baptist Union as an “extremist” religious organization.  The “LPR” proxy authorities accused the Baptists of “evading mandatory state registration,” promoting the “violent assault of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” and using “psychotropic substances” to put psychological pressure on members of the congregation.

As of August 29, Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives reported “DPR” and “LPR” representatives had seized 16 of their buildings in Debaltseve, Donetsk, Horlivka, Perevalsk, Khrustalny (former Krasny Luch), Boykovske (former Telmanove), Yenakieve, Holubivka (former Kirovsk), Alchevsk, Sorokyne (former Krasnodon), Bryanka, Vyhlehirsk, Luhansk, and Kadiyivka (former Stakhanov), and searched two.

On May 30, a fire destroyed a Kingdom Hall seized by the “LPR” in Luhansk in August 2017.  No additional information on the arson was available.

On January 22, the “LPR” authorities closed down a Kingdom Hall in Antratsyt.

No additional information on the closure was available.

According to NGO reports, Russia-led forces continued to use previously seized places of worship as military facilities.  Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives stated Russia-led forces used some places of worship as barracks.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, since June “DPR” and “LPR” authorities had collected information about their congregations in Donetsk, Torez, Snizhne, Shakhtarsk, Yenakieve, Makiyivka, Bryanka and others, and took some congregation members for questioning.

The “DPR” continued to label materials distributed by the Jehovah Witnesses as “extremist.”  From July 2017 to March 2018, the “Supreme Court” of the “DPR” issued four “rulings” declaring seven of their publications “extremist.”  The “court” did not notify Jehovah’s Witnesses about its “hearings.”  Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said that as a result, they could neither defend themselves against the charges nor appeal the “rulings.”

On August 22, the “DPR Supreme Court” upheld a request by the “DPR Acting Prosecutor General” to declare Jehovah’s Witnesses website as “extremist”.  On September 5, the “DPR Ministry of Communications” instructed telecommunications providers to ban internet access to the website pursuant to the “court’s” order.

On March 15, the “DPR Supreme Court” and “Ministry of Justice” posted a Republican List of Extremist Materials on their websites.  The list included the four latest issues of The Watchtower.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On September 6, the chief of the National Police described the explosion that injured a Jewish boy in Uman in 2017 as a terrorist act orchestrated by a foreign state’s intelligence service to incite interethnic and religious confrontation.  He said he had confirmed earlier police reports alleging that in previous years the same individuals as those responsible for the terrorist acts painted anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls of synagogues in Lviv and Odesa, and desecrated a synagogue near the grave of Rabbi Nachman, founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement, in Uman.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported three cases of physical assaults during the year, compared with 18 in 2017.  They said one of the attackers had physically and verbally assaulted them on at least 15 previous occasions.  On May 27, he beat up and threw stones at Jehovah Witnesses in Korchivtsi village, Chernivtsi Oblast, injuring one of them and damaging the victims’ car.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, police ignored their complaints and “mildly reprimanded” the attacker.  On June 13, police began to investigate the May 27 assault as a hate crime after the Jehovah’s Witnesses took the case to court.  The investigation continued at year’s end.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on June 7, an individual attacked several Jehovah’s Witnesses with a wooden stick in Zhytomyr.  He reportedly threw their missionary materials to the ground and punched one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses several times.  During the 20-minute assault, the attacker demanded that the Jehovah’s Witnesses make the sign of the cross.  Police categorized the assault as personal animosity between the attacker and his victims and forwarded the case to court.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on May 14, an unidentified man in Mykolayiv demanded that a Jehovah’s Witness stop his public ministry and then broke a beer bottle on the victim’s head.  The attacker fled before police arrived at the scene.

A court in Zhytomyr continued hearings on a criminal case against four individuals arrested for allegedly attacking Chabad Rabbi Mendel Deitsch at the city’s train station in 2016.  Deitsch subsequently died from his injuries.

Authorities dropped the investigation of a 2016 case involving a teenager who reportedly shoved a rabbi and used anti-Semitic insults, including “Kikes out of here,” after the teenager apologized to the Jewish community.

On May 31, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a UOC-MP priest who in 2014 physically and verbally assaulted a Jehovah’s Witness in Berezhonka village, Chernivtsi Oblast.  The victim sustained a concussion and was hospitalized.

On May 16, the Baranivka District Court, Zhytomyr Oblast sentenced Oleg Nikitchyn to 160 hours of community work for verbal and physical assault on Jehovah’s Witness Yuriy Vorobei in June 2017.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the court based its “lenient” sentence on the assailant’s statement, disregarding what they called verifiable signs of a hate crime.  The court rejected Vorobei’s demand that the attacker cover the cost of his medical treatment.

On May 8, Kyiv’s Sviatoshyn District Court found R.V. Prokopenko guilty of hooliganism and ordered him to pay a fine of 8500 hryvnias ($310) for insulting and injuring two Jehovah’s Witnesses, and damaging their mobile display of missionary materials in December 2017.  During the pretrial investigation, Prokopenko apologized to the victims and compensated them for damages.

On July 27, the UOC-MP celebrated St. Volodymyr’s feast day with a procession in Kyiv.  Police estimated that 20,000 persons participated in the event.  The UOC-MP put the number at 250,000.  Police detained three individuals linked to the Bratstvo group, which had reportedly intended to disrupt the procession.  Observers of the group described it as a pseudo-nationalist group with a history of provocations in support of pro-Russian causes.  During the march, Bratstvo streamed a live “interview” with one of its members posing as an anti-Ukrainian UOC-MP monk.

On September 16, private Israeli media outlet Mako posted a video appearing to show an allegedly Jewish man setting fire to a large outdoor crucifix located in Uman, Cherkasy Oblast, as Hasidic pilgrims came to a local river to perform a religious ritual.  According to media, the alleged arson provoked a subsequent altercation between some local residents and pilgrims; there we no reports of injuries.  Uman Jewish community leaders condemned the attack.  Law enforcement authorities opened an investigation.

The AUCRA, established in 2017 by a number of mainly smaller religious groups and churches, met on March 20 to discuss ways to promote interfaith dialogue.  The group reiterated its commitment to dialogue and to building partnerships between religious organizations and the government.

According to the UOC-MP, local authorities continued to transfer parish jurisdictions from the UOC-MP to the UOC-KP against the will of the parishioners.  Ternopil Oblast authorities reportedly refused to renew state registration of the UOC-MP parishes whose church buildings in Butyn and Kynakhivtsi villages were transferred to the UOC-KP in 2014 and 2017 following a split within the two congregations.

On April 3, several dozen members of the C14, which observers describe as a far-right group, arrived at the Kyiv Lavra Monastery compound and armed with sticks to “search” for pro-Russian separatists.  They held two monastery guards to cut sleeve patches off the guards’ uniform.  C14 left the monastery upon arrival of a police patrol.  Law enforcement authorities did not press charges against them.  C14 streamed the incident live on its Facebook page.

In a YouTube video posted on April 18, Bratstvo representatives urged Ukrainians to “seize” UOC-MP churches and ignore UOC-KP calls to refrain from violence against the UOC-MP.  Media and civil society characterized Bratstvo as a group of “paid thugs” notorious for their involvement in violent provocations orchestrated by Kremlin-linked political forces since 2004.

Posts on the Right Sector website continued to repeat previous statements by the group stating that, at the request of the UOC-KP, it would continue to visit sites disputed between the UOC-MP and UOC-KP to “facilitate” a change of jurisdiction.

Following the UOC-MP and Right Sector statements, UOC-KP Patriarch Filaret repeated previous UOC-KP statements in an August 2 interview with the UOC-KP press center, rejecting accusations that the UOC-KP was involved in the seizures of UOC-MP churches.  Patriarch Filaret repeated that these were legitimate transfers to UOC-KP jurisdiction initiated by parishioners.  The UOC-KP stated it would continue to act according to the law, but also would continue to accept into its jurisdiction any UOC-MP clergy and laity requesting affiliation with UOC-KP (and after the December 15 Establishment Council, with the OCU).  Following the autocephaly petition from the government and Orthodox bishops to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on April 20, the UOC-KP repeatedly stressed that transition of UOC-MP congregations to a future united Ukrainian Orthodox Church must be voluntary, and free from coercion and violence.

The Jewish community continued to express its concern about the continuing operation of the Krakivskiy Market on the grounds of an ancient Jewish cemetery in Lviv.  The UCSJ urged the government to halt permanently the construction of a multistory building on the cemetery grounds that was initially ordered suspended in 2017.  The UCSJ and civic activists continued to express concern over the possible continuation of construction of a high-rise building at the site of the World War II Jewish ghetto in Lviv.  In 2016, a court suspended the project after human remains were reportedly found and removed from the soil at the construction site.  As of year’s end, the remains had not been returned to the site.

According to UGCC representatives, on July 13, a group of local residents tried to prevent construction vehicles from entering a site designated by the local government for construction of the Nativity of Christ Church in Bila Tserkva, Kyiv Oblast.  One of the local residents reportedly held a hand grenade and threatened to detonate it.  Police detained the protester and brought administrative charges against him.  On August 17, dozens of individuals who UGCC said were “hired” destroyed a fence surrounding the construction site.  Police reportedly detained the suspects and released them after questioning.  The authorities opened an investigation.  On August 20, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement condemning the incident and urging law enforcement agencies to bring the perpetrators to justice.

According to media, on July 25, supporters of Svoboda physically assaulted Chief Editor of Visti Borznyanshchyny newspaper Serhiy Blyznyuk for publishing a positive report on a children’s summer camp organized by a local UOC-MP diocese.  Svoboda supporters described the article as “anti-Ukrainian.”  Under Svoboda’s pressure, the Borzna District State Administration in Chernihiv Oblast reportedly forced Blyznyuk to resign.

According to the UOC-MP, Svoboda supporters verbally abused Borzna District State Administration Deputy Chairman Oleksandr Maksymov and staffers Olena Taran and Yevhen Tarnovsky and forced them to write resignation letters for allowing the UOC-MP to host the camp in the district.  Earlier local Svoboda activists threatened Archbishop Klyment, head of the local UOC-MP diocese, for organizing the camp.  The UOC-MP representatives said on July 21, a group of drunk Svoboda supporters visited the camp but the site was empty because the children had left the day before.

According to the UOC-MP, on November 27, unidentified individuals splashed red paint at the entrance to UOC-MP diocesan office in Rivne and defaced its wall with graffiti, saying, “Our Sailors’ Blood is on Your Hands.”  The graffiti was an apparent reference to Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels and 24 crewmembers near the Kerch Strait.

According to police reports, on November 15, two men threw Molotov cocktails at the door of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s St. Andrew’s Church in Kyiv.  The Molotov cocktails did not ignite and caused no damage.  The attackers fled, using pepper spray against security guards who confronted them.  According to the UOC-KP, the arsonists injured a UOC-KP priest.  The attack occurred after the government gave permission for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to open a representative mission in the historic building.  On November 27, police detained one of suspected arsonists and found flammable liquid in his apartment in Kyiv.

According to the UAOC, on August 30, unidentified individuals burned and destroyed the interior and roof of the Nativity of the Theotokos Church in Hanychi Village, Transcarpathia Oblast.  No suspects were detained.

According to the UOC-MP, on March 14, unidentified individuals set fire to an auxiliary building near the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Joy of All Who Sorrow in Kyiv.  The fire destroyed the roof and stored construction materials.  Shortly before the fire, two individuals reportedly asked the church’s security guard about the church’s affiliation.  Police could not identify the perpetrators.  There have been six previous arson attacks on the church since 2014.

According to the UOC-MP, on March 10, unidentified individuals set fire to its Transfiguration Church in Kyiv, causing serious damage to the building.  Police opened an investigation; however, no one was detained by year’s end.

According to media sources, on January 25, individuals who self-identified as members of C14 and others, tore down an information board near the UOC-MP Sts. Volodymyr and Olga Church in central Kyiv.  They posted leaflets on church doors describing congregation members as Russian FSB agents.  The individuals fled when police arrived.  C14 then posted footage of the occurrence on its Facebook page.

According to police, on the night of January 25, individuals doused the UOC-MP Sts. Volodymyr and Olga Church with flammable liquid and ignited it, causing minor damage to the building.  They insulted and spit at UOC-MP clerics who arrived at the scene.  Police detained two suspects and found several canisters with flammable liquid near the church.  The detainees said the attack was in retaliation for what they characterized as the Moscow Patriarchate’s endorsement of Russian aggression against Ukraine.  On January 27, Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky District Court ordered the detention of the suspects for 60 days.  Parliament member Ihor Lutsenko condemned ‎the Shevchenkivsky District Court’s decision to detain the suspects, describing members of the monastic congregation of the church as “FSB agents.”  The Kyiv Appellate Court released the suspects on bail on February 5, following petitions from parliamentarians and a UOC-MP request to mitigate punishment for the suspects.  During the court hearing, the suspects pleaded guilty.  They described the arson attempt as their protest against UOC-MP clerics, saying they were “FSB agents,” and against the “unlawful” construction of the church building at a protected historical heritage site.  On February 6, UOC-KP Patriarch Filaret condemned the arson attack.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 25 cases of vandalism against Kingdom Halls during the year, compared with 30 acts of vandalism in 2017.  The incidents included an arson attack that destroyed a Kingdom Hall in Radomyshl, Zhytomyr Oblast, on March 25.  Police continued to investigate the arson at year’s end.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on May 19, unidentified individuals broke windows of a Kingdom Hall in Smila, Cherkasy Oblast.  Police made no progress in investigating this occurrence or two previous acts of vandalism against the building committed in 2017.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on May 2, unidentified individuals defaced a wall of a Kingdom Hall in Kharkiv with graffiti saying “sect.”  Police did not open a criminal investigation of the act, reportedly describing it as a minor case that did not meet the threshold for an investigation.

The National Minority Rights Monitoring Group reported 12 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism during the year, compared with 24 in 2017 and 19 in 2016.

The Jewish community continued to express concern over the local government’s inability to relocate a cross that self-described nationalist activists placed in the old Jewish cemetery in Kolomyia in 2017.  On September 6, the Kolomyia City Council upheld the activists’ request to declare the cemetery a memorial park.  The Jewish community filed a lawsuit against the decision, saying that the new legal status of the areas would make it impossible to seek relocation of the cross.  The hearing continued at the Ivano-Frankivsk District Administrative Court at year’s end.

The case against three suspects who vandalized a local synagogue and cemetery and attempted to set fire to the ohel, a structure covering the grave of Chief Rabbi Gillel Boruch Liechtenstein, continued in Kolomyia, Ivano Frankivsk Oblast.

According to the Jewish community and police reports, Holocaust memorials and Jewish religious monuments were vandalized in various locations, including in Cherkasy, Chernivtsi, Khmelnytsky, Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Poltava, Rivne, and Ternopil Oblasts and Vinnystya City.  Police investigations into these acts continued at year’s end; according to police, there was no progress on these case or similar cases from 2017.

Jewish community representatives reported systematic desecration of a Holocaust mass grave in Sosonky near Rivne.  On July 21, police detained one of two alleged perpetrators who dug up the mass grave in search of gold.  The second vandal fled the scene.  The detainee reportedly claimed he was only a driver for his associate and was soon released; the case remained under investigation at year’s end.  In April police detained two individuals who dug a tunnel through the Holocaust mass grave in Nemyriv, Vinnytsya Oblast, and removed human remains.  The individuals said they were looking for gold from the grave.

In mid-November unidentified individuals in Kyiv posted leaflets announcing a rally to topple the government to “hand over power to the people.”  Authors of the leaflet featuring a crossed-out Menorah, the president’s photo, and a satanic pentagram, urged the government’s opponents to stop tolerating “genocide.”  According to media reports, on November 18, approximately 300 individuals participated in the announced gathering in central Kyiv.  Its anonymous organizer, wearing a balaclava, and other speakers blamed “Yids” for “seizing power” in the country.  One speaker demanded that Jews be “destroyed.”  The crowd helped the man in a balaclava escape from police, who tried to detain him because of his statements.  After the scuffle, police briefly detained a suspect allegedly involved in the gathering.

On October 29, during a protest against increasing utility tariffs in Vinnytsya, protesters Yuriy Kysil and Mykhailo Siranchuk stated Jews had “seized power” in the country.  On November 23, in response to an inquiry by Member of Parliament Oleksandr Feldman, the Vinnytsya police department said the statements did not constitute hate speech because the activists “had noted they did not mean to fuel ethnic, racial, or religious hatred.”

On February 2, Maryana Polyanska, editor of the Chortkivsky Visnyk newspaper in Ternopil Oblast, published an article titled “Yids or Jews?” stating Jews profiteered at the expense of Ukrainians and dominated the government.  The regional police and procuracy investigated the article as an attempt to incite interethnic hatred.  The local government condemned the publication.  On February 9, the Independent Media Trade Union condemned Polyanska’s article as an expression of “religious and ethnic discrimination” and terminated her union membership.

According to the Vechirniy Kamyanets news website, on October 14, unidentified individuals painted swastikas on a Holocaust memorial in Kamyanets-Podilsky, Khmelnytsky Oblast.

According to media reports, on April 27-28, unidentified individuals smashed windows and scattered prayer books at the ohel over at the grave of renowned 17th century Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, in Ostroh, Rivne Oblast.  Police opened an investigation but did not report any developments by year’s end.

According to media sources, in mid-April unidentified individuals painted neo-Nazi graffiti on a Holocaust monument in Poltava.  Police said they had not made progress in the investigation by year’s end.

On March 22, the SBU announced the detention of several individuals accused of painting anti-Semitic graffiti on a Jewish community center in Sumy in December 2017.  According to the SBU, Russian intelligence agencies had ordered the group to commit anti-Semitic vandalism.

According to media reports, on January 29, a masked individual ran into a Lviv bookstore hosting a Holocaust history lecture and threw a smoke bomb.  The attacker fled after a participant in the event confronted him.  The Lviv mayor’s office condemned the attack, calling on the law enforcement agencies to investigate it.  Police opened an investigation by did not identify the attacker.

According to the Jewish community, police had yet to identify the arsonists who in 2017 damaged parts of the Jewish cemetery in Kolomiya.

Police continued to investigate 2017 acts of vandalism against Holocaust memorials in Lviv, Kyiv, Odesa, Svalyava, Ternopil and Uzhhorod.  Authorities also continued to investigate 2016 acts of vandalism against the Israeli flag in Babyn Yar in Kyiv, the ohel on the grave of Rabbi Aryeh Leib in Shpola, and desecration of the Holocaust monument in Uzhhorod, all reportedly without progress.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, embassy officials, and other U.S. government officials continued to meet with the Administration of the President, the Ministries of Culture, Interior, Justice, and Foreign Affairs, members of parliament, political parties, and local officials to engage on issues of religious freedom.  They discussed the importance of fair and transparent treatment of religious groups during the establishment of the new OCU, preservation of religious heritage sites, support for religious minorities, and increasing manifestations of anti-Semitism.  In meetings with government officials at both the national and local levels, the Ambassador called for unequivocal condemnation and swift prosecution of anti-Semitic acts.  The Ambassador also urged government officials to increase their efforts to ensure the preservation of historic religious sites.

The embassy issued several public statements condemning religiously motivated acts of violence and calling for tolerance and restraint to ensure a peaceful transition period around autocephaly.  The embassy also used social media to amplify U.S. government support for religious freedom, including the rights of religious minorities.

The U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom met with government officials, religious leaders, and activists in September to promote religious freedom.  The Ambassador urged government officials to condemn anti-Semitism and called for the government to protect the right of all religious groups to govern their religion according to their beliefs and practice their faiths freely.  He met with religious activists and former prisoners of war to discuss religious freedom abuses in the “DPR,” “LPR,” and occupied Crimea.

Embassy officials continued their meetings with internally displaced Muslims from Crimea to discuss their abuse by occupation authorities, including regular searches and detentions, a continuing inability to practice their religion freely or express dissent, a lack of restitution of their religious properties, and other continuing problems they faced with the Crimean occupation authorities.

Embassy officials met with religious leaders to discuss religious freedom abuses in the “DPR” and “LPR,” including banning of certain religious groups, registration requirements, and a lack of restitution of their religious properties.

The Ambassador hosted an interfaith iftar in June during Ramadan.  Religious leaders from across faiths, government officials, and members of the diplomatic community attended.  The Ambassador and other embassy officials participated in Hanukkah, Christmas, Holocaust commemoration, and other religious events during which they emphasized the importance of religious dialogue and equality and encouraged efforts to combat anti-Semitism and preserve cultural heritage.

The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to urge the peaceful resolution of property and jurisdiction disputes in meetings with leaders of prominent Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious groups in Kyiv and Lviv.  In particular, the embassy continued to encourage religious groups involved in the dispute related to the location of parts of Lviv’s Krakivskiy Market on the former site of the city’s Old Jewish Cemetery to resolve the dispute through constructive dialogue.  Embassy officials also discussed other issues affecting religious communities, such as registration procedures for religious groups, desecration of monuments, and the government’s procedures for religious property restitution.


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