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

Read A Section: China

Tibet | Xinjiang | Hong Kong | Macau

Executive Summary

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining “normal.”  The government recognizes five official religions:  Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism.  Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” representing these religions are permitted to register with the government and officially permitted to hold worship services, although other groups reported meeting unofficially.  CCP members and members of the armed forces are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practices.  National law prohibits organizations or individuals from interfering with the state educational system for minors younger than the age of 18, effectively barring them from participating in most religious activities or receiving religious education.  Some provinces have additional laws precluding minors’ participation in religious activities.  The government continued to assert control over religion and to restrict the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents that it perceived as threatening state or CCP interests, according to religious groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and international media reports.  NGOs and media continued to report deaths in custody and that the government tortured, physically abused, arrested, disappeared, detained, sentenced to prison, subjected to forced labor and forced indoctrination in CCP ideology, and harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices.  The NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers estimated the government imprisoned 2,987 individuals for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief as of December 7.  According to Minghui, a Falun Gong-affiliated publication, 101 Falun Gong practitioners died during the year as a result of persecution of their faith, compared with 107 in 2020, and both Minghui and the Falun Dafa Infocenter reported police arrested more than 5,000 practitioners and harassed more than 9,000 others.  According to the annual report of The Church of Almighty God (CAG), authorities arrested more than 11,156 of its members and subjected them to physical abuse, including beatings, sleep deprivation, and being forced into stress positions, resulting in the death of at least nine individuals.  There were reports the government pressured individuals to renounce their religious beliefs.  The government continued its multiyear campaign of “Sinicization” to bring all religious doctrine and practice in line with CCP doctrine, which included requiring clergy of all faiths to attend political indoctrination sessions and suggesting content for sermons that emphasized loyalty to the CCP and the state.  The State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) issued regulations, effective May 1, entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” requires all clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and socialism and created a database of “religious personnel” to track their performance.  Authorities did not issue a “clergy card” to individuals not belonging to one of the five officially recognized patriotic religious associations, including pastors of Protestant house churches, Catholic clergy who rejected the government’s 2018 provisional agreement with the Holy See and refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), teachers and clergy at independent mosques and Buddhist and Taoist temples, rabbis, and religious personnel of new religious movements.  The SARA issued new regulations on September 1 that require all religious schools to teach Xi Jinping Thought and adhere to the “Sinicization of religion.”  The government prohibited private tutors, including those based abroad, from using textbooks “propagating religious teachings” and closed several informal, religiously affiliated schools.

During the year, officials across the country shut down religious venues, including some that were affiliated with the authorized patriotic religious associations, in some but not all cases citing COVID-19 restrictions.  The government intensified its campaign against religious groups it characterized as “cults,” including the CAG, maintained a ban on other groups, such as Falun Gong, and conducted propaganda campaigns against xie jiao (literally “heterodox teachings”) aimed at school-age children.  Authorities limited online worship.  Authorities continued to restrict the printing and distribution of the Bible, the Quran, and other religious literature, and penalized businesses that copied and published religious materials.  The government removed religious apps from app stores and censored religious content from the popular messaging service WeChat.  Authorities censored online posts referencing Jesus or the Bible and there were continued reports that authorities destroyed public displays of religious symbols throughout the country.  The government continued to remove architectural features that identified some churches and mosques as religious sites and removed crosses from private property.  The SARA’s “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy” made no provision for the Holy See to have a role in the selection of Catholic bishops, despite the 2018 provisional agreement between the Vatican and the government concerning the appointment of bishops.  At a national conference on religious affairs in December, President and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping called on religious personnel and government officials to “uphold and develop a religious theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners reported severe societal discrimination in employment, housing, and business opportunities.  International media reported growing anti-Muslim sentiment in society as a result of the government’s Sinicization campaign.

The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy and consulate general officials met with a range of government officials to advocate for greater religious freedom and tolerance, and for the release of individuals imprisoned for religious reasons.  The Charge and other embassy and consulate general officials met with members of registered and unregistered religious groups, family members of religious prisoners, NGOs, and others to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom.  The embassy continued to amplify Department of State religious freedom initiatives and advocacy directly to Chinese citizens through outreach programs and social media.  The U.S. Secretary of State, Charge, and other State Department and embassy officials issued public statements, including via social media, supporting religious freedom and condemning the PRC’s violations of the rights of religious minorities.  The U.S. Secretary of State, Deputy Secretary of State, Charge d’Affaires, and other senior State Department officials and embassy and consulate general representatives repeatedly and publicly expressed concerns about abuses of religious freedom in China, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang.  On January 19, the then Secretary of State determined that since at least March 2017, the PRC has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.  On January 13, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a Withhold Release Order that prohibited the import of all cotton and tomato products produced in Xinjiang.  On March 22, the U.S. Department of Treasury sanctioned two officials under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.  On May 12, the Secretary of State announced visa restrictions against a PRC government official for his involvement in gross violations of human rights against Falun Gong practitioners.  On June 24, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Department of Commerce, and U.S. Department of Labor took action against companies in the polysilicon industry using forced labor of religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.  On July 9, the U.S. Commerce Department added to the Entities List 14 Chinese electronics and technology firms and other businesses for helping enable “Beijing’s campaign of repression, mass detention, and high-technology surveillance” against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.  On July 13, the U.S. Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security, and Labor, and the U.S. Trade Representative issued an updated Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory that highlighted for businesses with potential supply chain and investment links to Xinjiang the risk of complicity with forced labor and human rights abuses.  On December 6, the Presidential press secretary announced the United States would not send diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic or Paralympic Games because of human rights abuses in China.  On December 10, the U.S. Department of State imposed visa restrictions on four current and former PRC officials for complicity with human rights violations in Xinjiang, and the U.S. Department of Treasury also sanctioned two officials and one company.  On December 23, the President signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

Since 1999, China has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.  On November 15, 2021, the Secretary of State redesignated China as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the existing ongoing restriction on exports to China of crime control and detection instruments and equipment, under the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1990 and 1991 (Public Law 101-246), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.4 billion (midyear 2021).  According to the State Council Information Office (SCIO) report Seeking Happiness for People:  70 Years of Progress on Human Rights in China, published in September 2019, there are more than 200 million religious adherents in the country.  An SCIO April 2018 white paper on religion in the country states there are approximately 5,500 religious groups.

Local and regional figures for the number of religious followers, including those belonging to the five officially recognized religions, are unclear.  Local governments do not release these statistics, and even official religious organizations do not have accurate numbers.  The Pew Research Center and other observers say the numbers of adherents of many religious groups often are underreported.  The U.S. government estimates that Buddhists comprise 18.2 percent of the country’s total population, Christians 5.1 percent, Muslims 1.8 percent, followers of folk religions 21.9 percent, and atheists or unaffiliated persons 52.2 percent, with Hindus, Jews, and Taoists comprising less than 1 percent.  According to a February 2017 estimate by the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House, there are more than 350 million religious adherents in the country, including 185 to 250 million Buddhists, 60 to 80 million Protestants, 21 to 23 million Muslims, seven to 20 million Falun Gong practitioners, 12 million Roman Catholics, six to eight million Tibetan Buddhists, and hundreds of millions who follow various folk traditions.  According to Boston University’s 2020 World Religion Database, there are 499 million folk and ethnic religionists (34 percent), 474 million agnostics (33 percent), 228 million Buddhists (16 percent), 106 million Christians (7.4 percent), 100 million atheists (7 percent), 23.7 million Muslims (1.7 percent), and other religions adherents who together constitute less than 1 percent of the population, including 5.9 million Taoists, 1.8 million Confucians, 20,500 Sikhs, and 2,900 Jews.  According to the Christian advocacy NGO Open Doors USA’s World Watch List 2022 report, there are 96.7 million Christians.  According to 2015 data from the World Jewish Congress, the country’s Jewish population is 2,500, concentrated in Beijing, Shanghai, and Kaifeng.

The SCIO’s April 2018 white paper found the number of Protestants to be 38 million.  Among these, there are 20 million Protestants affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the state-sanctioned umbrella organization for all officially recognized Protestant churches, according to information on TSPM’s website in March 2017.  The SCIO report states there are six million Catholics, although media and international NGO estimates suggest there are 10-12 million, approximately half of whom practice in churches not affiliated with the CCPA.  Accurate estimates on the numbers of Catholics and Protestants, as well as other faiths, are difficult to calculate because many adherents practice exclusively at home or in churches that are not state sanctioned.

According to the 2018 SCIO white paper, there are 10 ethnic minority groups totaling more than 20 million persons for whom Islam is the majority religion.  Other sources indicate almost all Muslims are Sunni.  The two largest Muslim ethnic minorities are Hui and Uyghur, with Hui Muslims concentrated primarily in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and in Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces.  The SARA, also referred to as the National Religious Affairs Administration, estimates the Muslim Hui population at 10.6 million.  A June report on the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) issued by the Department of Population and Employment Statistics of the PRC’s National Bureau of Statistics estimates the total population in Xinjiang is 26 million.  The report states Uyghurs, along with ethnic Kazakh, Hui, Kyrgyz, and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups, number approximately 15 million residents, or 58 percent of the total population there.

While there is no reliable government breakdown of the Buddhist population by school, the vast majority of Buddhists are adherents of Mahayana Buddhism, according to the Pew Research Center.  Most ethnic Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, although a sizeable minority practices Bon, a pre-Buddhist indigenous religion.

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

Some ethnic minorities follow traditional religions, such as Dongba among the Naxi people in Yunnan Province and Buluotuo among the Zhuang in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.  The central government classifies worship of Mazu, a folk deity with Taoist roots, as an expression of “cultural heritage” rather than a religious practice.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution, which cites the leadership of the CCP and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping Thought, states citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief,” but it limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining normal.  It states religion may not be used to disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens, or interfere with the educational system.  The constitution provides for the right to hold or not to hold a religious belief.  It says state organs, public organizations, and individuals may not discriminate against citizens “who believe in or do not believe in any religion.”  The constitution states, “Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.”

The law does not allow individuals or groups to take legal action against the government based on the religious freedom protections afforded by the constitution.  Criminal law allows the state to sentence government officials to up to two years in prison if they violate a citizen’s religious freedom.

The government recognizes five official religions:  Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism.  Regulations require religious organizations to register with the government.  Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned religious associations are permitted to register, and only these organizations may legally hold worship services.  The five associations, which operate under the direction of the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), are the Buddhist Association of China, the Chinese Taoist Association, the Islamic Association of China, the TSPM, and the CCPA.  Other religious groups, such as Protestant groups unaffiliated with the official TSPM or Catholics professing loyalty to the Holy See but not affiliated with the CCPA, are not permitted to register as legal entities.  The law does not provide a mechanism for religious groups independent of the five official patriotic religious associations to obtain legal status.

The CCP is responsible for creating religious regulations and oversees the UFWD, which in turn manages the SARA’s functions and responsibilities.  The SARA is responsible for implementing the CCP’s religious regulations and administers the provincial and local bureaus of religious affairs.

On January 18, the SARA issued new regulations, effective May 1, entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy.”  The regulations require all clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and socialism and to create a database of “religious personnel” to track their performance.  Article 3 of the regulations states religious clergy “should love the motherland, support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, support the socialist system, abide by the constitution, laws, regulations, and rules, practice the core values of socialism, adhere to the principle of independent and self-administered religion in China, adhere to the direction of the Sinicization of religion in China, and operate to maintain national unity, religious harmony, and social stability.”  Article 6 states, in part, clergy should “resist illegal religious activities and religious extremist ideology, and resist infiltration by foreign forces using religion.”  The regulations also provide that “entrance to religious places of worship should be regulated through strict gatekeeping, verification of identity, and registration.”  The regulations also stipulate that authorities will hold religious organizations and institutions responsible for the behavior of individual religious clergy.  Article 7 stipulates religious staff should “focus on improving their own quality, improving their cultural and moral literacy, studying the contents of doctrines and regulations that are conducive to social harmony, progress of the times, and health and civilization, and integrate them into preaching, and play a role in promoting the Sinicization of religion in our country.”

The Counterterrorism Law describes “religious extremism” as the ideological basis of terrorism and states religious extremism uses “distorted religious teachings or other means to incite hatred or discrimination, or advocate violence.”

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

The law bans certain religious or spiritual groups.  Criminal law defines banned groups as “cult [xie jiao, literally ‘heterodox teachings’] organizations” and provides for criminal prosecution of individuals belonging to such groups and punishment of up to life in prison.  There are no published criteria for determining, or procedures for challenging, such a designation.  A national security law also explicitly bans cult organizations.

The CCP maintains an extralegal, party-run security apparatus to eliminate the Falun Gong movement and other organizations.  The government considers Falun Gong an “illegal organization.”  The government continues to ban the Guanyin Method religious group (Guanyin Famen or the Way of the Goddess of Mercy) and Zhong Gong (a qigong exercise discipline).  The government also characterizes a number of Christian groups as “cult organizations,” including the Shouters, CAG (also known as Eastern Lightning), Society of Disciples (Mentu Hui), Full Scope Church (Quan Fanwei Jiaohui), Spirit Sect, New Testament Church, Three Grades of Servants (San Ban Puren), Association of Disciples, Established King Church, Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Family of Love, and South China Church.

According to regulations, in order to register, religious organizations must submit information about the organization’s historical background, members, doctrines, key publications, minimum funding requirements, and government sponsor, which must be one of the five state-sanctioned religious associations.  Registration information is required only once, but religious organizations must reregister if changes are made to the required documentation.

Under revisions to the civil code passed by the National People’s Congress in 2020, a religious institution established according to law may apply for the status of a “legal person” (nonprofit entity) under Article 92 of the civil code.  The revisions formalize the ability of organizations to possess property, publish approved materials, train staff, and collect donations, thereby facilitating authorities’ ability to track and regulate religious institutions.

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

Revisions to the Regulations on Religious Affairs in 2018 increased restrictions on unregistered religious groups.  Individuals who participate in unsanctioned religious activities are subject to criminal and administrative penalties.  The regulations stipulate that any form of income from illegal activities or illegal properties shall be confiscated and a fine imposed of between one to three times the value of the illegal income or properties.  If the illegal income or properties cannot be identified, officials impose a fine of less than 50,000 renminbi (RMB) ($7,800).  Authorities may penalize property owners renting space to unregistered religious groups by confiscating properties and illegal incomes and levying fines between RMB 20,000 and 200,000 ($3,100-$31,400).

Government policy allows religious groups to engage in charitable work, but regulations specifically prohibit faith-based organizations from proselytizing while conducting charitable activities.  Authorities require faith-based charities, like all other charitable groups, to register with the government.  Once they are registered as official charities, authorities allow them to raise funds publicly and to receive tax benefits.  The government does not permit unregistered charitable groups to raise funds openly, hire employees, open bank accounts, or own property.  According to several unregistered religious groups, the government requires faith-based charities to obtain official cosponsorship of their registration application by the local official religious affairs bureau.  Authorities often require these groups to affiliate with one of the five state-sanctioned religious associations.

The Regulations on Religious Affairs require members of religious groups to seek approval to travel abroad for “religious training, conferences, pilgrimages, and other activities.”  Anyone found organizing such activities without approval may be fined between RMB 20,000 and 200,000 ($3,100-$31,400).  Illegally obtained income connected to such travel may be seized and, “if the case constitutes a crime, criminal responsibility shall be investigated according to law.”

The regulations specify that no religious structure, including clerical housing, may be transferred, mortgaged, or utilized as an investment.  SARA regulations place restrictions on religious groups conducting business or making investments by stipulating the property and income of religious groups, schools, and venues must not be distributed and should be used for activities and charities befitting their purposes; any individual or organization that donates funds to build religious venues is prohibited from owning the venues.

The regulations impose a limit on foreign donations to religious groups, stating such donations must be used for activities that authorities deem appropriate for the group and the site.  Regulations state that any donations exceeding RMB 100,000 ($15,700) must be submitted to the local government for review and approval.  Religious groups, religious schools, and “religious activity sites” may not accept donations from foreign sources that have conditions attached.

The regulations require that religious activity “must not harm national security” or support “religious extremism.”  The regulations do not define “extremism.”  Measures to safeguard national unity and respond to “religious extremism” include monitoring groups, individuals, and institutions.  Penalties for “harm to national security” may include suspending groups and canceling the credentials of clergy.

National laws allow each provincial administration to issue its own regulations concerning religious affairs, including penalties for violations.  Many provinces updated their regulations after the national 2018 regulations came into effect.  In addition to the five officially recognized religions, local governments, at their discretion, may permit followers of certain unregistered religions to carry out religious practices.

By law, prison inmates have the right to believe in a religion and maintain their religious faith while in custody, but not a right to exercise their faith, such as by accessing prayer facilities or meeting with clergy.  Muslim prisoners are reportedly allowed to have meals with the “halal” label.

The law does not define what constitutes proselytizing.  The constitution states that no state unit, social organization, or individual may force a citizen to believe or not believe in a religion.  Offenders are subject to administrative and criminal penalties.

An amendment to the criminal law and a judicial interpretation by the national Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the Supreme People’s Court published in 2016 criminalize the act of forcing others to wear “extremist” garments or symbols; doing so is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, short-term detention, or controlled release, as well as a concurrent fine.  Neither the amendment nor the judicial interpretation defines what garments or symbols the law considers “extremist.”

Publication and distribution of literature containing religious content must follow guidelines determined by the State Publishing Administration.  Publication of religious material must also conform to guidelines determined by the Propaganda Department of the CCP Central Committee.  Online activities (“online religious information services”) of religious groups require prior approval from the provincial religious affairs bureau.  Religious texts published without authorization, including Bibles, Qurans, and Buddhist and Taoist texts, may be confiscated, and unauthorized publishing houses closed.

In December, the government published new regulations to limit online religious content.  The Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services, set to go into effect on March 1, 2022, would prohibit overseas organizations and individuals from operating online religious information services in the country.

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

To establish places of worship, religious organizations must first receive approval from the religious affairs department of the local government when the facility is proposed, and again before services are first held at that location.  Religious organizations must submit dozens of documents to register during these approval processes, including detailed management plans of their religious activities, exhaustive financial records, and personal information on all staff members.  Religious communities not going through the formal registration process may not legally have a set facility or worship meeting space.  Therefore, every time such groups want to reserve a space for worship, such as by renting a hotel room or an apartment, they must seek a separate approval from government authorities for that specific service.  Worshipping in a space without prior approval, gained either through the formal registration process or by seeking an approval for each service, is considered an illegal religious activity and is subject to criminal or administrative penalties.

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

The Regulations on Religious Affairs include registration requirements for schools that allow only the five state-sanctioned religious associations or their affiliates to form religious schools.  Children younger than the age of 18 are prohibited from participating in religious activities and receiving religious education, even in schools run by religious organizations.  One regulation states that no individual may use religion to hinder the national education system and that no religious activities may be held in schools.  The law mandates the teaching of atheism in schools, and a CCP directive provides guidance to universities on how to prevent foreign proselytizing of university students.  The SARA also issued new regulations on September 1 entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Schools” that stipulate religious schools should ensure CCP ideological training is included in all religious education, including required classes on Xi Jinping Thought, ideological and political theory, and socialism.

The Regulations on Religious Affairs of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region state, “Minors shall not participate in religious activities.  No organization or individual may organize, induce or force minors to participate in religious activities.”  Minors are also prohibited from entering religious venues.  Multiple provinces send letters instructing parents that “teachers and parents should strictly enforce the principle of separation between education and religion and ensure that minors are not allowed to enter religious places, participate in religious activities, or to attend religious trainings.”  Individuals, including parents, who violate these regulations may be criminally liable.  Implementation of these rules, however, varies greatly across and within regions.

On September 1, the Ministry of Education published the “Administrative Measures for Off-campus Training Materials for Primary and Secondary School Students.”  “Off-campus training” refers to private tutoring services designed to help students prepare for entrance exams.  The regulations prohibit private tutors, including those based abroad, from using textbooks “propagating religious teachings, doctrines, canons, or xie jiao, or feudal superstitions, etc.”

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

In 2020, the Administrative Measures for Religious Groups went into effect.  These measures comprise six chapters and 41 articles dealing with the organization, function, offices, supervision, projects, and economic administration of communities and groups at the national and local levels.  The measures state that only registered groups may operate legally and stipulate that religious organizations must support the leadership of the CCP, adhere to the direction of Sinicization, and implement the values of socialism.  Article 17 states that religious organizations shall “follow the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, abide by laws, regulations, rules, and policies, correctly handle the relationship between national law and canon, and enhance national awareness, awareness of the rule of law, and citizenship.”

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

Government Practices

Authorities continued to arrest and otherwise detain leaders and members of religious groups, often those connected with groups not registered with the state-sanctioned religious associations.  Authorities reportedly used vague or insubstantial charges, sometimes in connection with religious activity, to convict and sentence leaders and members of religious groups to years in prison.

NGOs, religious groups, and media sources continued to report deaths in custody, enforced disappearances (often through “residential surveillance at a designated location” – a form of black-site detention utilized by authorities against individuals accused of endangering state security), and organ harvesting in prison of individuals whom authorities targeted based on their religious beliefs or affiliation.  NGOs and media reported authorities used violence during arrests and tortured detainees, including by forcing them to maintain stress positions, beating them, and depriving them of food, water, and sleep.  NGOs reported that some previously detained individuals were denied freedom of movement even after their release.

The NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers estimated that the government imprisoned 2,987 individuals for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief as of December 7.

The Political Prisoner Database of the human rights NGO Dui Hua Foundation counted 3,793 individuals imprisoned as of September 30 for “unorthodox” religious beliefs, including 2,751 Falun Gong practitioners, 578 CAG members, and 147 members of other Protestant groups.

Minghui reported 101 Falun Gong practitioners died as a result of persecution suffered because of their faith, compared with 107 in 2020.  It also reported that authorities arrested 5,045 (8,160 in 2020) and harassed 9,245 (10,973 in 2020) Falun Gong practitioners during the year.  The Falun Dafa Infocenter reported police arrested more than 5,000 practitioners and harassed more than 9,000 others during the year.

Minghui stated police often used violence during arrests of Falun Gong practitioners and that individuals were tortured in custody.  Police in Anyang City, Henan Province, arrested shopkeeper Li Xianxi on May 11 for talking about Falun Gong in a market.  When he performed Falun Gong exercises at the local detention center following his arrest, authorities handcuffed and shackled him.  On June 13, authorities informed his family that Li had died on June 12.  According to those who saw his body, he was emaciated, his head was swollen, and there were injuries to his back and knees.

Bitter Winter, an online publication that tracks religious liberty and human rights abuses in the country, reported that on April 12, authorities informed the family of Colonel Gong Piqi, a Falun Gong practitioner and former deputy chief of staff of the Shandong Provincial Reserve Artillery Division, that Gong had died in prison.  He had been forced to retire when authorities discovered he was a practitioner.  Authorities arrested Gong in 2017 and sentenced him in 2018 to seven and a half years and a fine of RMB 20,000 ($3,100) for being active in a banned religious group.  According to authorities, Gong experienced a “sudden cerebral hemorrhage” and died despite receiving medical treatment.  His family and friends reported seeing signs of torture on his body, causing them to doubt he died of natural causes.

Minghui reported that Hubei Province resident Hu Hanjiao died in prison while serving a four-year sentence for practicing Falun Gong.  Authorities arrested Hu on March 15 for talking to people about Falun Gong and the Xiaochang County Court sentenced her in late June.  During the seven months authorities held her at the Hanchuan City Detention Center, Hu staged a hunger strike in protest and was force fed.  Thirteen days after she was transferred to the Hubei Province Women’s Prison, prison authorities called Hu’s husband to inform him she had died.  They refused to release her body to her family.

In June, Bitter Winter reported that government and police officers confirmed that, in the context of the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding, the government ordered increased arrests for members of all dissident groups, particularly CAG members.  One document issued by the Office of State Security in Shanxi Province ordered officials to “put real efforts to strengthen surveillance over key personnel and carry out a severe crackdown on The Church of Almighty God.”  According to Bitter Winter, authorities throughout the country arrested more than 1,000 CAG members in the first half of the year.  From May 19 to 25, Guangdong Province police arrested approximately 160 CAG members in Foshan, Guangzhou, Zhuhai, and other cities.  Authorities also arrested 403 CAG members in Shanxi Province from the beginning of the year through June, and at least 265 CAG members in Henan Province from mid-April to mid-June.  In April, the government in Anhui Province arrested at least 116 CAG members after a long-term surveillance and tracking operation and confiscated at least RMB 750,000 ($118,000) of church and personal assets.

During the year, Bitter Winter reported on several cases of authorities imprisoning CAG members, pressuring them to sign statements renouncing their faith, and subjecting them to psychological and physical abuse, including beatings and stress positions, when they refused.  One CAG member from the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region said during his imprisonment, a guard tightly wrapped a copper wire as thick as a little finger around his body five times, cutting off his circulation.  After authorities forced him to stand for four hours, the man’s legs became swollen, his hands were numb and trembling, and his abdomen became numb to the touch.  One CAG member from Anhui Province said authorities forced her into a stress position eight hours a day for five consecutive days during which she had to squat while keeping her torso upright, her hands raised above her head, and her body unmoving.  Another CAG member reported being deprived of sleep for five nights.  Two CAG members said when they refused to sign a statement renouncing their faith, guards encouraged fellow inmates to beat them, resulting in bruises and broken teeth.  Another CAG member described fellow prisoners, at the guards’ instigation, smearing feces on his body.

In April, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported authorities in Sichuan Province detained members of Christian house churches in unofficial detention facilities where they pressured individuals to renounce their faith.  One Protestant individual said authorities held him in a windowless basement for eight or nine months, during which time they physically and mentally abused him.  He said, “You can’t see the sun, so you lose all concept of time,” and that suicidal thoughts and self-harm among detainees were commonplace.  Secret police attempted to coerce inmates into signing confessions of guilt and held those who refused in solitary confinement for prolonged periods.  Another Christian told RFA that similar facilities were being used to abuse members of the underground Catholic Church and Falun Gong practitioners.

According to the annual report released by the CAG, during the year, at least 68,456 Church members were directly persecuted by authorities, compared with at least 42,807 in 2020.  The report stated that authorities harassed at least 57,300 Church members (at least 35,752 in 2020), arrested 11,156 (7,055 in 2020), detained 3,636 (4,045 in 2020), tortured or subjected to forced indoctrination 6,125 (5,587 in 2020), sentenced 1,452 (1,098 in 2020), and seized at least RMB 250 million ($39.23 million) in Church and personal assets.  At least nine Church members died as a result of being physically abused during detention (at least 21 in 2020).

The NGO ChinaAid reported that on May 23, police in Guiyang, Guizhou Province, arrested Pastor Yang Hua of the Guiyang Living Stone Church for conducting religious activities.  At the station, leaders of the Guiyang Yunyan District Party Committee reportedly struck Yang, causing injuries that required medical attention.

Media reported authorities used measures ostensibly intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including facial recognition software and telephone tracking, to identify and arrest members of unregistered or banned religious groups.  The government installed surveillance cameras outside unregistered churches during the pandemic.

Bitter Winter reported that on June 7, the Qinnan District People’s Court in Qinzhou City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, sentenced 21 members of the Blood and Water of Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit Full Gospel Evangelistic Group to prison for being active in a cult.  They were part of a group of Church members detained by the Qinnan Branch of the Qinzhou Public Security Bureau in August 2020.  Police also seized 113 books, 989 loose “propaganda materials,” 183 CDs, 3 calendars, 2 diaries, and 48 signs, among other items.  The movement was founded in Taiwan and the government declared it a cult in 1995.

According to Minghui, police arrested and harassed Falun Gong practitioners throughout the country.  Harassment spiked in April and May, around the “sensitive dates” of April 25, the anniversary of 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners’ appealing in 1999 outside the central government compound for the right to practice their beliefs, and May 13, the 29th anniversary of Falun Gong’s introduction to the public.  According to Minghui, harassment was also driven by the “stability maintenance” campaign prior to the CCP’s centennial anniversary.  From July to August, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Shandong, Jilin, Sichuan, Shanxi, and Liaoning were the provinces where the highest number of practitioners were targeted.  Those arrested included teachers, restauranteurs, librarians, construction workers, factory workers, academics, nurses, engineers, farmers, shop owners, and many retirees.

On September 12, Minghui reported multiple examples of police harassment and arrests of practitioners of Falun Gong.  On March 10, police in Fushun City, Liaoning Province, arrested Yang Xiaozhi for distributing Falun Gong materials.  She reported that detention officers shocked her with electric batons before releasing her on bail on March 15.  On May 14, police in Jilin City, Jilin Province, arrested 98-year-old Cai Xiufang for talking to people about Falun Gong.  They held her in a metal cage at the police station for several hours and ransacked her home before releasing her on bail.  Authorities arrested Gong Ruiping, a former elementary school teacher in Beijing, on July 20 in connection with practicing Falun Gong.  Guards force fed her when she attempted a hunger strike.  On July 23, authorities arrested Li Lihong, a middle school teacher in Ningxiang City, Hunan Province, for talking to people about Falun Gong.  Minghui reported that Baimaqiao police station head Zhang Jie threatened to shoot and kill her.  On August 15, a plainclothes police officer in Handan City, Hebei Province, beat Wang Shuqin for talking to him about Falun Gong.  Wang suffered two broken ribs and was taken to the hospital.

ChinaAid reported that in January in Hengyang City, Hunan Province, officials detained Chen Wensheng for 25 days for preaching Christian teachings on the streets.  Following his release from detention on January 29, local authorities came to his home to persuade him to stop “street evangelism.”

On June 14, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published a statement from a group of 11 UN-affiliated independent human rights experts, including UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed, who were “alarmed by reports of alleged organ harvesting targeting minorities including Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Muslims, and Christians, in detention in China.”  The independent experts reported receiving credible information from NGOs and activists stating that authorities “may have forcibly subjected… detainees from ethnic, linguistic, or religious minorities” to blood tests and organ examinations such as ultrasounds and x-rays without their informed consent, while other prisoners were not required to undergo such examinations.  The results of the examinations were reportedly registered in a database of living organ sources that facilitated organ allocation.  The independent experts stated, “According to the allegations received, the most common organs removed from the prisoners are reportedly hearts, kidneys, livers, corneas and, less commonly, parts of livers.  This form of trafficking with a medical nature allegedly involves health sector professionals, including surgeons, anaesthetists and other medical specialists.”  The experts said that despite the gradual development of a voluntary organ donation system, “[I]nformation continues to emerge regarding serious human rights violations in the procurement of organs for transplants in China,” and concern remained at the lack of independent oversight as to whether consent to donation and organ allocation was effectively given by prisoners or detainees.  The experts noted that authorities reportedly prevented families of deceased detainees and prisoners from claiming their bodies.

On August 9, the government responded to the High Commissioner, asserting the experts’ report was “based on false information and makes groundless accusations against China” and was “filled with malice and prejudice.”  The government said witnesses were “‘actors’ who repeatedly engage in slander and rumour-mongering on the issue of human rights in China[.]”  The government stated that regulations required medical examinations for persons entering detention facilities “for the purpose of determining the detainee’s physical condition at the time of admittance to the facility and providing prompt treatment in the event of illness.”  It stated that, by law, organ donation was “voluntary and nonremunerative” and that organ trading and involuntary organ harvesting had been criminalized.

In July, Minghui reported authorities collected DNA, blood samples, and other biometrics from Falun Gong practitioners against their will.  During the first half of the year, this reportedly occurred in 18 provinces and municipalities – Beijing, Shanghai, Shandong, Heilongjiang, Jilin, Zhejiang, Liaoning, Gansu, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Guizhou, Hebei, Hubei, Henan, Shanxi, Sichuan, Guangdong, and Shaanxi.  Between April 26 and 29, four practitioners in Shanghai reported police broke into their homes and forcibly collected blood samples.  Practitioners reported police also collected handwriting samples, fingerprints, height information, photographs, and phone numbers.  According to Minghui, some practitioners suspected authorities were collecting these biometrics and blood samples to establish a DNA and organ matching database, as well as to enhance the surveillance of practitioners.

According to the CAG annual report, harassment of members included the collection of biological data, such as blood samples and hair.

The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) reported local Catholic sources said authorities abducted Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Yongjia (Wenzhou) Diocese in Zhejiang Province on October 25 and held him incommunicado for two weeks before releasing him.  Shao was ordained a bishop in 2011 with Vatican approval, but his appointment was not approved by the two state-sanctioned church bodies – the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) and the CCPA – and he was not among the Vatican-approved bishops recognized by the CCPA as a result of the 2018 Sino-Vatican provisional agreement.  According to UCA News, this was the seventh time since 2016 that authorities detained Shao, and his prior arrests stemmed from his refusal to join the CCPA.

Media reported the status of Catholic Bishop Taddeo Ma Daqin, whom authorities placed under house arrest in Shanghai following his resignation from the CCPA in 2012, remained unchanged at as of April.

RFA reported that on April 21, police in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province, raided the Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) during a study session and detained 19 Church members, including 12 children.  At the local police station, officers questioned the children without their parents present, in contravention of the law regarding detention of minors.  According to a Church member, police released 16 of the 19 persons after detaining them for 11 hours and continued to hold three individuals without giving a reason to their families.

International Christian Concern reported that on August 22, police in Chengdu City entered the home of an ERCC member during a Sunday worship service and arrested 28 individuals, including 10 children.  During the arrests, police injured Pastor Dai Zhichao on his arm and confiscated his mobile phone.  An ERCC member said police beat many individuals in detention and when the children became unruly, officers threatened to hit them on their heads.  Police held Dai and the homeowner, He Shan, in detention for 14 days and fined He RMB 1,000 ($160) for holding an illegal religious gathering.

Bitter Winter reported that in May the Beijing Municipal Court sentenced Lin Xianzan, a member of the Shouters, to three years in prison for being active in a banned religious group.

There were reports that authorities continued to crack down on qigong movements that it classified as cults or equivalent to cults.  Bitter Winter reported that on April 27, the Zhaouyan City People’s Court in Shandong Province sentenced Sun Xuhui to two years in prison after she confessed to leading a branch of Zhonggong, a qigong movement, and “brainwashing” followers.  According to Bitter Winter, the Ministry of Public Security set up a special task force with anti-Zhonggong divisions in Beijing and Tianjin municipalities, and Yunnan, Hebei, Liaonin, and Shandong Provinces.  In May, police in Luoyang, Henan Province, arrested several followers of the Buddhist master Tian Ruisheng (also known as Shijakai), and accused them of spreading the teachings of the banned movement Xiang Gong, originally known as Buddhist Qigong.

ChinaAid reported that on March 7, authorities in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province, raided the Fountain of Life house church during a Sunday service and took Pastor Zha Changping, his wife, and three other church members to the local police station for questioning.  Authorities released them after several hours.

According to Bitter Winter, authorities arrested 181 Association of Disciples members in a large operation carried out in late 2020 and early 2021 in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.  They charged the members with being active in a cult.  Authorities told local media the arrests were the result of the program implemented in 2018 to grant rewards up to RMB 50,000 ($7,800) to those who denounced their neighbors or acquaintances as cult members; the program included a tip line for doing so.

On May 5, RFA reported that authorities arrested two elders of Zion Church in Beijing, as well as elder Zhang Chunlei of the Renai Reformed Church in Guiyang City, Guizhou Province, on suspicion of fraud.  Zhang’s defense attorney said the fraud accusations were related to his receiving his living allowance from member donations and said, “This [practice] happens in all religions, and it doesn’t constitute fraud.”

Bitter Winter reported that authorities arrested 10 teachers at a Christian school in Wuhu City, Anhui Province, on May 27.  Authorities claimed the school was an illegal operation because it was not affiliated with the TSPM.  According to Bitter Winter, local Christians viewed the raid as part of a larger crackdown on all forms of education not directly controlled by the CCP.

On May 27, a ChinaAid source reported the arrests and imprisonment of numerous Christians affiliated with the Local Assembly, a house church, in Wuxi City, Jiangsu Province, Nanning City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and Beijing, accusing them of “using a cult to undermine the enforcement of law.”

ChinaAid reported that on November 16, the Xi’an Municipal Intermediate Court in Shaanxi Province upheld a lower court’s sentencing of Chang Yuchun and Li Chenhui to seven years’ imprisonment and a RMB 250,000 ($39,200) fine for an “illegal business operation.”  Chang and Li printed and sold Christian books from 2015 to 2020, when local police shut down their business, confiscated more than 210,000 books, and forcibly disappeared them into “residential surveillance at a designated location.”

On August 7, RFA reported that police in Taiyuan City, Shanxi Province, detained nine Golden Lamppost Church leaders and members who refused to join the TSPM, including Pastor Wang Xiaoguang and preacher Yang Rongli.  According to sources, the group was carrying out a house church baptism when police arrested them.  Shortly afterwards, local authorities used dynamite to demolish a Golden Lamppost church in Taiyuan City.  On September 27, police arrested seven Church members.  On December 27, authorities charged them with fraud.  RFA said the detentions and demolition came amid a series of raids on unofficial Protestant house churches in Linfen County, Shanxi Province.

Bitter Winter reported on that on August 14, a court in Kaili City, Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, Guizhou Province, convicted four Seventh-day Adventist Church clergy of fraud for collecting offerings outside of the purview of the TSPM.  The court sentenced one member to 12 years in prison, and the others to three to six years.

In November, Minghui reported that on October 14, nine officials came to Yi Shuying’s home and ordered her to sign a letter renouncing Falun Gong.  They threatened officials would deny her granddaughter, a junior high school student, admission to college in the future if Yi did not renounce Falun Gong.  Yi refused to comply.

In June, ChinaAid reported that ERCC Pastor Wang Yi, whom authorities sentenced to nine years in prison in December 2019, was “being treated very badly in prison,” held in solitary confinement in Chengdu Province’s Jintang Prison under constant supervision, and malnourished.  ChinaAid stated prison officials continued to prevent family members and lawyers from visiting him and withheld medical treatment.  According to the NGO International Christian Concern, since his arrest, Wang’s wife and child were living in an unknown location, under surveillance.

On April 20, RFA reported the police department of Yulin City, Shaanxi Province, confirmed to his wife that it was still detaining Gao Zhisheng, a human rights lawyer taken into custody in September 2017.  Previously, Gao’s family had not known his whereabouts or whether he was alive.  Gao had previously defended on-trial members of Christian groups, Falun Gong practitioners, and other minority groups.

On July 20, ChinaAid reported that the Xiamen City religious affairs bureau fined Pastor Yang Xibo of Xingguang Church, an unregistered church in Xiamen City, Fujian Province, and his wife RMB 200,000 ($31,400) for organizing an “illegal religious activity.”  According to RFA, several dozen state security police and officials from the local religious affairs bureau raided worship services at the church in April and May 2020.  Yang told RFA the congregation was targeted for refusing to join the state-sanctioned TSPM.

During the year, authorities continued to detain Hui Muslim poet Cui Haoxin, known by his pen name An Ran, for Twitter posts in which he criticized the government for the imprisonment, surveillance, and persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang and throughout the country.  Authorities took Cui into custody in January 2020 and accused him of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.”

On April 9, Bitter Winter published an article in which it described several CAG members being forced to perform labor during their imprisonment.  One CAG member said she had to produce 250 artificial flowers per day, and if she failed to reach her quota, authorities forced her to stand four to six hours per night.  The article stated that the plastic used in the artificial flowers contained chemicals and heavy metal elements harmful to the human body, such as vinyl chloride, formaldehyde, and lead, leading to endocrine disorders, decreased immunity, aplastic anemia, leukemia, and other blood diseases.  The report also stated that exposure to the chemicals disrupted women’s menstrual cycles.  Another female CAG member who was sentenced to three years in a women’s prison described working on 550 dresses per day in a dressmaking shop while standing for 13 hours.  After her release, she was diagnosed with a herniated disc, which caused her pain if she sat for more than 10 minutes.

AsiaNews reported that the new SARA regulations entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” which took effect on May 1, placed additional ideological controls over the training, selection, and monitoring of clergy, including emphasizing allegiance to the CCP and socialism.  The new regulations also stipulated the government would hold religious organizations and institutions responsible for the behavior of clergy and created a new centralized database to record information about clergy, as well as to track their behavior and “misdeeds.”  Local governments were instructed to update the database with information on “rewards and punishments” of clergy.  On February 11, Bitter Winter published an English-language translation and analysis of the new regulations.  According to Bitter Winter, registration in the government database was “complicated.”  Individuals who were not listed in it but claimed to be clergy would be committing a crime.  Individuals unable to obtain a “clergy card” would include anyone not belonging to one of the five officially recognized patriotic religious associations, such as pastors of Protestant house churches, Catholics who rejected the government’s 2018 provisional agreement with the Holy See and refused to join the CCPA, teachers and clergy at independent mosques and Buddhist and Taoist temples, rabbis, and religious personnel of new religious movements.  According to AsiaNews, “living buddhas,” under the regulations, “will not be able to exercise any ministry, nor will they be considered true reincarnations without the permission of the [CCP].”  According to Bitter Winter, individuals had to prove they “support[ed] the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and support[ed] the socialist system.”  Bitter Winter stated the regulations created “an Orwellian system of surveillance, and strengthen[ed] the already strict control on all clergy.”

The SARA continued to maintain publicly available statistics on some, but not all, registered religious groups.  According to the SARA, there were 42,439 Buddhist temples and 8,349 Taoist temples registered in the country as of year’s end.  The SARA did not publish the number of registered Islamic mosques, Catholic churches, and Protestant churches.  According to 2014 SARA statistics (the latest available), more than 5.7 million Catholics worshipped in sites registered to the CCPA.  The SCIO’s April 2018 white paper stated approximately 144,000 places of worship were registered to conduct religious activities in the country, among which were 33,500 Buddhist temples (including 28,000 Han Buddhist temples, 3,800 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and 1,700 Theravada Buddhist temples), 9,000 Taoist temples, 35,000 mosques, 6,000 CCPA churches and places of assembly spread across 98 dioceses, and 60,000 TSPM churches and places of assembly.  The SCIO white paper also estimated there were more than 384,000 religious personnel in the country:  222,000 Buddhist, 40,000 Taoist, 57,000 Islamic, 57,000 Protestant, and 8,000 Catholic.

The government continued to close down or hinder the activities of religious groups not affiliated with the state-sanctioned religious associations, including unregistered Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and other groups.  At times, authorities said they shuttered a group because the group or its activities were unregistered; at other times, because the place of worship lacked necessary permits.  Some local governments continued to restrict the growth of unregistered Protestant church networks and cross-congregational affiliations.  Authorities allowed some unregistered groups to operate but did not recognize them legally.  In some cases, authorities required unregistered religious groups to disband, leaving congregants from these groups with the sole option of attending services under a state-sanctioned religious leader.

International media and NGOs reported the government continued to carry out its nationwide campaign to “Sinicize religion” by altering doctrines and practices across all faith traditions to conform to and bolster CCP ideology and emphasize loyalty to the CCP and the state.  The CCP’s Administrative Measures for Religious Groups, promulgated in 2020, further formalized the administrative procedures for Sinicizing all religions.  Commenting on the administrative measures, one Catholic Priest told AsiaNews, “In practice, your religion no longer matters, if you are Buddhist, or Taoist, or Muslim or Christian; the only religion allowed is faith in the Chinese Communist Party.”

The five-year plan to promote the Sinicization of Christianity, issued in 2018, called for “incorporating Chinese elements into church worship services, hymns and songs, clerical attire, and the architectural style of church buildings,” and it proposed to “retranslate the Bible or rewrite biblical commentaries.”  On its website in 2018, the TSPM pledged to “cultivate and practice core socialist values,” “carry out patriotic education,” and incorporate Sinicization into Christian theology, TSPM rules and regulations, theological education, and believers’ faith practice via symposiums, seminars, essay contests, and commemorative activities such as art exhibitions.  During the year, the TSPM celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP and sponsored activities to “cultivate a Christian charity culture with Chinese characteristics.”  The TSPM website stated that in 2022, it planned to examine experiences of Sinicization in various regions, determine best practices from the 2018-2022 five-year plan, and formulate a 2023-2027 work plan for further promoting the Sinicization of Christianity.

On March 31, the Economist reported that the government targeted all religions for Sinicization and instructed Christian preachers to promote “core socialist values.”  The Economist stated that government policy dictated “[i]nterpretations of the Bible should become more Sinified – meaning, presumably, that they should help to bolster belief in socialism.”  Authorities required state-approved churches to display national flags and portraits of President Xi, a move some TSPM pastors resisted, and encouraged them “to use Chinese architecture and Chinese tunes for hymns, as well as Chinese-style painting, calligraphy and other ‘popular cultural forms.’”  According to the Economist, despite increased pressure on house churches, authorities faced difficulties imposing Sinification on these unofficial, unregulated religious communities.

UCA News reported that according to the state-controlled BCCCC and the CCPA, on September 24, Catholics from two churches in Zibo City, Shandong Province, attended an event organized by the BCCCC called “One Hundred Sermons” that sought to explain President Xi’s instructions on religious activities and the promotion of Sinicization in the Catholic Church and how to adapt Catholicism to the socialist society.  On September 27-29, 18 key members of the CCPA from various provinces and cities met in Xibaipo village, Hebei Province, for an educational program based on the theme, “Take the Red Footprints and Inherit the Red Spirit,” intended to cultivate positive feelings toward the CCP, patriotism, and socialism.

According to Bitter Winter, in some parts of the country, local authorities regularly reviewed sermons of TSPM pastors to ensure they were consistent with CCP ideology and contained praise for government leaders.  Bitter Winter reported that on October 26, authorities in Shangqiu City, Henan Province, held a “Sinicization Seminar and Exchange Conference” for TSPM pastors and teachers.  During the conference, participants raised the national flag and sang patriotic songs.  Authorities told participants Christian social teaching should be Sinicized and that they would establish a “Research Office of Sinicization of Christianity” in Shangqiu.  They said sermons should be preached on socialist themes.

Bitter Winter reported that at the national conference of the TSPM and the China Christian Council on July 8, state-appointed heads of the TSPM and the council ordered pastors to study and preach about President Xi’s July 1 speech on the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding.  During the conference, religious authorities told pastors to make President Xi’s speech a principal topic of sermons and Bible study groups.  TSPM chairman Xu Xiaohong offered pastors a model sermon based on nine points in the speech that glorified the nation, the CCP, and President Xi.  He said pastors should instruct Christians to say, “Long live the great, glorious, and correct Chinese Communist Party.  Long live the great, glorious, and heroic Chinese people.”  Wu Wei, chairman of the China Christian Council, said pastors should direct Christians in “thanking God for putting us in this great era” and “continuing to learn the spirit of General Secretary Xi’s speech.”

Bitter Winter reported that on October 29 in Tianjin Municipality, Huasheng Temple authorities required Buddhist monks to watch a film entitled, “The Battle at Lake Changjin.”  On its WeChat account, the temple stated the activity was “to carry out in-depth education on Party history and promote the spirit of patriotism.”  The film depicted the “story of Chinese soldiers defeating American troops, despite great odds” at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War.  One monk told Bitter Winter, “Party classes are supposed to be an activity that only Communist Party members need to attend.  Compelling monks to take a Party movie class is something incestuous, making the temple look like a branch of the Communist Party.”

According to the UFWD, from May 20-24, the Nanhai Buddhist Academy held a training session for more than 50 Buddhist deacons in Hainan Province.  The training, themed “Love the Party, Love the Country, Love Socialism,” included studying President Xi’s speeches and PRC religious laws and regulations and viewing patriotic documentary films.  Deputy minister of the provincial UFWD Liu Geng praised the Party, urged attendees to learn its history, promoted the Sinicization of religion, and advocated for socialist values in religious settings.  He urged the deacons to be “politically reliable, religiously accomplished, and morally convincing.”

According to the religious affairs bureau of Guangzhou City, Guangdong Province, on August 11, the Guangdong Taoist Association hosted an interfaith conference on the theme “Love the Party, the Country, and Socialism” to study Xi Jinping’s speech commemorating the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding, and to view “patriotic” films and exhibits.  The chairmen, vice chairmen, and secretaries general of the Guangdong Buddhist Association, Islamic Association, Catholic Association, and Christian Association attended.  Participants vowed to promote Sinicization in their respective religious teachings.

According to the Haixia Buddhist Network website, on February 26, monks and employees of Guangdong Buddhist Association and Guangxiao Temple in Guangzhou City, Guangdong Province, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP by watching a video lecture on CCP history presented by the Central Party School.  According to the network’s website, monks in attendance said the CCP’s history was “a history of seeking happiness for the people” and that “the Chinese people have become prosperous and strong under the leadership of the CCP.”  Master Mingsheng, president of the Guangdong Buddhist Association, called on Buddhists to adhere to the Sinicization of Buddhism and to “guide Buddhism to be compatible with Socialism.”

According to a TSPM news outlet, the Guangdong Provincial Two Christian Councils held a ceremony at the Guangdong Union Theological Seminary on March 5 to launch a series of programs celebrating the CCP’s 100th anniversary.  Pastoral personnel and approximately 200 teachers and students participated.  The programs included lectures on Party history and a knowledge contest on the themes of “knowing the Party’s history, feeling the Party’s favor, listening to the Party, and following the Party.”  There was also a seminar on the Sinicization of Christianity.  Pastor Fan Hongen told participants the Guangdong Provincial Two Christian Councils was actively adapting to socialist society and strengthening the mission of Sinicizing Christianity.

According to ChinaAid, on June 25, the TSPM-affiliated Shandong Theological Seminary in Shandong Province held a theatrical performance with the theme of “Sing a Praise to the Party” to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding.

According to the UFWD of Guangdong Province, from March 22 to 28, the Guangdong Islamic Association organized imam training classes at the Guangdong Provincial Institute of Socialism.  Thirty-six imams from nine cities in the province attended the one-week training session, at which they studied the history of the CCP, socialism, and how to “adhere to the direction of the Sinicization of Guangdong Islam.”  Imams attending the training said they would “unswervingly” listen to the Party.

According to the CCPA website, the Guangdong Catholic Association celebrated the 100th anniversary of the CCP by organizing a CCP training session in Guangxi Province from April 12 to 16 for 40 priests from 21 different cities.  The participants toured several CCP “red education” sites, learned the “heroic deeds of revolutionary martyrs,” and were encouraged to “love the party.”

In May, the Minnan Buddhist Institute, located in Nanputuo Buddhist Temple, Xiamen City, Fujian Province, held a public speaking contest on the theme of “studying the history of the Party, thanking the Party, and following the Party.”  Approximately 700 faculty members and students attended the contest to praise the Party’s “brilliant history and great accomplishments,” according to the Nanputuo Buddhist Temple’s website.  RFA reported that a Shandong monk criticized the contest, saying that the Buddhist Institute coerced monks into participating.  He stated that the institute would prohibit students who did not participate from studying there.

Media reported that throughout the year, crackdowns on some churches with foreign ties intensified significantly throughout the country.  Many religious groups, including groups connected to the five “patriotic religious associations,” faced comprehensive investigations that included checking their background, organizational setting, membership, online evangelism, and finances.  On April 3, International Christian Concern reported that the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) planned to intensify efforts to shut down social organizations, private nonenterprise units, and foundations that were not registered with relevant authorities.  Organizations that had their registration revoked but nevertheless continued with their activities would also be targeted, the ministry said.  According to RFA, “The MCA’s latest campaign has already begun in some provinces, such as Sichuan.  The Department of Civil Affairs in Sichuan published a list of 84 ‘Illegal Social Organizations’ on March 25 which contain[ed] several Buddhist and Christian groups, including the heavily persecuted house church Early Rain Covenant Church.”

ChinaAid reported that authorities continued to harass members of the Trinity Gospel Harvest Church in Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province, during the year.  On March 1, security officials warned members against gathering to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Church’s founding.  On April 25, police and religious affairs officers raided Church services and detained pastors Mao Zhibin and Cao Yuan and eight members for questioning, without explanation.  On July 11, authorities again raided Sunday worship services.  The government formally banned the Church at the end of April.  According to ChinaAid, in May, authorities closed a beach where baptisms of new members were to take place in order to prevent the baptisms, causing the group to move to another beach.  In September, under instructions from the local police, a Shenzhen hotel refused service to Church members and refunded fees they paid to stay there.

Bitter Winter reported authorities cracked down on religious groups that organized prayer meetings in hotel rooms.  On March 16 in Guiyang City, Guizhou Province, the Renai Reformed Church organized a prayer meeting in the Wenzhou Hotel complex.  Police raided the room and arrested several congregants.  When Church elder Zhang Chunlei went to the station to negotiate the release of the Church members, police arrested him as well and held him in detention for 15 days.  They raided the houses of followers and confiscated computers and religious materials.  Reporting on the same March 16 raid, RFA said officials stated they detained the individuals because gatherings were restricted to family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In October, ChinaAid reported that the local government of Jiake village, Yunnan Province, the TSPM, and the Chinese Christian Council banned Kai Yiduo from taking part in religious activities in what ChinaAid said was retribution for his dispute with the local government.  Yiduo said the government had not compensated him after demolishing his home.

In November, the Jerusalem Post reported that authorities again did not permit Jews in Kaifeng City, Henan Province, to celebrate Hanukkah.  Sources reported that on November 28, the Jewish community in Shanghai was able to hold a Hannukah commemoration.

In September, Bitter Winter reported the China Christian Council instructed all churches and congregations to “organize worship activities” to commemorate the 76th anniversary of China’s victory over Japan in World War II and to “further promote the fine tradition of patriotism and love of religion and to demonstrate the good image of peace-loving Christianity in China.”  The directive stated, “Churches are requested to submit evidence of the relevant activities (text, video and photo materials) to the Media Ministry Department of the China Christian Council by September 10.”  A photograph accompanying the Bitter Winter article showed students at Fujian Theological Seminary in Fujian Province praying for Red Army “martyrs.”

Throughout the year, the government closed venues throughout the country, including religious venues, and prohibited mass gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Media reported authorities tried to stop many religious groups from congregating or holding services online during the COVID-19 lockdown.  According to media, in some localities, government officials used COVID-19 precautions as a pretext to prevent religious organizations from recommencing their activities long after restrictions had been lifted in analogous nonreligious contexts.  According to the National Catholic Reporter, authorities prevented Catholics from celebrating the Feast of Mary on May 24 at the Sheshan Shrine in Shanghai, the country’s most famous Marian shrine and traditionally a pilgrimage site.  Authorities cited the COVID-19 pandemic, but critics noted the government permitted amusement parks and a golf club in the area to remain open during the same period.  There was at least one case, however, where authorities relaxed restrictions:  when monks at the Shenyang Ci’en Buddhist Temple in Shenyang City, Liaoning Province, declared, “Monks and believers love the Party and will continue to follow the party to accomplish Sinicization,” government officials authorized them to resume large-scale services.

One source said the government used COVID-19 prevention as a pretext to close Islamic venues, particularly in Qinghai and Gansu Provinces and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, where Hui Muslims are concentrated, while allowing Buddhist temples to remain open.

RFA reported that on April 30, officials in Yunnan Province shut down the Bulai Protestant Church in Lao Muden village, Fugong County, ostensibly to prevent the spread of COVID-19, despite the church’s having been allowed to meet previously throughout the pandemic.  China Christian Daily reported that on August 1, an unregistered church in Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province, was forced to interrupt its on-site Sunday service when local officials, citing “reducing crowds for epidemic prevention and control,” cut off the electricity and pasted seals on the doors.  Authorities also suspended services at other local churches in Suzhou, China Christian Daily reported.

According to the Economist, many house churches held services online and there were numerous Bible study groups and church forums on WeChat.  Some unauthorized seminaries and missionary training schools moved online.  One pastor said some online congregations were 50 percent larger than in-person meetings.  However, in March, Open Doors USA reported officials monitored online activities and “even officially registered churches were ordered to stop online services.”

In December, Bitter Winter reported that authorities, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, took measures to stop Christians from gathering for Christmas celebrations, although they allowed some musical and cultural events to take place in what Bitter Winter described as “cosmetic” activities designed to give the appearance of religious tolerance.  Bitter Winter reported that authorities in Rong’an County, Liuzhou City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region ordered elementary and kindergarten teachers and students not to celebrate Christmas at school or at home, calling the holiday a “Western celebration.”  The directive included the name and contact number for a tip line for people to report individuals “doing any event” for Christmas.

Media and human rights organizations reported SARA regulations stating that only the Islamic Association of China was permitted to organize Muslim pilgrimage trips, issued in 2020, remained in effect.  The regulations stated that those who applied to join the Hajj must be “patriotic, law-abiding, and have good conduct,” must have never before participated in the Hajj, and be in sound physical and mental health.  They also had to be able to pay all costs associated with Hajj travel and to oppose religious extremism.  According to a notice issued by the Islamic Association of China on June 15, citing the risk of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government suspended all Hajj activities during the year.

The government continued to label several religious groups, including the CAG, Shouters, Association of Disciples, All-Sphere Church, and many others, as cults or xie jiao organizations.  The government also continued to ban groups, such as Falun Gong, that it classified as illegal organizations.

Bitter Winter reported that on July 26, the Supreme People’s Court published its “Opinion on Providing Judicial Services and Protection for Accelerating the Modernization of Agriculture and Rural Areas.”  The “opinion” included provisions to “intensify the punishment of illegal religious activities and overseas infiltration activities” in rural areas, “crack down on organizing and using xie jiao organizations to commit crimes,” and “stop the use of religion and xie jiao from interfering in rural public affairs.”

Bitter Winter reported that on October 23, approximately 100 children from preschools of the district of Jiaocheng in Ningde City, Fujian Province, underwent a program of “preventive education.”  The children, ages three to six, received picture booklets, viewed a panel exhibition, and watched cartoons warning against “xie jiao and illegal religion.”  One film presented the CAG as a cult, and others admonished against “superstition” and “illegal religion” in general.

Bitter Winter reported provincial governments shut down local branches of the Good News Mission, a Protestant religious group with ties to South Korea.  On March 30, the Civil Affairs Bureau of Shaoxing City, Zhejiang Province, banned the group and raided local communities.  On April 30, the government in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Jilin Province, announced prefecture authorities had banned the Good News Mission and shut down its churches.  According to Bitter Winter, the Good News Mission was “not in the list of xie jiao, but it is now a common strategy to ban a religious movement in one region and province after the other, leading to a de facto national ban.”

Bitter Winter reported authorities continued to link xie jiao to criminal activities and other social ills.  In November, border police and “legal education” officers carried out a surveillance and propaganda operation in Ningming County, Guangxi Province, and Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, both on the border with Vietnam, prompted by what Bitter Winter said were fears that illegal religious groups might enter the country via Vietnam.  The campaign against drug smuggling and HIV/AIDS included indoctrinating residents against “illegal religion” and xie jiao.  It targeted 600,000 Hani, who hold predominantly shamanistic beliefs, and 900,000 Yi, who practice both Christianity and shamanistic religions.

Bitter Winter reported that on National Security Education Day on April 15, authorities mounted exhibitions as part of an anti-xie jiao campaign, and students across the country signed pledges to renounce illegal religious activities by groups labeled cults.  Zhou Qiang, president of the Supreme People’s Court, called cults “a cancer” and stated the CCP had three main targets:  Falun Gong, CAG, and the Association of Disciples.  He also said cults colluded with Western anti-China forces, and he accused the Association of Disciples of manipulating some local elections.  The article included a photograph from the social media site Weibo showing students from Chongqing University of Posts and Telecommunications in Chongqing Province signing a large billboard pledging to renounce xie jiao.

State-run media reported that on September 10, Qiongshan District in Haikou City, Hainan Province, organized a series of anti-illicit drugs and anticult propaganda activities in middle schools.  Government officials distributed brochures, hung propaganda banners, and gave lectures to teachers and students on how to recognize a cult and “consciously resist it.”

Media reported that in June in Guangzhou City, Guangdong Province, volunteers conducted large-scale COVID-19 testing at multiple locations, where they distributed educational literature warning against xie jiao alongside personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer.  The volunteers reportedly posted signs publicizing an “anti-xie jiao” app, and digital billboards warned residents about the harmful influence of xie jiao and advised them to “be wary of cult organizations taking advantage of the epidemic to spread rumors and create chaos.”

According to Bitter Winter, in October, prefecture-level city authorities in Hui’an County and nearby Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, launched an anti-xie jiao program as part of their celebration of the CCP’s centennial anniversary.  Teachers organized lessons in all elementary and middle schools and distributed propaganda material against xie jiao and “illegal religion.”  Individuals played a WeChat game in which they proved they had read the propaganda material by answering questions.  Those who answered the most questions correctly won prizes.  According to Bitter Winter, the names of those who scored low were sent to the local CCP secretaries.  Local CCP officials said the initiative was needed because during the COVID-19 pandemic, “illegal religion” and xie jiao had increased in Fujian.

According to media, authorities maintained a near ubiquitous surveillance system through the development and widespread deployment of advanced technology such as artificial intelligence, CCTVs, and social media applications.  In October, an academic who studies the subject told the Diplomat that domestic police departments in ethnic minority areas in Ningxia, Sichuan, and Yunnan Provinces and elsewhere purchased digital forensics tools to scan mobile phone hard drives for “more than 50,000 markers or patterns of illegal activity.”  More than 500 cities and municipalities across the country developed “smart city systems” that used forms of biometric surveillance that could surveil ethnic and religious minorities.

According to ChinaAid, on March 19, the Siming District Religious Affairs Bureau in Xiamen City, Fujian Province, released a circular that instructed police officers to patrol office buildings and hotels in the district on Saturday evenings and Sundays to prevent a resurgence of house church gatherings that were suppressed in past months and years.  The circular identified several buildings and streets for priority patrol.

CBN News reported in August that the government encouraged citizens to report anyone distributing printed religious material or holding worship gatherings.  Authorities offered informants RMB 1,000 ($160).  One Hui Muslim source said officials instructed children to report on their parents’ and family’s religious and cultural practices.  ChinaAid reported that in early January, authorities in Shijiazhuang, Baoding, Xingtai, and other areas in Hebei Province encouraged the public to report house churches.  Authorities in Xingtai issued a “Notice on Rewards for Reporting Religious Activities during the Epidemic,” promising whistleblowers a reward of more than RMB 500 ($78).  In early August, authorities in Meilisi Daur District, Qiqihar City, Heilongjiang Province, announced a “Reward System for Reporting Illegal Religious Activities and Crimes,” under which individuals could make reports by phone, email, or letter, and receive RMB 1,000 ($160).  According to ChinaAid, reportable violations included “unqualified religious personnel, unauthorized cross-regional activities, preaching and distribution of printed religious works, audiovisual products outside of worship venues, unauthorized donations, and private family gatherings.”

In January, the Christian rights advocacy NGO World Watch Monitor reported authorities in Henan and Jiangxi Provinces placed surveillance cameras in all state-approved religious venues.  Many of the cameras were reportedly installed next to standard CCTV cameras but were linked to the Public Security Bureau, meaning artificial intelligence could instantly connect with other government databases.

The New York Times reported in February that authorities in Sanya City, Hainan Province, continued to take measures against the 10,000-member, predominantly Muslim Utsul ethnic minority, including efforts to ban girls from wearing traditional dress, including hijabs and long skirts, in school.  Signs on shops and homes that read “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) in Arabic were covered with foot-wide stickers with the words “China Dream,” a nationalistic official slogan.  Restaurants removed the Chinese characters for halal from signs and menus.  Authorities closed two Islamic schools.  Local mosque leaders said authorities told them to remove loudspeakers that broadcast the call to prayer from the tops of minarets, place them on the ground, and turn down the volume.  Authorities halted construction of a new mosque because of its supposedly “Arab” architectural elements.  According to residents, the city barred children younger than 18 from studying Arabic.  The restrictions followed a 2019 government-issued “Working Document Regarding the Strengthening of Overall Governance over Huixin and Huihui,” which referred to the only two predominantly Utsul neighborhoods in the island province.  One academic, commenting on the measures, told the New York Times, “This is about trying to strengthen state control.  It’s purely anti-Islam.”

According to a National Review article published in July, the government continued to require churches to display banners with CCP slogans, perform the national anthem before singing Christian hymns, and “demonstrate their loyalty to the CCP above all, and only secondarily to the church.”  According to the National Review, “Consistent indoctrination and blatant submission to communist standards [was] spreading across all religious groups.”

According to Open Doors USA, in Shanxi, Henan, and Jiangxi Provinces, authorities threatened Christians with the removal of social welfare benefits and pensions if they refused to replace Christian imagery, such as crosses, with pictures of Xi Jinping.  One Christian on welfare assistance reported officials told him that since he believed in God, he should ask God for food instead of living off the CCP.

In April, UCA News reported that authorities in Zhaoxian City, Hebei Province, closed the House of the Dawn orphanage operated by Catholic nuns from the Sisters of the Child Jesus congregation, accusing the nuns of “illegal adoption practices.”  Local sources stated authorities actually closed the orphanage as part of a crackdown on church facilities operated by the unregistered Catholic Church.  The orphanage served more than 100 children, many with special needs.  According to UCA News, authorities accused Christian-run organizations of proselytizing and converting children through their social and charitable work.

According to ChinaAid, on September 4 in Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province, more than 30 CCP officials, including SWAT officers, police, religious affairs bureau officials, and local school district administrators, raided the Maizi Christian Music High School and arrested all staff members and several students.  They seized school assets, including pianos, computers, and documents.  Prior to the raid, police took the school’s principal into custody.  The students were released after 24 hours, but authorities held staff for questioning for several days.  According to AsiaNews, there were reports authorities would charge the school principal with proselytizing.

Authorities continued to restrict the printing and distribution of the Bible, the Quran, and other religious texts.  The government continued to allow some foreign educational institutions to provide religious materials in Chinese, which were used by both registered and unregistered religious groups.  During the year, however, many provinces conducted campaigns cracking down on “illegal religious publications” emanating from unofficial distribution channels.

ChinaAid reported in July that the Bao’an District Court in Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province, found four Christian employees of the Shenzhen Life Tree Technology Development Company guilty of “illegal business” and gave them sentences ranging from fifteen months to up to six years in prison, with fines of up to RMB 200,000 ($31,400).  Authorities arrested the individuals in 2020 for illegally selling audio Bible players and confiscated their electronics and other belongings.

Local authorities throughout the country continued to ban the sale and display of religious couplets (banners with poetry) traditionally displayed during Lunar New Year.  Local authorities threatened to fine or imprison anyone caught selling them.  According to ChinaAid, officials in Pingdingshan, Henan Province, went house to house tearing couplets off the doors of Christian families that displayed faith-related messages.

In October, the BBC reported that Apple, at the request of the government, removed from its store the app Quran Majeed, which allows users to download the Quran.  The media outlet stated, “The BBC understands that the app was removed for hosting illegal religious texts.”  Apple declined to comment to the BBC.

Christian organizations seeking to use social media and smartphone apps to distribute Christian materials reported the government increased censorship of these materials.  According to International Christian Concern, authorities removed Bible-related apps from app stores.  Catholic News Agency reported in October that a digital Bible company removed its app from the Apple app store after Apple stated the company must demonstrate it had authorization from the government to distribute an app with book or magazine content in mainland China.

In May, International Christian Concern reported that according to a tweet by Father Francis Liu from the Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness, the home pages of some Christian WeChat accounts, such as “Gospel League” and “Life Quarterly,” no longer showed any content.  Instead, visitors saw a message reading, “[We] received a report that [this account] violates the ‘Internet User Public Account Information Services Management Provisions’ and its account has been blocked and suspended.”

China Christian Daily reported the government blocked many registered churches’ WeChat accounts during a crackdown on online Christian content.  The banned accounts were managed by TSPM-approved churches in Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Yunnan Provinces.  The Shanghai Pure Heart Church, Huai’an Church of Jiangsu Province, and Nanjing Holy Word Church of Jiangsu Province were among the churches whose official WeChat accounts that authorities blocked.  “Today’s Nanjing Union Life,” the WeChat page of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, the only national Protestant seminary in the country, was inaccessible from May to the end of the year.  China Christian Daily further reported that WeChat censored the words “Christ,” “gospel,” and “fellowship.”  ChinaAid also reported that authorities blocked key words related to Christianity from search engines.

International Christian Concern stated Bibles in hard copy were not available for sale online and said TSPM-owned bookstores were increasingly selling books promoting Xi Jinping Thought and CCP ideology.  According to International Christian Concern, “Even their WeChat accounts are turning into propaganda channels for CCP.”

ChinaAid reported that at the end of the year, a court upheld the initial verdict in the second trial of Chen Yu (also known as Zhang Xiaomai).  Chen owned and operated the Xiaomai Bookstore in Linhai, Zhejiang Province, which sold Christian books online and in-store.  In September 2019, the government arrested Chen for selling online “illegal religious overseas publications” and sentenced him to seven years in prison and a fine of RMB 200,000 ($31,400).  Authorities also confiscated 12,864 books and investigated more than 10,000 individuals who bought from Chen.  Nationwide, authorities confiscated all copies Chen sold of ERCC Pastor Wang Yi’s Transformation of the Gospel.

ChinaAid reported that the Propaganda Department of the CCP Central Committee censored information related to Christianity in school textbooks.  In one textbook containing a picture of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, authorities changed the word in the description from “God” to “Old Man,” and in the description of a painting of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, they changed “Holy Mother and Holy Son” to “mother and son.”

A Hui Muslim source told international media the government was attempting to remove characteristics of Hui religion and culture to make Hui citizens indistinguishable from Han citizens, with whom they share physical characteristics and language.  Authorities took down minarets and domes and consolidated mosques.  He said authorities trained clergy in Party doctrine and instructed them to pass those teachings on to their religious communities.  The government targeted Hui cultural and business elites to remove Hui texts and art and cut off independent financial support to the community.  The source called this a kind of “cultural genocide.”

On October 24, National Public Radio (NPR) reported that the government had removed domes and minarets from thousands of mosques across the country, saying these were evidence of “foreign religious influence,” and to replace them with more traditionally Chinese architectural features.  Authorities removed the dome and minarets from the Dongguan Mosque in Xining City, Qinghai Province.  According to one local resident, “The government says they want us to ‘Sinicize’ our mosques so that they look more like Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.”  NPR stated the campaign coincided with rising anti-Muslim sentiment in the country and growing religious restrictions.

According to ChinaAid, on February 1, authorities for the second time removed a 100-year-old cross from Shuixin Church in Wenzhou City, Zhejiang Province, against the wishes of the congregation.  They first cut the building’s electricity and then took the church’s night watch staff into custody.  According to one Christian observer, several security guards held one church member in a headlock and confiscated his mobile phone.  They warned him, “Do not fight back.  We are enforcing orders from higher officials.”  Authorities had removed the cross in June 2014, but the church later reinstalled it.

ChinaAid reported that on July 28, authorities in Zhoushan City, Zhejiang Province, forced several fishermen to remove crosses from their privately owned fishing vessels.  Authorities also erased “Emmanuel” slogans painted on boats and threatened that if the fishermen refused to cooperate, authorities would not grant them fishing permits or allow them to purchase gasoline for their boats.  The authorities did not present any legal documents supporting their actions.  The fishermen wrote on social media, “The government is completely unreasonable.  Fishing boats are our personal property.  We have the right to put crosses on our boats.  Religious freedom is written in the constitution.  However, it is just empty talk.  The government never enforces the constitution.”

According to Bitter Winter, in January authorities sentenced Pastor Li Juncai of the Yuan Yang County House Church in Xinxiang City, Henan Province, to five and a half years in prison.  In early 2019, Li had resisted government orders to remove the cross from his building and change the Church motto from “Love God and Love Others” to “Love the Country and Love Religion.”  He also objected to constructing a stand within the church where a national flag would be placed.  Authorities arrested Li in February 2019, and the Yuan Yang County prosecutor’s office charged him with “misappropriation of office, obstruction of official duties, and destruction of accounts.”  He remained in jail until his trial.  The court found him guilty on all three counts.

According to the SARA data, at year’s end, religious groups ran 87 schools in the country, including 37 Buddhist, 10 Taoist, 10 Islamic, nine Catholic, and 21 Protestant.  Authorities barred students younger than 18 from receiving religious instruction, but enforcement and implementation of the prohibition varied widely across and within regions.  According to the SARA, there were six national-level religious colleges.  Although there were two CCPA seminaries in Beijing, civil society sources said one of these institutions was primarily used as CCPA propaganda for international visitors.

In March, Open Doors USA reported authorities using CCTV observed a woman in Shandong Province taking her child to a state-affiliated church.  Officials reprimanded her for violating the ban on children participating in religious activities, such as attending church.

In May, Bitter Winter reported that police came to the home of Zhao Weikai, a worker at Taiyuan Reformed Church in Taiyuan City, Shanxi Province, with an arrest warrant for “religious fraud.”  Police arrested Zhao and confiscated his mobile phone and other items.  They reportedly told Zhao to stop homeschooling minors, which is prohibited by law.  Individuals present questioned the summons’ validity, saying that court officials had neither signed nor stamped it.

In November, ChinaAid reported that during the year, the government shut down several informal Christian schools.  On May 27, authorities raided the Xuan De learning center, affiliated with the Wuhu Jiamishan Christian Church in Anhui Province.  They confiscated books, computers, and mobile phones, and detained the school’s headmaster and teachers.  On May 28, the Wuhu civil affairs bureau labeled the center an “illegal social organization,” and in July, the Wuhu local government deemed the Church an “illegal gathering.”  On October 12, police arrested five educators from the Abeka Academy, a U.S.-based Christian homeschool education program in Zhenjiang City, Jiangsu Province, and detained children, parents, and teachers.

Individuals seeking to enroll at an official seminary or other institution of religious learning continued to be required to obtain the support of the corresponding state-sanctioned religious association.  The government continued to require students to demonstrate “political reliability,” and political issues were included in examinations of graduates from religious schools.  Both registered and unregistered religious groups reported a shortage of trained clergy, due in part to government controls on admission to seminaries.

National regulations required Muslim clerics to meet the following requirements:  “Uphold the leadership of the CCP; love Islam and serve Muslims; possess a degree in or receive formal training in Islamic scriptural education; have graduated from junior high school or above, in addition to attaining competency in Arabic; and be at least 22 years old.”  According to sources, imams had to pass an exam testing their ideological knowledge to renew their license each year.

The government and the Holy See remained without formal diplomatic relations, and the Holy See had no official representative to the country.  Media stated the SARA’s “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy” made no provision for the Vatican to have a role in the selection of Catholic bishops, despite the 2018 Sino-Vatican provisional agreement reportedly involving both Chinese authorities and the Holy See in the process of appointing bishops.  AsiaNews stated the regulations undermined the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement.  The news outlet said, “Even Catholic bishops, although ‘approved and ordained’ by the Council of Chinese Bishops, can only exercise their ministry after registering with the SARA.  In this way, the state and not the Church retains management of the pastoral ministry of bishops.”  According to AsiaNews, the provisions reenforced the distinction between official and unofficial priests and bishops, “thus endorsing and supporting the division imposed by the regime.”  Some senior Chinese sources, however, told the Catholic news outlet The Pillar that the new rules would not invalidate the agreement.  One Catholic cleric said provisions on financial management were aimed not at Catholic churches but rather at Buddhist temples, while those pertaining to “foreign domination” were aimed primarily at underground Protestant house churches.  He said the government had omitted the Vatican from the regulations because the CCP would not want to publicly identify a foreign power in any way, despite coordinating on the selection of bishops.

Media reported that on May 20, authorities detained seven priests and an unspecified number of seminarians in Xinxiang City, Henan Province, for using an abandoned factory as a seminary to train priests.  On May 21, they arrested Vatican-approved Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu.  All were accused of violating the SARA’s May 1 regulation outlawing religious activities, including worship, in places not registered with the state.  The CCPA does not recognize Xinxiang as a diocese, although it was created by the Vatican in 1936.  Zhang was ordained by the Vatican as a bishop in 1991, but his appointment was not approved by the two state-sanctioned church bodies – the BCCCC and CCPA – and he was not among the Vatican-approved bishops recognized as a result of the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement.

Media reported in April that authorities in Cangnan County, Wenzhou City, Zhejiang Province, fined Catholic Huang Ruixun RMB 200,000 ($31,400) for offering his private chapel to Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin and approximately 20 worshippers to conduct services.  They charged that the event was an illegal religious activity.  Shao was ordained by the Vatican as Bishop of Yongjia/Wenzhou Diocese in 2016, but he was not among the Vatican-approved bishops recognized as a result of the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement.

On September 8, Franciscan Father Francis Cui Qingqi was ordained Bishop of Hankou/Wuhan Diocese, with the approval of the state and the Catholic Church, making him the sixth bishop ordained since the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement of 2018, and the fourth since it was extended in 2020.  The Vatican press office director told journalists that Pope Francis appointed Cui on June 23, 2020.  Media stated the state-sanctioned BCCCC had elected him “democratically” on September 27, 2020.

A number of Catholic clergy, including some bishops appointed by the Pope, remained unable or unwilling to register with the CCPA.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that during an August 27-28 conference on ethnic affairs attended by CCP leaders, legislators, and the political advisory body, including all seven Politburo Standing Committee members, President Xi told attendees to “continue to eradicate poisonous thoughts of ethnic separatism and religious extremism.”  SCMP reported that Xi’s statements were an apparent attempt to “rebuff international allegations of human rights abuses.”

According to the State Council website, the government convened a national conference on religious affairs on December 3-4, the first since 2016, that called on clergy, the CCP, and government officials to ensure religious doctrine followed the CCP.  At the conference, President Xi said religions in the country had made progress in “enhancing their recognition” of the Chinese nation and culture, along with the CCP and socialism.  Xi emphasized the need to “uphold and develop a religious theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics, work in line with the Party’s basic policy on religious affairs, and uphold the principle that religions in China must be Chinese in orientation.”  Xi urged “full and strict governance of religions.”  He told CCP and government officials to train individuals who were “adept at the Marxist view on religion, familiar with religious affairs, and competent to engage in work related to religious believers.”  According to media reports, Xi further emphasized strengthening “the management of online religious affairs,” which critics said implied that religious practitioners would be disciplined for inappropriate online commentary.

The Associated Press reported that on May 18, the host of a program on CGTN, the overseas channel of state broadcaster CCTV, used antisemitic tropes.  Speaking in English, Zheng Junfeng said, “Some people believe that U.S. pro-Israeli policy is traceable to the influence of wealthy Jews in the U.S. and the Jewish lobby on U.S. foreign policy makers… Jews dominate finance and internet sectors.”  Responding on Twitter, the Israeli embassy in China stated, “We have hoped that the times of the ‘Jews controlling the world’ conspiracy theories were over, unfortunately antisemitism has shown its ugly face again.  We are appalled to see blatant antisemitism expressed in an official Chinese media outlet.”

In a June SCIO white paper entitled, “The Communist Party of China and Human Rights Protection – A 100-Year Quest,” the government stated that it protects “normal religious activities” and “does not interfere in the internal affairs of religions.”

On August 13, the outlet Algemeiner described as antisemitic a caricature of the U.S. Secretary of State that the state-owned Xinhua news agency published alongside Xinhua’s article on the Secretary’s July meeting with World Health Organization head Tendros Ghebreyesus.  The cartoon depicted the Secretary as a devil with red skin, horns, and a large, elongated nose, holding a report entitled “COVID-19 Origins Tracing.”  The American Jewish Committee denounced the cartoon on Twitter, calling it “despicable.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because the government and individuals closely link religion, culture, and ethnicity, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of societal discrimination as being solely based on religious identity.

Despite labor law provisions against discrimination in hiring based on religious belief, some employers continued to discriminate against religious believers.  Religious minorities continued to report employers terminated their employment due to their current or prior religious activities.

In 2020, the Economist reported employment discrimination against ethnic minorities was pervasive, citing a study that found that Hui job seekers had to send twice as many applications as Han applicants and that Uyghurs had on average to send nearly four times as many applications just to hear back from potential employers.  The study found the gap was greater for highly educated workers, with Uyghur candidates who were in the top 1 percent academically having to send six times as many applications as their Han counterparts.  According to the Economist, the application gap was “similar in both smaller cities and in the provincial-level regions of Guangdong, Beijing and Shanghai.  State-owned enterprises, which have an official mandate to hire more minority workers, appeared at least as biased as other firms.”

Discrimination against potential or current tenants based on their religious beliefs reportedly continued.  Since 2017 and 2018, when articles in the 2005 Public Security Administration Punishment Law related to “suspicious activity” began to be enforced in earnest, Falun Gong practitioners reported ongoing difficulty in finding landlords who would rent them apartments.  Sources stated government enforcement of this law continued to move the country further away from informal discriminatory practices by individual landlords towards a more formalized enforcement of codified discriminatory legislation.

In June, the Diplomat reported growing anti-Muslim sentiment in society as a result of the government’s Sinicization campaign, which the Diplomat said could lead to violence.  Sources said government propaganda portraying Uyghurs as radicals, extremists, and terrorists had created societal hostility toward that group.  Anti-Muslim speech in social media reportedly remained widespread.

There were reports that Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and other religious minorities continued to face difficulties in finding accommodation when they traveled.

In January, media reported messages on social media blamed local Catholics from Shijiazhuang City and “several priests from Europe and the United States” for the spread of COVID-19 in Hebei Province that resulted in a lockdown on January 6.  Local priests denounced the posts, saying there had been no religious activities, masses, or meetings since December 24, 2020.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Secretary of State, Deputy Secretary of State, Charge d’Affaires, and other senior State Department officials and embassy and consulate general representatives repeatedly and publicly expressed concerns about abuses of religious freedom in the country, including in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang.  In July, the Secretary of State met virtually with Uyghur family members, Xinjiang internment camp survivors, and advocates to express the U.S. commitment to calling for the government to end atrocities in Xinjiang.  In July, the Deputy Secretary of State met with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and raised concerns about human rights abuses in the country, including in Hong Kong and Tibet, and the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity occurring in Xinjiang.  During the Secretary of State’s October meeting with Foreign Minister Wang, the Secretary’s spokesperson said the Secretary “raised concerns about a range of actions that undermine the international rules-based order and that run counter to our values and interests and those of our allies and partners, including actions related to human rights, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, the East and South China Seas, and Taiwan.”

Embassy and consulate officials regularly sought meetings with a range of government officials managing religious affairs to obtain more information on government policies and to advocate for greater religious freedom and tolerance.  Embassy and consulate officials, including the Charge and Consuls General, urged government officials at the central, provincial, and local levels, including those at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministries, to implement stronger protections for religious freedom and to release prisoners of conscience.  The Charge highlighted religious freedom in meetings with senior officials.  The Department of State, embassy, and consulates general regularly called upon the government to release prisoners of conscience and advocated on behalf of individual cases of persons imprisoned for religious reasons.

PRC authorities consistently harassed and intimidated religious leaders to dissuade them from speaking with U.S. officials.  Authorities regularly prevented members of religious communities from attending events at the embassy and consulates general, and security services questioned individuals who did attend.  Authorities routinely declined to approve or postponed U.S. officials’ requests to visit religious sites and meet with religious leaders.

The Charge, Consuls General in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan, and other embassy and consulate general officials met with religious groups, as well as academics, NGOs, members of registered and unregistered religious groups, and family members of religious prisoners to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom.  Embassy and consulate general officials hosted events around religious holidays and conducted roundtable discussions with religious leaders to convey the importance of religious pluralism in society and learn about issues facing religious communities.

The embassy continued to amplify Department of State religious freedom initiatives directly to local audiences through postings to the embassy website and to its Weibo, WeChat, and Twitter accounts.  Over the course of the year, the embassy published nearly 50 messages promoting religious freedom, including videos, statements, images, and infographics.  The embassy highlighted the Secretary’s participation in the civil society-led International Religious Freedom Summit in July and his visit to the Vatican in June to emphasize U.S. support for religious freedom.  It posted or retweeted posts concerning the state of religious freedom in Xinjiang and Tibet.  For example, on International Religious Freedom Day on October 27, the embassy reposted the Secretary’s message supporting respect for religious freedom, as well as information describing the Chinese government’s continuing control over religion and restrictions on the activities of religious adherents.  On December 10, the embassy issued a Human Rights Day statement from the Charge on its website and through its international and Chinese social media accounts.  The statement highlighted the breadth of gross violations of human rights occurring in the PRC, including restrictions on religious freedom.  The embassy also shared greetings from the President and Secretary of State on special religious days for Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists; these were viewed by millions of social media users.  In total, embassy posts on social media garnered almost 10 million views and approximately 240,000 engagements.

On January 13, CBP issued a Withhold Release Order that prohibited the import of all cotton and tomato products produced in Xinjiang “based on information that reasonably indicates the use of detainee or prison labor and situations of forced labor.”

On January 19, the then Secretary of State determined that since at least March 2017, the PRC’s repressive actions against Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other religious minority groups in Xinjiang constituted genocide and crimes against humanity.

On March 22, the U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions on Wang Junzheng, Secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), and Chen Mingguo, Director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB), pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, for their connection to serious human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.  The U.S. coordinated the timing of the sanctions with the European Union, United Kingdom, and Canada, which levied their own sanctions against Chinese individuals and entities on the same day.  In response, on March 27, the Chinese government sanctioned two officials on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a move the Secretary condemned as “baseless.”

On May 12, the Secretary of State announced visa sanctions against Yu Hui, former office director of the Central Leading Group Preventing and Dealing with Heretical Religions in Chengdu, for his involvement in gross violations of human rights against Falun Gong practitioners.

Also on May 12, the United States cohosted a high-level virtual event on Xinjiang with 17 other countries and six NGOs.  Speaking at the event, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations described Uyghurs’ wish “to practice basic freedoms of religion, belief, expression, and movement…”  In other multilateral action, the United States joined a group of 44 countries on June 22 in issuing a Canada-led joint statement expressing grave concern about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, as well as deep concern about the deterioration of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong and the human rights situation in Tibet.  On October 21, it joined a group of 43 countries delivering a joint statement on the human rights situation in Xinjiang at the UN General Assembly Third Committee.

On May 27, the Secretary condemned the PRC’s sanctioning of a former USCIRF commissioner.  The Secretary stated, “Beijing’s attempts to intimidate and silence those speaking out for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion or belief, only draw additional international attention and scrutiny to its egregious abuses.  This includes the ongoing crimes against humanity and genocide in Xinjiang, as well as its repression of religious and spiritual adherents, including Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, and Falun Gong practitioners.”

Addressing the use of forced labor of ethnic and religious minorities in the polysilicon industry in Xinjiang, on June 24, the CBP issued a Withhold Release Order against Hoshine Silicone Industry Co., Ltd, a company headquartered in Xinjiang.  The U.S. Department of Commerce added related Xinjiang-based companies to its list of entities subject to specific license requirements for export, reexport, and/or transfer in-country of specific items (the “Entity List”); the U.S. Department of Labor updated its List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor with related products; and the White House issued a fact sheet on forced labor in Xinjiang.

On July 9, the Bureau of Industry and Security of the U.S. Department of Commerce announced it would add 14 entities to the Entity List for being complicit in China’s campaign of repression, mass detention, and high technology surveillance against Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.  The penalties prohibit U.S. companies from selling equipment or other goods to these firms.

n July 13, the U.S. Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security, Labor, and the U.S. Trade Representative issued an updated Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory that highlighted for businesses with potential supply chain and investment links to Xinjiang the risk of complicity with forced labor and human rights abuses.

On December 6, the Presidential press secretary announced the U.S. would not send diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympics Games “given the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.”

On December 10, the U.S. Department of State imposed visa restrictions on four current and former PRC officials – Shohrat Zakir, Erken Tuniyaz, Hu Lianhe, and Chen Mingguo – for their involvement in gross violations of human rights, specifically arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang.  The U.S. Department of the Treasury also designated Shohrat Zakir and Erken Tuniyaz under the Global Magnitsky sanctions program in connection with serious human rights abuse.  The Department of the Treasury also imposed financial sanctions on the company SenseTime Group Limited for its involvement in developing facial recognition programs aimed at identifying ethnic Uyghurs.  On December 21, in reaction to the December 10 U.S. sanctions, the PRC announced sanctions against four USCIRF officials.

On December 23, the President signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act “to ensure that goods made with forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the [PRC] do not enter the United States market.”  The legislation banned imports of goods made using forced labor of “Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tibetans, and members of other persecuted groups,” including goods mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part.  The act directed the CBP to presume imports from Xinjiang were produced with forced labor unless the importer proved otherwise to CBP and imposed sanctions on foreign individuals responsible for forced labor in the region.

Since 1999, China 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 15, 2021, the Secretary of State redesignated China as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the existing ongoing restriction on exports to China of crime control and detection instruments and equipment, under the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1990 and 1991 (Public Law 101-246), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

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Tibet | Xinjiang | Hong Kong | Macau

France

Executive Summary

The constitution and the law protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and practice religion. On August 24, President Emmanuel Macron signed a law providing authorities broader powers to monitor and close down religious organizations and groups they determined to be promoting ideas contrary to French values.  Religious groups, including Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and Christian Orthodox leaders, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) publicly condemned the law before it was enacted, saying that it “risks undermining fundamental freedoms” such as freedom of worship and of association.  Although the law did not specifically mention Islam, critics said it targeted and stigmatized Muslims and that President Macron had initially proposed the law as a means to combat “Islamist separatism.”  In January, the government praised Muslim leaders who reached an agreement on a “Charter of Principles for the Islam of France,” affirming the signatories’ adherence to national law and values.  Critics of the charter said it was crafted by the government and represented an unconstitutional intervention into religious affairs.  The government dissolved by decree several Muslim organizations it accused of “inciting hatred, violence, and discrimination,” and said that it had closed 672 Muslim establishments from February 2018 through October 2021, including 21 mosques since November 2020.  On April 14, the Court of Cassation – the country’s highest court of criminal and civil appeal – upheld lower court rulings that cannabis use by the killer of a 65-year-old Jewish woman in 2017 rendered him criminally irresponsible for her death, leading to protests and creation of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the affair.  After President Macron’s announcement that a COVID-19 “health pass” would be required to enter public spaces beginning in August, some protesters wore the yellow Star of David or held signs comparing treatment of nonvaccinated persons to that of Jews during the Holocaust; others protested with antisemitic signs.  President Macron and other government officials continued to condemn antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and the government continued to deploy security forces to protect religious and other sensitive sites.  In October, the Senate adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.  In February, the Paris city council adopted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism; in March, the Strasbourg city council rejected it.

There were instances of religiously motivated crimes and other abuses against Christians, Jews, and Muslims, including physical assaults, threats, hate speech, discrimination, and vandalism and the killing in August of a priest in the Loire Region that generated a public outcry.  In the latter case, authorities judged the killer mentally unfit and placed him in a psychiatric hospital.  Authorities reported registering 1,659 antireligious acts during the year, a 12 percent drop compared with the same period in 2019, when 1,893 acts were reported.  (According to the Ministry of the Interior, statistics from 2020, when it recorded 1,386 antireligious acts, were not comparable because of the COVID-19 lockdown.)  While the total number of acts reported decreased from 2019, the number of anti-Muslim acts increased by 38 percent to 213, from 154 in 2019 (234 in 2020).  Anti-Christian acts decreased 19 percent to 857, from 1,052 in 2019 (813 in 2020), and antisemitic acts fell 14 percent to 589, from 687 in 2019 (339 in 2020).  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data that was collected in France between February and June 2020.  According to the survey, 7 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in France said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

Officials from the U.S. embassy, consulates, and American Presence Posts (APPs) discussed religious tolerance, antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in combating violent extremism, and cooperation on these issues with officials at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs and the Interministerial Delegation to Fight Against Racism, Antisemitism and Anti-LGBT Hate (DILCRAH).  The Charge d’Affaires and embassy, consulate, and APP officials met regularly with religious communities and their leaders throughout the country to discuss religious freedom concerns and encourage interfaith cooperation and tolerance, including engaging Christian, Jewish, and Muslim representatives in Strasbourg, discussions of interfaith dialogue in Rennes, exchanges on antisemitism in Lyon, and raising Holocaust awareness in Marseille.  The embassy sponsored projects and events to combat religious discrimination and religiously motivated hate crimes, such as projects bringing together youth of different faiths and a roundtable with religious leaders, and regularly used social media to convey messages highlighting issues pertaining to religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 68.1 million (midyear 2021).  ccording to a January 2020 report released by the government-appointed Observatory for Secularism, based on a poll conducted in cooperation with polling company Viavoice, approximately 47 percent of respondents identify as Catholic, 3 percent Muslim, 3 percent Protestant, 2 percent Buddhist, 1 percent Jewish, 1 percent Christian Orthodox, and 1 percent other religious groups; 34 percent said they have no religious affiliation and 8 percent preferred not to respond.  According to the observatory’s 2019 report, there are 140,000-150,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and 150,000-300,000 Hindus.  In a poll on secularism released in February and conducted with Viavoice, 35 percent of respondents say they are believers, 30 percent nonbelievers or atheist, 14 percent agnostic, and 13 percent indifferent.  Most observers, including the observatory in its 2019 report, estimate the number of Muslims in the country at three to five million, or between 4 and 7 percent of the population.  According to Church of Scientology leaders, there are approximately 40,000 followers in the country.

A poll by the research firm French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) conducted August 24-25 found that 51 percent of respondents said they do not believe in God, and 49 percent said they do.  According to the IFOP poll, the highest percentage of believers (58 percent) was found among those 65 years and older and the lowest (45 percent) among those aged 35-49.  Other age groups were close to evenly split, with a slight majority of nonbelievers.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular republic and states it “shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law,” regardless of religion, and shall respect all beliefs.  The law provides for the separation of religion and state and guarantees the free exercise of religious worship except to maintain public order.

The law, as well as international and European covenants to which the country adheres, protects the freedom of individuals to choose, change, and practice their religion.  Interference with freedom of religion is subject to criminal penalties, including a fine of 1,500 euros ($1,700) and imprisonment for one month.  Individuals who are defendants in a trial may challenge the constitutionality of any law they say impedes their freedom of religion.

Laws increase the penalties for acts of violence or defamation when they are committed because of the victim’s actual or perceived membership or nonmembership in a given religious group.  Additional penalties beyond those for the underlying crime for acts of violence that courts determine are religiously motivated are three to five years’ imprisonment and fines of 45,000 to 75,000 euros ($51,000-$85,000), depending on the severity of the victims’ injuries.  For religiously motivated acts of public defamation, defined as an allegation of fact that affects the honor of a person or body, the penalties are one year’s imprisonment and/or a fine of 45,000 euros ($51,000).  The government may expel noncitizens for inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against a specific person or group of persons based on religion.

The law penalizes hate crimes and hate speech.  Provisions in the criminal code cover hate crimes.  They criminalize racist, antisemitic, or xenophobic acts, considering them as aggravating circumstances when an offense is committed on the basis of a victim’s membership or nonmembership, true or supposed, in a given ethnic group, nation, race, or religion.  When made in public, such as on the internet, hate speech is covered by a special law related to the rights of the press that criminalizes the publication or dissemination of racist remarks, including those directed against persons because of their membership in religious groups.  The law covers all means of public expression (speeches, exclamations, threats, writings, printed matter, drawings, engravings, paintings, symbols, images, etc.), and any media permitting wide dissemination to the public.  When not made in public, hate speech is covered by the criminal code and punishable by a 1,500 euro ($1,700) fine.

There is no national-level law prohibiting blasphemy, but Alsace-Moselle continues to retain part of an old German code, a remnant from past German annexation of the area, that declares “blasphemy” against Catholics a crime.  However, a Ministry of Justice decree states that the antiblasphemy provision may not be applied anywhere in the country.

Although the law does not require it, religious groups may apply for official recognition and tax-exempt status.  Religious groups may register under two categories:  associations of worship, which are exempt from taxes; and cultural associations, which normally are not exempt.  Associations in either category are subject to fiscal oversight by the state.  An association of worship may organize only religious activities.  Although not tax-exempt, a cultural association may engage in for-profit as well as nonprofit activity and receive government subsidies for its cultural and educational operations.  Religious groups normally register under both categories.  For example, Catholics perform religious activities through their associations of worship and operate schools through their cultural associations.

Religious groups must apply at the local prefecture (the administrative body, headed by a prefect, that represents the central government in each department) for recognition as an association of worship and tax-exempt status.  To qualify as an association of worship, the group’s sole purpose must be the practice of religion, which may include liturgical services and practices, religious training, and the construction of buildings serving the religious group.  The association must also engage in public worship and respect public order.  Among excluded activities are those that are purely cultural, social, or humanitarian in nature.  To apply for tax-exempt status, the association must provide to the prefecture its estimated budget for the year, annual accounts for the previous three years or since the association’s creation, whichever is shorter, a written justification of eligibility for the status, and the number of members of the association.  In Paris, the association must have a minimum of 25 members.  Once granted, the association may use the tax-exempt status nationwide.  The government does not tax associations of worship on donations they receive.  If the prefecture determines an association is not in conformity with its tax-exempt status, however, the government may change that status and require the association to pay taxes at a rate of 60 percent on past, as well as future, donations until it regains tax-exempt status.  The Ministry of Interior has not provided recent information on the number of associations with tax-exempt status.  According to ministry data more than a decade old, there are 109 Protestant, 100 Catholic, 50 Jehovah’s Witness, 30 Muslim, and 15 Jewish associations with tax-exempt status.

The number of cultural associations, many of which are not associated with religious groups, is in the thousands and changes frequently.  Cultural associations may be declared using an online form through the government’s public administration website.  Cultural associations, even if associated with religious groups, may operate without applying for government recognition, but receiving government recognition exempts them from taxes.  The Church of Scientology has the status of a secular and not a religious association.

The law states, “Detained persons have the right to freedom of opinion, conscience, and religion.  They may practice the religion of their choice…without other limits than those imposed by the security needs and good order of the institution.”

Counterterrorism legislation grants prefects in each department the authority to close a place of worship for a maximum of six months if they find that comments, writings, or activities in the place of worship “provoke violence, hatred, or discrimination or the commission of acts of terrorism or praise such acts of terrorism.”  The management of the place of worship has 48 hours to appeal the closure decision to an administrative court.  A place of worship that has been closed may remain closed beyond the six-month maximum if it does not replace its chief cleric and/or management.  Noncompliance with a closure decision carries a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 7,500 euros ($8,500).  A counterterrorism and intelligence law that parliament enacted on July 22 makes permanent some provisions of a 2017 law on internal security and counterterrorism that had been set to expire July 31.  The new law allows authorities to close facilities belonging to places of worship linked to acts of terrorism, rather than only the places of worship themselves, as was previously the case.

The law prohibits covering one’s face, including for religious reasons, in public places, including public transportation, government buildings, and other public spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters.  If police encounter a person in a public space wearing a face covering such as a niqab or burqa, they are legally required to ask the individual to remove it to verify the individual’s identity.  According to the law, police officials may not remove it themselves.  If an individual refuses to remove the garment, police may take the person to the local police station to verify his or her identity.  Police may not question or hold an individual for more than four hours.  Refusing a police instruction to remove a face-covering garment carries a maximum fine of 150 euros ($170) or attendance at a citizenship course.  Individuals who coerce other persons to cover their face on account of gender by threat, violence, force, or abuse of power or authority are subject to a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($34,000) and may receive a sentence of up to one year in prison.  The fine and sentence are doubled if the person coerced is a minor.  The law exempts use of face coverings mandated by the authorities, such as masks worn for COVID-19 prevention.

The law prohibits agents of the administration, public services, and companies or associations carrying out public services from demonstrating their religion through visible signs of religious affiliation, such as an Islamic headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, or Christian cross.  The prohibition applies during working hours even if the agents are not in their place of employment and at any time at the place of employment.

By law, the government may not directly finance religious groups to build new places of worship, except, as noted below, in Alsace-Lorraine and overseas departments and territories.  The government may, however, provide loan guarantees or lease property to groups at advantageous rates.  The law also exempts places of worship from property taxes.  The state owns and is responsible for the upkeep of most places of worship, primarily Catholic, built before 1905.  The government may fund cultural associations with a religious connection.

The Upholding Republican Values law – passed by parliament on July 23, ruled constitutional on August 13 by the Constitutional Court, and signed by President Macron on August 24 – includes measures expanding requirements of neutrality in expression and attire for public servants and private contractors of public services, methods to combat online hate speech, stricter restrictions on homeschooling, increased control of public associations, transparency of religious associations, and enhanced measures against polygamy, forced marriages, and “virginity certificates.”  The law requires audits of associations, including those that are religious in nature, that receive foreign funding of more than 153,000 euros ($173,500) per year.  The law imposes additional reporting requirements on local religious-based organizations.  It modifies a law on policing of religions to include punishing the incitement to discrimination, hatred, or violence with up to five years in prison.  The law also increases the punishment for holding political meetings in places of worship and prohibits the organization of campaigning operations for political elections in places of worship.  In addition, a judge may forbid anyone convicted of provoking terrorism, discrimination, hate, or violence from entering places of worship.  The government may temporarily close places of worship if it finds any activities that incite hatred or violence.  The new law expanded the requirements for neutrality, impartiality, and principles of secularism, which previously applied only to government employees, to apply to private contractors for public services.  The law also implements a commemorative “secularism day,” to be recognized annually on December 9.  In addition, it requires municipalities and departments to inform local prefects three months before concluding a long-term lease with, or providing loans to, places of worship.

The Upholding Republican Values law includes provisions to combat hate speech, including the criminalization of disseminating personal information which could endanger the life of others.  Violators may be punished with up to five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($85,000) if the victim is a public official, a journalist, or a minor.  An expedited procedure allows authorities to remove content on mirror sites.

The law separating religion and state does not apply in three classes of territories.  Because Alsace-Lorraine (currently comprising the departments of Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin, and la Moselle and known as Alsace-Moselle) was part of Germany when the law was enacted, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Jews there may choose to allocate a portion of their income tax to their religious group.  Pastors, priests, and rabbis of these four recognized faiths in Alsace-Moselle receive a salary from the Interior Ministry, and the country’s President, with the agreement of the Holy See, appoints the Catholic bishops of Metz and Strasbourg.  The Prime Minister appoints the Chief Rabbi and the presidents of the Jewish and Protestant consistories (the administrative governance bodies of these groups) in Alsace-Moselle, and the Interior Minister appoints ministers of three Christian Churches (Catholic, Lutheran, and Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine) in the region.  Local governments in the region may also provide financial support for constructing religious buildings.  The Overseas Department of French Guiana, which is governed under 19th century colonial laws, may provide subsidies to the Catholic Church.  Other overseas departments and overseas territories, which include island territories in the Caribbean and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and several sub-Antarctic islands, may also provide funding for religious groups.  This provision also applies to the portion of Antarctica the government claims as an overseas territory.

Public schools are secular.  The law prohibits public school employees from wearing visible signs of religious affiliation and students from wearing “conspicuous religious symbols,” including the Islamic headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, and large Christian crosses.  Public schools do not provide religious instruction except in Alsace-Moselle and overseas departments and territories.  In Alsace-Moselle, religious education regarding one of the four recognized faiths (Catholicism, Lutheranism, Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine, and Judaism) is compulsory in public primary and secondary schools, although students may, with a written request from their parents, opt for a secular equivalent.  Religious education classes are taught by laypersons who are trained and nominated by the respective religious groups but are paid by the state.  Elsewhere in the country, public schools teach information about religious groups as part of the history curriculum.  Parents who wish their children to wear conspicuous religious symbols or to receive religious instruction may homeschool their children or send them to a private school.  Homeschooling and private schools must conform to the educational standards established for public schools; however, private schools may permit the wearing of religious symbols on their premises.  Under the Upholding Republican Values law, beginning in September 2022, homeschooling will be allowed only for strictly defined reasons, including sickness, disability, intensive sport or artistic training, transient families, or those with geographic constraints.  Parents who wish to take their children out of school will be required to get an annual authorization from the local education authority.

By law, the government subsidizes private schools, including those affiliated with religious organizations.  In 98 percent of private schools, in accordance with the law, the government pays the teachers’ salaries, provided the school accepts all children regardless of their religious affiliation.  The law does not address the issue of religious instruction in government-subsidized private schools.  According to the education code, religious instruction is allowed but optional in government-subsidized private schools.  Students are not required to attend religion classes, and other activities are available for students who opt out.

Missionaries from countries not exempt from visa requirements must obtain a three-month tourist visa before traveling to the country.  All missionaries from nonexempt countries wishing to remain longer than 90 days must obtain long-duration visas before entering the country.  Upon arrival, missionaries must provide a letter from their sponsoring religious group to apply to the local prefecture for a temporary residence card.

The country adheres to the nonbinding Terezin Declaration of 2009 – an agreement to remedy the economic wrongs experienced by Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution – and its guidelines and best practices of 2010.  The government has laws and mechanisms in place for property restitution and reparation, including for all three types of immovable property:  private, communal, and heirless.

The government’s Commission for the Compensation for Victims of Spoliation (CIVS or the “Drai Commission”) is a sovereign and independent administrative body under the authority of the Prime Minister.  CIVS recommends and examines reparations to individual victims of the Holocaust or their heirs not previously compensated for damages resulting from antisemitic legislation passed either by the Vichy government or by the occupying Germans.  On June 17, the CIVS announced that on its recommendation, Prime Minister Jean Castex had ordered the return to the descendants of Jewish lawyer Armand Dorville 12 works of art acquired by the French State in 1942.  At year’s end, the government was working on a draft law to effectively implement this decision.

The law criminalizes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, treating it as “a provocation to discrimination or hatred or violence towards a person or a group of persons because of their origin or belonging to an ethnic group, a nation, a race, or a determined religion.”

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

Government Practices

On April 14, the Court of Cassation upheld the Paris Court of Appeals’ decision that Kobili Traore, the killer of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish woman, was unfit to stand trial because his cannabis consumption prior to the killing rendered him psychotic, despite the judges’ opinion that the attack was antisemitic in character.  The Court of Cassation’s decision closed the case.  According to media reports, Traore continued under psychiatric care where he had been assigned since killing Halimi in 2017 and would remain hospitalized until psychiatrists concluded he no longer represented a danger to himself or others.  Lawyers for Halimi’s relatives announced their intention to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.  On April 21, lawyers representing Halimi’s sister announced that she intended to file a criminal complaint against Traore in Israel.

On April 25, media reported that more than 20,000 persons demonstrated at Trocadero Square in Paris to “proclaim determination to continue the fight for Sarah’s memory.”  Similar protests were held in several other cities across the country.  French political leaders, including President Macron, criticized the court ruling and what he called the loopholes in law exposed by the case.  Macron also told daily newspaper Le Figaro that “Deciding to take narcotics and then ‘going mad’ should not, in my view, remove your criminal responsibility,” and said he wanted Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti to introduce a change in the law “as soon as possible.”  On July 22, the National Assembly established a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the affair, which was continuing its investigation at year’s end.

On March 15, following the resignation of M’hammed Henniche, the rector (administrator) of a mosque in Pantin, a Paris suburb, and the nomination of a new board of directors, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called for the reopening of the mosque, made effective on April 9.  In October 2020, Darmanin had ordered a six-month closure of the mosque, following the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as part of a lesson on freedom of expression.  The mosque’s imam Ibrahim Doucoure had posted on social media calls to retaliate against Paty for showing the cartoons.  The Montreuil Administrative Court had validated the government’s decision to close the mosque.

On October 26, Junior Minister for Citizenship Marlene Schiappa reported that, since the end of 2019, as part of a nationwide program to counter “Islamism and communitarianism,” the Ministry of Interior had conducted 23,996 assessments and closed 672 establishments of various kinds, including 22 mosques.  According to Schiappa, those establishments, which the government did not specifically identify, “were gathering places to organize Islamist separatism,” which President Macron had previously described as a “methodical organization” to create a “countersociety” in which Islamists impose their own rules and laws on isolated communities.

On October 13, Interior Minister Darmanin announced he had ordered authorities to close a mosque in Allonnes, in the Loire Region, following what he said was evidence the mosque preached radical Islamism.  According to the local prefecture, some of its 300 members were linked to radical Islamist movements that “legitimized the use of armed jihad” as well as “hate and discrimination.”  In early October, authorities froze the accounts of the two associations running the mosque.

On October 26, Interior Minister Darmanin reported that, following inspections of mosques conducted starting in November 2020, the government suspected 92 of the 2,500 mosques in the country of being radical and had closed 21 of them.  On December 12, Darmanin said 36 mosques were removed from the list of those suspected of Islamist separatism after complying with government requests, including dismissing “dangerous” imams and rejecting foreign funding.  Darmanin reiterated the mosques suspected of practicing radical Islam represented a very small minority.

In a December 27 decree, Darmanin announced the government administratively closed the mosque of Beauvais, north of Paris, for six months because of the anti-republican sermons of one of its imams.  Darmanin accused Imam Islem, born Eddy Lecocq, of dividing society by justifying jihad and using discriminatory language against LGBTQ+ persons and women in his sermons.  The mosque’s representative argued that Islem’s comments were taken out of context, calling the closure “unjustified” and the accusations against the imam false.  Some members of the Beauvais Muslim community expressed frustration to the press, saying that while the law should apply to this imam, it was unfair that “the whole community was being punished” for his actions.

Contrary to the previous year, Jehovah’s Witness officials did not report any cases in which authorities interfered with proselytizing during the year.

After President Macron’s announcement that a COVID-19 health pass would be required to enter public spaces beginning in August, some protesters wore the yellow Star of David or held signs comparing treatment of nonvaccinated persons to that of Jews during the Holocaust; others protested with antisemitic signs.

With the stated intent to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the government continued to impose measures limiting the distance between worshippers during religious services.  It required places of worship to ensure that there were at least two empty seats between persons unless they were members of the same household and that only one row of seats out of two was occupied.  Unlike with other gatherings, the government did not require a COVID-19 health pass to attend religious ceremonies.  The Prime Minister’s office told Le Figaro newspaper July 13 that places of worship enjoyed constitutional protections beyond those of other groups because of the fundamental value of the freedom of religion.

On August 24, President Macron signed into law the Upholding Republican Values bill, which the government used to continue closing organizations accused of separatism, including some places of worship.  On March 10, leaders of the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Churches in the country issued a public statement expressing their concern about the then draft bill.  Catholic Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, President of the Bishops Conference of France (CEF), Pastor Francois Clavairoly, President of the Protestant Federation of France, and Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis, Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of France, signed the statement.  The statement said that “by its internal logic … this bill risks undermining fundamental freedoms such as freedom of worship, association, teaching and even freedom of opinion.”  The three leaders added that “turning its back on the separation [of church and state], the state interferes in the qualification of what is religious” and that the law allowed the state to apply more constraints and controls on religious organizations when the Christian churches believed the procedures necessary to maintain public order already existed.  Muslim leaders, also speaking about the bill while in draft, said that, although it did not specifically mention the word Islam, many of its provisions clearly singled out Islam, targeting and stigmatizing Muslims.  They also pointed out that President Macron had initially proposed the law as a means to combat “Islamist separatism.”  NGOs expressed concern about the increased power of unelected prefects to close associations.  Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), said the then draft would increase restrictions on French religious associations, “but in the end it will be beneficial and there will be less suspicion towards donations.”  France’s Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia said the then draft law “reminds us of the importance of carrying the values of the republic everywhere, in all spaces, including religious spaces” and gives “legal tools to do what we could not do before.”

In a January 18 meeting with representatives of the CFCM, which until December was the government’s main dialogue partner among groups representing the Muslim community, President Macron praised the CFCM’s adoption of the “Charter of Principles for the Islam of France,” the Elysee (Office of the Presidency) reported.  “This is a clear, decisive and precise commitment in favor of the republic,” Macron said, hailing “a truly foundational text for relations between the state and Islam in France.”  According to the CFCM, the agreement was reached during a January 16 meeting of the CFCM with Interior Minister Darmanin after weeks of resistance from some CFCM members, who objected to a “restructuring” of Islam to make it compatible with French law and values.  Signatories to the charter included the CFCM, the Union of Mosques of France, Gathering of Muslims of France, Great Mosque of Paris (GMP), and the French Federation of Islamic Associations of Africa, Comoros, and the West Indies.  Signatories to the charter, composed of 10 articles, vowed to reject attempts to use Islam for political ends, refrain from distributing messages of violence, hate, terrorism, or racism, and educate youth against those who spread such messages; affirmed gender equality and the need to educate believers that certain cultural practices presumed to be Muslim are not part of Islam; and agreed to combat “superstitions and archaic practices” that endanger the lives of victims, recognize Muslims have the right to renounce Islam, and reject racism, antisemitism, and misogynistic acts.

Online news site Middle East Eye published an opinion piece in February that called the charter “the worst violation of the separation of Church and state in the history of the Fifth Republic,” and stating it was crafted by the government, particularly President Macron and Interior Minister Darmanin, and not by Muslims.  On January 17, Tareq Oubrou, the Great Imam of Bordeaux, said he deplored that the CFCM produced the charter “under political pressure.”

On November 21, the GMP along with three Muslim federations announced they had set up a National Council of Imams (CNI) aimed at establishing a new certification system for imams in France.  The CFCM, which President Macron had instructed in 2020 to establish a new imam certification system to ensure Muslim clerics’ compliance with French republican values, denounced the initiative.  The CFCM president, Mohammed Moussaoui, accused the GMP, the Gathering of Muslims of France; the French Federation of Islamic Associations of Africa, Comoros, and the West Indies; and the Muslims of France (former Union of Islamic Organizations in France) of having “taken the organization of Muslim worship hostage.”

On July 23, the Ministry of the Interior and the Loire regional prefecture officially suspended Mmadi Ahamada, the imam of the Attakwa Mosque in Saint-Chamond, for discriminating against women.  In Eid al-Adha remarks, the imam said women should “stay home, not show off … and not be too complacent in your language,” nor give in to “corruption and vice.”  Interior Minister Darmanin tweeted that he would relentlessly counter those who violated the values of the republic, and said that at his instruction, the Saint-Chamond imam and another imam were fired for “unacceptable sermons.”  Darmanin also ordered the Loire prefect to evaluate the Saint-Chamond imam’s renewal of his residency permit.  According to media reports, the imam, a citizen of Comoros, could be deported if the permit were not renewed.

On July 15, the government announced the creation of a new Interministerial Committee on Secularism to replace the Observatory for Secularism – an independent public watchdog entity established in 2013 whose members were appointed by the government – that critics from the political right and left said did not crack down hard enough on radical Islam.  According to Minister for Citizenship Schiappa, who announced the new committee, it would function under the authority of the Prime Minister’s office and be responsible, as the observatory had been, for coordinating government efforts to protect state secularism, for instance by ensuring no public funding was allocated to nonsecular programs.  She stated the committee would also assume responsibility for secularism training for public employees, with the goal of providing such training to all five million employees by 2025.  Twelve ministers on the new committee were tasked with coordinating state secularism and tracking the implementation of the Upholding Republican Values law.  The committee was also tasked with placing a secularism specialist in each public administration by the end of the year to provide information and mediate on issues relating to religion.  It would oversee new powers given to prefects to take legal action against local governments if they implement policies that seem to contradict secularism, for example by allowing women-only sessions in public pools.  In her announcement, Minister Schiappa also said that, during the December 9 “Secularism Day,” the Ministry of the Interior would award a “Legality Prize” of 50,000 euros ($56,700) for promoting secularism.

According to media, on October 12, at the request of President Macron, Interior Minister Darmanin summoned CEF President Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort, after the Archbishop publicly stated that the secrecy of confession was “above the laws of the republic,” sparking outrage among groups of victims of sexual abuse by priests.  De Moulins-Beaufort made the comment after a Church-commissioned independent report revealed more than 200,000 cases of sexual abuse by priests over the previous seven decades.  After the meeting, Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort cited “the determination of all bishops, and all Catholics, to make the protection of children an absolute priority, in close cooperation with the French authorities.”

According to the Ministry of Justice, as of 2018, the penitentiary system employed 720 Catholic, 361 Protestant, 231 Muslim, 191 Jehovah’s Witness, 74 Jewish, 54 Orthodox Christian, and 18 Buddhist chaplains.  In detainee visiting areas, visitors could bring religious objects to an inmate or speak with the prisoner about religious issues but could not pray.  Prisoners could pray in their cells individually, with a chaplain in designated prayer rooms, or, in some institutions, in special apartments where they could receive family for up to 48 hours.

In September, 55 foreign imams and two murshidates (Muslim religious female guides) began year-long assignments at mosques in the country.  On September 14, Chemsedine Hafiz, Rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, announced on social media that his mosque held a welcoming seminar before sending the imams and murshidates to their respective places of assignment.  In accordance with a bilateral agreement with Algeria, the government hosted training sessions on secularism and French values for these imams and murshidates.

On September 29, as part of the government’s stated efforts to combat radicalization, Interior Minister Darmanin announced in a tweet the dissolution of the Nawa Center for Oriental Studies and Translation in the southwestern town of Pamiers for reportedly producing Islamist propaganda and legitimizing violence.  In its decree, the government cited Nawa publications that called for the “extermination of the Jews,” legitimized violence against LGBTQ+ individuals, and encouraged the punishment of “adulterous women.”  In a September 28 interview with Le Figaro, Darmanin said the government was in the process of closing six religious sites and banning another 10 local associations for ties to radical Islam.

In a September 24 ruling, the Council of State, the country’s highest court for public administration issues, approved the authorities’ December 2020 dissolution of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, an NGO with the stated aim of combating discrimination towards Muslims in the country and providing legal support to victims of discrimination.  The government had moved to close the collective in late 2020, following the killing of teacher Samuel Paty by an Islamist.

In a tweet published on October 20, Interior Minister Darmanin announced that, at his request based on the instructions of President Macron, the Council of Ministers had dissolved the Coordination against Racism and Islamophobia, an association created in 2008 and based near Lyon.  On its website, the association presented itself as “an initiative aiming at fighting against a continuously growing scourge:  Islamophobia.”  Darmanin said the association called for “hatred, violence, and discrimination,” and government spokesman Gabriel Attal added it also expressed antisemitism.

In May, President Macron’s ruling La Republique en Marche! (The Republic on the Move!) Party threatened to withdraw its support for a Muslim candidate running in June local elections after she wore a headscarf in a photograph on a campaign flyer.  Party chief Stanislas Guerini said wearing “ostentatious religious symbols” in photographs appearing in campaign materials was against the party’s values.

On November 2, the Council of Europe retracted visuals that said, “freedom is in [a] hijab,” from a campaign combating discrimination and anti-Muslim sentiment after the French government rejected the messaging.  One advertisement, published the previous week, showed a split image of two women, one wearing a hijab and the other not, alongside the slogan: “Beauty is in diversity as freedom is in hijab.”  The split image “deeply shocked me,” Secretary of State for Youth Sarah El Hairy said in a November 2 television interview.  “It is the opposite of the values France is standing up for … which is why it was pulled today.”  The council suspended the entire promotional campaign on November 3.

On December 21, the Paris Administrative Court upheld the 2020 ruling by the Court of Montreuil overturning a 2019 municipal decree that had refused a permit for the Church of Scientology to renovate a building it had purchased in the municipality of Saint-Denis for the purpose of converting it into its headquarters and a training center.  The court ruled that the refusal was a “misuse of power” and ordered the city of Saint-Denis to reexamine the permit request within three months.

According to statistics released by the Ministry of the Armed Forces in March, the government regularly deployed 3,000 military personnel – a number that could rise to 10,000 at times of high threat – throughout the country to patrol vulnerable sites, including Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic sites and other places of worship.  Some Jewish leaders requested the government also station armed guards at Jewish places of worship; the government did not do so.

Interior Minister Darmanin called for strengthening security at places of worship ahead of major religious holidays because of the “persistent terrorist threat,” AFP reported on March 17.  Darmanin reportedly instructed prefects to pay particular attention to religious “gatherings and services that traditionally bring together large groups of people … and consequently constitute targets with strong symbolism.”  Darmanin also called for increasing counterterrorism patrols under the Ministry of the Armed Forces’ Operation Sentinel around vulnerable and symbolic religious sites.

In a September 1 memo to prefects during the Jewish month of Tishrei (September 7-October 6), which includes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and several other Jewish holidays, Interior Minister Darmanin asked them to strengthen the security of Jewish places of worship and to ensure maximum police presence due to the “very high level of the terrorist threat.”  Counterterrorism patrols under Operation Sentinel could also be deployed around particularly vulnerable sites, according to the memo.  The MOI executed similar countermeasures at all Christian churches throughout the country on August 15 for the Day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

On January 4, according to judicial sources, two of 14 defendants that the Special Criminal Court found guilty in 2020 of supporting terrorists who conducted attacks against satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in 2015 appealed their sentences.  The appeal was scheduled to be heard in September-October 2022.

On March 22, the city of Strasbourg approved 2.56 million euros ($2.90 million) in city funding for the construction of the Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation-sponsored Eyyup Sultan Mosque.  In a March 23 Business FM television interview, Minister Darmanin stated that the city’s decision supported foreign interference in the country.  He criticized the Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation for what he said was its affiliation with Turkey and for engaging in political Islam and refusing to sign the “Charter of Principles for the Islam of France,” a part of the government’s effort to fight Islamist separatism.  Darmanin asked the local prefect to contest the city’s decision before an administrative judge.  Mayor Jeanne Barseghian wrote in a letter to President Macron that she had set as conditions for final approval of the funding that mosque project leaders ensure transparency in their financing and subscribe to the values of the republic.  The prefect disputed that conditions were set and announced on April 7 that the city’s decision would be contested in administrative court.  Further information on the status of the project was unavailable at year’s end.

On January 27, the Paris Court of Appeals ruled that 67-year-old Hassan Diab, the main suspect in the 1980 deadly bombing of the rue Copernic Synagogue in Paris, would have to stand trial, and on May 19, the Court of Cassation upheld that decision.  Diab, a dual Lebanese-Canadian citizen, is suspected of having prepared and placed the bomb, which killed three Frenchmen and an Israeli journalist and injured 46 persons.  Diab returned to Canada in 2018 after three years in detention in France when judges determined the evidence was insufficient to warrant prosecution.  On December 22, Le Figaro reported that Diab’s trial would open in Paris in April 2023, but by year’s end, authorities had not issued an arrest warrant and Diab remained in Canada.

On April 14, the Paris Appeals Court validated the grounds for an investigation of a 1982 terrorist attack against an Israeli restaurant in Paris that left six dead and wounded 22 others.  The decision left open the possibility of a trial, judicial sources reported.  The court dismissed two challenges relating to a missing signature on a judicial detention document and an attempt to nullify a December 2020 decision to place the suspect under investigation.  In December 2020, Norwegian authorities extradited to France a suspect in the case, naturalized Norwegian Walid Abdulrahman Abou Zayed.  On December 23, judges decided to keep the suspect in pretrial detention.

On April 16, the Ministry of Education reported 547 infringements of the secularism law in schools between December 2020 and March 2021.  Middle schools accounted for 45 percent of incidents, while primary schools accounted for 33 percent and high schools for 22 percent; 32 percent of violations were in the form of religiously motivated insults or other verbal aggression, while 10 percent involved proselytism.  According to a report released on December 9 by the ministry, 614 infractions of secularism in schools were reported between September and mid-November in the country’s 60,000 schools, an increase of 12 percent compared to December 2020-March 2021.  Incidents cited included insults or other verbal abuse of a religious nature, the wearing of religious symbols, and refusal to take part in school activities.

In February, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer commissioned a report from former school inspector Jean-Pierre Obin on how teachers and headteachers might be better equipped to handle the issue of secularism in schools.  The report, published on June 14, described some confusion among pupils and teachers about the meaning of secularism, exacerbated by the case of teacher Samuel Paty, beheaded in 2020.  The report also highlighted how the historical roots of the country’s current laws were not always understood.  Following the report’s publication, according to Radio France International, Blanquer introduced training programs for teachers and principals on the place of religion in schools so that there would be a common understanding of what secularism entailed and what was and was not allowed.  On October 19, 1,000 teachers started the 120- to 150-hour training.

On October 15-16, schools commemorated the first anniversary of the killing of Samuel Paty with a series of ceremonies and screenings of documentaries on freedom of speech.  On October 16, Prime Minister Castex unveiled a memorial plaque honoring Paty at the entrance of the Education Ministry.  Macron also received Paty’s family at the Elysee Palace.

On February 20, 800 academics signed an open letter in Le Monde calling for Higher Education Minister Frederique Vidal’s resignation for threatening “intellectual repression” by ordering, earlier that month, a “scientific investigation” of “Islamo-leftism” at universities.  In a February 21 response, Vidal stated the investigation would be carried out in a “scientific” and “rational” manner.  Several officials within the Macron administration, including President Macron, distanced themselves from Vidal’s proposal, affirming their commitment to academic independence.  Academics said it was a failed attempt to distract from the more important problem of growing student discontent and poverty caused by COVID-19.  Information on the status of the investigation was unavailable at year’s end.

On April 14, the Mayor of Albertville, Frederic Burnier-Framboret, announced he would appeal an April 6 Grenoble Administrative Tribunal decision obliging him to grant a building permit for the Islamic school supported by the Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation, linked to Turkey.  According to media reports, Burnier-Framboret’s appeal would rest on an amendment to the Upholding Republican Values law that allows prefects to oppose the opening of out-of-contract schools supported by a foreign state “hostile” to the republic.  On December 16, the Lyon Appeals Court approved the mayor’s decision not to grant a building permit for the Muslim school.

On October 5, the Senate passed a nonbinding draft resolution to adopt the IHRA nonlegally binding working definition of antisemitism.  The motion, which was sponsored by the Senate’s majority party, the Republicans, with the government’s support, was adopted by a show of hands by all political groups, with one exception, the Communist, Republican, and Citizen and Ecologist Group.  Recalling the National Assembly had passed a similar resolution in 2019, Minister Schiappa said she was “happy that the Senate is taking the same approach.”  Although the resolution was not legally binding, it would allow for better identification and characterization of antisemitism, she added.  In February, the Paris city council adopted the IHRA working definition, while in March, the Strasbourg city council rejected it.  Pierre Jakubowicz, a council member who supported the IHRA working definition, said he was dismayed by the latter decision, adding that Strasbourg had been “plagued” by antisemitic outrages during the year.

In March, following a final judgment in 2020 by the European Court of Human Rights that the country had violated Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights when it convicted a group of 12 pro-Palestinian activists for incitement to discrimination for distributing leaflets calling for a boycott of Israeli goods, the government paid a fine of 380 euros ($430) of pecuniary damage and 7,000 euros ($7,900) in nonpecuniary damage to each activist.

On May 19, Normandy’s public prosecutor opened a formal investigation of what the prosecutor said were racist and anti-Islamic social media posts by the then far-right National Rally candidate for President of the Regional Council, Nicolas Bay.  On May 5, Bay – a member of both the Normandy Regional Council and the European Union (EU) Parliament – posted a video calling the Evreux Mosque a hub of “delinquency and terrorism” and saying it was linked to the killing of Samuel Paty.  Evreux elected officials denounced the video as a call to violence against Muslims, and the Great Mosque of Paris called for charges against Bay for inciting “racial hatred.”  On Facebook, Bay responded that “identity politics and Islamism” were threats to the nation and that the Evreux minaret was not welcome in Normandy.

Various groups initiated multiple petitions seeking action against the government for failing, according to the petitions, to follow the rule of law in dealing with the country’s Muslim population.  For example, in January, a coalition of 36 civil society and religious organizations from 13 countries, including the Strasbourg-based European Initiative for Social Cohesion, wrote to the United Nations Human Rights Committee to request that it open formal infringement procedures against the government for “entrenching Islamophobia and structural discrimination against Muslims.”  The 28-page document stated that the country’s actions and policies in relation to Muslim communities violated international and European laws.

On March 8, 25 NGOs from 11 different countries signed a letter urging the EU to investigate the French government for “state-sponsored Islamophobia” and imposing what the letter described as the discriminatory Charter of Principles for the Islam of France.  According to the signatories, the letter responded to what they said were the government’s efforts to isolate Islamist extremists through the Upholding Republican Values law, which was then under consideration in the Senate.  The letter to the European Commission stated that the legislation was inherently discriminatory and that the charter censored free speech in violation of European law.

On May 6, the National Council of Evangelicals of France sent an official report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, criticizing the Upholding Republican Values law and stating it would restrict freedom of worship.

In an April 20 statement, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s General Rapporteur on combating racism and intolerance, Momodou Malcolm Jallow, expressed deep concern that the Upholding Republican Values law stigmatized Muslims and “will serve to further legitimize the marginalization of Muslim women and will contribute to establishing a climate of hate, intolerance, and ultimately violence against Muslims.”

In an October 4 meeting with prefects, Interior Minister Darmanin said the country had deported 72 radicalized foreign Islamists since October 2020 and 636 since 2018.  The 72 were part of a list of foreigners on the FSPRT (fichier des signalements pour la prevention de la radicalisation a caractere terroriste) – a list of individuals suspected of radicalization – under orders of deportation.  On September 28, Interior Minister Darmanin said he had called on regional prefects to refuse any residence permits for imams sent by a foreign government.  According to the Ministry of Interior, approximately 300 imams, or 70 percent of all imams in the country, were trained in foreign countries such as Turkey, Morocco, and Algeria.  In 2020, President Macron announced he would gradually end the foreign imam program by 2024, creating instead a program for imams to be trained in France.

On January 27, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Education Ministry invited teachers to take part in special activities and reflect on the Holocaust with students.

On January 10, Interior Minister Darmanin, Justice Minister Dupond-Moretti, Education Minister Blanquer, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly, government spokesperson Gabriel Attal, and Junior Minister for Gender Equality, Diversity and Equal Opportunities Elisabeth Moreno attended a Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF)-organized memorial ceremony outside a Paris kosher supermarket, where six years earlier a gunman had killed four Jews and held 15 other persons hostage.

On July 16, Prime Minister Castex, Junior Minister for Gender Equality, Diversity, an Equal Opportunities Moreno, and Secretary of State for the Armed Forces Genevieve Darrieussecq attended a ceremony at the Izieu Memorial Museum, the site where 44 Jewish children and their six educators were deported to Nazi extermination camps and later killed.  Prime Minister Castex issued a call to “fight everywhere and always against the unfulfilled temptations of barbarism.”

President Macron and government ministers continued to condemn antisemitism and declare support for Holocaust education on several occasions, including a February 19 visit to the Shoah Memorial; the March 19 commemoration of the ninth anniversary of the killings of three Jewish children and their teacher by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse; and the April 30 Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration.  On April 25, Secretary of State for the Armed Forces Darrieussecq laid a wreath at the Shoah Memorial and the Memorial of the Martyrs of the Deportation in central Paris.

On April 26, the country held private or virtual ceremonies (because of COVID-19 restrictions) commemorating the thousands of persons deported to Nazi death camps during World War II.  On July18, Secretary of State for the Armed Forces Darrieussecq held a ceremony in Paris honoring the victims of the 1942 Velodrome d’Hiver roundup in which 13,000 Jews, including 4,000 children, were deported to extermination camps.  At the ceremony, 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Joseph Schwartz expressed anger in a speech at seeing anti-COVID-19 vaccine activists comparing the government’s COVID-19 health pass with the yellow Star of David Jews were forced to wear during World War II.

On July 26, Interior Minister Darmanin participated in a tribute for Father Jacques Hamel, the Catholic priest killed in an attack at his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in 2016, for which ISIS claimed responsibility.  In his remarks, Darmanin said, “The government of the republic commemorates its martyrs, and there is no doubt that Jacques Hamel is one of them,” adding that “Islamist barbarism [touched] all the symbols that make the West and France.”  President Macron and Prime Minister Castex also paid tribute to Father Hamel on social media on the same date, the anniversary of his death.

On October 18, Prime Minister Castex met with Pope Francis at the Vatican for celebrations to mark the centenary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between France and the Holy See.  At a press conference after the meeting, Castex, in a reference to a report on the sexual abuse of French children by Catholic clergy, said the Church “will not revisit the dogma of the secrecy of the confession,” and emphasized the need to find “ways and means to reconcile this with criminal law, the rights of victims,” adding that “the separation of Church and state is in no way the separation of Church and law.”

On October 26, President Macron and Interior Minister Darmanin participated in the first Economy and Protestantism dinner organized by the Protestant Federation and the Charles Gide Circle, a Protestant association which advocates a “responsible economy.”  In his remarks, President Macron stated that the Upholding Republican Values law was important “because we cannot deny [that] … in the name of religions, strategies have been set up that want to separate the republic.”  Macron added that he did not mean that the republic and society must separate itself from religion but that every person must be free to believe or not believe.  He said he did not accept any speech separating an individual from these rules “on the basis of a religion, a philosophy or anything else.  That is the basis of this law.”

On October 26, President Macron, accompanied by Chief Rabbi of France Korsia inaugurated in the village of Medan the first museum dedicated to the “Dreyfus Affair,” which recalls the 1894-1906 period when antisemitism led to the wrongful conviction of Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus.

On October 28, Interior Minister Darmanin attended a ceremony marking the repair of the Jewish cemetery of Sarre-Union, where vandals desecrated 269 graves in 2015.  “There is no greater duty for the republic than the protection of our Jewish compatriots who have suffered so much,” Darmanin stated.

In June, declared presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon of the France Unbowed Party said that the killing by Mohammed Merah of Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi in Toulouse in 2012 was “planned in advance” to place blame on Muslims before elections.  CRIF President Francis Kalifat condemned Melenchon’s remarks, tweeting they were an obscene attack on the memory of the victims and that Melenchon was pandering to Islamo-leftist voters and conspiracy theories.

On July 16, President Macron became the first president to visit the sanctuary of Lourdes on the same day when, according to believers, in 1858 the 18th and last apparition of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette Soubirous, also known as Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, took place in the cave of Massabielle, a Catholic holy place.

The country is a member of the IHRA.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Ministry of Interior reported registering 1,659 antireligious acts during the year, compared with the same period in 2019, when 1,893 acts were reported.  (According to the ministry, statistics from 2020, when it recorded 1,386 antireligious acts, were not comparable because of the COVID-19 lockdown.)  While the total number of acts reported decreased from 2019, the number of anti-Muslim acts increased by 38 percent to 213, from 154 in 2019 (234 in 2020).  Anti-Christian acts decreased 19 percent, to 857, from 1,052 in 2019 (813 in 2020), and antisemitic acts fell 14 percent to 589, from 687 in 2019 (339 in 2020).

On August 9, Emmanuel Abayisenga, a Rwandan asylum seeker, killed Father Olivier Maire, a Catholic priest in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre in the Loire Region.  Abayisenga was under judicial supervision while awaiting trial for allegedly setting fire to the Nantes Cathedral in 2020.  Since the end of his pretrial detention, following an assessment he was mentally unfit to remain in the judicial system, Abayisenga had been staying with the victim.  In an August 9 press conference, the regional deputy prosecutor said there was no initial indication of any terrorist motive.  Media reported the killing had prompted a strong public outcry; President Macron and Prime Minister Castex both tweeted their condolences, and Minister of Interior Darmanin offered his support to the country’s Catholics.  At year’s end, remained in a psychiatric hospital.

On May 29, a group of approximately 10 men jeered, whistled at, and physically attacked Catholics taking part in a procession in Paris commemorating Catholics killed during the 1871 Commune.  The perpetrators tore down flags and threw projectiles at the marchers, injuring two of them.  Interior Minister Darmanin condemned the attack on social media.  Authorities charged one suspect with “aggravated violence” and “violation of religious freedom”.  His trial was scheduled for 2022.

In September, press reported that five men beat a Jewish man wearing a kippah on a street in Lyon, after the man confronted them when the group called him “a dirty Jew.”  The man sustained minor injuries.  Police arrested one suspect, a teenager.  There was no further information on the case at year’s end.

On March 29, a Pakistani national in the country illegally attempted to attack with a knife three young Jewish men wearing kippahs as they were leaving a synagogue in Paris during Passover.  According to press reports, authorities indicted the man for making a “threat with a weapon” but not for an antisemitic hate crime, reportedly because of insufficient evidence, and then released him.  Authorities subsequently deported the man to Pakistan on April 16.  The president of the local Jewish community expressed relief at the man’s deportation.

In March, according to press reports, guards at a Jewish school in Marseille overpowered a man with a knife whom they suspected of planning to stab customers at a nearby kosher store and bakery.  The guards disarmed the man and police took him into custody.  There was no further information on the case at year’s end.

According to media reports, in November, police arrested a teenager who brandished a machete, hurled marbles, and shouted “dirty Jews” in front of a Jewish high school outside Lyon.  Police were investigating whether the teenager or his family had ties to terrorism.

On December 1, legal authorities announced the trial of a man known as Aurelien C., whom security forces arrested in 2020 in Limoges because they suspected him of planning an attack on the Jewish community, would begin in Paris in January 2022.  Aurelien C, a former member of both the military and the Yellow Vest protest movement, had posted on social media white supremacist conspiracy theories and both antisemitic and anti-Islamic comments, while glorifying terrorists such as the 2019 Christchurch and 2011 Oslo attackers.  Investigators reportedly found incendiary tools in his home that could be used as mortars and found evidence he had researched when Jewish religious sites would reopen in his town.  Aurelien C. remained in detention at year’s end.

On May 26, a priest at the Toulon Cathedral received a voicemail warning that someone would come to “kill people in the church” and “make the building jump [i.e., explode].”  Police secured the cathedral and arrested a minor in Annecy later that afternoon for what they said may have been a prank.  The priest and police admonished the public that such jokes were unacceptable, particularly in light of recent attacks on places of worship.

On April 17, authorities deported to Algeria an Algerian food delivery driver whom the Strasbourg Criminal Court had convicted on January 14 of antisemitic discrimination for refusing to transport orders of kosher food to Jewish customers.  Interior Minister Darmanin said the courier, who was in the country illegally, was deported after serving his four-month prison sentence.

Jehovah’s Witnesses officials reported 14 incidents during the year.  On December 31, a physical attack took place against a Jehovah’s Witness in a parking lot in Pierrefitte-sur-Seine.  The individual filed a lawsuit.

According to the Israeli government’s Aliyah and Integration Ministry figures released in October, 2,819 French Jews emigrated to Israel in the first half of the year, compared with 2,227 in all of 2019.  According to the same source, approximately 2,220 Jews left France for Israel during the first 11 months of 2020.

On the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the kidnapping, torture, and killing of Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man, the CRIF commissioned a survey from research firm Ipsos on the perception of antisemitism in France.  The survey was conducted between February 5 and 8 with a sample of 1,000 persons over the age of 18.  The poll showed at least 74 percent of respondents believed that antisemitism was a widespread phenomenon in the country.  The poll also found 56 percent believed antisemitism was more severe than 10 years previously and 88 percent believed that the fight against antisemitism should be a priority for public authorities.  According to the poll, 69 percent of respondents were aware of the Ilan Halimi case; 53 percent believed that antisemitism had the same roots as other forms of racist hatred, and 38 percent did not fully understand the meaning of “anti-Zionism” rhetoric.

The annual report of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, an advisory body to the Prime Minister, released on July 22, included the results of an Ipsos poll conducted in November 2020 and involving face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of 1,323 residents above the age of 18.  The results were similar to a poll Ipsos conducted a year earlier.  According to the more recent poll, 47.6 percent (compared with 34.2 percent in 2019) of respondents believed Jews “have a particular relationship with money,” and 21.9 percent (18.6 percent in 2019) thought Jews had too much power in the country.  The poll found 46.1 percent (35.5 percent in 2019) of respondents had a negative image of Islam, and 58.9 percent (44.7 percent in 2019) considered it a threat to national identity.  The commission’s report again cited what it said was persistent societal rejection of Islamic religious practices, finding, for example, that 68.8 percent of respondents (45.5 percent in 2019) opposed women wearing a veil.

In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data that in France was collected between February and June 2020.  According to the survey, 7 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in France said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Twelve percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were – “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (21 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (28 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (21 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (13 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (15 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (12 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (28 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (24 percent).

In a July 25 interview with weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, CRIF President Kalifat condemned the anti-COVID-19 vaccine movement’s use of references to the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis.  Kalifat said he was angry at those who “compare the implementation of the COVID-19 health pass, a tool intended to save lives, with the yellow star, which was itself the symbol of discrimination and the death of six million Jews [who] went up in smoke in Nazi crematoria.”  Kalifat said the pandemic was a pretext for online conspiracy theories accusing Jews and Israel of introducing the virus to profit from the vaccine.

According to a study by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, French antisemitic content in online media platforms Twitter, Facebook, and Telegram increased seven-fold in the first two months of the year, compared with the same period in 2020.  In addition to frequent antisemitic content related to COVID-19, the study found 55 percent of the content had to do with conspiracy theories about Jews controlling international, financial, political, and media institutions.

On February 1, on the occasion of an official visit to a CEF session by Chief Rabbi of France Korsia, CRIF President Kalifat, and Joel Mergui, then president of the Israelite Central Consistory of France (the main Jewish administrative governance body), the CEF expressed its strong opposition to antisemitism and concern for growing intolerance against Jews in the country.  In a statement released to mark the visit, the bishops said their warning of the dangers of rising antisemitism in the country was “all the more urgent” given a “trivialization of violence” raised through hate speech, especially on social media.  The bishops also urged “not only Catholics, but also all our fellow citizens to fight vigorously against all forms of political and religious antisemitism in and around them.”

A report covering 2019-20 and issued in December by NGO The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe stated that society in the country seemed to be increasingly divided between Christians, secularists, and Muslims, adding that the government’s secularism had resulted in strong pressures on Christians on moral issues in which Christians and secular society have different views, such as marriage, family, education, bioethics, and identity politics.  It also said media helped to perpetuate certain stereotypes about Christianity, leading to further division.  The NGO expressed concern about what it called a lack of respect for Christianity and a high number of attacks on Christians, churches, and Christian symbols, as well as reports by Christians of feeling Islamic oppression.  The report also stated authorities had noticed “the high number of serious attacks against churches, Christian buildings and symbols as well as against some citizens.”

In a report issued in March, NGO European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) stated that the overwhelming majority of converts to Christianity from Islam in the country experienced family and community contempt and persecution, most commonly in the form of verbal or physical aggression, threats, harassment, or rejection by members of the Muslim community.  ECLJ added that persecution was greater for women and girls who converted from Islam, a significant proportion of whom it said were threatened with being forcibly married, sent to their parents’ country of origin, or sequestered if they did not return to Islam.  The report stated that every year, 300 persons of Muslim origin were baptized into the Catholic Church and estimated that twice that number joined Protestant churches, concluding that there were at least 4,000 converts to Christianity from Islam in the country.

In September, religious leaders and other commentators criticized presidential candidate for 2022 Eric Zemmour’s statement that the Nazi-aligned Vichy regime “protected French Jews” during the Second World War.  In an October TV interview, Chief Rabbi Korsia called Zemmour, who is of Jewish heritage, an antisemite for his comments doubting the innocence of Alfred Dreyfus, famously exonerated of treason charges in 1906.  Zemmour was convicted in 2018 of incitement to religious hatred for making anti-Islamic comments.

On August 27, a fire, suspected to be arson, damaged a Protestant church in Behren-les-Forbach, in the eastern part of the country.  On Twitter, Interior Minister Darmanin strongly condemned the arson and expressed his “support to France’s Protestants.”  A gendarmerie investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

On April 12, students found a spray-painted crossed-out Star of David with the inscriptions “Death to Israel” and “Kouffar” (“nonbelievers” in Arabic and a pejorative term commonly used to describe Christians and Jews) on the facade of the Institute of Political Sciences, an institute of higher learning, in Paris.  The Union of Jewish Students of France called for the institute to take action “to fight the scourge of racist and antisemitic hatred within its walls.”  Higher Education Minister Vidal condemned the vandalism “in the strongest possible terms” on social media.  At year’s end, authorities had not identified any suspects.

According to media reports, on August 28, neighbors discovered antisemitic slogans, such as “Death to the Jews,” painted on the wall of the cemetery and an adjoining barn in Rouffach, located in Upper Rhine Department.  President of the Grand East Region Jean Rottner immediately condemned the incident on Twitter and called for an inquiry.

On August 11, local media in Brittany reported that a monument to French Holocaust survivor and European Parliament president Simone Veil in Perros-Guirec had been defaced three times with excrement and swastikas.  On August 24, following a joint investigation conducted by gendarmes and the Central Office for the Fight against Crimes Against Humanity, two men were arrested.  The local prosecutor announced on August 26 that the men were formally charged with aggravated degradation, aggravated public insult, and incitement to hatred charges, and were released on bail, with conditions.  A trial had not been scheduled by year’s end.

On August 7, antipolice graffiti was discovered on the walls of the Nour El Mohamadi Mosque in central Bordeaux, which was vandalized twice in 2020.  A police investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

On April 11, unidentified individuals defaced the Avicenne Muslim Cultural Center in Rennes with anti-Muslim graffiti, prompting a same-day visit by Interior Minister Darmanin and CFCM President Moussaoui.  The Rennes prosecutor opened an investigation for vandalism of a religious nature.  On April 29, vandals again defaced the Avicenne Muslim Cultural Center and a nearby halal butcher shop with anti-Muslim graffiti referencing a recent Islamist terror attack in Rambouillet, presidential candidate Melenchon, and right-wing monarchist group Action Francaise.  Action Francaise denied responsibility for the vandalism.  Elected officials and the regional prefect issued statements condemning the vandalism and affirming support for the Muslim community.  The CFCM also condemned the incident as “a new and cowardly” provocation.

On December 10, unknown persons vandalized dozens of tombs in the Muslim cemetery in the town of Mulhouse, knocking flowers and ornaments off the graves, according to press reports.  Mulhouse Mayor Michele Lutz condemned the vandalism.

On January 4, press reported local officials discovered swastikas and antisemitic graffiti spray painted on the walls of churches in Echouboulains and Ecrennes and the town hall of Vaux-le-Penil.  Vandals had painted near-identical graffiti a week earlier on graves at a local cemetery and at a nativity scene in the nearby towns of Fontainebleau and Melun.  The prefect of Seine-et-Marne Department and the mayor of Echouboulains condemned the vandalism, and Seine-et-Marne authorities opened an investigation.

On April 17, “The Return of Satan,” “Traitors,” and antisemitic graffiti were scrawled in red paint on the Saint-Sernin Basilica and in surrounding areas in Toulouse.  Mayor Jean-Luc Moudenc condemned the vandalism.  Local press said they believed far-right agitators could be behind the vandalism to create the impression of a Muslim attack on both Catholics and Jews.

The investigation of the 2020 killing of three Catholic worshippers in the Basilica of Notre Dame in the southern city of Nice continued at year’s end.  The suspect in the killings, identified as Brahim Aouissaoui, an asylum seeker from Tunisia who entered the country shortly before the attack, remained in prison.  The national counterterrorism prosecutor’s office said it was treating the attack as a terrorist incident.

On November 9, a Paris prosecutor requested a 32-year prison sentence for Yacine Mihoub, convicted of killing Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll in 2018 and 18 years in prison for his accomplice, Alex Carrimbacus.  On November 10, the Paris Criminal Court sentenced Mihoub to life imprisonment, with no possibility of parole before 22 years.  Carrimbacus was acquitted of murder but found guilty of theft and sentenced to 15 years in prison.  The court ruled the killing was fueled by “a broader context of antisemitism” and “prejudices” about the purported wealth of Jewish people.  The victim’s family said the verdict was “just.”  On November 15, Mihoub’s lawyer announced his client had appealed the ruling, paving the way for a second trial.

On August 27, the Paris Criminal Court concluded it did not have jurisdiction to hear a case involving two men who in 2020 shouted antisemitic insults and assaulted a Jewish man, stole his watch, and beat him unconscious.  The criminal court transferred the case to the Court of Assizes – which hears the most serious criminal cases – because the two men could face more than 15 years in prison on a charge of violent theft motivated by religious reasons.  At year’s end, a trial had not been scheduled, and the two men remained in detention.

On July 2, the Seine-Saint-Denis Criminal Court sentenced nine individuals to prison, with sentences ranging from four to 12 years for the violent September 2017 robbery of a Jewish family in Livry-Gargan, a northern Paris suburb.  The individuals were convicted of breaking into the home of Roger Pinto, the president of Siona, a group that represents Sephardic Jews, and beating Pinto’s son and wife.  The court confirmed the antisemitic nature of the robbery.  The Pinto family’s lawyer called the ruling “a victory for the law.”  The convicted individuals’ lawyer announced her clients would not appeal the ruling.

On July 8, the Colmar Court of Appeals declared a man accused of attempted murder after crashing his car into a mosque in Colmar in 2019 criminally not responsible for his actions and ordered he be sent to a psychiatric hospital instead.

On July 7, the Paris Criminal Court handed down suspended prison sentences ranging from four to six months to 11 of 13 defendants after they were found guilty of harassing and threatening a 16-year-old student, Mila, online in Lyon in 2020.  The 13 defendants represented a variety of backgrounds and religions; one had charges dismissed for procedural reasons, and another was acquitted.  The court considered the case a “real business of harassment.”  The student’s lawyer told the court Mila had received approximately 100,000 threatening messages, including death threats, rape threats, misogynist messages, and hateful messages about her homosexuality after she posted a vulgar anti-Islam video online.  The student said she posted the video in response to a vulgar attack on her sexuality by a Muslim.  Mila was also forced to change schools and continued to live under police protection through year’s end.  In July, the student met with Chemsedine Hafiz, Rector of the Great Mosque of Paris.

On September 22, four men and four women appeared before the Paris Criminal Court for posting antisemitic tweets against April Benayoum, the runner-up in the 2021 Miss France competition.  The eight were tried for “public insults committed because of origin, ethnicity, race, or religion.”  Benayoum received numerous antisemitic comments on social media after revealing that her father was Israeli during the televised competition in 2020.  Prosecutors requested suspended sentences of two months’ imprisonment.  On November 3, a Paris court ordered seven of the eight defendants to each pay fines ranging from 300 to 800 euros ($340-$910).  Each of the seven was also ordered to pay one euro ($1.13) in damages to the contestant and to each of several associations involved in combating racism and antisemitism which had joined the plaintiff in the lawsuit.  Four of the defendants were also ordered to attend a two-day civic class.  The court acquitted the eighth suspect, finding that his tweet did not target Benayoum directly.

On July 2, a Paris court sentenced French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala to four months in prison for “public insult of an antisemitic nature” and “contestation of a crime against humanity” for two 2020 videos regarding the Holocaust.  M’Bala appealed the decision.

On May 19, the Paris Court of Appeals condemned writer Alain Soral, commonly described in the press as a right-wing extremist, to four months in prison, with work release during the day, for incitement to religious hatred for blaming the 2019 fire in Notre Dame Cathedral on Jews from Paris.  In a separate case, the Court of Cassation on October 26 rejected Soral’s appeal of a 2020 ruling by the Paris Court of Appeals that convicted him for contesting crimes against humanity for his remarks regarding the Holocaust and ordered Soral to pay a fine of 5,000 euros ($5,700) or face imprisonment.

On October 19, a court in Metz sentenced teacher and former National Rally political candidate Cassandre Fristot to a suspended prison sentence of six months for “inciting racial hatred.”  Fristot held a placard with antisemitic slogans at an antivaccine protest in August, sparking wide condemnation and prompting Interior Minister Darmanin to ask the Prefect of Moselle to take legal action.  The court also ordered Fristot to pay fines of between one and 300 euros ($1.13-$340) to eight out of 13 groups, including CRIF and various NGOs, that joined the case as plaintiffs.  Education authorities also suspended Fristot from her teaching position on August 9, pending disciplinary action.

On May 18, the Lyon Criminal Court dropped charges against French-Palestinian activist Olivia Zemor, stating lack of evidence.  An Israeli pharmaceutical company had sued Zemor for defamation and incitement to economic discrimination after she posted an article on Europalestine, a pro-Palestinian website, accusing the company of being complicit in “apartheid and occupation.”

According to media, on October 26, a court in Val d’Oise, a region north of Paris, gave an optician a one-year suspended prison sentence for having a harassed a Jewish family returning from synagogue on August 21.  The woman repeatedly gave the Nazi salute, shouted “Heil Hitler,” and told the family, “Dirty Jews, you are the shame of France.”

On October 29, the Paris Criminal Court declared Jean-Marie Le Pen, the 93-year-old founder of the National Front party, now known as National Rally, not guilty of charges of inciting racial hatred for comments targeting a Jewish pop singer.  Asked in June 2014 about the French singer and actor Patrick Bruel, Le Pen referred to Bruel’s Jewish origins with a pun evoking the Holocaust, stating, “I’m not surprised.  Listen, next time we’ll do a whole oven batch!”  The court said Le Pen had clearly targeted Jews with his comment but that the statement did not amount to “inciting discrimination and violence.”

According to press reports, in September, the Correctional Tribunal of Toulouse acquitted Mohamed Tatai, the Rector of the Great Mosque of Toulouse, for a sermon he gave in Arabic in 2017 that prosecutors stated was antisemitic.  In the sermon, posted on a U.S. website, Tatai said, “The Prophet Muhammad told us about the final and decisive battle:  the last judgment will not come until Muslims battle Jews.”  The court ruled that Tatai, who said he was mistranslated, had no desire to incite hatred in his sermon.  Jewish leaders criticized the ruling.  Franck Teboul, the president of the Toulouse chapter of the CRIF, likened the decision to the Court of Cassation’s ruling not to convict the killer of Sarah Halimi, and commented, “…so you tell thousands at a mosque to kill Jews and hide beyond a centuries-old text.”  Abdallah Zakri, President of the Observatory for the Fight Against Islamophobia, called Tatai a moderate Muslim who had maintained good relations with Jews and Catholics and said his acquittal would undercut radical fundamentalists.

On January 5, the Correctional Court of Saint-Nazaire ordered a man to pay a 400-euro ($450) fine and complete an internship on citizenship for posting in 2020 on social media, “You want to honor [Samuel Paty]?  Go burn down the mosque in [the southern town of] Beziers to send the message that we are sick of it.”

On May 5, the Rhone Mosque Council published a request asking women not to attend mosques for the planned May 13 Eid al-Fitr prayer.  Kamel Kabtane, the Rector of the Lyon Great Mosque, said this decision was due to the COVID-19 crisis, and added that the elderly and weak were also advised to stay home.  He denied accusations of discrimination that were posted on social media stating individuals were trying to be malicious toward Muslims.  Kabtane also said mosques did not have sufficient capacity to hold all worshippers and cited a note from the Ministry of the Interior prohibiting prefects and mayors from renting them larger spaces.

On October 5, the Catholic Church’s Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church released its report on child abuse committed by Catholic priests, concluding that, not counting deceased victims, priests had abused 216,000 minors in the country between 1950 and 2020.  Adding claims against lay members of the Church, such as teachers at Catholic schools, the report said the number of victims might total 330,000.  Commission President Jean-Marc Sauve said the abuse was systemic and the Church had shown “deep, total, and even cruel indifference for years.”  CEF President Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort, who had requested the report along with Sister Veronique Margron, President of the Conference of Monks and Nuns of France, expressed “shame and horror” at the findings.  The CEF said it would financially compensate victims by selling its own assets or taking on loans if needed and that an independent national commission would be set up to evaluate the claims.  In a November 8 statement, CEF leadership recognized formally for the first time that the Church bore “an institutional responsibility” for the abuse and, in what they said was a gesture of penance, prayed on their knees at the sanctuary of Lourdes.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Charge d’Affaires and other staff from the embassy, consulates general, and APPs engaged relevant government officials, including at the religious affairs offices of the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs and DILCRAH, on ways to combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred and strengthen religious freedom.  Topics discussed included religious tolerance, antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in lessening violent extremism, the BDS movement, Holocaust-related compensation, and bilateral cooperation on these issues.  Embassy officials closely monitored official government positions on antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents.

Staff from the embassy, consulates general, and APPs met regularly in person and virtually with religious community leaders, activists, and private citizens throughout the country to discuss issues of discrimination and to advocate tolerance for diversity.  Embassy officials discussed religious freedom, antisemitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and interfaith dialogue and tolerance with senior Christian, Muslim, and Jewish representatives, and NGOs such as Coexister, an organization that promotes interfaith dialogue, and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Europe.  They also hosted meetings with representatives from CRIF, the Israelite Central Consistory of France, the CFCM, the Paris Great Mosque, and Catholic and Protestant representatives working on interfaith dialogue.

The embassy supported for a second year an interfaith program, “Kol Yoom,” with local NGO Institut Hozes.  The program conducted interfaith “boot camps” gathering Jewish and Muslim teenagers from different social backgrounds to create shared experiences to foster tolerance and mutual understanding.  The groups participated in workshops and community service activities and acted as a force of positive change in their communities.  The embassy facilitated an Escape Zoom, an online cooperative game to foster ties between Jewish and Muslim students aged 12-17.  In April, the Interfaith Tour documentary, Le Temps des Olives (the Olive Season), was screened online for the group, followed by a discussion of ways to build societal cohesion and fight against hate speech.  The documentary portrayed four youths of different faiths from Coexister who conducted an eight-month world tour in 18 countries, funded in part by the embassy, to interview activists, academics, politicians, and interfaith leaders and to research projects to build diverse, inclusive, and sustainable societies.

On May 18, the Charge d’Affaires and the Consul General in Marseille took part in a conference at the Camp des Milles Holocaust Memorial and educational site.  They discussed with other participants opportunities to raise Holocaust awareness and increase societal tolerance.

In September, embassy representatives met with Chemsedine Hafiz, Rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, to discuss religious freedom, anti-Muslim sentiment, societal tolerance, and interfaith dialogue.

In September, the Consul General in Strasbourg hosted an interfaith roundtable with the Council of Europe, the Holy See’s Ambassador to the council, and religious leaders from across the region, including Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Jewish, and Muslim representatives from Alsace.  Participants discussed current challenges presented by social media platforms regarding intolerance and radicalization, and ideas on how to bring interfaith discussion to the international identity of Strasbourg, in partnership with the Council of Europe.

During the year, the Consul General in Marseille held a series of meetings with religious leaders to discuss religious freedom issues.  The Consul General met with the Regional Council of the Muslim Faith (CRCM) in the Midi Pyrenees Region and the CRCM spokesperson in Toulouse on February 18, where they discussed preventing violent extremism, the Upholding Republican Values law, and tolerance and acceptance towards Muslims in French and American society.  On March 2, she met with the CRIF Marseille president and discussed tolerance and acceptance towards Jews, and Jewish and Muslim cooperation and understanding in Marseille’s northern neighborhoods.  In April, she held a virtual iftar with the Muslim community of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur Region, with attendees from Marseille, Avignon, Nice, and Carpentras at which they discussed the Ramadan traditions of the North African diaspora in Southern France, countering violent extremism in prisons, the Upholding Republican Values law, and the importance of interfaith dialogue in increasing societal tolerance.  On May 25, she met with the Vaucluse Jewish community and the CRCM representative for Vaucluse, and visited the Carpentras Synagogue and the Carpentras Mosque.  At the synagogue, she and Jewish community representatives discussed how community members were working to preserve their Jewish traditions within their congregation.  In the mosque, she and Muslim community representatives discussed how Muslim leaders were helping newcomers integrate into the country, especially with material support for young families and with literacy education.

On October 2-4, an official from the consulate general in Marseille and representatives of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum visited the Camp de Rivesaltes Memorial site in the Pyrenees Orientales Region and met with the memorial’s staff to explore opportunities for cooperation on Holocaust remembrance.  The camp was a transit point for deportees who were later sent to Nazi extermination camps.

APP Rennes officials met with Marc Brzustowski and Philippe Strol, respectively Vice President and President of the Rennes synagogue, on September 22 to discuss religious freedom, antisemitism, and opportunities for interfaith dialogue.  In October, APP Rennes officials discussed opportunities for interfaith dialogue with local government officials.

APP Lyon officials attended the investiture of the new Grand Rabbi of Lyon and the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Region, Daniel Dahan, in October.  The Consul spoke with the Grand Rabbi and other Jewish leaders regarding their concerns about the growth of antisemitism in the region.

On November 11, the Second Gentleman of the United States visited the Shoah Memorial in Paris to pay homage to victims of the Holocaust while marking Franco-American resolve to combat contemporary antisemitism.  He lit a memorial candle in honor of the 76,000 Jews deported from the country under Vichy rule at the Wall of Names that lists the victims.

The embassy regularly amplified messages from the Secretary of State and Department of State on religious freedom on embassy social media platforms in French and in English.  For example, in May and July, it posted remarks by the Secretary on religious freedom as a human right.  The Charge d’Affaires also published messages related to religious holidays on his Twitter accounts to highlight the diversity of religions and high-level engagement on religious freedom issues.  These included posts on Yom Kippur, Easter, Ramadan, Naw Ruz, and Holi, among others.

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 government banned the Muslim association Ansaar International, stating it financed terrorism, and Hamburg’s intelligence service said it would classify the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH) as an organization receiving “direct orders from Tehran.”  Federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of numerous Muslim groups and mosques, as well as the Church of Scientology (COS).  Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, for some state employees.  A ruling on two German cases by the Court of Justice of the European Union said the needs of employers could outweigh an employee’s right to wear religious clothing and symbols.  Senior government leaders continued to condemn antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and acts.  In speeches in September and October, then Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed regret that public antisemitism had increased in the country and said Germany would expend great strength to resist it.  The first antisemitism commissioner for the state of Hamburg assumed office in July; Bremen remained the only state without such a position.

There were numerous reports of antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents.  These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, vandalism, and demonstrations.  In separate incidents, two Jewish men were hospitalized after being severely beaten and suffering broken bones in the face.  In May, there was an outbreak of antisemitic demonstrations and attacks, some of them violent, as well as vandalism and assaults across the country, during violence in the Middle East.  According to figures collected by the Federal Criminal Police Office, as of November 5, there had been 1,850 antisemitic crimes reported during the year, including 35 involving physical violence leading to 17 persons injured.  Ministry of Interior crime statistics for 2020, the most recent year for which complete data were available, cited 2,351 antisemitic crimes, an increase of 15.7 percent from 2019, attributing 2,224 (94.6 percent) of them to the far right.  Fifty-seven of the antisemitic crimes involved violence.  The ministry registered 929 crimes targeting Muslims and Muslim institutions – including 79 against places of worship and 51 involving battery – and 141 anti-Christian crimes, including seven involving violence.  The ministry classified most of the perpetrators of anti-Muslim crimes as right-wing extremists; the composition of those acting against Christians was mixed.  The partially government-funded Federal Association of Departments for Research and Information on Antisemitism (RIAS) attributed the increase in antisemitic incidents to the large number of demonstrations against measures to contain COVID-19 or to other COVID-related issues, classifying 489 antisemitic incidents as connected to the pandemic.  Demonstrations also occurred expressing anti-Muslim sentiment.  In September, the Brussels-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 10 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Germany said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

In June, then Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the U.S. Secretary of State launched the U.S.-Germany Dialogue on Holocaust Issues to promote accurate Holocaust education and information and to combat Holocaust denial and distortion and antisemitism.  The U.S. embassy and five consulates general assessed the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance and met with a wide range of officials at all levels and with federal and state legislators.  They expressed concerns regarding antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and advocated for more law enforcement and other resources to prevent violent attacks on religious communities.  Consuls General met with state-level government representatives, including antisemitism commissioners.  The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights NGOs on their concerns regarding religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups.  The embassy and consulates worked closely with Jewish communities to support programs promoting religious tolerance and understanding, while countering antisemitism and extremism targeting religion.  The embassy utilized virtual and in-person speaker programs and workshops to help preserve accurate Holocaust narratives and expand discussion of religious freedom issues.  The Frankfurt Consul General visited Ulm’s Jewish community in June following an attack on a synagogue there.  The Charge d’Affaires and the Leipzig Consul General visited Halle, the site of a fatal 2019 attack on a synagogue, where they met with members of the Jewish community to discuss antisemitism, religious tolerance, and Jewish life in the east of the country.  The embassy made extensive use of social media to amplify U.S. government messaging and disseminate its own original content advocating religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 79.9 million (midyear 2021).  Unofficial estimates based on the census and figures provided by religious groups indicate approximately 27 percent of the population is Catholic and 25 percent belongs to the Evangangelische Kirche in Deutschland (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, account for approximately 2 percent of the population.  Orthodox Christians represent 1.9 percent of the population.

According to government estimates published in April, approximately 6.6 percent of the population is Muslim, of which 74 percent is Sunni, 8 percent Alevi, 4 percent Shia, 1 percent Ahmadi, and 1 percent other affiliations such as Alawites and Sufis.  The remaining 12 percent of Muslims in the country say they are not affiliated with any of the above groups or are unwilling to disclose an affiliation.  Intelligence officials estimate there are approximately 12,150 Salafi Muslims in the country.  Estimates of the Jewish population vary widely; the Federal Ministry of the Interior estimates it at 95,000, while other estimates place the number at approximately 190,000 when including Jews who do not belong to a specific Jewish community.  According to the secular NGO Religious Studies Media and Information Service (REMID), Buddhists (270,000); Jehovah’s Witnesses (167,000); Hindus (100,000); Yezidis (100,000); members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) (40,000); Sikhs (10,000-15,000); and members of the COS (3,400) together constitute less than 1 percent of the population.  All of REMID’s estimates are based on members who have registered with a religious group.  According to the nonprofit Research Group Worldviews Germany, approximately 39 percent of the population either has no religious affiliation or belongs to religious groups not counted in government statistics.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious opinion and provides for freedom of faith and conscience, freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed, and freedom to practice one’s religion.  It 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 parents have the right to decide whether their children receive religious instruction.  It recognizes the right to establish private denominational schools.  The constitution guarantees the freedom to form religious societies and permits groups to 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 to provide religious services in the military, hospitals, and prisons.

A federal law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age, or sexual orientation.

The federal criminal code prohibits calling for violence, inciting hatred, or taking arbitrary measures against religious groups or their members.  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 penalties apply equally to online speech.  In addition, the federal criminal code prohibits insulting a domestic religious organization, its institutions or practices, or the religious beliefs or world views of another person, if doing so could disturb the public peace.  Violations are punishable by a fine or up to three years in prison but are rarely prosecuted.  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.

By law, social media companies with more than two million registered users in the country must implement procedures to review complaints and remove or block access to illegal speech within seven days of receiving a complaint and within 24 hours for cases considered “manifestly unlawful.”  Noncompliance may result in fines of up to 50 million euros ($56.69 million).  Unlawful content includes actions illegal under the criminal code, such as defamation of religions and denial of historic atrocities.

The law permits the federal government to characterize “nontraditional” religious groups – such as the COS – 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 past court decisions ruled that the government must remain neutral toward 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.  Those applying for tax-exempt status must provide evidence they are a religious group through their statutes, history, and activities.

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 (8 percent of income tax in Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, 9 percent in the other states) on members, who must register their religious affiliation with federal tax authorities.  Each state collects the tithes on behalf of the religious community through the state’s tax collection process, separately from and in addition to income taxes.  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 benefits, including 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.  State governments subsidize institutions with PLC status that provide public services, such as religious schools and hospitals.  In addition, due to historic “state-church contracts” dating back to before 1919, 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.  The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has 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.

Federal animal protection laws prohibit the killing of animals without anesthesia, including as part of halal and kosher slaughter practices.  Pursuant to a Federal Administrative Court decision, however, 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.

On July 6, a federal law took effect that enables authorities to restrict the tattoos, clothing, jewelry, and hair or beard styles of civil servants if this is necessary to ensure the functionality of public administration or fulfill the obligation for respectful and trustworthy conduct.  The law specifies that if these symbols are of a religious nature, they may only be restricted if they are “objectively suited to adversely affecting trust in a civil servant’s neutral performance of his official duties.”

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.  The states of Bavaria, North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), and Saarland render decisions on a case-by-case basis.  Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Bremen, and Lower Saxony 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.  Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg prohibit teachers from wearing full-face veils (i.e., niqabs or burqas).  Berlin bans visible signs of religious affiliation for police, lawyers, judges, and law enforcement staff but not for primary and secondary school teachers.  In Lower Saxony and Bavaria, judges and prosecutors may not wear religious symbols or clothing in the courtroom.  Other states have laws that restrict religious attire in certain circumstances.

Citing safety reasons and the need for traffic law enforcement, federal law prohibits the concealment of faces while driving, including by a niqab.  Infractions are punishable by a 60 euro ($68) fine.

State law in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg forbids students in primary and secondary schools from full-face veiling at school (i.e., wearing a niqab or burqa).  This state ban on full-face covering does not apply in higher education.

According to federal law, religious groups may appoint individuals with special training to carry out circumcision of males younger than 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 those without such status that have concluded a special agreement with the state granting them this right) appoint religion teachers and work with the states to ensure the curriculum is 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 by state) express an interest.  Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Berlin, Hesse, Lower Saxony, NRW, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein also offer some religious instruction in Islam.  In most federal states, Muslim communities or associations provide this instruction, while in Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein, the state does.  In Hamburg and Bremen, nondenominational religious instruction is offered for all students by the EKD and the state, respectively.

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 states.

The government provides annual payments to Holocaust victims and their descendants, and regularly expands the scope of these programs to broaden the eligibility requirements.

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

Government Practices

In May, then federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer banned the Duesseldorf-based Muslim association Ansaar International and related suborganizations for financing terrorism and opposing the country’s constitutional order.  The NRW Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC, the state’s intelligence service) had been observing these organizations since 2013.  More than 1,000 officers were deployed in 10 states (Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Schleswig-Holstein) to enforce the ban.

In July, Hamburg’s domestic intelligence service announced that, based on new evidence, it would officially classify the IZH as an organization that is not independent, but rather one that “receives and depends on direct orders from Tehran.”  The IZH challenged this and previous claims in court; a verdict was pending at year’s end.  Hamburg opposition parties and civil society actors continued to advocate an end to Hamburg’s formal relationship with the IZH, which they said was an important Iranian regime asset.

Federal and state OPCs continued to monitor numerous Muslim groups, including the U.S.-designated terrorist groups ISIS, Hizballah, and Hamas, as well as groups such as Turkish Hizballah, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama’at, Millatu Ibrahim, the IZH, the Muslim Brotherhood, Milli Gorus, and various Salafist movements.

The OPC in Saxony continued to monitor two mosques it said were dominated by Salafists.

According to reports from the federal OPC and COS members, the federal OPC and the OPCs of six states – Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Saxony-Anhalt – continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating COS publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution.  At least four major political parties – the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU), Social Democratic Party (SPD), and Free Democratic Party (FDP) – continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership.  “Sect filters,” signed statements by potential employees to confirm they had no contact with the COS, remained in use in the public and private sectors.

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

In speeches in September and October, then Chancellor Merkel expressed regret that expressions of public antisemitism had increased in the country and said the country would expend great strength to resist it.  At the presentation of a prize for tolerance in September, she stated that support for Jewish life was a special obligation of the government and that the country would not tolerate racism, antisemitism, or hate directed at a group of persons.  She also acknowledged a strong increase in antisemitic acts in 2020 and expressed concern that antisemitism was becoming bolder and more open than before.

In August, the federal government announced it would spend an additional 12 million euros ($13.61 million) on research networks focusing on antisemitism between 2021 and 2024, complementing the one billion euros ($1.13 billion) in spending already planned for 89 measures against right-wing extremism, antisemitism, and racism during that period.  Then Education and Research Minister Anja Karliczek said the government wanted to invest millions in researching the causes of anti-Semitism in order “to efficiently fight” it, adding that there was reason to worry that the 2,351 cases of antisemitism reported in 2020 were “only the tip of the iceberg and that the unreported number of daily attacks on Jews is substantially higher.”

In July, the Duisburg public prosecutor’s office charged six law enforcement officers with sedition and spreading symbols of unconstitutional organizations by participating in right-wing extremist chat groups with names such as “Alphateam” and “Kunte Kinte.”  According to the NRW Interior Ministry, officers exchanged anti-Muslim content in the groups, including praise for the 2019 anti-Muslim attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.  The groups had been found entered into an officer’s phone in September 2020.  Investigations against seven other accused members of the chat groups were dropped due to statutes of limitation or lack of sufficient evidence.  Investigations continued in 13 other cases, all involving law enforcement officers.  In September, the NRW Interior Ministry’s unit examining police right-wing extremism published its report of conclusions, in which it recommended 18 separate measures to fight right-wing extremism within the police.

In June, Frankfurt prosecutors launched investigations of 20 members of the city’s elite police special forces (SEK) for exchanging right-wing extremist material in a chat group, including material venerating Nazi organizations and expressing hate against minority groups.  On August 26, Hesse Interior Minister Peter Beuth dissolved the Frankfurt SEK and announced a statewide reorganization of SEK units.  Investigations against a majority of the officers continued at year’s end, but investigations of two superior officers for failing to report the activity were closed.  Frankfurt Police president Gerhard Bereswill said in September that parts of the city’s police force would be reformed to address antisemitic tendencies and other discriminatory attitudes within it.

In July, the chair of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Ayman Mazyek, and other representatives of the Muslim community said that military chaplains were not available to the estimated 3,000 Muslim soldiers who “put their heads on the line for Germany.”  The Ministry of Defense said that the lack of an umbrella organization for Muslims with which the ministry could negotiate made it difficult to appoint imams as chaplains.

In June, the Bundeswehr (military) appointed its first military rabbi, the first of up to 10 rabbis scheduled to serve the 150-300 Jews in the armed forces.  The Central Council of Jews in Germany and leading politicians of all major parties welcomed the move.

According to the Rhineland-Palatinate Ministry of Justice, the state employed four Muslim prison chaplains, all of whom are state employees and had to pass a multistep recruitment process.  The states of Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Bavaria also employed Muslim chaplains, according to media reports, and in Lower Saxony, 11 Muslim chaplains worked for the prison system on a freelance basis.

In May, the Stuttgart Administrative Court decided in favor of the Wuerttemberg EKD, ruling that the federal government’s COVID-19 restrictions for areas with high infection rates did not apply to church funerals.  The EKD had argued in April that church funerals were religious services, not private events, and should therefore be exempt from the 30-person attendance limit mandated by the COVID-19 regulations.  The court also found that the federal regulation constituted an infringement on religious freedom.

Religious groups, including the Coordination Council of Muslims, whose members included the country’s largest Muslim organizations, expressed concern that authorities might restrict civil servants from wearing headscarves or other religious symbols after the law allowing such restrictions in some circumstances came into effect in July.

On March 22-23, then Chancellor Merkel and the minister-presidents (governors) of the 16 states decided the government would ask churches to cancel in-person Easter services on April 4 as part of heightened COVID-19 restrictions during a five-day “quiet period” of no in-person gatherings.  According to media reports, the Chancellor and minister-presidents did not consult with church leaders or government advisors on religious affairs before announcing the decision.  On March 24, following strong protests by the Catholic Church, the EKD, and business leaders, the federal government withdrew the plan for the quiet period.  The government, however, still encouraged churches to avoid in-person Easter services.

In April, NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul suggested that religious congregations suspend in-person services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The suggestion followed a COVID-19 outbreak at a church in Euskirchen.  Religious groups followed strict social distancing rules for in-person worship but also offered virtual and drive-in services.

Also in April, local officials and mayors across NRW encouraged Muslims to celebrate Ramadan virtually, as large gatherings were prohibited due to COVID-19 regulations.  To comply with social distancing regulations, many mosques offered in-person services for smaller numbers of participants, as well as online prayers.

In August, the NRW state government established a reporting office for antisemitic incidents that do not rise to the level of criminal charges.  The North Rhein State Association of Jewish Communities temporarily administered the office until the government could establish a new organization.

In March, the city of Cologne established a reporting and documentation office for antisemitic incidents at its National Socialist Documentation Center that it said would coordinate its efforts with similar institutions at the state and national level.

In April, the Hamburg government appointed Stefan Hensel, the local chair of the German Israeli Society (DIG), as the city-state’s first independent antisemitism commissioner.  Hensel’s three-year term began on July 1.  Hamburg’s largest Jewish congregation, led by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, as well as the smaller Liberal Jewish Community, endorsed the appointment.  Hensel stated that he was committed to fighting both antisemitism and anti-Zionism, adding that the city should appreciate Hamburg Jews as modern citizens.

Bremen remained the only state in the country without an antisemitism commissioner.  In previous years, the deputy chair of the Jewish community in Bremen said the community preferred to address antisemitism and other issues of concern in an existing forum that included the mayor and president of the legislature.

In August, the government of Baden-Wuerttemberg announced that the annual budget of the state’s antisemitism commissioner would be doubled to more than 2.2 million euros ($2.49 million).

In January, the Baden-Wuerttemberg State Criminal Police Office and the state Interior Ministry announced a new prevention program called “Safe in Religious Communities” aimed at improving communication between law enforcement agencies and religious communities, while giving community representatives tools to safely organize events and identify extremism.  Police officers at regional headquarters were trained to act as liaisons to the Jewish and Muslim communities.  According to a press release by the Baden-Wuerttemberg government, more religious communities might be added at a later date.

On August 23, Baden-Wuerttemberg Interior Minister Thomas Strobl officially inaugurated the country’s first two police rabbis, Moshe Flomenmann from Loerrach and Shneur Trebnik from Ulm.  According to Strobl, the police rabbis would serve as counselors and points of contact for prospective and current police officers, as well as for community members.

In September, the Central Archive for the History of Jews in Germany reopened at a new location in Heidelberg.  The federal Ministry of the Interior funded the archive with 900,000 euros ($1.02 million) annually.

On October 7, the Berlin Administrative Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by two supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in which they said the Bundestag had infringed upon their fundamental rights when it passed a resolution criticizing the BDS as antisemitic in 2019.

In May, the Moenchengladbach District Court of Appeals overturned a man’s eight-month suspended sentence imposed by a lower court for distributing the antisemitic manifesto of the 2019 Halle synagogue attacker online, and instead fined him 900 euros ($1,000).  The court stated it found the defendant’s claims that he had shared the manifesto only to mock its contents to be credible.

In May, the NRW Higher Administrative Court in Muenster rejected an exemption for a woman from Duesseldorf who wanted to drive a car while wearing a niqab.  The court cited the law prohibiting drivers from fully covering their face except for the eyes.  The decision could not be appealed.

According to a 2020 survey of state-level education ministries, the most recent available, more than 900 schools in the country offered Islamic religious instruction.  Almost 60,000 students took part in Islamic religious instruction in the school year 2019-20, an increase of 4,000 from the previous year.  Since 2017-18, approximately 35 schools had added Islamic religious instruction.

In May, the NRW Ministry of Education created a new commission to cooperate on Islamic religious instruction in public schools.

In July, the Wiesbaden Administrative Court ruled the Hesse state government had unlawfully ended cooperation with the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) on Islamic religious education in public schools in April 2020.  The state government appealed the decision in August; the appeal was pending at the end of the year.

In the 2021-22 school year, 364 schools in Bavaria began offering Islamic religion courses, similar to existing religion courses on Christianity and Judaism.  All pupils in Bavaria must receive instruction in one of these religions, or an ethics course if courses in their religion are not available.  Approximately 100 Muslim instructors were expected to teach approximately 17,000 Muslim pupils, although demand for Islamic religion courses was much higher than 17,000, according to parents, schools, and education ministry officials.  Muslim communities complained that the state government, not the religious community, set the curriculum of the course.

In October, Saxony-Anhalt also began offering pupils Judaism instruction for the first time as a pilot project at an elementary school in Magdeburg.  Fourteen pupils enrolled in the course.

In April, the Mainz Administrative Court ruled that the 2019 closure of Rhineland-Palatinate’s only Islamic daycare center, the al-Nur center in Mainz, was lawful.  State authorities had closed the center, saying it was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist organizations.

In May, the Sunni School Council Foundation, which oversees Islamic religious education in Baden-Wuerttemberg public schools, rejected the teaching license of Abdel-Hakim Ourghi, head of the Islamic Theology department at the University of Education in Freiburg.  While the foundation cited missing credentials as a reason for its decision, critics, including members of the Muslim community, academics, and politicians, accused it of trying to silence a prominent voice of a liberal interpretation of Islam.  The Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs defended the decision, which could be appealed.

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 contributed 13 million euros ($14.74 million) to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage 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 group researching 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 March, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference) and the government announced an agreement to provide transitional payments to surviving spouses of Jewish victims of the Nazis who had been receiving a pension from the government.

In January, the Baden-Wuerttemberg state government signed a contract with the state’s Jewish communities to protect Jewish institutions and combat antisemitism.  The contract stipulated the state government would provide funds to protect Jewish facilities totaling one million euros ($1.13 million) in 2021 and 1.17 million euros ($1.33 million) in each of the ensuing three years, as well as 200,000 euros ($227,000) yearly for three years for the construction of a Jewish academy.

On April 22, the Dresden city council voted to establish a museum on the history of Jewish life in the states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia and in Poland and the Czech Republic.

After many years of renovation, the Goerlitz synagogue reopened on July 12.  Consecrated 110 years earlier, it had survived the Nazi pogrom of November 1938 (also referred to as Kristallnacht) and been neglected during the German Democratic Republic period.  The federal government supported the construction with 2.8 million euros ($3.17 million).

Construction of Frankfurt’s Jewish Academy began in September.  The academy, due to open in 2024, would function, according to sponsors, as an intellectual center of Jewish life, philosophy, and culture.  The costs of construction, estimated at 34.5 million euros ($39.12 million), was to be shared by the federal government, the state of Hesse, the city of Frankfurt, and the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

In September, the city of Frankfurt and its Jewish community signed an extension to the contract that governs cooperation between them.  The contract stipulated the city would provide an additional one million euros ($1.13 million) for the protection and security of the Jewish community, starting with the 2022 fiscal year.

According to media reports and the Humanistic Union, an organization that describes its mission as working to protect and enforce civil rights, including the right to free development of the personality, total state government contributions during the year to the Catholic Church and the EKD totaled approximately 581 million euros ($658.73 million).  The union said it calculated its estimate based on budgets of the 16 states.  The Humanistic Union advocates the abolition of state church privileges such as faith-based religious education as a regular school subject, collection of church taxes, and other financial aid to religious groups.

On June 16, the country’s first publicly funded Islamic seminary opened in Osnabrueck with a class of 50 students.  Five Muslim federations, including the Central Council of Muslims in Germany and the Muslim Community of Lower Saxony, founded the seminary.  A commission of their representatives sets the curriculum, which is taught in German.  The federal and Lower Saxony governments committed to provide 5.5 million euros ($6.24 million) in funding to the school over five years.

The government continued the German Islam Conference dialogue with Muslims in the country.  The dialogue’s stated aim was to improve the religious and social participation of the Muslim population, 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 Muslim organizations.  Among the specific outcomes of the dialogue were the April publication of a large study on Muslim life in the country that included new official estimates of the size of the Muslim population, the first in years; a May conference on young Muslims’ perspectives on issues affecting Islam in the country; the establishment of an Islamic seminary in Osnabrueck in June, including government funding for it; and support for efforts to inform the Muslim community about the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the year.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and held the organization’s chairmanship for the year ending March 31.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were numerous reports of antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents across the country, including assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism.  According to figures collected by the Federal Criminal Police Office, as of November 5, there had been 1,850 antisemitic crimes reported, including 35 involving physical violence leading to 17 persons injured.

In August, a group insulted and severely beat a young Jewish man wearing a kippah while he was sitting in a Cologne park.  The victim was hospitalized with broken bones in his face.  The two attackers were arrested and released; police investigations into the crime continued at year’s end.  Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker, Catholic Archbishop of Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, and President of the Jewish Community in Munich and Upper Bavaria Charlotte Knobloch condemned the attack, which police said they suspected was motived by antisemitism.

In Hamburg on September 18, a man and his companion shouted antisemitic slogans before attacking a 60-year-old Jewish man, leaving him hospitalized with potentially lifelong injuries, according to media reports.  Hamburg Anti-Semitism Commissioner Stefan Hensel said the attacker and his companions were shouting antisemitic and anti-Israel insults at a pro-Israel vigil in central Hamburg and, when vigil participants asked them to stop, the attacker punched the Jewish man in the face, breaking his nose and cheek bone.  Hamburg Deputy Mayor (equivalent to deputy governor) Katharina Fegebank condemned the attack.  Police arrested a 16-year-old suspect, Aram A., in Berlin in late September.

In May, during clashes in Gaza and Israel, there was an outbreak of antisemitic demonstrations, some of them violent, as well as vandalism and assaults across the country.  On May 10, unknown individuals burned a memorial plaque at the site of the former Duesseldorf synagogue, and on May 11, demonstrators burned Israeli flags in front of synagogues in Bonn and Muenster.  Demonstrators also threw stones at the Bonn synagogue.  Approximately 180 persons attended an anti-Israel demonstration in Gelsenkirchen May 12, chanting antisemitic insults describing Jews as subhuman.  Some made the hand signal of the Grey Wolves, a Turkish right-wing extremist group.

The NRW Interior Ministry reported a total of 77 incidents with antisemitic or anti-Israeli connections (the ministry did not separately categorize antisemitic from anti-Israeli incidents) at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in May, for which it believed at least 125 individuals were responsible; it identified 45 persons by name.

On May 15, 3,500 persons participated in a pro-Palestinian demonstration in the Neukoelln district of Berlin that turned antisemitic.  Demonstrators chanted antisemitic slogans and displayed signs equating Israel with the Nazis.  According to media reports, participants included members of the Grey Wolves and left-wing extremist groups.  After police tried to end the demonstration due to noncompliance with COVID-19 requirements, participants became violent, throwing bottles, stones, and burning objects at police and journalists covering the event.  Ninety-three police officers were injured, and 59 persons were arrested for battery, assaulting police, and other charges; police restored order after several hours.  Police investigations were underway at year’s end.  The then mayor of Berlin, Michael Mueller, condemned the demonstration as “unacceptable.”

In a statement delivered by the federal government spokesman, then Chancellor Merkel condemned the demonstrations and attacks on Jewish institutions as antisemitic abuses of the right to free assembly.  They had shown that those involved were not protesting a state or government but expressing hate against a religion and those that belong to it, she said.  Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also condemned the demonstrations and attacks, saying that that country “will not tolerate hate against Jews, no matter who it comes from … Nothing justifies threatening Jews or attacking synagogues in our cities.”  Then Bundestag President Wolfgang Schaeuble issued a statement that there was “no justification for antisemitism, hate, and violence at the protests,” while acknowledging the existence of antisemitism in the country.  Then Interior Minister Seehofer said that attacks on synagogues and spreading antisemitism would be met with the full force of the law.  President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Josef Schuster and Chairman of the Central Council of Muslims Mazyek also condemned the incidents.  The president of the Central Council of Jews and the German Conference of Bishops issued a joint press statement warning of growing antisemitism and a “combination of political conflict and religious fanaticism.”  Several state-level religious leaders and government officials, including DITIB Hesse Managing Director Onur Akdeniz, Bishop of Limburg Georg Baetzing, and Hesse Antisemitism Commissioner Uwe Becker, spoke out against antisemitic propaganda at the pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

In May, the Hessian State Criminal Police Office arrested a Berlin-based man, identified only as Alexander M., for sending more than 85 threatening letters with right-wing extremist content, sometimes including antisemitic content, to politicians, journalists, and other prominent figures from late 2018 through 2020.  Many of the most visible targets were Muslim women.  Among the recipients were the heads of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.

In June in Moenchengladbach, two men assaulted a Jewish man, speaking to him in Arabic.  Police were investigating but had not identified any suspects at year’s end.

During a September 30 soccer match in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium between 1.FC Union Berlin and Haifa Maccabi – the first time an Israeli team had played in the stadium opened by the Nazis for the 1936 Olympic games – Maccabi supporters reported that some Union supporters threatened them, used antisemitic insults, and threw objects at them.  According to press reports, one Union fan also attempted to burn an Israeli flag.  1.FC Union apologized for the flag burning, insults, and physical attacks, all of which it termed antisemitic, and banned one person from attending games in the future.  Police were investigating at year’s end.

In April, on Easter Sunday, three unidentified men entered a church in Nidda, Hesse, shouted slogans such as “There is only one God, and that is Allah,” and “Allah is greatest,” and insulted a worshipper attending the church service.  The political crimes unit of the Hesse state police investigated the incident as a possible infringement of the free exercise of religion.

In September, a Halle police officer was suspended for repeatedly corresponding with Stephan Balliet, who had attacked the Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur in 2019.  The officer wrote Balliet at least 10 letters using a pseudonym and false address and reportedly expressed sympathy for the attacker, while minimizing his crimes, in conversations with colleagues.  The police officer had left the force as of October 31, according to newspaper Mitteldeutsche Zeitung.

On June 15, the Erfurt newspaper Thueringer Allgemeine reported that local construction companies had repeatedly declined orders for the construction of a mosque in Erfurt because they feared their involvement would precipitate attacks on their vehicles by opponents of the mosque.  Another newspaper reported in 2020 that construction companies had also declined to participate in the mosque construction at that time.  Suleman Malik, the spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Erfurt, said the reaction of the construction companies had delayed the construction of the mosque by two years.

In July, according to press reports, the Duesseldorf Hyatt Hotel cancelled the reservation of the Baba Sheikh, the spiritual leader of the Yezidis, and his two companions.  The hotel said the cancellation was due to technical issues, apologized for the misunderstanding, and upheld the reservation.

In October, Jewish singer Gil Ofarim reported that hotel staff told him to remove his Star of David necklace during check-in at the front desk of Leipzig’s Westin Hotel.  Hotel employees denied doing so and filed a defamation suit against the singer.  In response, Ofarim accused employees of filing a false report.  Ofarim’s discrimination lawsuit against the hotel was pending at the end of the year.  According to the hotel, it conducted its own investigation that exonerated its employees.

Media again reported that women who wore a hijab faced employment discrimination and that discrimination was made easier by the customary practice of requiring photographs as part of job applications.  According to one March report, a job seeker who wore a headscarf said that she had to submit 450 applications before she got an interview, while hearing about others who did not wear headscarves and received interviews after four applications.

In June, a man attempted to set fire to the Ulm synagogue, resulting in limited damage to the building.  The suspect was a German-born Turkish national who fled to Turkey after the attack.  According to Baden-Wuerttemberg authorities, the Turkish government refused to extradite the suspect.  Following the incident, nearly 500 persons, including various city and state politicians, attended two separate support vigils, and the Baden-Wuerttemberg state parliament passed a resolution denouncing antisemitism.

In April, an unknown perpetrator shot at the Bochum synagogue and a nearby planetarium.  According to police, the attack destroyed windows in both buildings.  Police did not rule out an antisemitic motive for the crime.  In May, police announced they had surveillance camera footage and issued an appeal to the public to help identify the suspect.  The Bochum prosecutor’s office closed the investigation in December, citing insufficient evidence.

On July 24, unknown persons set on fire a banner announcing the construction of a new synagogue in Magdeburg.  Police were investigating the case.  The state of Saxony-Anhalt earmarked 2.8 million euros ($3.17 million) for the construction of the synagogue, out of a total construction cost of approximately 3.4 million euros ($3.85 million).

In June, a swastika was found painted on the Torah ark in a Jewish prayer room at Frankfurt International Airport.  The country’s Orthodox Rabbinical Conference denounced the act of vandalism, saying, “This hatred of Jews must finally stop.”

According to Ministry of Interior federal crime statistics, there were 2,351 antisemitic crimes committed during 2020 (the most recent year for which complete statistics were available), including 57 crimes involving violence.  This represented a 15.7 percent increase from the 2,032 antisemitic crimes reported in 2019, of which 73 were violent; federal crime statistics classified 2,224 crimes (94.6 percent) as motivated by far-right ideology.  RIAS attributed the increase in antisemitic crimes and incidents to the large number of demonstrations against measures to contain COVID-19 or to other COVID-related issues, and it reported 489 antisemitic incidents connected to the pandemic.

The federal OPC annual report stated that, of the 57 violent antisemitic crimes committed in 2020, 48 were motivated by right-wing extremism, a 14 percent drop compared to 2019, when it reported 56 such crimes.  According to the report, membership in right-wing extremist parties such as the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party dropped slightly, from approximately 13,330 persons in 2019 to 13,250 in 2020.

In May, the NRW commissioner for antisemitism published the second NRW antisemitism report, which cited 276 antisemitic crimes (down from 310 in 2019) registered in the state in 2020, of which 254 (down from 291) were motivated by right-wing ideologies.  The crimes ranged from verbal abuse to physical injury; all cases resulted in criminal investigations.  The NRW commissioner stated that 500 antisemitic incidents were reported to her office, including incidents that did not rise to the level of criminal complaints.

A July study by RIAS based on Jewish residents in the state and other sources found that antisemitism was an everyday experience of Jews in Baden-Wuerttemberg, ranging from mundane to virulent forms.  A leading Jewish community representative described antisemitism as “background noise of Jewish life.”  The study analyzed 671 antisemitic crimes that occurred in the state between 2014 and 2018.  A spokesperson of the state’s youth foundation pointed to an increasing online dimension to antisemitism, stating there were 200 such incidents reported in 2020, and 300 in the first half of 2021 alone.

RIAS, to which victims may report antisemitic incidents regardless of whether they file charges with police, reported 1,437 such incidents in the states of Berlin, Brandenburg, Bavaria, and Schleswig-Holstein in 2020, compared with 1,253 in 2019, an increase of 14.6 percent.

Lower Saxony’s government recorded 189 antisemitic crimes in 2020, down from 212 in 2019.  The Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania government counted 73 such crimes in 2020, up from 52 in 2019.

In 2020, the Ministry of Interior registered 929 crimes targeting Muslims and Muslim institutions, including 77 against places of worship and 51 incidents of battery.  The ministry classified most of these incidents as having been carried out by right-wing extremists.  Other recorded incidents included online hate speech against Muslims, hate mail, and aggressive public behavior against persons who appeared to be Muslim.

The Ministry of Interior counted 141 anti-Christian crimes in 2020, including seven cases involving violence, up from 128 in 2019, an increase of 10 percent.  The ministry classified 30 percent of these crimes as motivated by right-wing ideology and 12 percent as motivated by left-wing ideology.

In May, the Ministry of Interior presented its annual report on politically motivated crime, according to which police registered 1,026 crimes motivated by antireligious sentiment.

In January, an unknown person threw stones and paint at St. Luke’s, a confessional Lutheran church in Leipzig, breaking windows and damaging a newly restored mosaic.  An anonymous letter claiming responsibility for the attack was posted online; the writer accused Martin Luther of sexism and tyranny and called churches “one of the best targets” for attacks against western morals.  At year’s end, police had not identified a suspect.

In April, an unknown man broke the windows of the prayer room of a Hildesheim mosque and entered its courtyard before fleeing.  Police arrested and charged a suspect.  A trial was scheduled for 2022.

In August, a man assaulted a woman wearing a headscarf at a subway station in Berlin.  The unknown assailant beat her severely and tore off her headscarf while shouting xenophobic insults.  As she attempted to flee, he knocked her to the ground with his bicycle and left the scene.  The woman required hospitalization; the police unit responsible for hate crimes and political violence was investigating the incident at year’s end.

In September, unknown persons threw stones through six windows of what police called “a Muslim institution” in Zwickau, shattering them; media reports called the building a mosque, which had been the target of vandalism in the past.  Police had not arrested a suspect at year’s end.

In February, the Hamburg District Court found a man who had assaulted a Jewish student with a shovel in October 2020 guilty of attempted murder and aggravated battery.  The court, however, ruled the man was mentally ill and therefore not criminally liable, sentencing him to psychiatric institutionalization.  The man, who was wearing a military-style uniform, assaulted the student at a Sukkot celebration at the Hohe Weide Synagogue in Hamburg, leaving him with a serious head injury.

In January, the Hildesheim District Court in Lower Saxony ruled that a Hildesheim resident arrested in 2020 upon suspicion of planning attacks against Muslims and mosques was suffering from a severe mental illness and could not be held responsible for his behavior.  It ordered him placed in temporary psychiatric care.  Police had found weapons in his apartment, and the suspect had said in an online chat that he wanted to carry out an attack similar to the 2019 mosque attacks in New Zealand and “kill Muslims.”

On June 16, the Bavarian Court of Administrative Appeals ruled in favor of a COS member whose 2018 application for a 500 euro ($570) electric bicycle subsidy was rejected by the city of Munich because she refused to sign a written statement pledging not to employ COS methods or spread COS ideas.  The state of Bavaria and some other states and many cities require persons to sign such a declaration before they can accept public employment or government grants.  The court ruled that, as a citizen, the plaintiff had a right to the subsidy from the city, just like anyone else.

In July, the Court of Justice of the European Union, addressing appeals in two cases, one from Hamburg and one from Bavaria, ruled that employers could ban employees from wearing headscarves under certain circumstances.  Both cases were brought by employees who did not wear headscarves when they started their jobs but decided to do so after returning to work from maternity leave.  Their employers refused to allow them to do so, saying that the employees had to project a neutral image to clients.  The court agreed with the employers.  Muslim organizations and NGOs criticized the verdict, saying it made it difficult for Muslim women to choose a profession.

In September, a trial of two individuals arrested for the vandalism of a Jewish cemetery in Geilenkirchen began.  According to police, the pair knocked over more than 40 gravestones in the cemetery and defaced gravestones with blue paint and Nazi symbols in 2019.  They were charged with property damage and disturbing the peace of the dead.  Prosecutors said both were members of a Neo-Nazi group.  The trial started in September and continued at year’s end.

In September, the Moenchengladbach District Court convicted a man of placing a bloody pig’s head, plastic bags filled with blood, right-wing extremist slogans, and swastikas in front of the al-Rahman Mosque in Moenchengladbach in 2019 and sentenced him to four months’ probation.

In October, a man claiming that Christianity is a false religion forcibly removed sacred religious objects from a church in Nordhausen, Thuringia, including its crucifix and a medieval wooden altarpiece, damaging both.  Police stated they intended to press charges against the man, whose asylum claim had been denied.

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 continued to investigate “sects and cults” and publicize what they considered to be the dangers of those groups.  On its website, the EKD Center for Questions of World Views continued to warn 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 the groups.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 10 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Germany said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Fifteen percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were – “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (23percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (15 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (12 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (20 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (15 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (8 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (7 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (23 percent).

In a nationwide, representative survey conducted for the Alice Schwarzer Foundation, Giordano Bruno Foundation, and WZB Berlin Social Science Center published on June 11, 65 percent of respondents said it was “right” that freedom of religion applied to Muslims as well as Christians, whereas 18 percent said it was “not right” and 17 percent were unsure.  When asked whether “Islam is part of Germany,” 44 percent said “yes, but only peaceful, non-radical groups” and 44 percent answered “absolutely not,” excluding all Muslim groups.  Only 5 percent said they would completely agree that Islam was part of the country.  The survey also showed support for a ban on burqas among the general population had grown to 73 percent, from 56 percent in 2016.  Another 17 percent supported a ban in certain situations (32 percent in 2016), and 5 percent were generally opposed to such a ban (8 percent in 2016).  Majorities also supported banning headscarves for certain groups:  61 percent supported headscarf bans for public school teachers, 58 percent for public-sector employees, 56 percent for child-care workers, and 53 percent for girls younger than 14 years of age.

In February, Bundestag member Norbert Roettgen removed a social media post and image of a discussion he had held with Muslim students after the post was flooded with anti-Muslim insults.  Roettgen said he removed the image to protect the identities of the participants and decried what he described as the anti-Muslim hate the post had exposed.

In September, authorities initially did not allow a woman in Bergheim, Hesse, to cast her vote at a local polling station because she was wearing a headscarf and a medical mask.  Poll workers insisted she remove her headscarf to identify herself, stating that the law required that a person’s face not be covered when voting.  According to the electoral committee, the scarf only covered the woman’s hair and neck, not her face.  The woman protested to city election authorities and was later allowed to vote while wearing the headscarf.  The city apologized for the incident.

The far-right group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA) continued to organize weekly demonstrations in Dresden, although media reports indicated significantly fewer demonstrators than in years prior to 2020.  Approximately 300 to 400 supporters continued to join PEGIDA rallies, even after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Participants regularly expressed anti-Muslim sentiments during the rallies, including by carrying posters expressing opposition to women who wore religious head coverings.  Authorities approved the demonstrations contingent upon participants adhering to masking and social distancing requirements.

Protesters at demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions in Berlin, Kassel, Munich and other cities continued to use antisemitic rhetoric, including equating vaccines or the anti-COVID lockdown to Nazi-era persecution of Jews, or asserting that Jews were responsible for unleashing the corona virus.  For the year ending on March 17, RIAS registered antisemitic incidents, none of them violent, at 324 separate demonstrations against restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  For example, in March, numerous antisemitic acts, including ones trivializing the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, were reported at a large demonstration against COVID-19 measures in Kassel.

In May, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Schuster remarked on the connection between COVID-19 conspiracy theories and antisemitism, saying, “The old antisemitic narrative of the Jewish world conspiracy has been adapted to the current situation.”  Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism Felix Klein also cited the role of the internet, saying, “In times of crisis, people are more open to irrational explanations, including antisemitic stereotypes…. What is new, however, is that…groups that previously had little or nothing to do with each other are now making common cause at demonstrations against the corona measures or on the [inter]net.”

In June, the U.S.-based newspaper The Algemeiner cited a study by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue that found German-language antisemitic posts in major online platforms in January and February had increased 13-fold over the same period a year earlier.  According to the report, antisemitic narratives related to COVID-19 were frequent, and the most common narratives, 89 percent of the content, pertained to conspiracy theories about Jews controlling financial, political, and media institutions.

In May, NRW Antisemitism Commissioner Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and the University of Bielefeld published a study on the influence of rap on antisemitic attitudes in young people.  The study found listeners of rap were more likely to have antisemitic and misogynistic views and were more prone to believe in conspiracy theories.

In July, a woman from Cologne was fined 700 euros ($790) for incitement for sharing an antisemitic Facebook post.  The woman said she had not read the full text of the post.

Approximately 20 churches continued to use bells bearing Nazi symbols and inscriptions.  A church in Berlin removed such a bell, and some churches in other part of the country said they had plans to do so.  In June, the Association of Protestant Churches in Central Germany held a conference on the issue; the association also offered financial support to churches under its jurisdiction to cover the cost of new bells.

In October, Cologne Lord Mayor Henriette Reker announced a two-year test phase for Muslim communities to issue calls to Friday prayer using outdoor speakers, if they applied to do so.  The call to prayer may only be made between noon and 3 p.m. and is limited to a maximum of five minutes.  The volume is to be based on the location of the mosque.  Of approximately 35 mosque congregations, two had requested permits by early December.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In June, the U.S. Secretary of State and then Foreign Minister Maas launched the U.S.-Germany Dialogue on Holocaust Issues to promote accurate Holocaust education and information and to combat Holocaust denial and distortion and anti-Semitism.  As part of the dialogue, embassy officials met on a monthly basis with representatives of the country’s foreign ministry, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe to develop programs and initiatives.

The U.S. embassy and the five consulates general continued to engage closely with authorities at all levels of government regarding responses to incidents of religious intolerance.  Embassy officials met with Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Antisemitism Klein and Ambassador Michaela Kuehler, the country’s Special Representative for Relations with Jewish Organizations, Issues Relating to Antisemitism, International Sinti and Roma Affairs, and Holocaust Remembrance on multiple occasions to discuss antisemitism, the growth in antisemitic incidents and violence, antisemitic conspiracy theories, and Holocaust denial.  Consulate officials also met with the commissioners for antisemitism in their districts.  Embassy and consulate officials engaged with other local, state, and federal officials to discuss religious freedom issues.  These included meetings with state interior ministers, state parliamentarians from the SPD, CDU, and Green party, and mayors.  At a meeting in November, the Cologne Consul General and Lord Mayor Henriette Reker discussed Cologne’s pilot program to allow mosques to issue calls to prayer, among other issues.

Embassy and consulate representatives met with members and leaders of numerous local and national religious and civil society groups regarding their concerns related to tolerance and freedom of religion.  Among the meetings were ones with President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Schuster; Abdassamad El-Yazidi, speaker of the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany; Burhan Kesici of the Islamic Council for the Federal Republic of Germany; Remko Leemhuis, director of the AJC Berlin Lawrence and Lee Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations; representatives of the Catholic, Evangelical, and other Protestant Churches; the Central Council of Muslims; the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers; the World Uyghur Congress; Alevi Muslims, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat.

Topics of discussion with Jewish groups included concerns regarding what they characterized as the growing acceptability of antisemitism throughout the country, concern that right-wing conspiracy groups had exacerbated antisemitism, and growing antisemitism on the intellectual left.

Topics discussed with Muslim groups and representatives included stereotypes and discrimination against Muslims, socioeconomic and cultural challenges that Muslim residents and immigrants faced in the country, and the training of imams.

In June, the Frankfurt Consul General visited Ulm’s Jewish community following an arson attack on the Ulm synagogue and met Ulm Rabbi Schneur Trebnik, as well as Israelite Religious Community of Wuerttemberg representatives.  The visit included a tour of the synagogue and the community center and a discussion on the situation of Ulm’s and Baden-Wuerttemberg’s Jewish community, various forms of antisemitism, and Trebnik’s work as one of the country’s first police rabbis.

Also in June, the Charge d’Affaires and the Leipzig Consul General met with members of the Jewish community in Halle, the site of a fatal 2019 attack on a synagogue, to discuss antisemitism, religious tolerance, and Jewish life in Eastern Germany.  The Leipzig Consul General visited the synagogue and laid a wreath at the site of the attack in October.

The embassy and consulates worked closely with Jewish communities, especially in the east of the country, to provide small grants in support of programs promoting religious tolerance to leading NGOs countering violent extremism related to religion and antisemitism.  For example, the consulate in Leipzig funded an appearance by a Jewish-American speaker in Halle on Holocaust Remembrance Day as well as a small grant for Jewish Remembrance Week in Goerlitz in November.

The embassy utilized virtual programs in which presenters spoke on ways of preserving and promoting accurate Holocaust narratives in the fight against antisemitism.  Four German participants joined a program that showed archivists and museum professionals how to maximize outreach within their fields to counter Holocaust distortions and denial.  Participants included 12 staff members from the Arolsen Archives, a center that documents, archives, and researches Nazi persecution, forced labor, and the Holocaust.  The consulate in Leipzig also supported October and November presentations in Jena and Weimar by the archives’ exhibit #Stolen Memory, featuring items the Nazi regime stole from Jews.

As a follow-up to a 2020 teacher academy that focused on engaging with teachers about Jewish life in the United States, the embassy expanded its discussion of religious freedom by raising awareness of hidden bias and stereotypes.  A workshop on hidden bias as part of a March teacher seminar reached 300 teachers and generated a lively discussion with the presenter, a senior lecturer on North American studies at Leuphana University.  In May, the embassy followed up with a film presentation and discussion of the documentary “Bias” with the filmmaker (including additional sessions with the local state police academies) and, in June, a discussion with a U.S historian and American Academy in Berlin fellow.

In August, the consulate general in Leipzig provided financial support to the 21st Yiddish Summer Weimar in Thuringia, one of the world’s leading summer programs for the study and presentation of traditional and contemporary Yiddish culture.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many concerts and workshops again took place outdoors in public spaces in Weimar, Erfurt, and Eisenach, and other smaller towns in Thuringia.  The consulate also provided funding for several Jewish cultural events in Halle as part of a series of such events focusing on Jewish culture across the state of Saxony-Anhalt.

The consulate general in Leipzig provided seed money for the establishment of the Fachstelle Globaler Antisemitismus (Global Antisemitism Office) in Dessau-Rosslau, Saxony-Anhalt.  This NGO works to educate the public about online right-wing extremism and radicalization.

In October, the embassy and the consulate general in Leipzig cooperated to bring a senior American Jewish Congress official to the country, where he met with Berlin police and NGOs working against antisemitism and spoke on countering antisemitism in Cottbus, Jena, and Leipzig.

The embassy and consulates actively promoted religious freedom and tolerance through their social media channels, utilizing Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to highlight the engagement of senior embassy officials on the issue.  Examples included visits of the Charge d’Affaires to Goerlitz for Jewish Remembrance Week; the meeting in Halle in June of the Charge d’Affaires and the Leipzig Consul General with representatives of NGOs working on tolerance and openness; and meetings with religious community leaders.  The embassy and consulates also amplified social media messaging by the President, Secretary of State, and Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues in support of religious freedom on many occasions throughout the year, often with German translations, to highlight U.S. religious pluralism and support for religious freedom.

The embassy and consulates general also created their own content, including greetings from the Charge d’Affaires on Jewish and Muslim holidays, social media posts on the right to freedom of religion, and a statement by the Charge d’Affaires condemning antisemitic vandalism at a memorial site to the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz.  Public meetings with officials and religious community and public engagements by embassy and consular officials were also accompanied by social media messaging.  Religious freedom and tolerance were topics of frequent focus of the embassy’s and consulates’ digital platforms.

 

Greece

Executive Summary

The constitution states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship, with some restrictions.  It recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.”  On July 1, national police arrested and jailed Christos Pappas, the fugitive former deputy leader of Golden Dawn, commonly characterized as a neo-Nazi political party, who had been a fugitive since he was sentenced to 13 years in prison in October 2020.  Parliament approved legislation on June 5 banning religious leaders of “known religions” (religious groups with at least one valid permit to operate a place of prayer or worship) from running for mayor or city councilor and candidates from using religious symbols as campaign emblems.  On February 17, parliament approved legislation increasing from seven to nine the number of members of the Athens Mosque Managing Committee, adding two additional representatives from Muslim communities in Athens.  During the year, a civil court approved the registration of an Old Calendarist Christian group as a religious legal entity.  The government issued seven permits for houses of prayer, four of which Muslim groups submitted, including a group of Bektashi (Sufi) Muslims in Evros, Thrace.  The remaining permits were granted to a group of evangelical Christians, a group of Pentecostal Christians, and to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of Athens.  The government also approved the construction of a new church for evangelical Christians in in the northern town of Porotsani.  During the year, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs rejected at least three applications by Muslim groups to establish houses of prayer, including one each in Thessaloniki, Imathia (Central Macedonia Region), and Athens, on various administrative grounds.  Government authorities also revoked seven house of prayer permits – two at the request of the specific religious groups that held the permits.  In the other cases, the permits were revoked due to a lack of responsiveness, of space for worship, or of a religious leader.  On October 26, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, annulled a 2017 ministerial decree allowing the ritual killing of animals during Islamic and Jewish ceremonies without anesthesia, stating the decree contradicted the constitution and European and domestic legislation.  On May 13 in Athens, the government opened the first government-funded mosque in Europe.  In September, the government announced it would distribute 4.5 million euros ($5.1 million) to religious groups to counter the COVID-19 pandemic’s negative impact.  Throughout the year, Alternate Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis publicly advocated for the return of the Thessaloniki Jewish community’s archives seized by Germany in World War II and subsequently transferred to Moscow.  In a December 8 meeting with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would return these archives to the Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS).  On May 24, parliament approved legislation allowing for a land exchange between the Railway Organization and the municipality of Thessaloniki for the construction of a Holocaust Memorial Museum, an exchange the city of Thessaloniki approved on June 4.  On June 23, by a joint initiative of the KIS Central Board and the Ministries of Defense and Culture, a commemorative plaque was placed at “Block 15” of the Haidari concentration camp in western Attica, where Jews, among others, were imprisoned and tortured during the Nazi occupation of Greece.  On April 1, the country assumed chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

KIS continued to express concern regarding political cartoons and images in which political controversies were portrayed with the use of Jewish sacred symbols and Holocaust comparisons.  On January 18, KIS issued a statement protesting a sketch of the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in a political cartoon arguing against an education bill regarding universities.  KIS called the cartoon, which appeared in a widely circulated newspaper on January 16, “a hideous and vulgar instrumentalization of the Holocaust for political purposes.”  At least three instances of antisemitic graffiti and vandalism were widely reported.  In addition to damage in March to a 115-foot mural at the Thessaloniki New Train Station honoring Holocaust victims carried out a few days after the creation of the mural, on August 5, vandals opened a grave and destroyed its headstone in the Jewish cemetery of Ioannina in the western region of Epirus.  On September 10, unidentified individuals vandalized a different grave at the same cemetery.  On January 10, vandals sprayed red paint on the facade of the cathedral in Heraklion, Crete.  In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 25 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-25 in Greece said they had negative feeling toward Jews.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general representatives met with Deputy Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos as well as with officials and representatives of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the Minister and the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the secretary general for religious affairs and governors to discuss Greece’s chairmanship of the IHRA and other religious freedom issues.  These included the ability of minority religious communities to establish houses of worship and the operation of the first public mosque in Athens, government action regarding the planned Holocaust Memorial Museum and Educational Center of Greece on Human Rights in Thessaloniki, and initiatives promoting interreligious dialogue, including the country’s IHRA chairmanship.  In outreach to contacts and meetings with government officials and religious leaders, including the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, U.S. government officials expressed concern regarding antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric and attacks on Orthodox churches.  On February 3, the Ambassador discussed the planned Holocaust Museum in Thessaloniki with the Deputy Prime Minister.  Three individuals working on religious issues in the country took part in digital leadership programs on interfaith dialogue and religious freedom and on countering Holocaust distortion and denial.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.6 million (midyear 2021).  According to research polls, 81 to 90 percent of the population identifies as Greek Orthodox, 4 to 15 percent atheist, and 2 percent Muslim.

Approximately 140,000 Muslims live in Thrace, according to government sources using 2011 data; they are largely descendants of the officially recognized Muslim minority according to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.  According to a Pew Research Center study released in November 2017, an additional 520,000 Muslims – mostly asylum seekers, refugees, and other migrants from Southeastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa – reside throughout the country, many clustered in communities by their countries of origin or in reception facilities.  Government sources estimate half reside in Athens.

Members of other religious communities that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Old Calendarist Orthodox, Catholics (mostly Roman Catholics and smaller numbers of Eastern Rite Catholics), Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, members of polytheistic Hellenic religions, Scientologists, Baha’is, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, Buddhists, and members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).  Independent and media sources estimate Ethiopian Orthodox number 2,500 and Assyrians less than 1,000.  According to the Armenian Orthodox Archbishop, interviewed in 2018, approximately 100,000 Armenian Orthodox live in the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.”  It states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship under the protection of the law, with some restrictions.  The constitution prohibits “proselytizing,” defined by law as “any direct or indirect attempt to intrude on the religious beliefs of a person of a different religious persuasion with the aim of undermining those beliefs through inducement, fraudulent means, or taking advantage of the other person’s inexperience, trust, need, low intellect, or naivete.”  The prohibition of proselytism is rarely enforced, entailing brief questioning or detentions, with no new cases reported since 2020.  The constitution prohibits worship that “disturbs public order or offends moral principles.”  It allows prosecutors to seize publications that “offend Christianity” or other “known religions,” which are defined as groups with at least one valid permit to operate a place of prayer or worship.  There is no publicly available list of “known religions,” but the Ministry for Education and Religious Affairs keeps a registry.

The law provides penalties of up to two years in prison for individuals who maliciously attempt to prevent or who intentionally disrupt a religious gathering for worship or a religious service, and for individuals engaging in “insulting action” inside a church or place of worship.  A 2019 amendment to the penal code abolishes articles criminalizing malicious blasphemy and religious insults.  The constitution enumerates the goals of public education, including “the development of religious conscience among citizens.”  Greek Orthodox priests and government-appointed muftis and imams in Thrace receive their salaries from the government.

The constitution states that ministers of all known religions are subject to the same state supervision and obligations to the state as clergy of the Greek Orthodox Church.  It states individuals are not exempt from their obligations to the state or from compliance with the law because of their religious convictions.

The Greek Orthodox Church, Jewish community, and Muslim minority of Thrace have long-held status as official, religious, public-law, legal entities.  The Catholic Church, Anglican Church, two evangelical Christian groups, and the Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian Apostolic, and Assyrian Orthodox Churches acquired the status of religious legal entities under a 2014 law.  The same law also allows groups seeking recognition to become “religious legal entities” under civil law.

The recognition process requires filing a request with the civil courts, providing documents proving the group has “open rituals and no secret doctrines,” supplying a list of 300 signatory members who do not adhere to other religious groups, demonstrating there is a leader who is legally in the country and is otherwise qualified, and showing their practices do not pose a threat to public order.  Once a civil court recognizes a group, it sends a notification to the Secretariat General for Religions.  Under the law, all religious officials of known religions and official religious legal entities, including the Greek Orthodox Church, the muftiates of Thrace, and the Jewish communities, must register in the electronic database maintained by the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs.

The law also provides a second method for groups to obtain government recognition:  any religious group that has obtained at least one valid permit to operate a place of prayer or worship is considered a “known religion” and acquires legal protection, including a tax exemption for property used for religious purposes.  The terms houses or places of prayer or worship are used interchangeably; it is at the discretion of a religious group to determine its term of preference.  Membership requirements for house of prayer permits differ from the requirements for religious legal entities.  Local urban planning departments in charge of monitoring and enforcing public health and safety regulations certify that facilities designated to operate as places of worship fulfill the necessary standards.  Once a house of worship receives the required approvals, the religious group must submit a description of its basic principles and rituals and a biography of the religious minister or leader to the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs for final approval.  The application for a house of prayer or worship permit requires at least five signatory group members.  The leaders of a religious group applying for a house of prayer permit must be Greek citizens, EU nationals, or legal residents of the country and must possess other professional qualifications, including relevant education and experience.  A separate permit is required for each physical location.

A religious group qualifying as a religious legal entity may transfer property and administer houses of prayer or worship, private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities.  Some religious groups have opted to retain their status as civil society nonprofit associations acquired through court recognition prior to the 2014 law.  Under this status, religious groups may operate houses of prayer and benefit from real estate property tax exemptions, but they may face administrative and fiscal difficulties in transferring property and in operating private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities.

All recognized religious groups are subject to taxation on property used for nonreligious purposes.  Property used solely for religious purposes is exempt from taxation, as well as from municipal fees.

The law allows religious communities without status as legal entities to appear before administrative and civil courts as plaintiffs or defendants.

The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne accords the recognized Muslim minority of Thrace the right to administer and maintain mosques and social and charitable organizations.  A 1991 law authorizes the government, in consultation with a committee of Muslim leaders, to appoint three muftis in Thrace to 10-year terms of office, which may be extended.  The law also allows a regional official to appoint temporary acting muftis until this committee convenes.  The law mandates that official muftis in Thrace must request notarized consent from all parties wishing to adjudicate a family matter (marriage, divorce, child custody, alimony, or inheritance) based on sharia, or Islamic law.  Decisions issued by the muftis are subject to ratification by first instance courts.  Absent notarized consent from all parties, family matters fall under the jurisdiction of civil courts.  The law also provides for the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs to assume all operating expenses for the muftiates in Thrace, under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance Directorate General for Fiscal Monitoring.

The law establishes an individual’s right to choose his or her burial or cremation location and mandates that death certificates detail this information.  In the presence of a notary, individuals may designate the location and method of funeral service under conditions that adhere to public order, hygiene, or moral ethics, as well as designate a person responsible for carrying out funeral preferences.

Home schooling of children is generally not permitted.  The law requires all children to attend 11 years of compulsory education in state or private schools, including two years of preschool education (ages four to six), in accordance with the official school curriculum.  Religious instruction, mainly Greek Orthodox teaching, is included in the curricula for primary and secondary schools.  Primary schools cover grades one to six, while secondary schools include three years of middle school and three years of high school.  Non-Orthodox students may be exempted from religious instruction with a parent’s or guardian’s submission of a document citing religious consciousness grounds, according to regulations issued by decree during the year.  Exempted students may attend classes with different subject matter during that time.  Under legislation passed in 2020, secondary schools no longer list their students’ religion and nationality on transcripts.

The law provides for optional Islamic religious instruction in public schools in Thrace for the recognized Muslim minority and optional Catholic religious instruction in public schools on the islands of Tinos and Syros.  The law also includes provisions to make it easier for schools to hire and retain religious instructors for those optional courses.

By law, any educational facility with fewer than nine students must temporarily suspend operations, with students referred to neighboring schools.

The law allows Muslim students in primary and secondary schools throughout the country to be absent for two days each for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

According to the law, parents may send their children to private religious schools.  Private Orthodox, Catholic, and Jewish schools operate in the country.  As per the Lausanne Treaty, the government operates bilingual secular schools in Thrace.  Bilingual schools operate in Greek and Turkish, and their number may vary according to the number of registered students, with a minimum of nine per school.  There are two Islamic religious schools in Thrace for grades seven to 12.  In addition, Muslim students in Thrace wishing to study the Quran may attend after-hours religious classes in mosques with teachers paid by the Turkish Consulate in Komotini.  Bilingual schools in Thrace, in addition to other official holidays, also observe Islamic holidays.

The law establishes an annual 0.5 percent quota for admission of students from the recognized Muslim minority in Thrace to universities, technical institutes, and civil service positions.  Parliament approved legislation on January 15 designed to modernize the public-sector hiring system.  The law requires that 0.5 percent of job openings with an unspecified contract length be allocated to members of the Muslim minority in Thrace.  Similarly, 2 percent of students entering the national fire brigade school and academy are required to be from the Muslim minority in Thrace.

The law provides for alternative forms of mandatory service for religious conscientious objectors in lieu of the 12-month mandatory minimum military service for men.  Conscientious objectors must serve 15 months of alternative service in state hospitals or municipal and public services.  The law, among other provisions, requires the state to cover expenses for the transportation of conscientious objectors; provides an additional five-day parental leave per child for conscientious objectors who are fathers; protects the return of conscientious objectors to their previous employment after civilian service; and defines 33 as the age after which a conscientious objector may buy off the greatest part of civilian service.

According to what is commonly referred to as the “antiracist” law, individuals or legal entities convicted of incitement to violence, discrimination, or hatred based on religion, among other factors, may be sentenced to prison terms of between three months and three years and fined 5,000 to 20,000 euros ($5,700-$22,700).  Violators convicted of other crimes motivated by religion may be sentenced to an additional six months to three years, with fines doubled.  The law criminalizes approval, trivialization, or malicious denial of the Holocaust and “crimes of Nazism” if that behavior leads to incitement of violence or hatred or has a threatening or abusive nature toward groups of individuals.  A law, passed by parliament in June, prohibits individuals convicted of several specific felony crimes – including but not explicitly referencing those committed by imprisoned leaders from the Golden Dawn Party – from holding important party positions, such as president, secretary general, legal representative, or member of the administrative committee of a party or a coalition of parties during their sentence.  The law prevents any parties led by convicted felons from purchasing advertisements on radio and television during an election campaign.

The law requires all civil servants, including cabinet and parliament members, to take an oath before entering office; individuals are free to take a religious or secular oath in accordance with their beliefs.  Parliament approved legislation on June 5 banning religious leaders of known religions, in addition to judges and other public officials, from running for mayor or city counselor.  The same law also bans the use of religious symbols as emblems of candidate mayors and city counselors.  Through a separate provision in the same law, elected members of city and district councils are required to take a religious oath, in accordance with their faith, in the presence of religious leaders who are officially registered with the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs.  A civil declaration remains an option for those who do not wish to take a religious oath.

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

Government Practices

On July 1, in Athens, national police arrested and jailed Christos Pappas, the fugitive former deputy leader of the Golden Dawn Party, which a court ruled a criminal organization and found responsible for orchestrated attacks against perceived outsiders, including Muslims and Jews, in 2020.  Pappas had been a fugitive since October 2020, when he was sentenced to 13 years in prison in a landmark trial that resulted in lengthy sentences for more than 50 Golden Dawn-associated defendants.  He was convicted of running a criminal organization, murder, assault, and possession of illegal weapons.

On October 7, Domokos Prison’s judicial council banned Ilias Kasidiaris, a former leader of Golden Dawn and former member of parliament, from making telephone calls from prison to outsiders.  The council ruled that Kasidiaris used the prison’s telephone to record speeches designed to incite his supporters to hatred.  The council decided Kasidiaris could maintain telephone communication only with individuals formally permitted to visit him in prison, including relatives and lawyers.

On February 19, an appeals court in Thessaloniki reduced the sentence of a medical doctor who in 2014 hung a sign in his office, stating “Jews not wanted” in German.  The court had initially sentenced him to a 14-month suspended term but reduced it to nine months based on his behavior afterward.

On October 18, a judicial council decided that Giorgos Patelis, a leading member of Golden Dawn, should be released, pending appeal, after serving just one year of his 10-year sentence because his son was facing mental health problems.  Patelis, who was the leader of Golden Dawn’s chapter in the Piraeus suburb of Nikaia, was convicted of taking part in a criminal organization and complicity in the killing of antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in 2013.  Patelis was sentenced in October 2020.  Prosecutors and human rights groups condemned the decision.  On November 3, a Supreme Court vice prosecutor revoked the decision, and as of year’s end, Patelis remained in prison.

During the year, a civil court approved the registration of an Old Calendarist Christian group as a religious legal entity under the name “Holy Diocese of Talantio and Lokrida.”

On April 17, parliament approved legislation extending the term of all managing boards of Jewish communities until June 30.  Many terms had expired or were due to expire during the COVID-19 pandemic winter and spring lockdown periods.  Jewish community leaders said they appreciated the legislation because it helped the boards continue to operate and conduct transactions.

Groups lacking religious-entity status and without a house of prayer permit that had not applied for a house of worship permit, including Scientologists and ISKCON, continued to function as registered, nonprofit, civil law organizations.  The government did not legally recognize weddings conducted by members of these groups, who, if they wished to be officially recognized as couples, could pursue a civil wedding or civil partnership union.

On May 7, media reported on a local court that ruled, for the first time, that atheism should be listed among the vulnerability criteria when asylum seekers seek international protection.  The court ruling came in the case of a Pakistani man who faced a death sentence in his homeland due to his atheism.

Five prayer sessions marking Eid al-Fitr took place on May 13 in Athens at the newly opened, first government-funded mosque in Europe.  Commemoration of the event took place outside due to social distancing requirements.  The imam, Mohammed Sissi Zaki, led the sessions.  Secretary General for Religious Affairs George Kalantzis attended a session, as did representatives of al-Azhar University in Egypt.  Because of the COVID-29 pandemic, the government said it could not yet officially inaugurate the mosque; however, the mosque held regular prayer sessions in accordance with social distancing and other measures for the countering of the pandemic, similar to other religious sites.  Parliament approved legislation on February 17 that increased the number of members of the Athens Mosque Managing Committee from seven to nine, adding two representatives from the Muslim communities in Athens.

Turkish-speaking members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to object to the government’s practice of appointing muftis, pressing instead for direct election of muftis by Muslims in Thrace.  The government continued to state that the appointments were appropriate because the constitution does not permit the election of judges and that the muftis retain judicial powers on family and inheritance matters as long as all parties sign a notarized consent stating they wish to follow sharia law instead of the civil courts.  During the year, government-appointed acting muftis continued to lead all three muftiates in Thrace.  Muslim minority members objected to the muftis’ appointment, stating that the limited and optional judicial powers of muftis were used by the government as an excuse for ignoring their call for direct election.

In parallel with the three official acting muftis, two unofficial muftis also continued to operate in Thrace, providing religious services to members of the Muslim minority; however, the government did not recognize services conducted by the unofficial muftis.  In letters to international organizations, unofficial muftis said they had faced charges for the unauthorized assumption of an official position on several occasions throughout the last decade.  While several such cases never reached the courts and others remained pending and were postponed further due to COVID-19, unofficial muftis reported a climate of longstanding harassment and persecution by the Greek authorities.  Government officials stated that even in the few cases in which unofficial muftis were convicted in court, they were only handed suspended prison sentences, with no prison time.

On February 2, according to media, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs rejected a petition filed in 2019 by the Cultural Association of Muslims of Macedonia and Thrace to establish a licensed Muslim house of prayer in Thessaloniki.  The ministry cited unmet technical requirements as the reason for the denial.  Applicants stated authorities did not allow them to use Ottoman-era mosques in Thessaloniki as alternative prayer sites.

Another group, the Educational, Cultural, Philanthropic and Philathletic Association of Greek Muslims in the Prefecture of Imathia, appealed to the Council of State regarding the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs’ rejection of the group’s petition to establish an authorized Muslim house of prayer.  Ministerial services rejected the association’s petition, contending that the applicants had requested the licensing of a space far exceeding what would be used for prayer and worship.  The ministry responded that it had no authority to license facilities for uses other than prayer and worship.  The hearing of the appeal at the Council of State took place on April 13, but no ruling was issued by year’s end.

On March 23, the same authorities rejected a petition to establish an authorized Muslim house of prayer filed by a Muslim group in Athens on the grounds that it did not provide certified copies of the passports of the applicants, including the individual who would perform the religious services.  The group also failed to submit documentation on the safety of the building, including fire safety and sound insulation.

Government authorities revoked a total of seven house-of-prayer permits; two, involving a Buddhist center and an evangelical Christian house of prayer in Rethymno, Crete, were revoked on June 29 and July 19 respectively, at the request of the groups operating the facilities.  According to government authorities, in the other cases, they revoked the permit because the religious groups in charge of the houses of prayer (all Pentecostal Christian) did not respond to government communications, had insufficient space for worship, or lacked a religious leader.

During the year, the government approved seven house-of-prayer permits, four of which were submitted by Muslim religious groups.  On February 17 and on July 5, Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs authorities granted house-of-prayer permits to two separate Sunni Muslim religious groups, in central Athens and the district of Marousi, respectively.  On March 19, a religious group of Bektashi (Sufi) Muslims in Evros, Thrace, was granted its first house-of-prayer permit.  A Muslim religious group based in the district of Peristeri, western Athens, was authorized on April 16 to operate a house of prayer.  The remaining permits were granted to a group of evangelical Christians in Glyfada, Athens, on February 10, a group of Pentecostals in Komotini on March 5, and to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of Athens on March 17.  On March 23, the government also approved plans for the construction of a new church for evangelical Christians in Porotsani.

On June 16, authorities certified the lawful operation of an Old Calendarist Christian church operating in the district of Nea Smyrni in southern Athens.  The church was constructed before 1955, at a time when building permits were not required.  The certification allowed the church to overcome bureaucratic obstacles, such as not having a building permit, which for years had prevented it from filing petitions for building restoration, repairs, or expansion.  Authorities issued another 25 similar certifications involving 13 synagogues throughout the country and 12 Catholic churches.

Turkish-speaking members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to object to the government’s appointment of members entrusted to oversee endowments, real estate, and charitable funds of the Islamic Community Trust (waqf), an Islamic endowment, stating the Muslim minority in Thrace should elect the members in accordance with the Lausanne and other treaties.

Muslim leaders continued to state that a lack of Islamic cemeteries outside Thrace obliged Muslims to transport their dead to Thrace for Islamic burials.  Leaders cited cases in which local government bodies refused to establish burial sites designated for Muslims only.  Government officials said that by law, local authorities administered cemeteries and that cemeteries could not be established or privately managed by faith-based groups, except for some Islamic cemeteries in Thrace that dated back to the Ottoman era.  Muslim leaders outside Thrace also continued to state that municipal cemetery regulations requiring the exhumation of bodies after three years due to a shortage of space contravened Islamic law.  At least three sites – on Lesvos Island, in Schisto (in the Athens metropolitan area), and near the land border with Turkey, in Evros – served unofficially as burial grounds for Muslim migrants and asylum seekers.

On October 26, the Council of State ruled that a ministerial decree issued in 2017 allowing the ritual killing of animals during Muslim and Jewish ceremonies without anesthesia was unlawful and contrary to the constitution and European and domestic legislation.  According to the ruling, which came in response to an appeal filed by the Panhellenic Animal Welfare and Environmental Federation, the issuing authority, the Ministry of Development and Foods, “did not try to strike a balance between its obligation to protect the animals… and the religious freedom of practicing Muslims and Jews living in Greece.”  The council annulled the decree on grounds that it violated laws regarding the welfare of animals and called on the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food “to regulate slaughtering in a way that safeguards the protection of animals from hardship but safeguards religious freedoms for practicing Muslims and Jews living in Greece.”  The government did not issue a new decree by year’s end.  Jewish and Muslim community leaders reported that once the government issued a new decree, they would decide on a legal strategy to challenge it.  According to Abdulhalim Dede, founder of the Greek branch of the European Halal Certification Center and member of the World Halal Council, the decision to outlaw ritual slaughter eroded religious freedom, hurt local halal-related businesses, and increased the risk of unauthorized private, in-house animal slaughtering.

In accordance with the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, the government reported that it operated a total of 115 bilingual secular primary schools in 2020-21 in Thrace, compared with 123 in 2019-20.  Some minority representatives reported lower numbers of 115 (for the period 2019-20) and 103 (for the period 2020-21).  Although the government operation of bilingual secondary schools, grades seven to 12, is not required under the treaty, the government operated two.  Turkish-speaking representatives of the Muslim minority continued to state that the two bilingual middle schools – grades seven to nine – were insufficient to meet their needs and that the government continued to repeatedly ignore their formally submitted request to privately establish an additional minority secondary school and a private bilingual preschool, the latter covering children ages four to six.  The same representatives said the number of primary minority schools – grades one to six – continued to decrease, which the government attributed to the decreasing number of students, particularly in rural areas.  As per government statistics, there were 4,103 Muslim students attending primary education schools, 1,531 attending secondary-level minority schools, and 192 students enrolled in the two Islamic religious schools.  Government officials also noted that in 2017, both minority secondary schools, in Xanthi and in Komotini (both in the region of East Macedonia and Thrace), expanded with additional classrooms.

The government continued to fund a Chair of Jewish Studies at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki and Holocaust education training for teachers, but government-funded educational trips for students, including to the Auschwitz concentration camp, remained suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs continued to promote Holocaust education in schools, based on IHRA recommendations, as well as in cooperation with other countries, such as the United States, Israel, and North Macedonia.  The ministry, in cooperation with the Olga Lengyel Institute and the Jewish Museum of Greece, continued providing scholarships to 10 schools annually for implementing Holocaust-related educational projects.  Through these scholarships, beneficiary schools covered material needs, including for purchasing laptop computers and video recording equipment.

On April 25, in the context of Greece’s chairmanship of IHRA, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, in cooperation with the United States Holocaust Museum and Memorial and Yad Vashem, coorganized a webinar for 100 teachers from Greece, the United States, and Israel on the subject of IHRA recommendations for teaching and learning about the Holocaust.  The Secretariat General for Religious Affairs, under the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, distributed a free version in Greek of the book Five Chimneys from the Olga Lengyel Institute to schoolteachers attending Holocaust-related educational seminars.

On various occasions, on social and other media, some individuals objected to what they said was the government’s allowing or tolerating some religious gatherings, including a processional on October 18 by Pakistani Muslim immigrants in Athens to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, while banning processionals by Orthodox Christians, citing COVID-19 restrictions.  Individuals made similar comments online on August 19, when authorities permitted Shia Muslims to proceed with an Ashura processional in the port city of Piraeus.

Some religious groups and human rights organizations continued to advocate for an equal length of required mandatory alternative service for conscientious objectors and required military service, stating any discrepancy was discriminatory.  In June 2020, the Council of State heard an appeal filed by five conscientious objectors challenging a decree by the Ministry of Defense establishing alternative service requirements longer than the military service requirement.  A decision remained pending at year’s end.  During the year, the government increased from nine to 12 months the basic military service requirement without altering the duration of the alternative service, which remained at 15 months.

Just after his August 31 appointment as Minister of Health, Thanos Plevris apologized for antisemitic comments he made in 2009.  This came after several groups, including KIS, called on him to apologize for pro-Nazi views expressed in the past and to condemn Holocaust deniers.  Plevris said he made the comments in his capacity as defense counsel for his father, Konstantinos Plevris, a Holocaust denier and leader of neo-Nazism in the country but stated he did not personally believe them.  In his apology, Plevris said, “My respect for the victims of the Holocaust of the Jews is absolute.  I am sure that my actions as health minister will alleviate even the slightest doubt about my beliefs, and my critics will realize that I harbor no antisemitic feelings.”

In early January, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos said during an interview on OPEN TV that Islam was not a religion, but a political movement.  Later in the same month, Ieronymos clarified that he was referring to the “perversion of the Muslim religion itself by extreme fundamentalists, who sow terror and death throughout the Universe,” and not to Islam overall.

According to Jewish leaders, the government continued to help the Jewish community of Thessaloniki in its efforts to recover archives found by Soviet troops in a castle in Lower Silesia, formerly part of Germany, following Germany’s defeat at the end of World War II.  On several occasions throughout the year, Alternate Foreign Minister Varvitsiotis publicly urged the return of these archives, now held in Moscow.  In his December 8 meeting with Prime Minister Mitsotakis, President Putin announced that Russia would initiate the process for returning these archives to KIS.

The government announced in a September 10 decree that it would distribute a total of 4.5 million euros ($5.1 million) to the Orthodox Church of Greece; KIS; waqf administrations overseeing licensed mosques in Thrace, Rhodes, and Kos; and to religious groups with the status of a known religion or religious legal entity.  The funds would be distributed in lump sums, offered as nontaxable assistance for addressing the pandemic’s negative impact, including reduced income and monetary contributions offered by the faithful to religious leaders and places of worship.  The funds, exceeding 1,000 euros ($1,100) in all cases, would be allocated in proportion to the number of places of worship operated by each group, with a minimum contribution of 1,000 euros per religious group.

The government continued to provide direct support to the Greek Orthodox Church, including funding clergy salaries, estimated at 200 million euros ($226.76 million) annually, the religious and vocational training of clergy, and religious instruction in schools.  The government provided the support in accordance with a series of legal agreements with past governments and as compensation for religious property expropriated by the state, according to Greek Orthodox and government officials.  The government also provided direct support to the three muftiates in Thrace, including salaries for the three official muftis and for teachers contracted to teach an optional class on Islam in local public schools.  The government also paid the salary of the imam of the new Athens public mosque and the salaries of Catholic teachers at the state schools of Tinos and Syros islands.

Government officials publicly denounced the vandalism of Jewish sites, including a mural in Thessaloniki commemorating the Holocaust vandalized in March.  In a statement issued on March 18, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the damage while expressing its “abhorrence of any actions that insult the memory of the victims of Nazi barbarity” and underscoring “the importance of rejecting racism, hatred and fanaticism, and the need to defend moral values.”

On May 24, parliament approved legislation allowing for an exchange of land between the Railway Organization and the Municipality of Thessaloniki to pave the way for the construction of a Holocaust Memorial Museum.  The board of the city of Thessaloniki approved the exchange on June 4.

On June 23, through a joint initiative by KIS and the Ministries of Defense and Culture, a commemorative plaque was placed at “Block 15” of the Haidari concentration camp in western Attica, where Jews, in addition to prisoners of war and communists, were incarcerated and tortured during the Nazi occupation of Greece.  The plaque reads, “Thousands of Greek Jews from Athens, Arta, Thessaloniki, Corfu, Kos, Leros, Patras, Preveza, and Rhodes were imprisoned and tortured here until their deportation to Auschwitz and the other Nazi extermination camps in 1944.  Some of them took their dying breath here.”

On October 14, Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Costas Karamanlis unveiled a reconstructed monument to the Jews whom the Nazis sent to slave labor on the railway network of the Lianokladi-Karya area in the central region of the country.  The new monument, rebuilt by the Hellenic Railways Organization in cooperation with KIS, was located at a prominent place at the Lianokladi station dock.  The original monument – erected in 1988 – was probably destroyed during the renovation of the Lianokladi railway station, according to KIS.  In his remarks, Karamanlis stated, “It is our duty to honor the memory of our Jewish compatriots.  And of course, in our daily lives, it is our duty not to allow any national, religious, racial or other identity to divide us.  Everyone proudly bears their identity, but we always respect each other.  And all together, we create for the present and the future of our country.”

On January 27, Minister for Education and Religious Affairs Niki Kerameus issued a statement to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Referring to the importance of remembering the Holocaust, including through education, she said, “Armed with our knowledge, we ensure the historical memory and the thorough study and teaching of these events, so that no crack is ever left open again, which will [would] allow the revival of fascism, Nazism, antisemitism, intolerance.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted a tweet on the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah): “We join everyone marking Yom HaShoah to remember the millions of lives lost in the Holocaust.  We honor the victims by keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive and by continuing to learn and educate younger generations so that humanity never again experiences such atrocities,”

Greece assumed the IHRA chairmanship on April 1.  In a November interview with Greek diaspora newspaper The National Herald, IHRA Chair Ambassador Chris Lazaris said the central theme of the country’s chairmanship was “teaching and learning about the Holocaust:  education for a world without genocide ever again,” supplemented by the theme of “Combating Holocaust Denial and Distortion on the Internet.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to statistics issued by the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) on acts of discrimination and violence in 2020, the most recent available, 74 of the 107 incidents recorded targeted migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers on the grounds of ethnicity, religion, or skin color, compared with 51 cases of the 100 incidents recorded in 2019.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as solely or primarily based on religious identity.

In the same report, RVRN reported that police received 31 reports of accusations of violence sparked by religion, compared with 36 in 2019.

In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 25 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-25 in Greece said they had negative feeling toward Jews.  Thirty-six percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements regarding Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were:  “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (45 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (58 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (40 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (36 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (44 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (33 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (37 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (46 percent).

In October, the Piraeus First Instance Court sentenced a man to five years in prison for attacking a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Aspropyrgos, Attica.  The court ruled that the crime was motivated by hate.  The man was convicted of issuing threats and insults and committing bodily harm.

On January 15, police in the northern city of Drama arrested the perpetrator of an act of vandalism carried out in December 2020 at a local Jewish monument.

At least three instances of antisemitic graffiti and vandalism were widely reported.  In addition to damage to a portion of a 115-foot mural at the Thessaloniki New Train Station honoring Holocaust victims a few days after the mural was created, vandals on August 5 opened a grave and destroyed its headstone in the Jewish cemetery of Ioannina in Epirus.  KIS issued a statement condemning this “shameful act.”  In a March 18 statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its “abhorrence of any actions that insult the memory of the victims of Nazi barbarity.”  “We once again underscore the importance of rejecting racism, hatred and fanaticism, and the need to defend our moral values,” the statement concluded.  According to media reports, local artists and social activists worked together to restore the mural.  On September 10, a different grave was vandalized at the same cemetery.  Similar incidents at the same cemetery occurred in previous years.

On January 10, unidentified vandals sprayed red paint on the facade of the Orthodox Christian cathedral in Heraklion, Crete, according to media reports.  Police launched investigations in all cases but made no arrests.

On April 1, KIS addressed a letter to the mayor of Xanthi, writing that unknown individuals had removed a commemorative plaque, placed in 2001 outside a tobacco warehouse to mark the location where local Jews began their transfer to concentration camps in World War II.  KIS underscored the importance of collective memory in a city that lost 99 percent of its Jewish population.

KIS continued to express concern regarding political cartoons and images in which political controversies were illustrated with Jewish sacred symbols or comparisons to the Holocaust.  On January 18, KIS issued a statement protesting a sketch that showed the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in a political cartoon opposing an education bill on universities.  KIS called the cartoon, which appeared in the newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton on January 16, “a hideous and vulgar instrumentalization of the Holocaust for political purposes.”

On March 9, KIS issued a statement denouncing columnist Elena Akrita for comparing life in an Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II to life in contemporary Greece, drawing parallels between attacks against protesters opposed to pandemic restrictions and the Holocaust.  KIS, in a statement, noted that “Greek Jews … will never stop denouncing any attempt to denigrate and instrumentalize the Holocaust, which leads to the oblivion and distortion of history.”

According to a report published on January 13 by the Ministry of Education and Religion, there were 404 cases of vandalism/theft/desecrations against religious sites in the country in 2020, with most (374) targeting the Orthodox Church, seven the Catholic Church, four the True Orthodox Christians (Old Calendarists), 10 categorized as antisemitic, and nine targeting Islamic sites.  This number represented a decrease from 524 incidents reported in 2019.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and embassy and consulate general representatives discussed the country’s chairmanship of the IHRA and religious freedom issues with Deputy Prime Minister Pikrammenos, as well as with officials and representatives of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Deputy Minister Andreas Katsaniotis, Civil Governor for Mount Athos Athanasios Martinos, and Secretary General for Religious Affairs George Kalantzis.  The U.S. officials discussed the ability of minority religious communities to exercise their rights to religious freedom, government initiatives affecting the Muslim minority in Thrace and Muslim immigrants, the operation of the first public mosque in Athens, government action regarding the planned Holocaust Memorial Museum and Educational Center of Greece on Human Rights in Thessaloniki, initiatives promoting interreligious dialogue, and possible joint action, including in the context of the country’s IHRA chairmanship.  Embassy officials also worked with the Prime Minister’s Office and with the Minister of Culture on a project involving the retrieval of personal items belonging to Jewish refugees from the 1946 Athina shipwreck off Astypalea Island that were to be displayed in the museum’s permanent exhibition.

In outreach and meetings with government officials, U.S. government officials raised concerns regarding antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric in the country.  U.S. officials also denounced vandalism of religious sites, including the desecration of graves in the Jewish cemetery of Ioannina.

On February 3, the Ambassador discussed with Deputy Prime Minister Pikrammenos developments regarding construction of the Holocaust Museum in Thessaloniki.

In outreach and meetings with leaders of religious groups, including the Greek Orthodox Church, U.S. government officials expressed concerns regarding antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric in the country.

Senior embassy officials and the Consul General in Thessaloniki met with religious leaders, including metropolitans from the Greek Orthodox Church, official muftis in Thrace, representatives from a religious group of Bektashi (Sufi) Muslims in Evros, and members of the Catholic, Baha’i, and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities to promote interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and respect for diversity.  The embassy monitored the ability of minority religious groups to freely practice their religion and the extent of societal discrimination, including physical violence and verbal harassment against both members of indigenous minority religious groups and members of newly arrived minority religious groups.

Three individuals working on religious issues in the country took part in digital U.S. government exchange programs on interfaith dialogue and religious freedom and on countering Holocaust distortion and denial.

The embassy and consulate promoted religious tolerance and the right of religious freedom on social media, emphasizing regularly that religious freedom is a U.S. government priority.  In November, following his meeting with a metropolitan, the Ambassador tweeted the U.S. government’s commitment to protecting religious freedom.

 

Hong Kong

Read A Section: Hong Kong

CHINA | Tibet | XinjiangMacau

Executive Summary

The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), as well as other laws and policies, state that residents have freedom of conscience, freedom of religious belief, and freedom to preach, conduct, and participate in religious activities in public.  The Bill of Rights Ordinance incorporates the religious freedom protections of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  In 2020, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) imposed a broad National Security Law (NSL) for the SAR with the stated aim of combating secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers.  The Falun Dafa Association and some churches active in the prodemocracy movement said the government had grown less tolerant since passage of the NSL.  Other religious leaders and advocates stated the NSL did not impair their ability to conduct or attend worship services in conformity with their religious norms; however, they continued to express concern regarding self-censorship and potential PRC targeting of civil society organizations affiliated with religious groups active in the 2019 prodemocracy movement.  An unknown assailant physically attacked the head of the Hong Kong Falun Dafa Association, and unknown assailants vandalized and destroyed printing presses at the contracted printer’s facility of the Falun Gong-affiliated publication Epoch Times.  On April 2 and April 3, masked individuals wielding knives and spray paint destroyed eight Falun Gong public information displays in what the group said appeared to be coordinated attacks across several locations.  In April, Lo Hing-choi, president of the Baptist Convention and a critic of the NSL, resigned and moved abroad, saying he feared government retaliation if he remained in Hong Kong.  In May, the Good Neighbor North District Church, which had supported the prodemocracy movement, ceased operations.  There were reports of emigration of other religious leaders.  Media reported that on October 31, bishops and religious leaders from mainland China briefed Hong Kong Catholic clergymen on the PRC central government’s policy of “Sinicizing” Christianity.  Authorities curtailed activities of Falun Gong practitioners during the year, banning their street kiosks under what practitioners said was a pretext of violating COVID-19 protocols.  In July, several members of the SAR Legislative Council urged the SAR government to outlaw the Falun Dafa Association under the NSL.  In September, an editorial in the PRC-owned media outlet Wen Wei Po called on SAR authorities to ban “cult organizations,” a term the PRC government has historically used to refer to Falun Gong, among other groups.  In April, Wen Wei Po reported that national security police blocked access to the website of the Taiwan Presbyterian Church for internet users in Hong Kong due to “national security” concerns.

In June, an unknown group hung banners defaming Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Catholic Church policy on China, around each of the seven Catholic churches that were planning to hold a memorial Mass for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.  On May 17, Pope Francis named Reverend Stephen Chow Sau-Yan Bishop of Hong Kong.  The Vatican-affiliated outlet AsiaNews stated Chow was a “balanced” choice between prodemocracy and pro-Beijing camps.  Observers reported Christian churches in Hong Kong continued to provide spiritual and monetary support to underground churches in mainland China.

The U.S. Consul General and staff repeatedly raised concerns regarding the shrinking space for civil society, including religious groups, during meetings with a range of official counterparts in which they also affirmed U.S. government support for protecting freedom of religion and belief.  U.S. officials delivered similar messages to religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and community representatives, as well as in public messages.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 7.3 million (midyear 2021).  According to SAR government statistics, there are more than one million followers of Taoism and approximately one million followers of Buddhism; 800,000 Protestants; 404,000 Catholics; 300,000 Muslims; 100,000 Hindus; and 12,000 Sikhs.  The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, which recognizes the Pope and maintains links to the Vatican, reported approximately 621,000 followers (404,000 local residents and 217,000 residents with other nationalities).  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reported it has approximately 25,100 members.  According to the World Jewish Congress, there are approximately 2,500 Jews, primarily expatriates.  Small communities of Baha’is and Zoroastrians also reside in the SAR.  Confucianism is widespread, and in some cases, elements of Confucianism are practiced in conjunction with other belief systems.  The Falun Dafa Association estimates there are approximately 500 Falun Gong practitioners.

There are numerous Protestant denominations, including Baptist, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, the Church of Christ in China, Seventh-day Adventist, and Pentecostal.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Basic Law states residents have freedom of conscience, freedom of religious belief, and freedom to preach, conduct, and participate in religious activities in public.  The Basic Law also states the government may not interfere in the internal affairs of religious organizations or restrict religious activities that do not contravene other laws.  The Basic Law calls for ties between the region’s religious groups and their counterparts in mainland China based on “nonsubordination, noninterference, and mutual respect.”  The Basic Law states that religious organizations “may maintain and develop their relations with religious organizations and believers elsewhere.”

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

In 2020, the PRC National People’s Congress (NPC) imposed the NSL for Hong Kong.  The law prohibits secession, subversion, terrorism, and “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.”  The law states that it shall override local laws if there are inconsistencies.  The NSL states power to interpret the law lies with the NPC Standing Committee, not local courts.

PRC State Administration for Religious Affairs regulations entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” which came into force in mainland China on May 1, which require clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and promote the “Sinicization of religion,” do not apply to Hong Kong.

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

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

The NSL stipulates the SAR “shall take necessary measures to strengthen public communication, guidance, supervision and regulation over matters concerning national security, including those relating to schools, universities, social organizations, the media, and the internet.”  Pursuant to the NSL, the Education Bureau issued new guidelines on February 4 to incorporate lessons on “national security” into the government curriculum, beginning at the kindergarten level.  All schools following the Education Bureau curriculum, including those run by religious groups, must incorporate this material.  Private and international schools that do not receive funding from SAR authorities, including those run by religious groups, are not required to follow the new guidelines, but the guidelines state that these schools have the “responsibility to help their students… acquire a correct and objective understanding and apprehension of the concept of national security and the National Security Law.”

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

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

In March, the PRC NPC Standing Committee imposed new measures to amend Hong Kong’s electoral system.  Hong Kong’s majority pro-Beijing legislature passed a bill in May incorporating these measures into local legislation.  The new electoral system creates a nomination and vetting system for all candidates for political office that Beijing and Hong Kong authorities described as designed to ensure that only “patriots” govern Hong Kong.  Hong Kong voters directly elect 20 of the Legislative Council’s newly expanded 90 seats.  Forty of the seats are elected by the Chief Executive Election Committee (CEEC) directly, while 30 are selected as representatives of “functional constituencies” from various economic and social sectors.  The CEEC comprises 1,500 members from five sectors.  The religious subsector, under the third sector (“Grassroots, labor, religious, and other”), is composed of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, Chinese Muslim Cultural and Fraternal Association, Hong Kong Christian Council, Hong Kong Taoist Association, Confucian Academy, and Hong Kong Buddhist Association.  These six bodies are each entitled to 10 of the 60 seats for the religious subsector on the CEEC.  The religious subsector is not required to hold elections under the Chief Executive Election Ordinance.  Instead, each religious organization selects its electors in its own fashion.  Each of the six designated religious groups is also a member of the Hong Kong Colloquium of Religious Leaders.

Government Practices

The Falun Dafa Association and some churches active in the prodemocracy movement stated the government had grown less tolerant since passage of the NSL.  For example, Falun Gong practitioners reported that SAR authorities shut down their public information kiosks on May 27 and 28 on what practitioners said was the pretext of violating COVID-19 prevention rules under Food and Environmental Hygiene ordinances.  Other religious leaders and advocates stated the NSL did not impair freedom to conduct or attend worship services, although they continued to express concerns regarding self-censorship and potential PRC targeting of civil society organizations affiliated with religious groups active in the 2019 prodemocracy movement.  Archbishop Andrew Chan, the head of the Hong Kong Anglican Church, stated that all religious activities continued to be organized and carried out “as normal” but said preachers were “very cautious to use sensitive terminologies in their homilies.”

Some religious leaders and activists said they were concerned SAR and PRC authorities could target religiously affiliated groups using tactics they repeatedly applied to associations or groups affiliated with the prodemocracy movement.  SAR authorities began investigations into and cut existing government ties with civil society groups, pressuring these groups into disbanding.  Even after threatened groups disbanded, SAR authorities publicly stated that individuals associated with these groups could face further investigations or arrests.  Observers stated these government actions had set numerous legal precedents that undermined fundamental freedoms guaranteed under the Basic Law, including freedom of religion.

During the year, Falun Gong practitioners reported that unknown individuals for months surveilled Sarah Liang, head of the Hong Kong Falun Dafa Association, and a journalist with the Falun Gong-affiliated publication Epoch Times.  On May 11, an unidentified man struck Liang more than 10 times with a baseball bat, bruising her legs.  June Guo, director of the Hong Kong edition of the Epoch Times, said the CCP was behind the assault on Liang.

The Epoch Times reported that on April 12, unknown assailants vandalized and destroyed printing presses at its contracted printer, forcing the facility to suspend operations for several days.  Guo stated the safety of the staff at the outlet’s printing plant was a continuing concern.  Falun Gong practitioners reported that no one had been prosecuted for the attacks as of year’s end.

The Falun Dafa Infocenter reported that on April 2 and April 3, masked individuals wielding knives and spray paint destroyed eight Falun Gong public information displays in what the group said appeared to be coordinated attacks across several locations.  At one location, an assailant pushed a volunteer to the ground.  Practitioners said they believed the attacks were instigated by pro-CCP groups.  The Falun Dafa Infocenter spokesperson said, “These violent acts against a religious minority that unfolded in broad daylight on Hong Kong’s streets are a clear indication that basic freedoms, and even the rule of law, are indeed in jeopardy in Hong Kong.”

In August, an unknown group falsely claiming to represent the Falun Dafa Association posted on social media that the group would leave Hong Kong.  The Falun Dafa Association stated it had no plans to leave the city.

Media reported that Baptist pastor Lo Hing-choi, president of the Baptist Convention since May 2018, resigned and moved abroad in April.  According to media, Lo led the Baptist Convention to publicly campaign against the Hong Kong government’s extradition law, and Lo also personally criticized the NSL in June 2020.  In 2019, he openly supported prodemocracy protests, writing articles comparing protesters to Jews facing persecution in the Old Testament.  In July and September 2020, pro-Beijing newspapers such as Ta Kung Pao publicly criticized Lo, reportedly causing him to fear repercussions under the NSL if he remained in Hong Kong.

In May, the Good Neighbor North District Church ceased operations.  Hong Kong police had launched an investigation into the church in December 2020 for alleged money laundering and fraud, arrested two individuals affiliated with the church, and ordered a freeze of the church’s bank accounts.  The church’s former pastor, Roy Chan, who relocated in 2020 to the United Kingdom, continued to state the investigation was an act of political retaliation because some church members had formed a group called “Safeguard Our Generation” in 2019 in an attempt to deescalate violent clashes between police and prodemocracy protesters.  In October, the former pastor said accusations against religious leaders for “inciting subversion” had resulted in self-censorship within local churches and had caused some religious leaders to emigrate.

Reuters reported that on October 31, bishops and religious leaders from mainland China briefed Hong Kong Catholic clergymen on the government’s policy of “Sinicizing” Christianity to bring religious doctrine and practice in line with CCP doctrine.  Clerics who attended or had knowledge of the meeting said that while individual meetings with counterparts in mainland China had occurred in the past, this was the first formal meeting, and that PRC central government officials had arranged and monitored it.

In June, SAR authorities denied permission for gatherings to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, including the annual vigil in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, but they did not interfere with memorial masses held at seven Catholic churches around the city honoring the victims of the massacre.  A spokesperson for the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese, which organized the masses, said that police for the first time questioned the commission about arrangements for the masses and the number of attendees, citing COVID-19 concerns.

Falun Gong practitioners stated they still operated openly and engaged in behavior that remained prohibited in mainland China, including distributing literature, sharing information about the group on social media, and accessing and downloading online materials.  No Falun Gong rallies were permitted during the year due to COVID-19 health restrictions, but practitioners continued to publicly gather in small groups, adhering to COVID-19 restrictions.  Falun Gong practitioners reported the group gathered in front of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government on July 20 to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the mass arrest of practitioners in mainland China.  Practitioners reported the Hong Kong police instructed them to remove three of their four banners during the event.

Methodist-run Wa Ying College reported difficulties obtaining SAR authorization or funding to renovate school buildings.  The South China Morning Post reported in May that these difficulties may have stemmed from concerns several legislators had regarding the positions many Methodists and the school allegedly took during the prodemocracy protest movement.

In July, several members of the SAR Legislative Council – including Elizabeth Quat, Wong Kwok-kin, and Holden Chow Ho-ding – urged the SAR government to outlaw the Falun Dafa Association under the NSL.  Quat stated the group “aims to subvert state power and should be immediately outlawed,” while Wong called for SAR authorities to freeze the group’s assets.  The SAR Security Secretary promised to investigate the group.

On October 7, pro-PRC Hong Kong media HK01 reported that according to a Hong Kong Public Opinion Exchange Association survey conducted between September 1 and October 5 among 8,855 respondents, 72 percent believed Falun Gong was an “anti-China and Hong Kong” organization that violated the NSL and should be banned.  At a press conference announcing the survey’s findings, Legislative Council member Eunice Yung stated Falun Gong should be banned in Hong Kong “as soon as possible.”  Yung said that Falun Gong had established an “anti-CCP platform” in Hong Kong and called for authorities to investigate the group’s funding sources.

On September 14, an editorial in the PRC-owned media outlet Wen Wei Po identified the Buddhist movement called the True Buddha School as a “cult” and a national security risk.  The editorial requested SAR authorities create legislation banning “cult organizations,” a term that the PRC government has historically used to refer to Falun Gong and the True Buddha School, among other groups, “to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a haven for filth.”

In April, Wen Wei Po reported that national security police blocked access to the website of the Taiwan Presbyterian Church for internet users in Hong Kong due to “national security” concerns.  A pastor of the Church told Radio Free Asia the interference was done in retaliation for the Church’s support of the 2019 prodemocracy movement in Hong Kong and said, “Blocking the site like this is a warning sign that Beijing is extending more mainland China-style restrictions to Hong Kong.”

In the Legislative Council election in December, Peter Koon, the then secretary general of the Province of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (the Anglican Church in Hong Kong), won one of the 40 seats in the Legislative Council elected by the CEEC.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In June, an unknown group hung banners around each of the seven Catholic churches that were planning to hold a memorial Mass for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.  The banners contained photographs of Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken critic of the CCP, with the word “devil,” as well as slogans, including “A Cult Has Invaded the Faith” and “Incitement in the Name of Worship.”

Media reported that on May 17, Pope Francis named Reverend Stephen Chow Sau-Yan as the new Bishop of Hong Kong.  Chow, head of Hong Kong’s Jesuit order, replaced Cardinal John Tong, who had served as interim bishop since 2019.  According to one senior cleric, “The security law has made the job a lot more tricky and the pressure is intense.”  The Holy See and the PRC do not have formal diplomatic relations, but the 2018 Sino-Vatican agreement reportedly gives both Chinese authorities and the Holy See a role in the process of appointing bishops in mainland China.  According to Reuters, Vatican officials said the agreement did not apply to Hong Kong; however, some senior clergy stated the PRC was seeking to extend its control over the Diocese of Hong Kong.  The Vatican-affiliated outlet AsiaNews stated Chow was a “balanced” choice between prodemocracy and pro-Beijing camps.  On May 18, Chow told media, “Religious freedom is our basic right.  We want to really talk to the government not to forget that.  It is important to allow religious freedom, matters of faith – not just Catholic – but any religion should be free.”

Observers reported Christian churches in Hong Kong continued to provide underground churches in mainland China with spiritual and monetary support, including Bibles and Christian literature and visits from church members.  Some Hong Kong churches reported that they were able to conduct cross-border online services, while others, including the Catholic Church, reported PRC authorities prohibited individuals in mainland China from attending their online services.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Consul General and staff repeatedly raised concerns about the shrinking space for civil society, including religious groups, during meetings with a range of official counterparts, although there is no specific Hong Kong government office that regulates religious behavior.  Consulate General Hong Kong officials, including the Consul General, stressed the importance of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue in these meetings with public officials.

Consulate general officials, including the Consul General, also continued to meet with a wide range of religious organizations, including Buddhist, Catholic, Taoist, Jewish, Muslim, Falun Dafa, Sikh, and Protestant religious leaders and adherents, to emphasize the importance of religious freedom and tolerance and to receive reports regarding the status of religious freedom both in Hong Kong and in mainland China.  They also met with NGOs and community representatives regarding the same topics.

Throughout the year, consulate general officials promoted respect for religious traditions by marking traditional religious holidays and visiting local Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist temples and other religious sites.  At all these events, consulate general officials stressed in public and private remarks the importance of religious freedom, tolerance, and diversity.  Consulate social media posts celebrating International Religious Freedom Day on October 27 and highlighting the Consul General’s visits to religiously affiliated civil society organizations also reflected U.S. government support for the value placed on religious freedom in Hong Kong.

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India

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion; mandates a secular state; requires the state to treat all religions impartially; and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  It also states that citizens must practice their faith in a way that does not adversely affect public order, morality, or health.  Ten of 28 states have laws restricting religious conversions.  Four state governments have laws imposing penalties against so-called forced religious conversions for the purpose of marriage although some state high courts have dismissed cases charged under this law.  In August, two Muslim men from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand State filed a complaint against local police alleging that seven police officers sexually abused them during interrogation and used anti-Islamic slurs.  According to media, police took no action on the complaint by year’s end.  Police made several arrests during the year under laws that restrict religious conversion, and several state governments announced plans to strengthen existing legislation or develop new legislation restricting religious conversion.  According to the United Christian Forum (UCF), a Christian rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), in the period between January and June, 29 Christians were arrested in three states on suspicion of forceful or fraudulent religious conversions under the laws restricting religious conversions in those states.  Some NGOs reported that the government failed to prevent or stop attacks on religious minorities.  A faith-based NGO stated in its annual report that out of 112 complaints of violence filed by Christian victims from January to August, police filed official reports (First Information Report or FIR) in 25 cases.  There were no updates on these cases by the end of the year.  Police arrested non-Hindus for making comments in the media or on social media that were considered offensive to Hindus or Hinduism.  NGOs, including faith-based organizations, continued to criticize 2020 amendments passed to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) as constraining civil society by reducing the amount of foreign funding that NGOs, including religious organizations, could use for administrative purposes and adding onerous oversight and certification requirements.  The government continued to say the law strengthened oversight and accountability of foreign NGO funding in the country.  According to media reports, FCRA licenses of 5,789 NGOs, including hundreds of faith-based organizations, lapsed after the government said the organizations did not apply for renewal in time.  In addition, during the year the government suspended FCRA licenses of 179 NGOs, including some that were faith-based.  The states of Assam and Karnataka enacted legislation imposing strict penalties for killing cattle; 25 of 28 states now have similar restrictions.  The most recent National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) report, Crime in India for 2020, released in September, said that the violence in New Delhi in February 2020 following passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) resulted from a “feeling of discrimination” among the Muslim community.  During the year, Delhi courts acquitted some of those arrested on charges related to the protests and convicted one Hindu participant.  Various courts criticized the Delhi police for inadequate investigation of the protests.  Politicians made inflammatory public remarks or social media posts about religious minorities.  For example, Madan Kaushik, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttarakhand State, told the media in October that “Our party line is clear that no [religious] conversion [from Hinduism] will be tolerated.”  In May, the Assam government removed theological content from the curriculum of more than 700 state-run madrassahs and state-run Sanskrit schools, which converted them into regular public schools.  Analysts indicated that madrassahs were impacted in greater numbers.

Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year.  These included incidents of “cow vigilantism” against non-Hindus based on allegations of cow slaughter or trade in beef.  According to the UCF, the number of violent attacks against Christians in the country rose to 486 during the year from 279 in 2020.  According to Catholic news agency Agenzia Fides, Hindus committed 13 instances of violence and threats against Christian communities in Uttarakhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Delhi.  According to UCF, most of the incidents were reported in states ruled by the BJP and included attacks on pastors, disruption of worship services, and vandalism.  The NGOs United Against Hate, the Association for Protection of Civil Rights, and UCF released a joint report that noted more than 500 incidents of violence against Christians reported to UCF’s hotline during the year.  Suspected terrorists targeted and killed civilians and migrants from the Hindu and Sikh minorities, including Hindu migrant laborers from Bihar, in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.  As of December, alleged terrorists had killed 39 civilians including two schoolteachers from the Hindu and Sikh communities.  According to media reports, the killings caused widespread fear among Hindus and Sikhs in the Kashmir valley, leading hundreds of migrants to depart Jammu and Kashmir.  There were reports of vandalism against Muslim facilities during the year, including by Hindu nationalist groups damaging mosques, shops, and houses belonging to the Muslim community across Tripura State in October.  Media reports said these attacks occurred in retaliation for attacks on minority Hindus in Bangladesh during the Durga Puja festival in that country.  A mob killed four Muslim men on June 20 in Tripura on suspicion of cattle smuggling.  On June 21, suspected cow vigilantes killed Muslim Aijaz Dar in Rajouri District of Jammu and Kashmir.  Cow vigilantes allegedly killed Babu Bheel, a member of a Rajasthan tribal community, on June 14.  Religious leaders, academics, and activists made inflammatory remarks about religious minorities.  During a Hindu religious gathering in Hardiwar, Uttarakhand State, December 17-19, Yati Narasinghanand Saraswati, described as a Hindu religious extremist, called upon Hindus to “take up weapons against Muslims” and “wage a war against Muslims.”  On December 21, police named Narasinghanand and seven others for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings” in multiple FIRs; police arrested Narasinghanand a few weeks later, although he was subsequently released on bail.  The others had not been arrested by year’s end.  The Pew Research study on “Religion in India” released in July noted that most Indians valued religious tolerance but preferred living religiously segregated lives.  Eighty-nine percent of Muslims and Christians surveyed said they were “very free to practice their own religion” but 65 percent of Hindus and Muslims said they believed communal violence between religious groups was “a problem” for the country.  Freedom House downgraded the country’s ranking from “free” to “partly free” during the year in part due to policies described as advancing Hindu nationalist objectives.

During the year, U.S. embassy officials, including the Chargés d’Affaires, engaged with members of parliament, politicians from multiple political parties, religious leaders, representatives of faith-based organizations, and civil society members to discuss the importance of religious freedom and the responsibility of democracies to ensure the rights of religious minorities.  During engagements with political parties, civil society representatives, religious freedom activists, and leaders of various faith communities, U.S. government officials discussed the importance of religious freedom and pluralism; the value of interfaith dialogue, and the operating environment for faith-based NGOs.  Throughout the year, the Chargés d’Affaires met with religious communities, including representatives of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh faiths to discuss their perspectives and views on religious freedom issues.  In May, the embassy organized a virtual interfaith dialogue during Ramadan to emphasize the U.S. government’s commitment to religious freedom and interfaith harmony.  In July, the Secretary of State, during his visit to the country, addressed the importance of freedom of religion and belief in his opening remarks and held a roundtable with diverse faith leaders to discuss inclusive development.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.3 billion (midyear 2021).  According to the 2011 national census, the most recent year for which disaggregated figures are available, Hindus constitute 79.8 percent of the population, Muslims 14.2 percent, Christians 2.3 percent, and Sikhs 1.7 percent.  Groups that together constitute fewer than 2 percent of the population include Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians (Parsis), Jews, and Baha’is.  In government statistics, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs officially identifies as Hindus more than 104 million members of Scheduled Tribes – indigenous groups historically outside the caste system who often practice indigenous religious beliefs – although an estimated 10 million of those listed as Scheduled Tribe members are Christians according to the 2011 census.

According to government estimates, there are large Muslim populations in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, and the Union Territories of Lakshadweep and Jammu and Kashmir.  In Lakshadweep and Jammu and Kashmir, Muslims account for 95 percent and 68.3 percent of the population, respectively.  Slightly more than 85 percent of Muslims are Sunni, with the remainder mostly Shia.  According to media reports during the year, there are an estimated 150,000 Ahmadi Muslims in the country.  According to government estimates, Christian populations are distributed throughout the country but in greater concentrations in the northeast as well as in the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Goa.  Three northeastern states have majority Christian populations:  Nagaland (90 percent), Mizoram (87 percent), and Meghalaya (70 percent).  Sikhs constitute 54 percent of the population of Punjab.  The Dalai Lama’s office states there are significant resettled Tibetan Buddhist communities in Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, and Uttarakhand States, and Delhi.  According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and media reports, there are approximately 100,000 Tibetan Buddhists in the country.  According to media reports, approximately 40,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees from Burma live in the country.  UNHCR estimated it received 1,800 requests for refugee registration since August 2021 and projects it will receive 3,500-5,000 refugee registration requests by the end of 2022.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

Ten of the 28 states have laws restricting religious conversion:  Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.  Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh States prohibit religious conversion by “force,” “allurement,” or “fraudulent means” including marriage “with the intention of conversion” and require district authorities to be informed of any intended conversions one month in advance.  Himachal Pradesh and Odisha States maintain similar prohibitions against conversion through “force,” “inducement,” or “fraud,” which would include the provision of any gifts, promises of a better life, free education, and other standard charitable activities, and bar individuals from abetting such conversions.  Odisha State requires individuals wishing to convert to another religion and clergy intending to officiate at a conversion ceremony to submit formal notification to the government.  The notification procedures state that police must ascertain if there are objections to the conversion.  Any person may object.  Four state governments have laws imposing penalties against “forced” religious conversions for the purpose of marriage (Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Madhya Pradesh), although some state high courts have dismissed cases charged under this law.  By year’s end, four other state governments announced plans to enact similar legislative measures:  Haryana, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Assam.  Since March, Madhya Pradesh has required prior permission from a district official to convert to a spouse’s faith in case of interfaith marriage, has permitted the annulment of a fraudulent marriage, and set the penalties for violators at a prison term of up to 10 years without bail and fines up to 100,000 rupees ($1,300).

Violators, including missionaries, are subject to fines and other penalties, such as prison sentences of up to three years in Chhattisgarh and up to four years in Madhya Pradesh if converts are minors, women, or members of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes.  on freedom of religion in April, Gujarat also imposes sentences of between three and 10 years in prison and fines of up to 50,000 rupees ($670) for forcible or fraudulent religious conversions through marriage.  In Himachal Pradesh, penalties include up to two years’ imprisonment, fines of 25,000 rupees ($340), or both.

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

There are no requirements for registration of religious groups unless they receive foreign funding, in which case they must register under the FCRA.  Federal law requires NGOs, including religious organizations, registered under the FCRA to maintain audit reports on their accounts and a schedule of their activities and to provide these to state government officials upon request.

Organizations conducting “cultural, economic, educational, religious, or social programs” that receive foreign funding are required to obtain a license under the FCRA.  The central government may also require that licensed organizations obtain prior permission before accepting or transferring foreign funds.  The central government may reject a license application or a request to transfer funds if it judges the recipient to be acting against “harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic, regional groups, castes, or communities.”

NGOs, including religious organizations, may use 20 percent of their funding for administrative purposes and are prohibited from transferring foreign funds to any other organization or individual.

The constitution states that any legal reference to Hindus is to be construed to include followers of Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism, meaning they are subject to laws regarding Hindus, such as the Hindu Marriage Act.  Subsequent legislation continues to use the word Hindu as a category that includes Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’is, and Jains, but it identifies the groups as separate religions whose followers are included under the legislation.

Federal law provides official minority status to six religious groups:  Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains, and Buddhists.  State governments may grant minority status under state law to religious groups that are minorities in a particular region.  Members of recognized minority groups are eligible for government assistance programs.  The constitution states that the government is responsible for protecting religious minorities and enabling them to preserve their culture and religious interests.

Personal status laws establish civil codes for members of certain religious communities in matters of marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance based on religion, faith, and culture.  Hindu, Christian, Parsi, Jewish, and Islamic personal status laws are legally recognized and judicially enforceable.  Personal status issues that are not defined for a community in a separate law are covered under Hindu personal status laws.  These laws, however, do not supersede national and state legislation or constitutional provisions.  The government grants autonomy to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and the Parsi community to define their customary practices.  If law boards or community leaders are not able to resolve disputes, cases are referred to the civil courts.

Interfaith couples and all couples marrying in a civil ceremony are generally required to provide public notice 30 days in advance – including addresses, photographs, and religious affiliation – for public comment, although this requirement varies across states.  Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, or Jains who marry outside their religions face the possibility of losing their property inheritance rights under those communities’ personal status laws.

The law recognizes the registration of Sikh marriages but does not include divorce provisions for Sikhs.  Other Sikh personal status matters fall under Hindu codes.  Under the law, any person, irrespective of religion, may seek a divorce in civil court.

The constitution prohibits religious instruction in government schools; the law permits private religious schools.  The law permits some Muslim, Christian, Sindhi (Hindu refugees), Parsi, and Sikh educational institutions that receive government support to set quotas for students belonging to the religious minority in question.  For example, Aligarh Muslim University must admit at least 50 percent Muslims.  St. Stephen’s College in Delhi and St. Xavier’s in Mumbai must admit at least 50 percent Christians.

Twenty-five of the 28 states apply partial to full restrictions on bovine slaughter.  Penalties vary among states and may vary based on whether the animal is a cow, calf, bull, or ox.  The ban mostly affects Muslims and members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes that traditionally consume beef.  In most of the states where bovine slaughter is banned, penalties include imprisonment for six months to two years and a fine of 1,000 to 10,000 rupees ($13-$130).  Since August, when the Assam state government enacted new legislation, penalties have included minimum imprisonment of three years or a fine between 300,000 and 500,000 rupees ($4,000-$6,700) or both, without being eligible for bail prior to trial, for slaughtering, consuming, or transporting cattle.  Since February, the slaughter of all cattle, except for buffalo older than age 13, has been illegal in Karnataka, with violators subject to imprisonment of between three and seven years and penalties between 500,000 and 1,000,000 rupees ($6,700-$13,500).  Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir penalize cow slaughter with imprisonment of two to 10 years.  Gujarat state law mandates a minimum 10-year sentence and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for killing cows, selling beef, and illegally transporting cows or beef.

One state, Madhya Pradesh, imposes fines of 25,000 to 50,000 rupees ($340-$670) and prison sentences of six months to three years for “cow vigilantism,” i.e., committing violence in the name of protecting cows.  This is the only law of its kind in the country.

The National Commission for Minorities, which includes representatives from the six designated religious minorities and the National Human Rights Commission, investigates allegations of religious discrimination.  The Ministry of Minority Affairs may also conduct investigations.  These agencies have no enforcement powers but conduct investigations based on written complaints of criminal or civil violations and submit findings to law enforcement agencies.  Eighteen of the country’s 28 states and the National Capital Territory of Delhi have state minorities commissions, which also investigate allegations of religious discrimination.

The constitution establishes the legal basis for preferential public benefit programs for Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe communities and members of the “Other Backward Classes,” a category for groups deemed to be socially and educationally disadvantaged.  The constitution specifies only Hindus, Sikhs, or Buddhists are eligible to be deemed members of a Scheduled Caste.  As a result, Christians and Muslims qualify for benefits if deemed to be members of “backward” classes due to their social and economic status.

The government requires foreign missionaries to obtain a missionary visa.

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

Government Practices

On September 26, a 14-year-old Christian boy in the Gaya District of Bihar died at a hospital in Patna after perpetrators threw acid on him, according to media reports.  The family members said police did not register a complaint despite threats to the family by Hindu groups and local individuals.  The boy’s father, Vakil Ravidas, had adopted Christianity with his family five years earlier and, according to family members, local community members threatened and warned them against attending church.  Police told media the boy died by self-immolation due to a familial dispute, a claim the victim’s family denied.  Media reported the family signed a consent letter declaring they did not want to pursue the matter with police or the courts.

According to media reports, two Muslim men from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand stated that during an interrogation on August 26 police used anti-Muslim slurs, forced them to strip naked at a city police station, and pressured them to have sexual intercourse with each other.  When they refused, they said they were “beaten and threatened to be sent to Afghanistan.”  Police released them the same day.  The men said they were called to the police station for questioning in connection with an alleged kidnapping case involving a Muslim man and a Hindu woman who had eloped.  They said seven police personnel, including the station officer in charge, sexually abused them.  The officer in charge denied the allegation.  On August 27, the two men — Mohammad Arzoo and Mohammad Aurangzeb — filed a complaint with Jamshedpur police that they were tortured by seven police personnel.  According to a media report, no action was taken against the accused police officers by year’s end.

The government did not release data on communal violence during the year.  Government data from 2020 reported a large increase in communal violence compared to 2019, largely due to the February 2020 violence and protests following passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).  The CAA provides an expedited path to citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh who had entered the country on or before December 31, 2014.  Similarly situated Muslims, Jews, members of other faiths, and atheists from these three countries were not included.  The government argued the law was necessary to provide protections for religious minorities from those countries.

The National Crimes Record Bureau reported 857 instances of communal violence in 2020 compared to 438 in 2019.  According to both media and the Crime in India for 2020 report, released in September, police arrested 1818 individuals throughout 2020 for the protests in Northeast Delhi.  The report said that 53 persons including two security personnel were killed in the protests, and 581 individuals, including 108 police personnel, were injured.  Of those killed, 35 were Muslim and 18 Hindu.  Of those arrested, 956 were Muslim and 868 Hindu.  By the end of the year, 1204 individuals remained in jail, 544 individuals had been released on bail, various courts in Delhi were processing 250 outstanding criminal complaints, and Delhi police were investigating an additional 350 criminal complaints related to the riots.  Those numbers continued to fluctuate due to the ongoing hearings.  The first conviction was a Hindu male in December for setting a Muslim resident’s house on fire as part of a mob.

The Crime in India for 2020 report said the riots resulted from the Muslim community’s “feeling of discrimination” due to the NRC and the CAA, and certain groups with “vested interests capitalized on this feeling and further aroused the sentiments of this community against the central government.”  The Assam State government published its NRC in 2018 to define citizenship, and any Assamese resident who did not appear on the list would need to go before the Foreigners’ Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body, which would declare them a foreigner or citizen.  An estimated one-third of Assam’s 33 million residents are Muslim.  The Muslim community and media expressed concern that the NRC, a proposed list of all citizens being implemented only in the state of Assam, coupled with the national CAA, could result in Muslims being determined to be “illegal immigrants” and detained or deported.  None had been deported by the end of the year.

Opposition parties and civil society members continued to criticize the probe into the riot cases and accused Delhi police of targeting minorities, a charge Delhi police and the national Home Ministry (responsible for police oversight) denied.  In a press conference on September 13, several prominent civil society members and activists said Delhi police were responsible for “derailing” the probe and demanded release of individuals arrested for the rioting or protesting against the CAA.  Various courts also criticized the Delhi police for inadequate investigation of the riots, which Muslim academics, human rights activists, former police officers, and journalists said reflected police anti-Muslim bias, while deflecting the investigation away from those responsible.  A lower court in Delhi imposed a fine of 25,000 rupees ($340) on the Delhi police for “callous” investigation into the case of one man who said police shot him in the eye during the riots.  The judge said the police had “miserably failed” their duty in that case.  The Delhi High Court stayed the fine but upheld the lower court judge’s criticism of the riot investigation.  Critical court rulings led to the Delhi police setting up a Special Investigation Cell to monitor progress of the Delhi riots investigation.

During the year, Delhi courts released some of those arrested during the 2020 riots.  In July, for example, a court dropped charges against a Hindu man who was held for over a year in pretrial custody after being accused of joining a mob that burned and looted a shop the mob thought was Muslim-owned, according to media reports.

The case against activist and former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid, a Muslim, who told a court in 2020 he had spent time in solitary confinement after being arrested during the riots, remained ongoing at year’s end and he remained in custody.  Media reported that during a bail hearing, Khalid’s lawyer argued the police officer who originally filed charges against his client had been influenced by the communal tension during the riots and the charges were fabricated.  In September, prominent civil society groups demanded Khalid’s release, describing him a “defender of human rights” and a “peace activist.”

By year’s end, the government had not enacted rules to implement the CAA, and the Supreme Court had not heard any of the more than 100 legal challenges to the act.

Christians and Muslims were charged during the year under laws restricting conversions, and some state governments announced plans to strengthen existing legislation or develop new legislation.

Media reported Madhya Pradesh police filed 21 cases against 47 individuals and arrested 15 Muslims and six Christians between March and June for violations of the state’s law restricting conversions.  In 15 of the 21 cases, rape and molestation charges were added.

On March 8, a law went into effect in Madhya Pradesh that increased the penalties for forced religious conversion through marriage or any other fraudulent means.  The law requires prior notice to a district official, to which any person may object, to convert to the spouse’s faith.  The law also permits the annulment of a fraudulent marriage and increases the penalty for violators from a two-year prison term with bail possible to a term of up to 10 years without bail and fines that can exceed 100,000 rupees ($1,300).  Legal expert Sanjay Hegde said the state laws against conversion let the mobs have the final say.  “If you are born in a religion, you can’t change your religion, without the State’s consent,” said Hegde.  “These laws try to control women, rather than marriage, and assume that the women don’t have any agency of their own,” Hegde added.

According to the Christian NGO International Christian Concern (ICC), on January 11, Azad Prem Singh, a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad Hindu nationalist group, sent a memorandum to the Jhabua District administrative head in Madhya Pradesh demanding a ban of all churches in tribal areas.  Singh said Christians were fraudulently mass converting individuals to Christianity.  “In the past 70 years, Christian missionaries have converted gullible indigenous people to Christianity and built churches specifically on protected tribal land,” Singh said.  “All the illegally built churches should be shut down immediately and action should be taken against all priests and pastors involved in the process.”  In the memorandum, Singh gave the local government 30 days to meet his demands and threatened to use violence if they were not met.  The state government did not agree to Singh’s demand to ban all churches in tribal areas.  The police continued to arrest Christians on charges of forced or induced conversion in the region, according to Christian community members.  On December 25, police arrested three persons, including a Catholic priest and a Protestant pastor, at Bicholi village in Jhabua District for allegedly luring tribal villagers into Christianity by offering free education and treatment in missionary-run schools and the hospital, media reported.  In September, the Christian community in Jhabua wrote to the district authorities and President Ram Nath Kovind complaining of attacks and false accusations by the various Hindu nationalist affiliates of the BJP and the Hindu nationalist organization RSS.

In Uttar Pradesh, between November 2020 and November 2021, police filed 148 cases against 359 persons for violating laws restricting conversion.  According to state police records, the police completed investigations in 113 cases and filed charges in 90, but media reported that no case had been decided by the courts in Uttar Pradesh by year’s end.  Media reported that 72 of the 359 had charges dropped against them for lack of evidence.  According to a faith-based NGO, between June and September, at least 71 Christian leaders were arrested in Uttar Pradesh after Hindu nationalists accused them of carrying out illegal conversions.

In June, the Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested Muslim clerics Mohammad Umar Gautam and Mufti Qazi Jahagir Alam Qasmi for performing illegal conversions.  Police told media the two had been running a “huge conversion racket.”  The ATS later arrested eight more individuals whom police said were performing conversions at the Islamic Dawah Centre by offering “education, marriage, and jobs” to poor people.  According to media reports, eight of those arrested, including the two clerics, were charged in September with “illegal conversions” and “waging war against India.”

On October 7, the Uttar Pradesh ATS arrested a Muslim man in connection with his activities as a member of a WhatsApp group that encouraged individuals to convert to Islam.  ATS told media that the man had been involved in illegal conversion activities since 2016 and that he and others “spread religious hatred” by inducing people to convert to Islam.

On October 10, seven Protestant pastors in Mau District in Uttar Pradesh were taken into judicial custody pending a police investigation after being arrested on charges of unlawful religious conversions.

In March, Uttar Pradesh police detained two nuns and two postulants from the Sacred Heart convent of the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala after Hindu activists riding with them on a passenger train said the nuns were forcibly converting the postulants to Christianity, according to media reports.  According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s (EFI) report covering January-June, police immediately arrested the four and took them to the local police station followed by a crowd of 150 “religious radicals.”  The police released the four after five hours of questioning and did not press charges.  In a statement, the Church said the four continued their journey with police protection.

In January, according to the EFI report, police in Malkangiri District of Odisha arrested Raja Kartami for violating the state’s conversion restriction laws following a complaint from his Hindu in-laws that he was forcing his wife to become a Christian.  As of year’s end, Kartami was in jail awaiting trial.

In August, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Khattar announced that the state would consider drafting legislation to stop forced religious conversions in response to incidents of “love jihad” (a derogatory term referring to Muslim men seeking to marry women from other faiths to convert them to Islam).  Such legislation had not been introduced by year’s end.

On September 21, Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra announced that his government would propose legislation to prevent forced religious conversions in the state.  Following this announcement, a delegation of Karnataka-based Catholic bishops, led by Archbishop of Bengaluru Peter Machado, met with state Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai to discuss the proposed legislation.  The delegation expressed concern, should the legislation become law, about the potential misuse of the law to falsely accuse the Christian community of engaging in forced conversions.  On December 23, the Karnataka State Legislative Assembly passed the “anti-unlawful conversion bill,” which would prohibit forced religious conversion in the state.  At year’s end, the bill was pending approval by the State Legislative Council.

In October, the Uttarakhand government stated it intended to amend existing law and empower police to register cases based on allegations of forced religious conversion.  The existing state law requires such allegations to be handled directly by the courts.  Madan Kaushik, the BJP’s president in Uttarakhand, told media in October that “Our party’s line is clear that no conversion will be tolerated.”  A civil rights attorney in the state expressed concern that such a change in the law could lead to abuse.  She said, “A citizen is somewhat protected if the court hears the complaint and proceeds with the matter.  However, if the state police are given the power to register FIRs [in forced conversion cases], there is no protection from misuse.”

In February, the Supreme Court declined to hear petitions from NGOs and activists challenging the constitutionality of the conversion restriction laws in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, deferring the challenges first to the respective state high courts.

On June 21, Gujarat police arrested a Muslim man for forcibly marrying a Hindu woman.  Police said the man was in violation of the state’s freedom of religion law, which had been amended in April to increase penalties for forced marriages.  According to media reports, after the victim’s mother filed a missing person complaint, Gujarat police opened an investigation and determined that the man, who was already married, kidnapped the woman and forced her to marry him.  Media also reported that the woman said the man raped her and threatened to harm her family if she did not marry.  The Muslim man was charged with kidnapping, rape, and criminal intimidation.  Investigation on the case continued at the end of the year.

On April 1, Gujarat government amended legislation enacted in 2003 on freedom of religion to explicitly prohibit the use of fraudulent marriage to convert partners of different religions.  The law’s preamble stated the amendment aimed to reduce the “emerging trend” of coerced religious conversion of women.  On August 19, the Gujarat High Court suspended seven provisions of the state’s amended freedom of religion law, stating an interfaith marriage by itself cannot be treated as a forceful or “unlawful conversion by deceit or allurement.”  On August 26, the state government asked that the suspension of those provisions be annulled; the High Court rejected the request.  On December 14, the Gujarat government challenged the stay in the Supreme Court; there was no ruling by the end of the year.

On October 13, the Gujarat High Court granted bail to all seven individuals arrested in the state’s first case under the amended freedom of religion law.  The case involved a Hindu woman who filed forced conversion charges against her Muslim husband, five of his Muslim family members, and the officiant at their wedding; all of whom were arrested on June 18.  On August 5, the woman filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court to retract her complaint, stating the police had “twisted” her complaint into a case of forced religious conversion, rape, and other charges.  According to the police report, her Muslim husband had claimed to be Christian before their wedding and, once they were married, the family pressured the wife to convert to Islam.  Police dropped the case after the woman retracted her complaint.

In September, media reported the MHA had suspended the FCRA licenses of six NGOs, including two Christian evangelical groups and one Islamic charity in Kerala, citing FCRA violations.  In December, the MHA stated that FCRA licenses of 5,789 NGOs had lapsed because they did not apply for renewal in time.  Media reported that hundreds of these NGOs were faith-based.  The MHA also stated that it had denied FCRA renewal to 179 NGOs during the year, including Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.  The MHA reversed the denial several weeks later.  The original MHA announcement of the action cited unnamed “adverse inputs” against the NGO.  Some media reports noted that the government decision came days after police filed a complaint against the director of a children’s home run by the Missionaries of Charity in Gujarat state for attempting to convert young girls to Christianity although the Ministry of Home Affairs did not attribute a linkage between the two events.

NGOs, including faith-based organizations, continued to criticize the requirements of the FCRA as constraining civil society and religious organizations.  Opponents of the FCRA amendments called the requirements onerous and a barrier to organizations continuing to work in the country.  The government continued to say the FCRA law strengthened oversight and accountability of foreign NGO funding in the country.

In a July virtual session hosted by the U.S.-based nonprofit Indian American Muslim Council on Religious Freedom in India, Amnesty International USA said the organization was forced to halt all operations in the country in 2020 because of the FCRA requirements.  The Amnesty representative said the FCRA requirements were one example of “the Indian government activating their overall governmental framework” to crush opportunities for upholding religious freedom.

In March, the MHA stated 22,678 NGOs had been granted registration under the FCRA during the last five years.  The government also reported the registrations of 2,742 NGOs had been revoked from 2018 to 2020 for noncompliance, the most recent data available.

In its annual report, international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the government adopted laws and policies that discriminated against religious minorities, especially Muslims.  HRW also said some BJP leaders vilified Muslims and police failed to act against some BJP supporters who committed violence, a combination that emboldened some Hindu nationalist groups to attack Muslims and government critics with impunity.

On January 4, police officials in Karnataka’s Hassan District banned a Christian prayer service, according to media reports.  A senior police officer asked the worshippers, who included 50 individuals from 15 families, to show proof they were Christians; he later accused them of having been converted to Christianity and misrepresenting their religion by claiming they had been Christian from birth.  Police did not charge the families and warned the worshippers against conducting prayer gatherings without permission.

According to ICC, police shut down a house church in Dharmapuri, Telangana on February 28 following a complaint from a local Hindu group, which had also disrupted the church service there.  The NGO stated that the police invoked a 2007 Andhra Pradesh state law, later adopted by the state of Telangana, to close down the church because Dharmapuri is designated by the law as a “temple town.”  The pastor told ICC he had been leading worship in his home for five years without problems.  While the town of approximately 78,000 persons is overwhelmingly Hindu, there are more than 300 Christians and more than 2,000 Muslims living there.

On July 24, Tamil Nadu police arrested Father George Ponnaiah, a Catholic priest based in Nagercoil, south Tamil Nadu, for alleged hate speech against Hindu gods, the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, and the state government in Tamil Nadu.  Ponnaiah was in custody for 16 days.  At year’s end, Ponnaiah was released on bail, awaiting trial.  If convicted, he could face a prison term up to five years.  Archbishop of Madurai Antony Pappusamy publicly criticized Ponnaiah for his statements.

On January 1, police in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, arrested stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqi and five associates after Eklavya Gaur, the son of state Member of Legislative Assembly Malini Gaur and the head of a local Hindu nationalist group, filed a police complaint stating he overheard the comedian and his associates using religiously offensive language during rehearsal.  On February 6, Indore prison authorities released Faruqi after the Supreme Court granted him bail.  The Madhya Pradesh High Court later granted bail to Faruqui’s five associates.

On January 14, Andhra Pradesh police arrested nondenominational Christian pastor Praveen Chakravarthi for “disturbing communal harmony” after one of his videos from 2013 circulated on social media.  In the video, in a conversation with the head of a U.S.-based NGO, Chakravarthi discussed his evangelism in the country.  After his arrest, Chakravarthi’s bank accounts were frozen.  He was later released on bail, and no further action was reported by the end of the year.

On August 19, Hyderabad police arrested Pastor Honey Johnson from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh on the charge of making derogatory remarks against Hinduism and Hindu deities on his YouTube channel.  Members of his church held protests in Visakhapatnam demanding his release, and he was subsequently released on bail.

On July 20, the Supreme Court expressed concern about the Kerala government’s relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions during Eid al-Adha celebrations July 18-20.  In a ruling, the court said it could not block the state government’s actions after the fact, but it said, “The Kerala government failed to protect the fundamental rights of life and health of the people.”  The court said it would take action against the Kerala government if the loosened restrictions led to additional spread of COVID-19, but it took no further action on this issue by year’s end.  Earlier in July, the Supreme Court had cancelled the annual Hindu Kanwar Yatra festival in Uttar Pradesh due to a surge in COVID-19 cases there.  In April, activists had asked the government to cancel the Hindu Kumbh Mela festival for COVID-19 reasons, but the government declined to do so.  Also in April, the Supreme Court approved the petition of Muslim leaders to open the Nizzamuddin Mosque in New Delhi for Ramadan services.  Advocates for the mosque cited the Kumbh Mela celebrations in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, which were permitted, as well as at the Hindu temple dedicated to Hanuman in Karol Bagh, Delhi, which remained open despite COVID-19 restrictions, to support their request to reopen.

In June and July, residents of the predominantly Muslim Union Territory of Lakshadweep protested reforms proposed by Administrator Praful Khoda Patel in December 2020.  The reforms included banning cow slaughter and beef sales on the islands, removing beef and meat (except fish and eggs) from meals in schools, closing government-run dairy farms, permitting liquor sales, imposing a law allowing preventive detention, and disqualifying residents with more than two children from running in local elections.  Media reported the local residents considered the proposed reforms as anti-Muslim, and primarily affected Muslim families.  Protesters said Patel had been trying to transform the island culturally and demographically.  The Lakshadweep administration said the reforms were necessary to develop Lakshadweep as a global tourist destination like the Maldives.

NGOs, including faith-based organizations, continued to criticize the requirements of the FCRA as constraining civil society and religious organizations.  According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, 5,789 NGOs lost their FCRA licenses because they did not file for their renewal.  Some opposition political parties and faith-based NGOs described the regulations as “onerous” and difficult to comply with, making registration and renewal difficult.  The government continued to say the FCRA law strengthened oversight and accountability of foreign NGO funding in the country.

In October, media reported Hindu protesters in Haryana said Muslims had been using public property to conduct daily prayers for four weeks without authorization from local authorities.  The Muslim worshippers, who numbered 200 according to the media, had been praying outside in an area not designated for prayer.  The protestors said they would continue to “protest peacefully” until the police took action.  Haryana Chief Minister Khattar stated prayer in public spaces would be prohibited.  Muslim groups representing the worshippers stated they were offering prayers at places designated by Haryana government officials.  On December 16, Muslim former MP Mohammed Adeeb filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking action against Haryana government officials for not following directions to allow Muslims to offer prayers at designated public spaces.  The Supreme Court had not ruled on the matter at year’s end.

The government closed the 600-year-old Jamia Mosque, which serves the largest Muslim congregation in Jammu and Kashmir, for 45 of the 52 Fridays during the year.  According to media reports, the chief imam of Jamia Mosque remained in home detention during closure of the mosque.  Some other mosques in the region closed by the government in August 2019 when it abrogated Article 370 (state status) in Jammu and Kashmir were allowed to reopen during the year.  Since 2019, the government has continued to close mosques in the area periodically, sometimes for long intervals.

In May, authorities in Uttar Pradesh bulldozed a 100-year-old mosque in Barabanki on the grounds that it was an illegal structure.  The destruction followed a March 15 order from the state government to cease worship in the mosque so it could be demolished.  The government also said it blocked traffic.  Muslim leaders said the destruction violated a court order suspending destruction of all “illegal” structures until the end of May and said they would take the case to the Supreme Court.  The government then tried to block access to the mosque by building a wall, which according to media led to public protests in which activist Syed Farooq Ahmad stated at least 30 persons were arrested and others were beaten.  Two days after authorities demolished the mosque, the Sunni Waqf Board of Uttar Pradesh filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court demanding the government reconstruct the mosque.  The court had not ruled on the matter at the end of the year.

On September 6, opposition legislative assembly members from the BJP in Jharkhand protested the state government decision to offer a room in the state assembly building for Muslims to pray.  Media reported that BJP legislators loudly disrupted the assembly session that day with Hindu chants and instruments, calling for the prayer room decision to be rescinded or a separate Hindu prayer room also be designated in the building.  In a media interview, BJP national vice-president Raghubar Das said that the [Muslim] members of the state assembly from the Jharkhand government “openly support the Taliban.  A separate Namaz Hallim [Muslim prayer room] in the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly is a result of this ideology.  Otherwise, any person who believes in Indian democracy would not do such an act.”

In January, two residents of Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court challenging the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court’s September 2020 acquittal of all 32 persons, including BJP politicians, charged in the 1992 demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya.

In May, the Assam government implemented the 2020 Assam Repealing Bill, which abolished the 1995 Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialization) Act and 2018 Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialization of Services of Employees and Re-Organization of Madrassa Educational Institutions) Act.  Implementation of the act resulted in removal of the theological content from the curriculum at 700 state-run madrassahs and converted them into regular public schools.  Theological content was also removed from the state-run Sanskrit schools, but analysts indicated that madrassahs were impacted in greater numbers.  Privately-run madrassahs and Sanskrit schools were not impacted by the state government measure.

On October 19, 2020, the Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh ruled that the state’s Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act “was being misused against innocent persons” and granted bail to a Muslim arrested under the act.  Uttar Pradesh police had filed charges in 1,716 cases of cow slaughter and made more than 4,000 arrests under the act as of August.  According to Uttar Pradesh State government data, the National Security Act (NSA) was also invoked in some cow slaughter cases; observers said this was to make the charges more serious.  Persons detained under the NSA could be held up to 12 months without formal charges.  A media investigation revealed that between January 2018 and December 2020, the Allahabad High Court had annulled detention orders and freed those arrested under the NSA in 94 of 120 cases it heard under the Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act in Uttar Pradesh.

Assam (in August) and Karnataka (in February) enacted legislation imposing strict penalties for killing cattle, bringing the total states with similar restrictions to 25 (of 28).  Opposition members of the Assam legislative assembly, including from Muslim parties, protested that state’s new legislation.  Faith-based organizations said the law could negatively affect the large Christian and tribal populations in the state that consumed beef.  Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma stated the law would promote harmony between Hindus and Muslims in the state, while some opposition party members said that it could stoke religious tensions, adversely affect livelihoods, and be detrimental to trade and food habits in the region.  Media reported that the new law in Karnataka would give police in the state the power to search and seize property based only on suspicion of violation of the law.

In September, the Gau Sewa Commission, a Punjabi organization dedicated to the preservation and welfare of cows, submitted a petition to the Governor of Punjab demanding the death penalty be instituted for cow slaughter.

In October, the Madras High Court ruled that displays of a Christian cross and other religious symbols and practices could not be cited as reasons to revoke Scheduled Caste (SC) community certificates, which are used by members of designated lower castes in the Hindu hierarchy to obtain government benefits.  The ruling was in response to an appeal by a Hindu medical doctor whose SC community certificate was revoked in 2013 because she married a Christian and the couple raised their children in the Christian faith.  The court ordered the restoration of her SC community certificate in October.

In February, Pratap Simha, a BJP MP, called for denying benefits of government affirmative action programs to individuals who converted to Christianity.  The MP made the remarks while attending a District Development Coordination and Monitoring Committee meeting on February 24.  The Bengaluru-based Christian Political Leaders Forum protested the remarks.

On April 6, the Gujarat High Court blocked the arrest of a Parsi man accused by a Hindu neighbor of selling land to a Muslim in 2020 in violation of the Gujarat Disturbed Areas Act, which mandates that buyers and sellers of different religions obtain permission for property transactions in specific neighborhoods.  The Hindu neighbor also said that the buyer concealed his religion and forged documents to evade provisions of the act.  There was no update by the end of the year.

In September, the government of the Muslim-majority Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir launched a program to address the grievances of migrants from the region, a majority of whom were Hindu.  Under this program, migrants who were forcibly displaced from the Kashmir Valley in the 1990s could reclaim their properties in Kashmir.  According to civil society reports, members of the Hindu Pandit caste may have sold land under duress and the central government measure was a means to address the displacement in the 1990s.  In March, the national government informed the parliament that 44,167 Kashmiri migrant families, including 39,782 Hindu families, had registered with a government-appointed Relief Office, and 3,800 Kashmiri migrants had returned to the Kashmir Valley in the last six years to take up government jobs under a special program announced by the Prime Minister in 2015 for infrastructure development and economic prosperity in Jammu and Kashmir.  According to media reports, mostly Hindus applied for those jobs.  Since the state status of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked in August 2019, 520 migrants had returned and another 2000 migrant candidates were likely to return during the year and in 2022, the government stated.

On August 10, thousands of Dalit Christians and Muslims observed the 71st anniversary of a 1950 petition still pending before the Supreme Court to maintain Scheduled Caste benefits such as quotas in government jobs and education.  The petition seeks to reverse a government order which limited such benefits to Hindu Dalits.  A Dalit Christian lawyer, Franklin Caesar Thomas, who has been arguing the case in the Supreme Court for 16 years, told media that Dalit Christians and Muslims continued to face caste discrimination because of their adopted faiths since they were not formally recognized as Scheduled Castes.  According to the National Council of Churches in India, approximately 70 percent of Christians in India belonged to Scheduled Castes before they converted.  A seven-member panel of Supreme Court judges formed in 2020 to hear the petition had not ruled on the matter by the end of the year.

In April, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (All India Trinamool Congress Party) made a public appeal to Muslims to vote for her party in West Bengal elections.  Such a direct appeal from a sitting government official to voters from a particular religious group is prohibited in the constitution.  The national Election Commission reprimanded her for violating the election code of conduct.

On December 24, Asaduddin Owaisi, an MP and president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), a predominantly Muslim political party, implied in remarks to parliament that Hindus would face consequences when Prime Minister Modi and Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath, both BJP, left office.  Police filed a FIR against Owaisi for communal hate speech.  The leader later clarified that he was speaking in the context of past police “atrocities against innocent Muslims” in Uttar Pradesh and was not making a threat.

In February, ahead of elections in Assam, state Health, Education, and Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma (BJP) told media that his party did not need or want the votes of Bengali-origin Muslims because they were “openly challenging Assamese culture and language and the composite Indian culture.”

While addressing Church members on September 9, Catholic Bishop Mar Joseph Kalarangatt of the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala said Muslims were using the practices of “love jihad and narcotics jihad” to “destroy” non-Muslims.  Kalarangatt said, “In a democratic country like ours, jihadis have realized that they cannot destroy other communities by using arms.  The jihadis are using other weapons which cannot be identified easily by others.  In the perspective of jihadis, non-Muslims have to be annihilated.  When the agenda is spreading religion and eradication of non-Muslims, the ways for attaining that agenda get manifested in different manners.  The love jihad and narcotic jihad are two such ways.”  According to media reports, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said his government would not take action against the bishop.

In February, the Maharashtra state government petitioned the Supreme Court to dismiss pleas seeking a national-level CBI inquiry into the April 2020 killing of three Hindu monks by a crowd in Palghar.  The state government said it had already disciplined 18 police officials for their failure to control the crowd in that incident.  On January 16, a local court granted bail to 89 of the 201 arrested in the case.  The Supreme Court asked the Maharashtra government to submit a second charge sheet filed in the case by Maharashtra police but did not rule on the petition seeking a CBI investigation before year’s end.  In the 2020 incident, a mob pulled the three monks from a police vehicle and killed them, alleging that they were child kidnappers.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on September 12 publicly stated that earlier governments in Uttar Pradesh had favored Muslim constituents in benefits distribution.

In July, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the RSS, which is commonly considered to be the ideological parent to India’s ruling party BJP, publicly stated that Hindus and Muslims in India had the same DNA and should not be differentiated by religion.  “There can never be any dominance of either Hindus or Muslims (in the country); there can only be the dominance of Indians,” Bhagwat said, adding that members of the Muslim community should not be afraid that Islam is in danger in India.  He also said that killing non-Hindus for cow slaughter was an act against Hinduism.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On May 17, a Hindu group in the Mewat region of Haryana stopped the car in which Muslim Asif Khan was riding, verbally abused Khan and the other passengers, yelled “kill Muslims,” forced Khan to chant Hindu prayers and killed him when he tried to escape, according to media reporting.  Police opened an investigation but made no arrests by the year’s end.

On June 20, media reported that a Hindu mob killed four Muslim men in the Khowai District of Tripura on suspicion of being cattle thieves.  According to media, the men were killed when they were intercepted at Maharanijur transporting five cows in a truck.  Police arrested three persons in connection with the killing and two others for spreading communal hatred on social media.  There were no further developments in this case reported by year’s end.

On June 21, Muslim Aijaz Dar was beaten to death in Rajouri District of Jammu and Kashmir.  He was returning home after buying a buffalo when suspected cow vigilantes attacked him with stones and sticks, according to media reports.  Police arrested five suspects, but there were no further developments reported by year’s end.

According to media reports, on September 28, Muslim Arbaaz Aftab Mullah was decapitated in Khanapur village in the Belgavi District of Karnataka due to his relationship with a Hindu woman.  Police arrested 10 individuals, including members of the Hindu organization Sri Rama Sene, described as radical, the woman’s parents, and the man hired to kill Mullah.  There were no further developments by year’s end.

On April 3, police in Mangaluru, Karnataka arrested four Hindu activists and members of the Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal who were accused of stabbing to death a Muslim man traveling with a Hindu woman.  The woman who filed the police complaint against the assailants stated the victim was her friend for many years and was accompanying her on a bus to a job interview when he was killed.  She said the assailants stopped the bus, then attacked her and the other victim.  After police made the arrests, local Bajrang Dal members reportedly defended the attack claiming that they wanted to save the woman from “falling prey to love jihad.”  One local Bajrang Dal leader told media, “Our responsibility is to rescue girls from our community.”

According to EFI, a group of Hindus killed Pastor Alok Rajhans in the Balangir District of Odisha on May 20.  Police opened a case and arrested two suspects, but they were released shortly thereafter, according to Irish NGO Church in Chains.

On May 20, according to ICC, a group of Hindu nationalists attacked the family of Pastor Ramesh Bumbariya at his home in the Bansawra District in Rajasthan, killing the pastor’s father and beating the pastor and other family members when they refused to renounce their Christian faith.  The police arrested seven persons for the killing and the investigation continued at year’s end, according to Church in Chains.

Terrorist groups Lashkar-e-Taiyaaba and Hizbul Mujahideen killed several civilians and migrant laborers belonging to the minority Hindu and Sikh communities in the Muslim-majority Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir during the year.  In October, 11 civilians including two schoolteachers – Supinder Kour and Deepak Chand – were killed in targeted attacks.  Kour, a Sikh, and Chand, a Hindu, were killed on October 7 after terrorists forcefully entered their school in Srinagar and identified them as belonging to minority communities.  On October 5, local businessman Makhan Lal Bindroo, a member of the Hindu Pandit caste, was fatally shot at his pharmaceutical shop.  According to media reports, the killings caused widespread fear among Hindus and Sikhs in the Kashmir valley, leading hundreds to depart Jammu and Kashmir.

On October 15, Sikh farm laborer Lakhbir Singh was killed, and his mutilated body tied to a barricade.  In several videos released on social media, Nihang Sikhs claimed responsibility for the killing, saying Singh insulted the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book.  Police arrested four members of the Nihang Sikh community and charged them with murder.

On December 19, an unidentified man was reportedly beaten to death by a group of Sikhs at a gurudwara (temple) in Kapurthala, Punjab, on suspicion that he had insulted the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag.  Police and Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi stated that there was no evidence that the victim had committed sacrilege.  Police arrested gurudwara caretaker Amarjit Singh on charges of murder.

On September 23, two Muslim men in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, were beaten for carrying meat in their vehicle.  According to media reports, members of a cow-vigilante group attacked the two and posted video of the assault on social media.  The attackers claimed the Muslim men were carrying beef in violation of the state’s anti-cow slaughter law and the state government’s order banning the sale and transport of any meat in Mathura.  Police arrested the victims under the anti-cow slaughter law and violation of the meat ban order.  None of the attackers were arrested.  A Mathura council member said the two lacked the permit and refrigerator required to transport perishable goods such as meat.  He also said the two men had been jailed.  There was no further information available on the case by year’s end.

In September, the BBC reported views from freelance journalists and political opposition members that the number of attacks against the country’s Muslim community had increased in recent years as well as their views that the government often declined to condemn such attacks.

According to UCF, the number of violent attacks against Christians in the country rose to 486 during the year, from 279 in 2020.  According to UCF, most of the incidents were reported in states ruled by the BJP and included attacks on pastors, disruptions of Christmas celebrations, and vandalism.  A joint report entitled Christians under Attack in India, drafted by NGOs United Against Hate, the Association for Protection of Civil Rights, and the UCF, noted that more than 500 incidents of violence against Christians were reported to the UCF hotline during the year.  The report stated that 333 of 486 incidents were recorded in Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka States.  The report stated that only 34 FIRs were filed against the perpetrators through the year.  At the end of the year, 19 cases were pending against Christians in nine states under the conversion restriction laws, although no Christian had been convicted in the country for illegal religious conversion during the year, according to the report.

In a December New York Times article, Hindu nationalist Dilip Chouhan, who was recorded on video breaking into a church in Madhya Pradesh with a gun strapped to his back, said that senior police officials told him authorities would not pursue charges against him.  Instead, several local pastors were arrested on charges of illegal conversions.  Chouhan said his organization has more than 5000 members.  BJP youth leader Gaurave Tiwari said opposing forced conversion was an important issue for the party.  In Chhattisgarh State, BJP youth conducted several anti-Christian marches.  In September, a group of young BJP workers from the same chapter entered a Chhattisgarh police station, hurled shoes at two pastors and beat them up, reportedly in front of police officers.  Rahul Rao, an office holder in the BJP youth cell, was charged with assault by police and released on bail.  The article also quoted a leaked letter from a top police official in Chhattisgarh ordering police to “keep a constant vigil on the activities of Christian missionaries.”  Media reported the Chhattisgarh government transferred the senior police official from the station hours after the incident.  The investigation continued at the end of the year.

On September 18, media reported police arrested Christian pastor Ravi Gupta from Bihar’s Supaul District was arrested for converting 30 Hindu families to Christianity in his native village.  Members of Vishna Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu nationalist organization affiliated with the RSS, detained Gupta and handed him over to police.  There were no further developments on this case reported by year’s end.

On September 21, according to media reports, a village council in Mangapat Sirsai in the West Singhbhum District of Jharkhand ostracized three tribal families who converted to Christianity.  In the presence of local police officials, the council reportedly asked the families to convert back to the local tribal Sarna religion and subsequently barred them from free movement inside the village when they refused to do so.  According to the district president, the council took the action to counter the influence of Christian missionaries, whom he said had been quite active in the area, luring tribe members with land and money to convert them.

On June 30, approximately 20 members of the Hindu organization Bajrang Dal allegedly attacked Pastor Hemant Meher in the Jajpur District of Odisha, according to a July 10 report from ICC.  The report said the group filmed the incident and beat the pastor before handing him over to the police and saying he had been forcibly converting people to Christianity.  According to ICC, police released Meher without charge, urging him to file a complaint against his assailants.  ICC said Bajarang Dal members attacked Meher again on July 1, forcing him to flee the area.

In April, media reported that a Muslim man posed as a Hindu to marry a Hindu woman in the Fatehabad District of Haryana.  The man allegedly revealed his religious identity seven years into the marriage and attempted to forcibly convert her to Islam.  When his wife refused, he forced her and their child out of their home.  She pressed the local police to take action.  Initially they took no action, but later, according to media reports, police opened an investigation and promised to take action against the police personnel who refused to register her original complaint.  There was no further action reported on this case by year’s end.

The Union of Catholic Asian News service and major international media reported that on January 26, approximately 100 Hindu activists attacked a prayer service at the Satprakashan Sanchar Kendra, a Catholic media center in Indore in Madhya Pradesh, accusing the center of conducting religious conversions.  The pastor told media the assailants beat worshippers and yelled at them.  He said when police arrived, they only jailed the pastors and other church elders for violating Madhya Pradesh’s new law outlawing conversions.  The pastor said he and eight other church leaders were jailed for two months before being released, and still faced charges.  According to national media, police pressed trespassing charges against 15 persons and opened investigations into the incident.  Their cases were pending in court at year’s end.

On January 5, according to media sources, members of the Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal disrupted a Christian prayer meeting in Uttar Pradesh.  The pastor told media the group beat them and forced them to chant Hindu prayers, threatening to kill them if they did not.  The Hindus turned the pastor and four others over to police, who charged them with forced conversion, based on the comments of one of the Hindus.  Police also seized copies of the Bible and musical equipment, according to media reports.  On January 6, the pastor and eight others filed a police report.  There were no further developments reported on the case during the year.

On January 6, a Christian group in Uttar Pradesh filed a complaint against members of VHP for disrupting a prayer meeting.  The Christians said 20 VHP members, including one police officer, entered their meeting uninvited, beat some worshippers, and damaged the facility.  Police charged five of the Christians with illegal conversion, according to media reports, but there were no further developments on this case reported by year’s end.

Media reported that on August 29 a group of more than 100 individuals targeted a Christian pastor for alleged religious conversion in Polmi village in Kabirdham District of Chhattisgarh.  The reports stated that the group physically abused the pastor and vandalized his residence during a prayer service.  Police opened an investigation into the incident.

On October 3, according to Catholic news agency Agenzia Fides, there were 13 instances of violence and threats committed by Hindus against Christian communities in Uttarakhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh states, and in New Delhi.  Drawing on reporting from EFI, Agenzia Fides said these incidents included disrupting worship services and prayer meetings and beating worshippers; police arresting pastors for forced conversion, based on complaints filed by Hindus; and Hindu groups vandalizing Christian places of worship.

In October, Giani Harpreet Singh, leader of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, a Sikh religious organization, and head priest of the Sikh community, said that Christian missionaries were “running a campaign for forced conversions in border areas of Punjab.”

NGO Sabrang reported that in Uttarakhand on October 3, 200 local members of Hindu organizations Bajarang Dal, VHP, and the youth wing of the BJP disrupted a worship service in Roorkee, shouting Hindu slogans, beating worshippers, and ransacking their meeting room.  According to media, police charged the assailants with rioting, vandalism, trespassing, and deliberately injuring others.

In September, Vellappally Natesan, a prominent Hindu Ezhava leader and patron of the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena political organization in Kerala, stated it was not the Muslim community but Christians who were at the forefront of conversions and “love jihad” in the country.

According to media, Hindu nationalist groups disrupted nine Christmas prayer meetings, six in Uttar Pradesh, two in Haryana, and one in Assam, vandalizing church property in some of the incidents.  In Agra, Uttar Pradesh, the regional general secretary of Bajrang Dal told the media that Christian missionaries used the season to “allure children by making Santa Claus distribute gifts to them and attract them towards Christianity.”

The investigation continued into the September 2020 killing of Hindu woman Priya Soni.  Soni was beheaded reportedly for refusing to convert to Islam after marrying Muslim Ajaz Ahmed in a civil ceremony, in Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh.  Police arrested Ahmed and Shoaib Akhtar, also a Muslim, for the crime and they remained in custody at year’s end.

In June, the Sikh minority community in Jammu and Kashmir protested over allegations of the forced conversion of two Sikh women, who subsequently married Muslim men.  A Sikh delegation met national Home Minister Amit Shah and requested passage of a conversion restriction law “similar to the one in Uttar Pradesh” in Jammu and Kashmir.

On August 6, according to The Christian Post, a Sikh family in Punjab attacked a Christian woman, her sister, and mother for their beliefs.  The report said that the attackers choked one victim unconscious.  Police opened an investigation, but there were no further developments by the end of the year.

On October 6, Sikh leaders in Punjab started a campaign in rural areas to counter the potential conversion of lower income Sikhs to Christianity.  The head priest of the Punjab Sikh community said, “Christian missionaries have been running a campaign in the border belt for forced conversions over the past few years.  Innocent people are being cheated or lured to convert.  We have received many such reports.”  He also called forced conversions [to Christianity] “a dangerous attack on the Sikh religion.”

In its Freedom in the World 2021 report, Freedom House downgraded the country from free to partly free due to “rising violence and discriminatory policies affecting the Muslim population” and crackdowns on dissent.

A Pew Research study “Religion in India:  Tolerance and Segregation,” released in July and based on interviews conducted in 2019 and 2020, found that 84 percent of those surveyed across different faiths said that “respecting all religions was very important to truly being Indian”; 80 percent said that “respecting other religions was very important to their religious identity”; and 91 percent said they were “very free to practice their own religion.”  These numbers ranged from highs of 93 percent of Buddhists and 91 percent of Hindus, and lows of 82 percent of Sikhs and 85 percent of Jains saying they are very free to practice their religion, with Christians and Muslims at 89 percent.  The survey also showed, however, that 83 percent of all respondents believed communal violence between religious groups was “a problem” for the country.  The study’s overview stated that Indians’ commitment to tolerance was accompanied by a strong preference for keeping religious communities segregated, which was true even for religious minority communities.  Large majorities of those surveyed said they did not have much in common with members of other religious groups, and large majorities in the six major religious groups said their close friends came mainly or entirely from their own religious community.  Nearly two-thirds of Hindus (64 percent) said it was very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian.  According to the report, Hindus who strongly link Hindu and Indian identities were more likely to also support religious segregation.

In its report covering the year, Christian NGO Open Doors said that overall violence against Christians and pressure against Christians “in all spheres of life” remained “very high.”  The NGO said the persecution of Christians had intensified as Hindu nationalists “aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence.”  This led to the targeting of Christians and other religious minorities, including the use of social media to spread disinformation and stir up hatred.

On December 17-19, during a gathering in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, several Hindu leaders and activists called publicly for violence against religious minorities.  Yati Narasinghanand, characterized as a Hindu extremist, announced a reward of 10 million rupees ($135,000) for any Hindu leader who would lead a militant movement against Islam and Christianity.  Narasinghanand also called upon Hindus to “take up weapons” against Muslims and wage a war against “Islamic jihad” for the protection of Hindus.  Another Hindu religious leader, Sadhvi Annapurna, called for creation of a nation exclusively for Hindus and for raising an army against Muslims.  Uttarakhand police subsequently booked seven persons including Narasinghanand and Annapurna, on multiple charges under the criminal code, including promoting enmity between religious groups, deliberately intending to outrage religious feeling by insulting religious groups, and acting prejudicial to social harmony.  The spokesperson for the Uttarakhand government and director general of police condemned the statements and said that police would “take required action” against those responsible.  On December 26, a group of attorneys, including a former judge on the Patna High Court, wrote the Supreme Court urging action in the case, and stating that the speeches made at the event in Haridwar were not merely hate speeches but “an open call for the murder of an entire community” which not only posed “a grave threat to the unity of the country, but also endangered the lives of millions of Muslim citizens.”

According to media reports, on October 1, Hindu nationalists held a rally in the Surguja District of Chhattisgarh to protest a perceived spike in forced conversion of Hindus to Christianity in the area.  Media reported that World Hindu Congress leader Swami Parmatmanand attended the protest and called for those who engage in forced conversions to be beheaded.  Police took no action against him, according to the Chhattisgarh-based Christian community.

On August 8, a video was widely circulated on social media of a group shouting threats to kill Muslims and demanding that Muslims convert to Hinduism to remain in the country.  The incident took place during a demonstration near parliament in New Delhi in which the crowd was protesting colonial-era laws still in force, according to media reports.  MP Asaduddin Owaisi, a Muslim, stated in parliament that “genocidal slogans” were used against Muslims during the incident.  Media reported that several prominent Hindu activists took part.  Police officials told the media they were viewing video to identify suspects and had filed an FIR against “unknown persons” for shouting the threats.

On June 29, Hindu religious leader Mahamandaleshwar Yatindra Nath Giri in New Delhi stated that parliament should adopt a new constitution banning madrassahs, declaring religious conversion a crime, and punishing couples that have more than two children.

On October 15, Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui said persons who insulted the Quran should be “beheaded.”  Siddiqui’s comments were aired in a video shown by media.

Media and one NGO reported that on October 20, Hindu groups affiliated with the RSS, Hindu Jagran Manch, and the VHP attacked and vandalized at least six mosques and more than a dozen shops and houses belonging to Muslim communities across Tripura State, reportedly in retaliation for attacks on minority Hindus in Bangladesh during the Durga Puja festival there.  The NGO Centre for Study of Society and Secularism reported that attackers damaged 11 mosques, six shops, and two homes.  The NGO also said that the authorities took stronger action against the journalists and activists who were reporting the violations than on the rioters themselves.  The government rejected this claim and stated that action was taken against journalists for their “inflammatory social media posts” about the event.  Tripura police registered a case against Ranu Das, a leader from the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (the youth wing of the BJP) who allegedly threw stones at a mosque and burned Muslim properties, for provocation to cause riot, intent to hurt religious feelings, and causing public enmity.  The suspect fled and had not been arrested by year’s end.

According to media reports, on October 2, unidentified individuals vandalized a Hindu temple in the Anantnag District of Jammu and Kashmir.  Police opened an investigation into the incident.

EFI said that on January 20, members of the Bajrang Dal demolished the boundary wall of a church in the Mahabubabad District of Telangana, saying the church building was too close to a Hindu temple.

According to Pastor Upajukta Singh, in June Hindu villagers destroyed the homes of eight Christian families, expelling them from Ratagaya village.  The victims filed a police complaint.

In May, Hindu Jatav Dalit community villagers of the Muslim-majority Noorpur village in Aligarh District of Uttar Pradesh stated to media that Muslims were harassing them and discriminating against them.  The villagers also said Muslims stopped a marriage procession from passing in front of a mosque in the village.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

During the year, embassy and consulate officials met with government officials to discuss religious freedom and emphasize the importance of interfaith dialogue.  Embassy officials, including the Chargés d’Affaires, also engaged with members of parliament and politicians across diverse political ideologies on the importance of religious freedom and the responsibility of democracies to ensure the rights of religious minorities.

Embassy and consulate officials met with leaders from religious minorities, NGOs, civil society members, academics, and interfaith leaders to discuss the perspectives about the status and experiences of religious minorities.

On October 1, the Consul General in Chennai joined Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan at the Sri Vishnu Mohan Foundation’s annual Peace and Reconciliation Conference.  Speaking to a gathering of religious and civil social leaders, government officials and academics, the Consul General emphasized the importance of respecting religious freedom and interfaith dialogue.

On May 7, the consulate general in Hyderabad hosted a virtual panel discussion during Ramadan that highlighted interfaith and cross-cultural experiences during the holiday period.

Throughout the year, the Chargés d’Affaires engaged with members of religious communities, including representatives of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh faiths.  In May, the Chargés d’Affaires organized a virtual interfaith dialogue during Ramadan in which he emphasized the importance of religious freedom.  Members of academia, media commentators on interfaith issues, NGO interfaith activists, and representatives of multiple faiths participated.

In July, the Secretary of State met with several leaders from the Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Baha’i, and other faiths.  He highlighted the value of the country’s diversity and religious pluralism and the importance of protecting it.  The Secretary addressed the importance of freedom of religion and belief in his public opening remarks and listened to the views and concerns of the religious minority and civil society leaders.

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 provides for hudud punishments (those mandated by sharia), including amputation, flogging, and stoning, and 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 or Islam”).  According to the penal code, the application of the death penalty varies depending on the religion of both the perpetrator and the victim.  In January, parliament amended the penal code to criminalize insulting “divine religions or Islamic schools of thought” and committing “any deviant educational or proselytizing activity that contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam.”  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said these new provisions put religious minorities at a higher risk of persecution.  The law prohibits Muslim citizens from changing or renouncing their religious beliefs.  The constitution also stipulates that 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 form religious societies “within the limits of the law.”  According to numerous international human rights NGOs and media reporting, the government convicted and executed dissidents, political reformers, and peaceful protesters on charges of “enmity against God” and anti-Islamic propaganda and, in the case of members of some religious minorities, detained them and held them incommunicado.  Amnesty International reported an “alarming rise” in the execution of ethnic minority prisoners since mid-December 2020.  Authorities denied prisoners access to attorneys and convicted them based on “confessions” extracted under torture.  In January, authorities executed Baluchi Javid Dehghan (also known as Dehghan-Khold) in Zahedan Central Prison on charges of “enmity against God,” “armed rebellion against the Islamic Republic,” and alleged membership in banned Sunni separatist groups.  The NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR) reported that as of October, government executions continued at an “alarmingly high” rate, with at least 226 people put to death, 125 of them under “retributive” (eye-for-an-eye) justice.  According to the database of the NGO United for Iran, Iran Prison Atlas, least 67 members of minority religious groups remained imprisoned at year’s end for being “religious minority practitioners.”  Of the prisoners listed in the database, the government sentenced at least 62 to long-term imprisonment or executed them on charges of “enmity against God” or “armed rebellion against Islamic rule” (baghi), which officials sometimes used in recent years instead of “enmity against God.”  Human rights NGOs reported poor prison conditions and mistreatment of religious minority prisoners, including beatings, sexual abuse, degradation specifically targeting their religious beliefs, and denial of medical treatment.  The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran, a U.S.-based human rights NGO, said that from January 1 to September 24, the government sentenced at least 77 individuals to flogging, based on its interpretation of sharia, and carried out these sentences in at least eight cases.  NGOs reported that in January, authorities transferred women’s rights activist Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, originally charged in 2014 with “insulting Islamic sanctities” and “spreading propaganda” for criticizing the government’s policy of stoning women to death for adultery, to Amol Prison in Mazandara Province, far away from her family.  According to IranWire and the London-based NGO Article 18, which focuses on religious freedom in Iran, in September, security forces in Shiraz and Mazandaran Province conducted multiple arrests of Baha’is in their homes or workplaces in the last week of September without providing reasons or charges.  In a July report, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran (UNSR) Javaid Rehman stated there continued to be reports of forced evictions of members of the Sunni Baluch minority in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  An August report by the UN Secretary General highlighted that the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences for 10 Kurdish political prisoners on charges involving “acting against national security,” “spreading corruption on earth,” and “membership in Salafi groups.”  According to an October report by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), at least 10 Baluchi individuals were summoned to court following a rally in the village of Ramin to prevent the destruction of the Eidgah (land reserved for Eid prayers for Sunni followers).  Officials continued to disproportionately arrest, detain, harass, and surveil non-Armenian Christians, particularly evangelicals and other converts from Islam, according to Christian NGOs.  On March 9, the Tehran Appeals Court reduced Saba Kord-Afshari’s prison sentence, which she received in 2019 on a set of charges relating to protesting the compulsory hijab, from 24 years to seven years and six months in prison.  UNSR Rehman’s July report and NGOs said authorities continued to confiscate Baha’i properties as part of an ongoing state-led campaign of economic persecution against Baha’is.  Authorities issued an order in April denying Baha’is permission to bury their dead in empty plots at the Tehran-area cemetery designated for Baha’is, forcing them to bury them at a mass grave site.  Sunni Muslims stated the government did not permit them to build prayer facilities sufficient to accommodate their numbers, and government restrictions forced many Christian converts and members of unrecognized religious minority groups, such as Baha’is and Yarsanis, to assemble in private homes to practice their faith in secret.  Authorities reportedly continued to deny the Baha’i, Sabean-Mandaean, and Yarsani religious communities, as well as members of other unrecognized religious minority groups, access to education and government employment unless they declared themselves as belonging to one of the country’s recognized religions on their application forms.  The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported textbooks at all grade levels and across many subjects contained antisemitic material.  Government officials continued to disseminate anti-Baha’i and antisemitic messages using traditional and social media.  On December 16, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution expressing concern about “ongoing severe limitations and increasing restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief” and “harassment, intimidation, persecution, arbitrary arrests and detention, and incitement to hatred” against recognized and unrecognized religious minorities.

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, while employers experienced social pressures not to hire Baha’is or to dismiss them from their private-sector jobs.  Yarsanis reported experiencing widespread discrimination.  They stated Yarsani children were socially ostracized in school and in shared community facilities.  Yarsani men, recognizable by their distinct mustaches, continued to face employment discrimination.  According to reports, Shia preachers continued to encourage social discrimination against Yarsanis.  According to human rights NGOs, 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 continued to routinely insult Sunni religious figures in class.  Baha’is reported continued destruction and vandalism of their cemeteries.  According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), on September 8, a Baha’i cemetery in Dena County, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province was partly destroyed by unknown individuals using heavy machinery.

The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran.  During the year, the U.S. government used public statements, sanctions, and diplomatic initiatives in international forums to condemn and promote accountability for the government’s abuses against and restrictions on worship by members of religious minorities.  Senior U.S. government officials publicly reiterated calls for the release of prisoners held on religious grounds.  On March 9, the United States sanctioned Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) interrogators Ali Hemmatian and Masoud Safdari for their involvement in gross violations of human rights in Evin Prison, including torturing activists advocating for religious freedom.  On December 7, the United States sanctioned the Special Units of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) and Iran’s Counter-Terror Special Forces (NOPO) for violently suppressing protests in November 2019.  It sanctioned two LEF commanders, Hassan Karami and Seyed Mousavi Azami, as well a Basij commander, Gholamreza Soleimani, and the Governor of Qods City, Leila Vaseghi, for their roles in carrying out crackdowns against peaceful protesters.  Two prisons, Zahedan Central Prison and Isfahan Central Prison, as well as the warden of Qarchak Women’s Prison, Soghra Khodadadi, and IRGC commander and brigadier general Mohammad Karami were also sanctioned for their roles in the “flagrant denial” of the rights of prisoners and other citizens, including religious minorities.  The Treasury Department statement announcing the sanctions said, “Zahedan Prison holds several political prisoners who belong to the Baluch ethnic minority group.  According to public reports, on January 3, 2021, Baluch prisoner Hassan Dehvari was executed in Zahedan Prison.  Dehvari was sentenced to death for ‘armed rebellion against the Islamic Rule.’  His prison sentence was escalated to execution after he engaged in several acts of peaceful protests, such as signing statements condemning executions of Sunni prisoners and condemning the mistreatment of fellow prisoners.”

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 15, 2021, the Secretary of State redesignated Iran as a CPC.  The following sanction accompanied the designation:  the existing ongoing travel restrictions based on in section 221(c) of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (TRA) for individuals identified under Section 221(a)(1)(C) of the TRA in connection with the commission of serious human rights abuses, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 85.9 million (midyear 2021).  According to Iranian government estimates, Muslims constitute 99.4 percent of the population, of whom 90-95 percent are Shia, and 5-10 percent are Sunni, mostly Turkmen, Arabs, Baluchis, and Kurds, living in the northeast, southwest, southeast, and northwest provinces, 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, Yarsanis, Jews, Sabean-Mandaeans, and Zoroastrians.  The three largest non-Muslim minorities are Baha’is, Christians, and Yarsanis.

According to Human Rights Watch data, Baha’is number at least 300,000.

The government Statistical Center of Iran reports there are 117,700 Christians in the country.  Some estimates, however, suggest there may be many more than actually reported.  According to Boston University’s 2020 World Religion Database, there are approximately 579,000 Christians.  NGO Open Doors USA estimates the number is 800,000, and Elam Ministries, a Christian organization, estimates there could be between 300,000 and one million.

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 disagree on the size of the Protestant community, with some estimates citing figures lower than 10,000.  Many Protestants and converts to Christianity from Islam reportedly practice in secret.

There is no official count of Yarsanis, but HRANA and the NGO Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) estimate there are up to two million.  Yarsanis are mainly located in Loristan and the Kurdish regions.

According to recent estimates from Armenian Christians who maintain contact with the Christian community in the country, their current numbers are approximately 40,000 to 50,000, significantly lower than the peak of 300,000 estimated prior to 1979.  The number of Roman Catholics in the country is estimated to be 21,000.

According to Zoroastrian groups and the government-run Statistical Center of Iran, the population includes approximately 25,000 Zoroastrians, although the World Religion Database estimates this number to be 64,000.

According to the Tehran Jewish Committee, the population includes approximately 9,000 Jews, while representatives of the Jewish community in the country estimated their number at 15,000 during a 2018 PBS News Hour interview.

The population, according to government media, includes 14,000 Sabean-Mandaeans.

According to the 2011 census, the number of individuals who are nonreligious rose by 20 percent between 2006 and 2011, which supports observations by academics and others that the number of atheists, agnostics, nonbelievers, and religiously unaffiliated living in the country is growing.  The 2020 World Religion Database estimates their number to be 239,000.  Often, however, these groups do not publicly identify, as documented by Amnesty International’s report on the country, because those who profess atheism are at risk of arbitrary detention, torture, and the death penalty for apostasy.

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 Muslims from changing or renouncing their religious beliefs.  The only recognized conversions are from other religions to Islam.  Sharia as interpreted by the government considers conversion from Islam apostasy, 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 attempt to convert a Muslim to another faith or belief.  The law considers these activities to be 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.  The government makes some exceptions for foreigners belonging to unrecognized religious groups.

The penal code specifies the death sentence for moharebeh (“enmity against God,” which according to the Oxford Dictionary of Islam means in Quranic usage “corrupt conditions caused by unbelievers or unjust people that threaten social and political wellbeing”), fisad fil-arz (“corruption on earth,” which includes apostasy or heresy), and sabb al-nabi (“insulting the Prophet” or “insulting the sanctities [Islam]”).  According to the penal code, the application of the death penalty varies depending on the religion of both the perpetrator and the victim.

On January 13, parliament passed amendments that added two provisions to the penal code criminalizing “insulting legally recognized religions and Iranian ethnicities.”  The Guardian Council approved the amendments on February 3, and then president Hassan Rouhani signed them into law on February 18.  Under the amendment to Article 499 of the code (which criminalizes membership in any group that “disturbs the security of the country”), authorities may impose a sentence of between two to five years in prison and/or a monetary fine where violence is involved, and between six months and two years and/or a monetary fine if no violence is involved, on anyone who “insults Iranian ethnicities or divine religions or Islamic schools of thought recognized under the constitution.”  Under the amendment to Article 500, authorities may impose prison sentences of two to five years and/or a fine on anyone who commits “any deviant educational or proselytizing activity that contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam.”

The constitution states the four Sunni schools (Hanafi, Shafi, Maliki, and Hanbali) and the Shia Zaydi school 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.  The government considers any citizen who is not a registered member of one of these three groups or who cannot prove his or her family was Christian prior to 1979 to be 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, because 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 they state 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 (also known as Ahl-e-Haq or Kakai).  Yarsanis may also self-register as Shia 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 authorities.  Registration conveys certain rights, including the use of alcohol for religious purposes.  Authorities may close a church and arrest its leaders if churchgoers do not register or if unregistered individuals attend services.  The law does not recognize as Christian individuals who convert to Christianity.  They may not register and are not entitled to the same rights as recognized members of Christian communities.

The Supreme Leader (the Velayat-e Faqih, the Guardian of the Islamic Jurist), the country’s head of state, oversees extrajudicial special clerical courts, which are not provided for by the constitution.  The courts, each 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 interpretations of Islamic legal sources.  The constitution provides that the judiciary be “an independent power” that is “free from every kind of unhealthy relation and connection.”  The government appoints judges “in accordance with religious criteria.”

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) monitor religious activity.  The 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 determines the religious curricula of public schools.  All school curricula, public and private, must include a course on Shia Islamic teachings, and all pupils must pass this course 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.  Applicants to university must pass an exam on Islamic, Christian, or Jewish theology, based on their official religious affiliation.

Recognized minority religious groups, except for Sunni Muslims, may operate private schools.  The Ministry of Education supervises private schools operated by 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 for official review.  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 official interpretation of Shia Islam.

The law bars Baha’is from founding or operating their own educational institutions.  A Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology order requires universities to exclude Baha’is from access to higher education, or to expel them if their religious affiliation becomes known.  Government regulations state 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 one of the four officially recognized religions (i.e., Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or Zoroastrianism).

According to the constitution, Islamic scholars in the Assembly of Experts, a group of 86 popularly elected and Supreme Leader-approved clerics whose qualifications include piety and religious scholarship, elect the Supreme Leader.  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.  Individuals who are not Shia Muslims are barred from serving as Supreme Leader or President, as well as from being a member in the Assembly of Experts, Guardian Council, or Expediency Council (the country’s highest arbiter of disputes between the parliament and the Guardian Council over legislation).

The constitution bans 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 parliamentary seats reserved by the constitution for members of recognized religious minority groups.  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 that 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 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 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 diyyah, as restitution to families for Muslims and members of recognized religious minorities who are victims of murder, bodily harm, or property damage.  Baha’i families, however, are not entitled to receive blood money.  This law also reduces the blood money for recognized religious minorities and women to half that of a Muslim man.  Women are entitled to equal blood money as men, but only for insurance claims where loss of life occurred in automobile accidents and not for other categories of death, such as murder.  In cases of bodily harm, according to the law, certain male organs (for example, the testicles) are worth more than the entire body of a woman.

The criminal code provides for hudud punishments (those mandated by sharia) for theft, including amputation of the fingers of the right hand, amputation of the left foot, life imprisonment, and death, as well as flogging of up to 99 lashes or stoning for other crimes.  As part of hudud, the code allows for qisas (retribution in kind).  The code also allows for ta’zir, which allows judges to use their personal discretion to determine punishment.

By law, non-Muslims may not serve in the judiciary, the security services (which are separate from the 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 review requirements), although members of recognized religious minorities may serve in the lower ranks of government if they meet these loyalty requirements.  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.

Recognized religious groups issue marriage contracts in accordance with their religious laws.  The government does not recognize Baha’i marriages or divorces but allows a civil attestation of marriage.  The attestation serves as a marriage certificate and allows for basic recognition of the union but does not offer legal protections in marital disputes.

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 they 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, it 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 numerous international human rights NGOs and media reports, the government convicted and executed dissidents, political reformers, and peaceful protesters on charges of “enmity against God” and producing anti-Islamic propaganda.  In February, Amnesty International reported an “alarming rise” in the execution of ethnic minority prisoners since mid-December 2020.  Officials arrested Kurdish individuals, including civil society activists, labor rights activists, environmentalists, writers, university students and political activists.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

According to January reports by the NGOs IHR and Iran International, authorities executed three Sunni prisoners – Hamid Rastbala, Kabi Saadat-Jahani and Mohammad Ali Arayesh – on December 31, 2020, at Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad.  Ministry of Intelligence officers arrested the three men in 2015 for suspected membership in Hizb al-Forghan, a militant Sunni group, and in the National Solidarity Front of Iranian Sunnis.  Branch One of the Revolutionary Court of Mashhad sentenced them to death for “armed rebellion against the Islamic Republic.”  The men denied being members of Hizb al-Forghan, which was active in the country from 1992 to 1997, when the three men were boys between ages 10 and 12.  According to HRANA, prior to their execution, authorities deprived the prisoners of contact with their families for months, including a final meeting, and denied the men legal representation during the trial.  In an August 2020 letter, Rastbala said that following their arrest, interrogators tortured all three and threated to arrest or rape family members to convince them to make televised confessions of their “crimes.”

According to Iran International and United for Iran, on January 30, the Justice Department of Sistan and Baluchistan Province announced that authorities executed Javid Dehghan-Khold in Zahedan Central Prison.  He had been sentenced to death on charges of “enmity against God/moharebeh” and “armed rebellion against the Islamic Republic” for alleged membership in banned Sunni separatist groups Jaish ul-Adl and Jaish al-Nasr of Iran.  A court also convicted Dehghan-Khold of taking part in an attack that killed two Revolutionary Guard officers in 2015 and the kidnapping of five border guards in the city of Saravan in 2017.  According to his lawyer, Dehghan-Khold denied membership in these groups or participation in the attacks.  The Office of the High Commission on Human Rights (OHCHR) in a January 29 post on Twitter condemned Dehghan-Khold’s execution as part of “the series of executions – at least 28 [Iranians] – since mid-December, including of people from minority groups.”  According to Amnesty International, the court had “relied on torture-tainted ‘confessions’ and ignored the serious due process abuses committed by Revolutionary Guard agents and prosecution authorities during the investigation process.”

CHRI and HRANA reported that on February 28, authorities executed four Sunni Ahwazi Arabs – Jasem Heidary, Hossein Silawi, Ali Khasraji, and Nasser Khafajian (Khafaji) – in Sepidar Prison in Ahwaz City, Khuzestan Province, without any advance notice to their families.  Ministry of Intelligence agents arrested Heidary in December 2017 and allegedly tortured him into falsely confessing to being a member of an armed group.  Security forces detained the other three men in June 2017 as suspects in an armed attack on a military outpost and police station near Ahvaz in May 2017.  Officials charged all of the men with “armed rebellion against Islamic rule” (baghi).  According to Amnesty International, family members who visited the men in prison observed bruises on their bodies, indicating prison authorities had physically abused them.  Following the executions, Ministry of Intelligence agents told the four families they were not permitted to hold public memorials or invite family to their homes to mourn.  Amnesty International said the families were told the men “would be buried in la’nat abad [damned land].”

In March, IHR reported that a woman, Maryam (Masoumeh) Karimi, was executed in Rasht Central Prison at the hands of her own daughter.  Authorities had sentenced Karimi more than 13 years earlier for having killed her husband, who was reportedly abusive and had refused to separate from her.  In accordance with the rules of qisas, Karimi’s estranged daughter, as the victim’s next-of-kin, carried out her execution by hanging on March 15.  IHR stated that for unknown reasons, Karimi’s father, her co-accused in the killing, was not executed on the same day, but prison officers brought him to the gallows to see her corpse.

On October 10, World Day Against the Death Penalty, IHR released its findings on the country’s use of capital punishment.  According to IHR, as of October, government executions continued at an “alarmingly high” rate, with at least 226 individuals – one juvenile offender, nine women, and 216 adult men – put to death.  One hundred and twenty-five executions were qisas executions for murder, compared with 164 for the same period in 2020.  The qisas executions included the juvenile offender, five adult women, and 119 adult men.  Among the men, officials executed eight in Zahedan Prison, including Sunni Baluch prisoners Elias Qalandarzehi and Hassan Dehvari, on charges of armed rebellion against Islamic rule/baghi for alleged involvement with Jaish al-Adl, and Sunni Ahwazi Arab Ali Motayyeri [Motiri] on charges of moharebeh, afsad-i fil arz (“spreading corruption on Earth”) and killing two individuals from the Basij paramilitary militia forces.  According to United for Iran, authorities held Motayyeri in solitary confinement for more than one year and subjected him to physical and psychological abuse to force a false confession.  According to Dehvari’s attorney, authorities escalated his original prison sentence to execution after he peacefully protested inside Zahedan Central Prison, including by signing statements condemning the executions of Sunni prisoners.  Dehvari’s attorney said his execution was carried out despite a retrial request pending with the Supreme Court.

In April, IHR released its annual report on the government’s use of the death penalty, covering the 2020 calendar year.  According to the report, murder was the most common charge brought against those executed, and 211 of the 267 individuals executed had been sentenced under the qisas code.  IHR said that between 2010 and 2020, the government carried out at least 1,678 qisas executions.

In October, UNPO, the Kurdistan Human Rights Association Geneva, the Baluchistan Human Rights Group, and the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization submitted a joint report to the UNSR in which they stated executions of the predominantly Sunni Baluch minority and of Kurdish citizens increased between June and October, with at least 39 Baluchi citizens and 56 Kurds executed during that time period.  According to IHR’s report entitled Women and the Death Penalty:  A 12-Year Analysis, between January 1, 2010, and October 10, 2021, three of the at least 164 women who were executed were convicted on security charges.  One of these was Shirin Alamhooli, who was executed in 2010 on charges of moharebeh/enmity against God and membership in PEJAK, a Kurdish opposition group.  According to IHR, Alamhooli did not speak Farsi at the time of her interrogations and legal proceedings.  In her letters from prison, she described experiencing three months of physical and mental abuse.

Residents of provinces containing large Sunni populations, including Kurdistan, Khuzestan, and Sistan and Baluchistan, reported judicial authorities and members of the security services continued to repress them, including through extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture in detention.  They also reported discrimination (including suppression of religious rights), denial of basic government services, and inadequate funding for infrastructure projects.  The UN Secretary General’s August report compiled by OHCHR, IHR, and other human rights activists continued to report a disproportionately large number of executions of Sunni prisoners, particularly Kurds, Baluchis, and Arabs.  The Secretary General’s August report also stated the Supreme Court upheld death sentences for 10 Kurdish political prisoners on charges involving “acting against national security,” afsad-i fil arz/spreading corruption on earth, moharebeh, and membership in Salafi groups.

According to the UNSR Rehman’s July report, on February 22, IRGC officers killed 10 Sunni Baluchi fuel smugglers (sookhtbars) in Sistan and Baluchistan Province at its border with Pakistan.  The shootings triggered demonstrations, during which security forces fired lethal ammunition at protesters and bystanders, killing at least two persons and seriously injuring others.  The death toll was difficult to verify, following the disruption of local mobile data networks from the 24th to the 27th of February.  Reuters reported the death toll in Saravan and other parts of Sistan and Baluchistan Province as “possibly up to 23.”

According to Amnesty International, authorities held Ahwazi Arab Falah Heidari incommunicado following his arrest on May 20.  A source told Amnesty International that security and intelligence agents interrogated Heidari and his son, Safa Heidari, for information about the political activities of Falah’s brother, Abdorrahman Heidari, who was based abroad and was the spokesperson for the political group Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement in Ahwaz.  According to Amnesty International, Ministry of Intelligence interrogators also questioned Falah Heidari about the religious beliefs and practices of his other son, Alaa Heidari, who had left Iran several years earlier, sought asylum abroad after converting from Shia to Sunni Islam and had since engaged in online proselytizing activities.  Authorities aimed to have Falah Heidari pressure his relatives to stop their activities or to relay authorities’ threats to kill or abduct and forcibly return Abdorrahman and Alaa to the country.  On May 30, an IRGC officer interrogated Falah Heidari’s 15-year-old daughter about her family’s contact with her paternal uncle and brother abroad, as well as her family’s political opinions and religious beliefs.

According to UNSR Rehman’s July report, the UN Secretary General’s August report, and Human Rights Watch (HRW), in January, authorities arrested and arbitrarily detained more than 100 Kurdish civil society activists and forcibly disappeared some of these individuals.  Observers stated that there was credible evidence to believe some of these activists were expressing their Sunni religious identity while standing up for Kurdish rights.  According to HRW, of the 89 individuals who remained detained at year’s end, authorities subjected at least 40 to enforced disappearance and refused to reveal any information about their whereabouts to their families.  While authorities did not provide information about the reasons for these arrests, according to IHR and HRW, the arrests were “due to the individuals’ peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of opinion, expression and association, including through involvement in peaceful civil society activism and/or perceived support for the political visions espoused by Kurdish opposition parties seeking respect for the human rights of Iran’s Kurdish minority.”

Human rights NGOs reported poor conditions and the mistreatment of religious minorities held in government prisons.  BIC reported Baha’is and other prisoners also faced a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to overcrowding.

In February, IranWire and CHRI reported that Behnam Mahjoubi, a Gonabadi dervish, died after suffering seizures in Tehran’s Evin Prison.  Authorities had originally arrested Mahjoubi and several other Gonabadi dervishes for participating in street protests in 2018 following the death under police interrogation of a Gonabadi Sufi dervish.  Mahjoubi had been serving a two-year prison sentence since June 2020, despite the state medical examiner’s concluding he was not in sufficiently good health to withstand incarceration.  Amnesty International stated that during his incarceration, authorities injected Mahjoubi with unknown substances and subjected him to electric shocks on multiple occasions.

CHRI reported that in a letter from Rajaee-Shahr Prison in Karaj to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, dated February 3, former political prisoner Arash Sadeghi said authorities denied several fellow prisoners medical treatment, including Raheleh Ahmadi, who was serving a 31-month sentence in Evin Prison for opposing the country’s mandatory hijab law.  According to CHRI, Ahmadi suffered from mobility issues and her lawyer and medical specialists said there was a possibility she could become paralyzed.  In his letter, Sadeghi also wrote that Monireh Arabshahi, who was serving 5.5 years in Kachuei Prison in Karaj for peacefully protesting the mandatory hijab law, had developed a speech impairment due to an untreated inflamed thyroid gland.

On September 28, IranWire reported authorities continued to reserve the harshest treatment for prisoners who were religious minorities.  This mistreatment included beatings, harassment of family members, and forbidding visits and phone calls.  A former Yarsani inmate told IranWire that authorities shaved Yarsani prisoners’ traditional mustaches as a means of humiliating and degrading them.  In Dieselabad Prison in Kermanshah Province, to harass Sunni prisoners, the guards would play “music and eulogies that insulted the caliphs and their beliefs.”  One source told IranWire that authorities routinely tortured Sunnis in detention to obtain confessions.  “If you’re both a Sunni and a Kurd, these two characteristics are enough for you to be guilty.”

The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran stated that from January 1 to September 24, the government sentenced at least 77 individuals to flogging, based on its interpretation of sharia, and carried out these sentences in at least eight cases.

In October, media reported the government continued to practice qisas, including hand or finger amputations for theft.  According to these reports, in October, authorities sentenced one man to be blinded as punishment for having blinded his neighbor in one eye during a fight in 2018.

According to IranWire, on June 15, authorities transferred Amir Hossein Moradi to the Tehran Police Investigation Center, which, according to IranWire, suggested a new case was being prepared against him.  Authorities arrested Moradi following the November 2019 protests, charging him and two other defendants with “participating in vandalism and arson with the intent to confront and engage in war with the Islamic Republic of Iran” and “enmity against God.”  Later in the month, the Twitter account 1,500 Images, run by activists in contact with the family members of individuals killed and arrested during the November 2019 protests, which initially began over a fuel price increase but quickly turned into antigovernment demonstrations, warned about Moradi’s deteriorating health, reporting, “He is sick whenever he eats and has been taken to the hospital several times on a stretcher” and that he “is in a critical condition.”

On September 23, HRW reported the judiciary had confirmed the September 21 death of Shahin Nasseri, a prisoner who said he had witnessed the torture and forced confession of fellow inmate Navid Afkari when they were both detained in Shiraz Prison.  The government arrested Afkari and his brothers Habib and Vahid in 2018 on charges that included “enmity against God.”  Authorities executed Afkari in 2020.  His brothers remained in solitary confinement at year’s end.  Nasseri’s former lawyer posted on Twitter that Nasseri had called him several times on September 20, the day before his death, to report that his interrogators had threatened him with physical violence.

The government continued to incarcerate numerous prisoners on various charges related to religion.  The Iran Prison Atlas, a database compiled by the U.S.-based NGO United for Iran, stated at least 67 members of minority religious groups remained imprisoned as of November for “religious practice.”  Of the prisoners in the Atlas database, the government sentenced at least 62 to long-term imprisonment or executed them on charges of “enmity against God” or armed rebellion against Islamic rule/baghi, which officials sometimes used in recent years instead of “enmity against God.”  Authorities sentenced at least 20 persons to prison for “insulting Islamic sanctities” and for “insulting the Prophet or Islam.”  According to the NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers, there were 82 persons serving prison terms for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief as of November 1.

In the July report, UNSR Rehman again expressed concern at the reportedly high number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience from the Azeri, Kurdish, and Ahwazi Arab communities, many of whom were from religious minorities.

According to the Kurdistan Human Rights Network, in March, authorities sentenced Kurdish Sunni imam Mamoutsa Rasoul Hamzehpour to three years in prison for “propaganda against the state” and “activities on the internet.”  According to the Kurdistan Press Agency and a Kurdish NGO, security forces arrested Hamzehpour in the city of Piranshahr in 2020 at his home, which they searched.  The news report stated Hamzehpour was regarded as a prominent cleric in West Azerbaijan Province and had been arrested several times in the past.

According to IranWire, security forces conducted multiple arrests of Baha’is in the last week of September without providing reasons or charges.  Authorities held four Baha’is from Shiraz City – Negar Ghaderi Sadi, Moin Misaghi, Hayedeh Forootan, and his son, Mehran Mosalanejad – in solitary confinement in Shiraz Police Detention Center 201 for at least one month following their arrests on September 22.  Sources said officers ransacked Misaghi’s house, spilling a bowl of soup on his one-and-a-half-year-old baby, causing the child to suffer burns.  At Negar Ghaderi’s house, officers confiscated mobile telephones, tablets, satellite dishes, and several prayer books.  Authorities previously raided these four individuals’ homes in April and confiscated personal items, including religious books and pictures.  IranWire reported that on September 23 in Ghaem Shahr, Mazandaran Province, Intelligence Ministry agents entered the home of Baha’i Sheida Taeed, confiscated her mobile phone, passport, computer, family photographs, and other personal items, and arrested her without a warrant.  BIC’s representative to the UN posted on Twitter that authorities appeared to be targeting young parents, and their children in particular, with arbitrary arrests.

IranWire reported that on September 23, Ministry of Intelligence agents arrested Baha’i Sheida Taeed in Mazandaran Province.  A source told IranWire that eight agents of the Mazandaran Intelligence Bureau entered Taeed’s home, which they searched for two hours.  After confiscating personal items, including her mobile phone, laptop, computer, letters, family pictures, and passport, they arrested her without a warrant.  According to IranWire, this was the third time authorities had detained or arrested Taeed since 1989.

According to HRANA, Yarsani Kurdish activist and documentary filmmaker Mozhgan Kavousi continued at year’s end to serve her sentence at Evin Prison, along with 19 other female prisoners of conscience.  Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court of Noshahr convicted her of “spreading propaganda against the system” and “inciting people to disrupt the country’s order and security” in connection with two posts on her Instagram account about the November 2019 antigovernment protests and sentenced her to five years and nine months in prison.

According to widespread media reports and Amnesty International, security forces reacted violently to protests that began in Khuzestan Province in mid-July over water shortages.  As protests spread across the country, government forces fired on crowds with live ammunition, birdshot, and tear gas, killing at least nine protestors, including a 17-year-old boy.  Security and intelligence forces swept up dozens of protesters and activists, including many from the Sunni Ahwazi Arab minority, in mass arrests.

Authorities transferred Arab minority rights activist Mohammad Ali Amourinejad and several other inmates, including prisoners of conscience serving life sentences for “enmity against God” due to having promoted educational and cultural rights for Ahwazi Arabs, out of Sheiban Prison following the unrest.  At year’s end, the government continued to hold these prisoners incommunicado in an unknown location.

UNPO’s October joint report to the UNSR stated that in June, officials summoned at least 10 Baluchi citizens to court following a rally in the village of Ramin to prevent the destruction of the Eidgah (land reserved for Eid prayers for Sunnis).  The report also stated that since June, authorities had arrested or detained three Sunni clerics and religious activists without disclosing the charges, including Baluchi Sunni cleric Jafar Hanzarani from Iranshahr County, Sistan and Baluchestan Province, whom police arrested on August 21 without charge.  According to the same report, IRGC intelligence officers arrested Baluchi religious activist Khalilullah Zaeem on September 28, also without an official charge.

According to Article 19, a London-based international human rights organization, the new amendments to the penal code passed in January that criminalized insulting Iranian ethnicities or “divine religions or Islamic schools of thought” (Article 499) and committing “any deviant educational or proselytizing activity that contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam” (Article 500) put religious minorities such as Baha’is, Yarsanis, Mandaeans, Sufi dervishes, Christian converts, atheists, and followers of Erfan-e Halgheh (Inter-Universalism) at a higher risk of persecution.  In July, human rights advocate Ewelina Ochab wrote in Forbes magazine, “Such provisions are destined to be abused against religious minorities.”  In his July report, UNSR Rehman stated these two amendments would “further suppress freedom of religion and belief as well as freedom of expression, especially for religious minorities, and in particular, non-recognized minorities such as Baha’is, atheists, converts to Christianity and Gonabadi dervishes.”

In his July report, UNSR Rehman also noted other official policies targeting religious minorities, including documents published in March that indicated that the suppression of Baha’is and Gonabadi dervishes was “official policy in Sari, Mazandaran Province.”  The report stated the documents contained plans by local authorities to “rigorously control the movements” of Baha’i and Gonabadi dervish residents and to impose restrictions on Baha’is in education and commerce.  According to the UNSR’s report, authorities harassed, arrested, and forcibly disappeared dozens of Baha’is in April and June in incidents in Shiraz and Isfahan.

Non-Armenian Christians, particularly evangelicals and other converts from Islam, continued to experience disproportionate levels of arrests and detentions and high levels of harassment and surveillance, according to Christian NGOs.  Human rights organizations and Christian NGOs continued to report authorities arrested Christians, including members of unrecognized churches, for their religious affiliation or activities, and charged them with operating illegally in private homes or supporting and accepting assistance from “enemy” countries.  Many arrests reportedly took place during police raids on religious gatherings and included confiscation of religious property.  News reports stated authorities subjected arrested Christians to severe physical and psychological mistreatment, which at times included beatings and solitary confinement.  According to human rights NGOs, the government also continued to enforce the prohibition against proselytizing.

According to human rights activists, the government continued to subject Christians who converted from Islam to arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, and other forms of harsh treatment.  The NGO Article 18 reported that on April 19, intelligence agents in Dezful, Khuzestan Province, arrested four Christian converts – Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Esmail Narimanpour, Alireza Varak-Shah, and Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi – and in August charged them with “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” due to their membership in a house church.  Authorities arrested and interrogated four additional male Christian converts at the same time and ordered them to sign commitments to refrain from further Christian activities.  Authorities reportedly beat some of the Christians during their interrogations, including Narimanpour.

Article 18 reported that on January 18, the morality police rearrested Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi, saying her trousers were too tight, her headscarf was not correctly adjusted, and she should not be wearing an unbuttoned coat.  Mohammadi, who was released from prison in February 2020 after being incarcerated for participating in January 2020 prodemocracy protests, stated she had been unable to return to work as a gymnastics instructor because intelligence agents pressured her former employer not to rehire her.

According to Article 18 and HRANA, on August 22, the Albroz Court of Appeals sentenced three Christian converts – Milad Goodarzi, Amin Khaki, and Alireza Nourmohammadi – to three years each in prison.  In November 2020, authorities raided the men’s homes and confiscated personal items, including laptop computers, mobile phones and religious books.  At their first trial in June, the Revolutionary Court of Karaj sentenced the three men to five years’ imprisonment each and a 400 million rial ($9,500) fine for “spreading propaganda against the state” and “engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam.”  The latter charge stemmed from an amendment to Article 500 penalizing “any deviant educational or proselytizing activity that contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam” that went into effect on February 18.

Media reported that on 27 January, the 4th Branch of Bushehr Court of Appeal upheld the one-year prison sentences of three Christian converts – Sam Khosravi, Sasan Khosravi, and Habib Heydari – agreeing with the lower court that they were guilty of the “organization of house churches and promotion of Christianity, which are clear examples of propaganda against the state.”  Ministry of Intelligence agents arrested Sam and Sasan Khosravi, their wives Maryam Falahi and Marjan Falahi, Heydari, and Pooriya Peyma and his wife Fatemeh Talebi at their homes in Bushehr Province in July 2019.  In June 2020, authorities fined the women and gave the men prison terms of one year for Habib, Sam, and Sasan, and 91 days for Pooriya.  The court also sentenced Sam and Sasan Khosravi to two years of internal exile and a ban on working in their profession, the hospitality sector, while exiled.

According to IranWire, on March 14, authorities informed Christian converts Homayoun Zhaveh and Sara Ahmadi their case “had advanced” and they could receive a summons to prison at any moment.  Intelligence agents arrested the couple in June 2019 during a trip they took with several other Christian families to Amol in Mazandaran Province.  Authorities first held the couple in Amol before taking them to Evin Prison.  Authorities released Zhaveh after one month, but Ahmadi spent 67 days in detention, half of them in solitary confinement in the Ministry of Intelligence’s Ward 209.  On November 14, 2020, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced Zhaveh and Ahmadi to two years and 11 years in prison, respectively, for “membership and leadership of [a] church.”  On appeal Ahmadi’s sentence was reduced to eight years in December 2020.

According to Article 18, on September 5, authorities arrested three Christian converts – Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh – during raids on a house church and a private home in Rasht.  The officials held the three converts incommunicado at an unknown location, possibly an IRGC detention center, for nearly two weeks.  On September 18, authorities transferred Mashoodkari and Sarparast to Lakan Prison and released them on bail on September 21.  Authorities released Poor-Rezazadeh on bail on October 3.  Authorities did not file official charges, but during interrogations, they accused the men of “acting against national security.”

Article 18 reported that on April 21, authorities arrested four Christian converts – Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Esmaeil Narimanpour, Alireza Varak-Shah, and one other person – and detained them for two days.  Authorities released the four individuals on the condition they refrain from further Christian activities.  Government representatives subsequently summoned them to the 4th branch of the prosecutor’s office of the Civil and Revolutionary Court of Dezful, Khuzestan Province, to answer charges of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”

According to human rights activists, Baluchis continued to face government discrimination both as Sunni religious practitioners and as an ethnic minority.  Baluchi rights activists reported continued arbitrary arrests, physical abuse, and unfair trials of journalists and human rights activists.  They stated authorities often pressured family members of those in prison to remain silent.  According to the UN Secretary General’s August report, between January 1 and June 18, authorities executed at least 26 Baluchi individuals, the majority on narcotics charges.  The same report stated there were “a large number of executions of members of minorities” during the first half of the year, including from the Kurdish and Arab minorities.  The report also noted that from January 1 to June 15, at least 24 border couriers (kolbar) and fuel smugglers (sookhtbar), predominantly from the Kurdish and Baluch minorities, “were killed as a result of the government’s excessive use of force.”

Human rights NGOs, including CHRI, HRANA, and the official website of Gonabadi Sufi dervishes (Majzooban Noor), reported throughout the year on extremely poor conditions continuing inside Qarchak Women’s Prison, as well as reports of Shia guards requiring all inmates, regardless of their faith, to use a chador as their head-to-toe covering.

On June 16, HRANA reported that Hossein Sepanta continued to face medical neglect of long-term injuries in his eighth year inside Adelabad Prison in Shiraz, Kerman Province.  Sepanta, a convert from Islam to Zoroastrianism, began serving a 14-year sentence in 2013 on charges of “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security.”  Authorities beat him during his incarceration, causing a spinal cord disorder.  United for Iran posted on Twitter on July 25 that authorities moved Sepanta to a Ministry of Intelligence cell inside the prison after he reportedly started a hunger strike, making it impossible for the NGO to obtain new information on his condition.

According to a January report by IranWire, in December 2020, Ayatollah Mahmoud Amjad, who criticized the government many times in the past, released a video protesting the government’s execution of a dissident journalist and blaming Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for the bloodshed in the country since 2009.  He also called on fellow clerics and religious scholars not to remain silent about the violence.  According to his Instagram page, he continued to post messages in support of opposition figures like Mehdi Karroubi as of October.

According to the human rights NGO Hengaw, in late February, government security services arrested five Kurdish religious activists – Musa Brusan, Taha Karimi, and Saber Mohtadi from Brukan; Abdul Latif Mahmoudi Deli from Oshnaviyeh; and Naseh Sorkhabi from Piranshahar – in West Azerbaijan Province.  The government transferred the men to Urmia Central Prison on February 27.  According to the NGO, authorities accused the five individuals of “collaborating with and joining Salafist groups.”  NGOs reported that the Kurds were denied access to a lawyer.

There continued to be reports that authorities harassed and arrested Sunni clerics and congregants.  According to a December report by Iran International, the Supreme Leader’s representative in Golestan Province, Kazem Nour-Mofidi, dismissed Mowlavi Hossein Gorgij, the Friday prayer imam in Azadshahr City and an outspoken and popular Sunni cleric, as punishment for his Friday prayer remarks that allegedly insulted Shia “sanctities.”  Nour-Mofidi appointed a new Sunni imam.  Gorgij’s followers protested in Azadshahr, and Gorgij issued a statement saying his remarks were misunderstood and that he meant no disrespect toward Shia.

HRANA reported in July that nine Sunni prisoners held in Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad, Razavi Khorasan Province, since at least 2016 wrote a letter to UNSR Rehman requesting an investigation into their cases.  The prisoners – Eisa Eid-Mohammadi, Farhad Shakeri, Eid al-Hakim Azim Gargij, Abdolrahman Gargij, Habib Pir-Mohammadi, Abdolbaset Orsan, Mohammad Reza Sheikh Ahmadi, Morteza Fakuri, and Abdullah Hosseini – said authorities beat and tortured them into providing false confessions and threatened their family members.  HRANA said they received death sentences and long prison terms based on false charges of being members of dissident groups and groups the government labeled as “terrorist,” for example, Hizb al-Forghan, and of committing acts of “propaganda against the regime.”

BIC reported authorities arrested 64 Baha’is between January and December.  Prison officials kept many in solitary confinement for long periods and detained individuals for weeks or months before releasing them on bail.  BIC stated that authorities set bail at exorbitantly high levels, requiring families to hand over deeds to properties or business licenses.  In nearly all cases, authorities searched their homes and/or workplaces and confiscated personal belongings, particularly books, photographs, computers, copying machines, and other supplies, as well as items related to the Baha’i Faith.  Some victims reported officers beat them when taking them into custody.  According to BIC, during the year, authorities required 18 Baha’is to begin serving prison sentences or resume sentences following temporary release.

According to BIC, on June 8, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced Baha’i Shahrzad Nazifi, a women’s cross-country motorcycle racing trainer, to eight years in prison for “managing unlawful groups for the purpose of disturbing national security.”  On January 21, Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced Baha’is Sofia Mobini and Negin Tadrisi to five years each in prison on national security charges.  Subsequently, Judge Mohammad Moghiseh, from the same court, without arraignment, adjusted their sentences to 10 and five years’ imprisonment, respectively, for “membership in the illegal Baha’i organization with intent to disturb national security,” under Article 499 of the penal code.  The Court of Appeals later restored their original five-year prison sentences.  Intelligence agents arrested Mobini and Tadrisi in 2017 in connection with celebrations of a Baha’i holy day.

In March, HRW reported that Baha’i historian and writer Touraj Amini had begun serving a six-year prison sentence in January.  Authorities first searched Amini’s house in 2019, confiscating numerous books and his laptop.  HRANA later reported that a court in Karaj sentenced Amini to one year’s imprisonment and two years in domestic exile in 2020.  An Alborz Province appeals court later reduced the sentence to six months in prison and rescinded the exile.  According to HRW, Amini is a historian specializing in the history of Iranian religious minorities prior to the 1979 revolution.

The Kurdistan Human Rights Network reported that in early October, the Revolutionary Court of Orumiyeh sentenced Sunni Kurds Anvar Chaleshi and Kamel Jabarvand (also known as Saydan Maskan) to seven years in prison for “acting against national security” through “membership in the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan.”  IRGC officers arrested the men in December 2020 and transferred them in a MOIS detention center in the al-Mahdi base in Orumiyeh, West Azerbaijan Province in January, following their interrogation.

Activists and NGOs reported that the government continued to detain or disappear Yarsani activists and community leaders for engaging in awareness-raising regarding government practices or discrimination against the Yarsani community.  According to NGO reports, on June 28, a district court in Kermanshah arrested Kheyrollah Haghjouyan of the Yarsan Civil Rights’ Activists Advisory Council for his remarks criticizing the government’s discriminatory practices against the Yarsani community and for commemorating the eight-year anniversary of the deaths of three Yarsani activists who self-immolated to protest the forced shaving of mustaches – considered an insult in the Yarsani religion – of Yarsani prisoners in Hamadan Prison.  The court accused Haghjouyan of “insulting the sanctities and officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

According to a March report by CHRI, judges continued to use internal exile as a form of punishment for political prisoners, including peaceful activists, religious minorities, and dissidents.  Exile could be ordered as the primary punishment, for example for those found guilty of moharebeh or “armed rebellion,” or as a supplemental punishment for various crimes, to be carried out after the completion of a prison sentence.  Judges chose exile locations from a list prepared by the Ministry of Interior; these were usually remote towns in regions with extreme poverty.  CHRI reported that during the year, judges also sent individuals into “prison exile” by transferring them in the middle of their prison terms to severely under-resourced prisons far from their families and friends.  According to CHRI, the concept of exile or banishment is rooted in Shia theology and is referred to as “denial of country” (nafiye balad).  CHRI stated that prison exile also harmed the detainee’s family by putting the individual in a location family members could not easily visit.

CHRI reported that on January 24, Golrokh Iraee Ebrahimi, a civil rights activist who protested against the practice of stoning women accused of adultery, was transferred from Gharchak Women’s Prison in Tehran to the central prison in Amol, Mazandaran Province, far from her parents.  Authorities originally arrested and charged Ebrahimi in 2014 with “insulting Islamic sanctities” and “spreading propaganda.”  According to her husband, prison officials held Ebrahimi in an unsanitary ward with approximately 50 other inmates, where the risks of infection from COVID-19 and other diseases were high.  Contrary to law, prisoners were not being separated by type of offense or duration of sentence, and many of the other inmates in Ebrahimi’s ward were serving narcotics-related sentences.  According to the NGO Humanists International, in April, Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Iraee in absentia to an additional one year in prison, banned her from membership in political organizations, and imposed a two-year travel ban on charges of “propaganda against the state.”  Iraee was denied legal representation during the trial.  She remained in Amol Prison at year’s end, unable to make telephone calls or contact her family.

Human rights NGOs reported that in February, authorities summoned Ebrahim Firouzi, a Christian convert, to respond to allegations of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic in favor of hostile groups.”  He appeared in court on February 8.  Authorities arrested him and detained him in Chabahar Prison in Sistan and Baluchestan Province for 19 days, and then released him on bail.  Firouzi had been in internal exile as part of his 2015 sentence for “collusion against national security” for converting to and practicing Christianity and related missionary activities.  After first serving six years in Rajai Shahr Prison, he was released in November 2019 and reported to the city of Sarbaz for the two years of internal exile included in his sentence.  Authorities later extended his exile by 11 months, saying that Firouzi did not have proper permission for a brief trip home to attend to some family business involving the death of his mother.  The government informed him in November that he would not be required to serve the 11-month extension of his internal exile.

In the July report, UNSR Rehman stated there continued to be reports of forced evictions of the Sunni Baluch minority in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Citing a report by HRANA, HRW said a court in Borazjan, Bushehr Province, sentenced six Baha’is to lengthy prison terms on vaguely defined national security charges, including propaganda against the state “by spreading the beliefs of the Baha’i Faith.”  The six convicted Baha’is were Maryam Bashir, Mino Bashir, Hayedeh Ram, Frank Sheikhi, Borhan Ismaili, and Derna Ismaili.  Authorities charged Borhan Ismaili with “spreading” the beliefs of the Baha’i Faith and acting against national security interests and sentenced him to 11 years in prison.  The court sentenced the other individuals to 12 and a half years in prison for “assisting” in this propaganda, the evidence of which included social media posts on Facebook.  At year’s end, the case remained subject to appeal.

The government continued to permit Armenian Christians to exercise what sources stated was perhaps the greatest degree of religious freedom among religious minorities in the country.  It extended preservation efforts to Armenian holy sites and allowed nationals of Armenian descent and Armenian visitors to observe religious and cultural traditions within their churches and dedicated clubs.

In November, Humanists International stated in its Freedom of Thought Report 2021 that although “‘enmity against God’ is framed as a religious offense and may be used against humanists and other religious dissenters, it [was] most often used as a punishment for political acts that challenge[d] the regime (on the basis that to oppose the theocratic regime is to oppose Allah).”

According to the U.S. Institute of Peace, the government continued to monitor statements and views of senior Shia religious leaders who did not support government policies or Supreme Leader Khamenei’s views.  According to international media, authorities continued to target these Shia clerics with arrest, detention, funding cuts, loss of clerical credentials, and confiscation of property.

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

Sources said that even when arrested, perpetrators of crimes against Baha’is faced reduced punishment if they stated that their acts were based on the religious identity of the victim.

The government continued to require all women to adhere to “Islamic dress” standards in public, including covering their hair and fully covering their bodies in loose clothing – an overcoat and a hijab 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 public protests against the compulsory hijab and Islamic dress requirements for women.

According to media reports, on August 9, authorities in Orumiyeh, West Azerbaijan Province arrested a man for running over two women with his vehicle for “bad hijab” and not heeding the Islamic dress code.  The two women, one of whom was reportedly seriously injured, were taken to the hospital.  Chief Justice Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei ordered an investigation into the attack.  Meeting with officials on August 9, he stressed the judicial duty of “supporting those who enjoin good and forbid wrong and defend Islamic values.”

The NGO Frontline Defenders reported that on March 9, the Tehran Appeals Court reduced Saba Kord-Afshari’s prison sentence, which she received in 2019 on a set of charges relating to her protesting the compulsory hijab, from 24 years to seven years and six months in prison.  According to the NGO, on January 26, guards physically assaulted Kord-Afshari and forcibly transferred her from one ward of Qarchak Women’s Prison to another.  Kord-Afshari undertook a hunger strike from May 8 to 18 to protest the continued incarceration of her mother, women’s rights defender Raheleh Ahmadi, in Evin Prison, despite Ahmadi’s deteriorating physical and mental health.

On June 21, UN human rights experts condemned the continued imprisonment of Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent female human rights lawyer and 2012 winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for what Amnesty International described as her “peaceful human rights work, including her defense of women protesting against Iran’s forced-hijab laws.”  On July 21, authorities released her from Qarchak Women’s Prison on temporary leave to receive treatment after she contract COVID-19 there.  Her husband told media that conditions in Qarchak Women’s Prison were “catastrophic.”  Authorities summoned Sotoudeh back to prison one month after her release.  The government arrested Sotoudeh multiple times since 2009 because of her work as a rights defender.  A court sentenced her to 33 years in prison and 148 lashes in 2019.  According to HRW, in 2020, authorities arrested and then gave conditional release to Sotoudeh’s attorney, Payam Derafshan, whom the NGO described as “a respected human rights attorney.”  According to the HRW report, the IRGC committed “revolting abuse and medical negligence” on Derafshan during his detention in Evin Prison, including injecting him with a substance that resulted in physical and psychological damage.

The government continued to suppress public behavior it deemed counter to Islamic law, such as dancing and men and women appearing together in public.

The government continued to hold many Baha’i properties it had seized following the 1979 revolution, including cemeteries, holy places, historical sites, and administrative centers.  It also continued to prevent Baha’is from performing burials in accordance with their religious tradition.  According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), authorities routinely prevented the burial of deceased Baha’is from Tabriz at the local Vadi-i-Rahmat Cemetery.  Instead, they often sent the remains for burial in Miandoab, 100 miles away, where authorities did not permit the families to wash the bodies and perform Baha’i burial rites.  IHRDC noted that Baha’i religious practice requires that the deceased be buried at a location within an hour’s travel time from the place of death; however, the travel time between Tabriz and Miandoab is approximately 2.5 hours.  According to the report, authorities at the cemetery, the Tabriz City Council, and the Eastern Azerbaijan provincial government said they were executing orders prohibiting the burial of Baha’is in Tabriz, but none of those offices claimed responsibility for issuing the order.

Citing a report by the Baha’i National Center, in April, HRW reported that authorities instituted a prohibition on the Tehran Baha’i community from burying their dead in a section of a cemetery, Golestan Javid, near Tehran that previously was allocated for their use.  In an April 23 statement, the Baha’i National Center said the office overseeing the cemetery threatened Baha’is trying to use the designated part of the cemetery.  HRW stated that the new policy was part of “a broader, decades-long government repression” of the Baha’i community.  The NGO reported that the Baha’i representative to the UN in Geneva stated that the prohibition was intended to coerce the Baha’i community into burying the dead in areas of the nearby Khavaran cemetery, believed to be the site of a mass grave for political prisoners killed by the government in 1988.  NGOs and the media identified Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s newly elected President, as being heavily involved in those killings.  In April, Amnesty International stated that the mass grave was bulldozed multiple times and had become a symbol of the struggle for truth and justice.  The Amnesty report said, “As well as causing further pain and anguish to the already persecuted Baha’i minority by depriving them of their rights to give their loved ones a dignified burial in line with their religious beliefs, Iran’s authorities are willfully destroying a crime scene.”

In his July report, UNSR Rehman expressed “alarm” at the government’s order denying the Baha’i community access to that part of the Khavaran cemetery assigned for their use, saying, “This order violates the Baha’i community’s right to freedom of religion and belief.”  He said that the order was “one of the many occasions where Baha’i cemeteries have been desecrated or where burial rituals have been restricted.”

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

MOIS and law enforcement officials 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 late leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh, and articles on mysticism.

According to Christian NGOs, government restrictions on published religious material continued, including confiscations of previously available books about Christianity, although government-sanctioned translations of the Bible reportedly remained available.  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 Yarsani religion remained banned.  Unrecognized religious minorities, such as Yarsanis and Baha’is, continued to report they were unable to legally produce or distribute religious literature.  Books published by religious minorities, regardless of topic, were required to carry labels on the cover denoting their non-Shia Muslim authorship.

There were continued reports of authorities placing restrictions on Baha’i businesses or forcing them to shut down after they temporarily closed in observance of Baha’i holidays, or of authorities threatening shop owners with potential closure, even though by law, businesses may close without providing a reason for up to 15 days a year.  NGOs also reported the government continued to raid Baha’i homes and businesses and confiscate private and commercial property, as well as religious materials.

UNSR Rehman’s July report stated authorities continued to confiscate Baha’i properties they characterized as “illegitimate wealth.”

BIC reported that in August, judicial authorities issued court orders informing six Baha’i property owners of the imminent seizure of their properties in Semnan Province.  These court orders followed raids security forces carried out on hundreds of Baha’i-owned properties in November 2020, including these properties in Semnan, during which they confiscated ownership deeds.  According to BIC, the judiciary ruled these properties belonged to Baha’i institutions rather than to the individuals.  However, the institutions in question were banned by the government in 1979 and formally dissolved in 1983, with the government confiscating all connected properties.  According to BIC and other NGOs, the confiscations were part of an ongoing state-led campaign of economic persecution against Baha’is.  In a 2020 decision upholding the government’s 2019 confiscations of Baha’i property in the village of Ivel, Mazandaran Province, a court ruled that Baha’is had “a perverse ideology,” which was “heretical and ritually unclean,” and therefore had no “legitimacy in their ownership” of any property.

In February, HRANA reported tax authorities in Bandar Lengeh city, Hormozgan Province, acting on a court order, confiscated the business, homes, and bank accounts of two Baha’is – Mohabatullah Thaabet and Erfaan Noahnezhaad.  According to HRANA, they had operated a workshop making composite beams, paid taxes, and kept accounts as required for five years prior to authorities forcing them to close in 2019 “because of their Baha’i beliefs.”

Members of the Sunni community continued to dispute statistics published in 2015 on the website of the Mosques Affairs Regulating Authority that stated 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 construction of any new Sunni mosques in Tehran.  Sunnis said there were not enough mosques in the country to meet the needs of the population.  Three news sources opposed to the government previously stated that Sunnis were not allowed to have a mosque in Tehran.

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, the same term used by Christian converts for informal chapels or prayers rooms in underground churches, to practice their religion.  Security officials continued to raid these unauthorized sites.

According to human rights organizations, Christian advocacy groups, and NGOs, the government continued to regulate Christian religious practices.  Official reports and media continued to characterize private Christian churches in homes as “illegal networks” and “Zionist propaganda institutions.”  Christian community leaders stated that when authorities learned Assyrian church leaders were baptizing new converts or preaching in Farsi, they closed the churches.  NGOs reported that virtually all Farsi-language churches in Iran were closed between 2009 and 2012.  Authorities also reportedly barred unregistered or unrecognized Christians from entering church premises and closed churches that allowed the latter to enter.

Christian advocacy groups continued to state the government, through pressure and church closures, 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 in secret.  Other unrecognized religious minorities, such as Baha’is and Yarsanis, were also forced to assemble in private homes to practice their faith in secret.

According to the Tehran Jewish Committee, five Jewish schools and two preschools continued to operate in Tehran, but authorities required their principals to 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.

In February, the ADL published a report entitled, Incitement:  Antisemitism and Violence in Iran’s Current State Textbooks.  The report stated that “incitement to hatred against Jews and Israel are extensively interspersed throughout multiple fields of the curriculum such as history, religion, and social studies” at all grade levels in the academic year 2020-2021.  According to the report, school textbooks “overwhelmingly teach hateful messages about Jewish people across both ancient and modern history” in furtherance of a narrative pitting Islamic leaders against the enemies of Islam.  Children were also taught that Jews were untrustworthy, Zionism was “racist,” and the state of Israel must be destroyed.

The ADL report stated a 10th grade textbook on “defense preparation” claimed Zionism and global arrogance had used “religious tools with new definitions of Islam and sect and the creation of takfiri [extremist] groups” to undermine Islam, including ISIS.  An 11th grade sociology textbook asserted, “The gathering of media power in the hand of wealth owners and Zionist associations…makes the cultural identity of non-Western societies vulnerable[.]”

The ADL report stated that state school textbooks depicted Baha’is as “a conspiratorial creation of the West rather than adherents to a legitimate faith” who, along with Buddhists and Wahhabi Muslims, were “physically unclean.”  An 11th grade history textbook stated the Baha’i “sect” was “deviant” and a “trick of colonialism to destroy the religious and cultural foundations of Islamic countries.”

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.  Assyrian Christians reported the government continued to permit their community to use its own religious textbooks in schools, but only after the government authorized their content.  Armenian Christians were also permitted to teach their practices to Armenian students as an elective at select schools.

Authorities reportedly continued to deny the Baha’i, Sabean-Mandaean, and Yarsani religious communities, as well as other unrecognized religious minorities, access to education and government employment unless they declared themselves as belonging to one of the country’s recognized religions 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.  According to HRW, Iranian authorities systematically refuse to allow Baha’is to register at public universities because of their faith.  As in previous years, the government organization responsible for holding university entrance exams and for placing students, the Sazeman-e Sanjesh, used pretexts such as “incomplete information” and “further investigation required” to reject Baha’i applicants.  IranWire said that the banning of Baha’is from entering higher education began in 1980.

The July UNSR report stated documents published in March indicated it was official policy to impose restrictions on Baha’i education and commerce in Sari, Mazandaran Province.  In 2020, UNSR Rehman reported to the UN Human Rights Council that he remained “highly concerned about the denials of the right to education for religious minorities, with continuing reports of Baha’i students being rejected from entering university despite passing the required examinations.”

According to BIC, on March 17, authorities expelled two Baha’i students – Hananeh Afshar and Sana Fakhri Tazangi – mid-semester from the University of Applied Science and Technology in Shiraz, Fars Province.  The Baha’i women learned via a text message that the university had changed their student status to “registration cancelled” and had voided their credits from prior semesters.  The president of the university showed them a letter from a Ministry of Education official that requested the expulsion of nine Baha’i students from the Universities of Applied Science and Technology across the country.  Authorities expelled three other Baha’i students – Sina Shakib, Shima Fattahi Mirshekarlu, and Mahsa Forouhari – from their universities mid-semester under similar circumstances.

In January 2020, the state-issued national identity card required for almost all government and other transactions changed to allow only citizens to register as belonging to one of the country’s recognized religions.  The Atlantic Council stated in September 2021, “Baha’i families, Yarsanis, Sabean-Mandaeans, and other religious minorities or atheists must either lie to receive a national identification card or be denied access to services, such as insurance, education, banking, and, most recently, public transportation.”  Previously, application forms for an ID card had an option for “other religions.”

The Atlantic Council reported in September that Sabean-Mandaeans experienced hate speech and discrimination.  One member of the community told a researcher, that “we cannot even choose and officially register a Mandaean name for our children because the state has always instilled a great fear of being interrogated in us.”  According to the individual, Sabean-Mandaeans were often called “infidels and impure Muslims in the mosques.”  They did not have the right to work in governmental agencies.  Authorities denied self-employment permits “under various pretexts” and, in some cases, shut down their businesses.

According to an October 29 report by CHRI, the state-run Headquarters for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice announced plans to launch university-level religion courses dedicated to the “promotion of virtue and prevention of vice” that conformed to the government’s interpretation of Islam.

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

Yarsanis reported continued discrimination and harassment in the military and in school systems.  They also continued to report that the birth registration system prevented them from giving their children Yarsani names.  According to a 2020 article in the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Iran Primer, “The regime has discriminated against the group by cracking down on Yarsani places of worship, religious monuments, religious speech, publications, education and communication in Kurdish.  Yarsanis have also had difficulty finding employment and faced arrest and interrogation by Iranian intelligence.”

In January, IranWire reported that the Yarsani Consultative Assembly of Civil Activists issued a statement calling on the government to stop discriminating against Yarsanis, including depriving of them of government employment, the right to hold public office, the right to post-graduate education, and the right to serve as directors of companies.  The assembly protested the compulsory teaching of Islamic sharia to Yarsani children.  The assembly also called for amending the constitution to include the Yarsan religion as a recognized minority religion.

According to the U.S.-based think-tank Middle East Institute, under the Ebrahim Raisi administration, which assumed power in August, not a single mid-ranking position was held by a Sunni Muslim or a woman during the year.

Sunnis reported continued underrepresentation in government-appointed positions in provinces where they formed a majority, such as Kurdistan and Khuzestan, as well as an inability to obtain senior government positions.  Sunni activists continued to report that throughout the year, and especially during the month of Muharram (the first month of the Islamic year), the government sent hundreds of Shia missionaries to areas with large Sunni Baluch populations to try to convert the local population.

According to media reports from 2018, the most recent reporting available, there were 13 synagogues in Tehran and approximately 35 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.  In March, a local Jewish community source told the Times of Israel the government permitted the Jewish community to maintain youth organizations, kosher facilities, and four Jewish schools.  In November, Voice of America reported the law barred Jews, in addition to other recognized minorities, from serving in the judiciary and security services, and it further prohibited Jews from holding authority over Muslims in the armed forces.  Media reported local sources were careful to avoid publicly discussing politics or the State of Israel.

According to BIC, during the year, the government campaign of hate speech and propaganda against Baha’is “reached new levels, increasing in both sophistication and scale.”  BIC stated there was a growing and coordinated network of hundreds of websites, Instagram accounts, Telegram channels, and Clubhouse chat rooms containing content such as “Baha’is are unclean and enemies of your religion,” “Associating with Baha’is is banned,” and “Purchasing any goods from a Baha’i store is forbidden.”  BIC stated discriminatory online material existed alongside videos, print newspaper articles, books, seminars, exhibitions, graffiti, and fatwas “from both official outlets and others sponsored by the government but purporting to be independent.”

International media and NGOs reported continued government-sponsored propaganda aimed at deterring the practice of or conversion to Christianity.  According to Mohabat News, the government routinely propagated anti-Christian publications and online materials, such as the 2017 book Christian Zionism in the Geography of Christianity.  In December, Article 18 stated that although government officials issued Christmas greetings on social media as a propaganda tool, government persecution of Christians increased around the holiday.  One academic told Article 18 the regime feared that an interest in Christmas and other elements of Western culture would lead Muslims, especially youth, to convert to Christianity.  The academic said the government was “more afraid of the religious significance and consequences of these behaviors than of fearing a celebration that belongs to other countries.  Negative reactions to the celebration of Christmas, or open repression of Christian converts, are signs of this fear.”

In its annual report on the year 2020 published in April, Amnesty International stated, “Freedom of religion and belief was systematically violated in law and practice.  The authorities continued to impose on people of all faiths, as well as atheists, codes of public conduct rooted in a strict interpretation of Shia Islam.  The authorities refused to recognize the right of those born to Muslim parents to convert to other religions or become atheists, with individuals seeking to exercise this right risking arbitrary detention, torture and the death penalty for ‘apostasy.’  Only Shia Muslims were allowed to hold key political positions.  Members of religious minorities, including Baha’is, Christians, Gonabadi Dervishes, Yarsan (Ahl-e Haq), and converts from Shia Islam to Sunni Islam or Christianity faced discrimination, including in education and employment, as well as arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, torture and other ill-treatment for practicing their faith.”  The report added, “The authorities continued to commit widespread and systematic human rights violations against members of the Baha’i minority, including forcible closure of businesses, confiscation of property, bans on employment in the public sector, denial of access to higher education and hate speech campaigns on state media.  Raids on house churches persisted.  Sunni Muslims continued to face restrictions on establishing their own mosques.”

In its annual report on the year 2021, HRW noted the country’s “law denies freedom of religion to Baha’is and discriminates against them.  Authorities continue to arrest and prosecute members of the Baha’i faith on vague national security charges and to close businesses owned by them.  The government also discriminates against other religious minorities, including Sunni Muslims….  Minority activists are regularly arrested and prosecuted on vaguely defined national security charges in trials that grossly fall short of international standards.”

In July, Article 18 reported that in a video published by Roshangar Media, senior Armenian and Assyrian representatives distanced themselves from the house church movement of evangelical Christian converts.  Iranian-Armenian Catholic archbishop Sarkis Davidian reportedly said in the video, “We do not encourage people to change their religion.  People must remain in their religion.”  Iranian-Assyrian parliamentary representative Shaarli Anouyeh Tekyeh, in the same video, said evangelical churches were “repugnant to us.”  In an August 2020 Article 18 report, an Armenian journalist said despite harassment of minorities being “institutionalized in the very fabric of the Islamic Republic… representatives of religious minorities find themselves almost forced to defend the interests and discourse of a government that has deprived them of many of their rights, in an attempt perhaps to regain those lost rights or to prevent their further deterioration.”

Government officials continued to employ antisemitic rhetoric in official statements and to sanction it in media outlets, publications, and books.  On February 22, Supreme Leader Khamenei posted a message on Twitter saying, “That international Zionist clown [the UN] has said they won’t allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons.  First of all, if we had any such intention, even those more powerful than him [sic] wouldn’t be able to stop us.”  On June 27, ADL CEO and national director Jonathan Greenblatt wrote in Newsweek, “that [President] Raisi was responsible for systematically propagating The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, one of the most dangerous tracts in history, provides an unsettling reminder of just how engaged Iran’s government and leaders have been in inciting antisemitism.”  According to the ADL, another central theme of the government’s propaganda regarding the global health crisis was the conspiracy theory that Jews are all-powerful or seek world domination.

In May, the government-controlled arts promotion organization Hozeh Honari hosted an exhibition of submissions to its third Holocaust-denial cartoon contest and offered cash awards to several of the participating artists.  The state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Corporation reportedly broadcast the exhibition’s closing ceremony live.  Many of the cartoons at the exhibition, also published in a book produced by Hozeh Honari, featured antisemitic imagery and stereotypical caricatures of Jews.  The contest had financial sponsorship from the partly state-owned Telecommunication Company of Iran through its subsidiary and the largest mobile operator in Iran, Hamrahe Aval.  In an interview on state-run Channel 4 on September 9, Masud Shojaei-Tabatabai, the visual arts director of Hozeh Honari and director of IranCartoon.com, who also organized these exhibitions 2020, 2016, and 2006, said the Holocaust was the “Achilles heel” of the Zionists, that Israelis had “benefited” from the Holocaust, and that the figure of six million Jewish victims was “very exaggerated.”

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

Endowed religious charitable foundations, or bonyads, accounted for one-quarter to one-third of the country’s economy, according to some experts.  According to NGOs, government insiders, including members of the military and clergy, ran these tax-exempt organizations, which the law defines as charities.  Members of the political opposition and international corruption watchdog organizations frequently accused bonyads of corruption.  Bonyads received benefits from the government, but there was no requirement for a government agency to approve their budgets publicly.

On December 16, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  The General Assembly passed the measure by a vote of 78 states in favor, 31 against, and 69 abstentions.  The resolution, introduced by Canada with 47 cosponsors, expressed concern about “ongoing severe limitations and increasing restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, restrictions on the establishment of places of worship, undue restrictions on burials carried out in accordance with religious tenets, attacks against places of worship and burial, and other human rights violations….”  These violations included “harassment, intimidation, persecution, arbitrary arrests and detention, and incitement to hatred that leads to violence against persons belonging to recognized and unrecognized religious minorities, including Christians, Gonabadi dervishes, Jews, Sufi Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians and members of the Baha’i Faith, who have faced increasing restrictions from the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran on account of their faith and have been reportedly subjected to mass arrests and lengthy prison sentences during the COVID-19 pandemic….”  The resolution called upon the government “to cease monitoring individuals on account of their religious identity, to release all religious practitioners imprisoned for their membership in or activities on behalf of a recognized or unrecognized minority religious group, and to ensure that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of their choice, in accordance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights….”  The resolution also called upon the government “to eliminate, in law and in practice, all forms of discrimination on the basis of thought, conscience, religion or belief, including restrictions contained in newly enacted provisions Article 499bis and Article 500bis of the Islamic Penal Code, as well as economic restrictions, such as the closure, destruction or confiscation of businesses and properties, the cancellation of licenses and the denial of employment in certain public and private sectors, including government or military positions and elected office, the denial of and restrictions on access to education, including for members of the Baha’i Faith, and other human rights violations against persons belonging to recognized and unrecognized religious minorities….”  The resolution condemned “without any reservation any denial of the Holocaust,” and called upon the government “to end impunity for those who commit crimes against persons belonging to recognized and unrecognized religious minorities.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Yarsanis outside the country reported that widespread discrimination against Yarsanis continued.  They stated Yarsani children were socially ostracized in school and in shared community facilities.  Yarsani men continued to face employment discrimination.  According to reports, Shia preachers continued to encourage social discrimination against Yarsanis.

According to a media reporting, Yarsani graves were neither safe from attacks nor from disrespect, and Yarsani cemeteries and mausoleums were repeatedly damaged and destroyed in the city of Kermanshah and elsewhere in the country.

Violence and social stigma continued to target Baha’i individuals, according to Baha’is and those who advocated for their rights, and perpetrators reportedly continued to act with impunity.  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.  BIC continued to report instances of physical violence committed against Baha’is based on their faith.

Baha’is reported there were continued incidents of destruction or vandalism of their cemeteries.  IranWire reported that in September, HRANA released a video showing the partial destruction of a Baha’i cemetery in the village of Kata, Dena County, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province.  According to HRANA, the attack occurred on September 8.  In a manner that would have been difficult without machinery, much of the cemetery’s exterior wall and bathroom had been knocked to the ground and stone shrines were smashed.

In July, IranWire reported an Assyrian Christian nicknamed “Farough” suffered employment discrimination following a workplace injury at an industrial factory in 2016 in which he lost three fingers on his right hand.  Farough said that when he returned to the factory after his recovery, “They were supposed to do an expert examination and pay me blood money, but when I was paid, I realized that the amount I received was much lower based on the fact that I was a religious minority.”  Farough said a Muslim colleague with similar academic credentials was promoted and given a raise.  “I meanwhile have all the right conditions for employment and career advancement but, just because I am a Christian, I am deprived of any promotion.”

According to human rights NGOs, including 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 that professors continued to routinely insult Sunni religious figures in class.

IranWire reported that according to a survey released by Iran Open Data in October, 48 percent of 2,000 adult respondents said they drank alcohol.  When asked about drinking frequency, 24 percent of respondents reported that they “sometimes” drank, while 9 percent said they drank “weekly,” and 6 percent said they drank “daily.”  Fifty-two percent of participants said they did not drink alcohol.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran and did not have opportunities during the year to raise concerns in a bilateral setting with the government about its religious freedom abuses and restrictions.

The U.S. government continued to call publicly and in multilateral forums for the government to respect religious freedom and continued to condemn and promote accountability for its abuses of members of religious minority groups in a variety of ways and in different international forums.  These included public statements by senior U.S. government officials, use of social media, 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.

On June 13, the Special Envoy for Iran posted to Twitter, “It’s been 3 years since human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to 38 and a half years in prison and 148 lashes for defending women’s rights in Iran.  From prison she cont[tinue]s to advocate for the humane treatment of political prisoners.  She should not have spent a single day in prison.”

On July 28, the Department of State released a statement on the protests that started over water shortages in Khuzestan Province, home to the predominantly Sunni Muslim Ahwazi Arab minority.  It condemned the use of violence against peaceful protestors and supported their rights “to peacefully assemble and express themselves, without fear of violence and detention by security forces.”

On March 9, the United States designated IRGC interrogators Ali Hemmatian and Masoud Safdari pursuant to Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2021 for their involvement in gross violations of human rights.  According to NGOs, Hemmatian and Safdari operated in Ward 2A of Evin Prison and tortured political prisoners, including activists advocating for religious freedom and protestors, during their interrogations.  On the same day, the U.S. representative to the Human Rights Council’s Interactive Dialogue together with the Special Rapporteur on Iran called for Iran to “end its systematic use of an arbitrary and unfair justice system to detain and impose sentence against human rights defenders, including Nasrin Sotoudeh, journalists, members of minority groups, such as the Baha’i, and others who dissent from the government.”

On December 7, the U. S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, sanctioned the Special Units of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) and Iran’s Counter-Terror Special Forces (NOPO) for violently suppressing prodemocracy protests in November 2019.  OFAC sanctioned two LEF commanders – Hassan Karami and Seyed Mousavi Azami – as well a Basij commander Gholamreza Soleimani and the Governor of Qods City, Leila Vaseghi, for their roles in carrying out crackdowns against peaceful protesters.  OFAC also sanctioned two prisons, Zahedan Central Prison and Isfahan Central Prison, as well as the warden of Qarchak Women’s Prison, Soghra Khodadadi, and IRGC commander and brigadier general Mohammad Karami for their roles in the “flagrant denial” of the rights prisoners and other citizens, including religious minorities.  The Treasury Department statement announcing the sanctions said that “Zahedan Prison holds several political prisoners who belong to the Baluch ethnic minority group.  According to public reports, on January 3, 2021, Baluch prisoner Hassan Dehvari was executed in Zahedan Prison.  Dehvari was sentenced to death for ‘armed rebellion against the Islamic Rule.’  His sentence was escalated to execution after he engaged in several acts of peaceful protests, such as signing statements condemning executions of Sunni prisoners and condemning the mistreatment of fellow prisoners.”

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 15, 2021, the Secretary of State redesignated Iran as a CPC and identified the existing sanctions as ongoing travel restrictions based on serious human rights abuses under section 221(c) of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (TRA), for individuals identified under Section 221(a)(1)(C) of the TRA in connection with the commission of serious human rights abuses, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Israel, West Bank and Gaza

Read A Section: Israel

West Bank and Gaza

Executive Summary

The country’s laws and Supreme Court rulings protect the freedoms of conscience, faith, religion, and worship, regardless of an individual’s religious affiliation.  The 1992 Basic Law:  Human Dignity and Liberty describes the country as a “Jewish and democratic state.”  The 2018 Basic Law:  Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People determines, according to the government, that “the Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people; the State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People, in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination; and exercising the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.”  In September, the Lod District Court sentenced Zion Cohen to three years in prison for carrying out a series of 2020 arson bombings of religious courts.  On June 9, according to press reports, police arrested 12 protesters who threw heavy objects towards them in a protest by a small ultra-Orthodox sect near Bar-Ilan Street in Jerusalem against the construction of part of the city’s light rail through an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.  Clashes broke out in April and May with “Day of Rage” demonstrations throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem against Israeli actions in Sheikh Jarrah, the Damascus Gate, and the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  On April 13, on the evening of the first day of Ramadan, media and officials from the Jordanian Waqf in Jerusalem, which administers the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, reported that the Israeli National Police entered the site and disconnected loudspeakers used for the call to prayer after the Waqf’s call to prayer disrupted an official Memorial Day service for fallen soldiers attended by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the adjacent Western Wall Plaza.  During the last Friday of Ramadan on May 7 and again on May 10, Israeli police entered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount using teargas, stun grenades, and rubber tipped bullets to disperse Palestinians they said were throwing rocks.  While the government stated it was rare for any individual to be barred entry to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, human rights and civil society organizations said Israeli authorities periodically banned individual Palestinian residents of the occupied territories, and Arab/Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel from the site.  The government reiterated that non-Islamic prayer was not allowed on the grounds of the site, but non-Muslim visitors were allowed.  Some religious minority groups said the police were not interested in investigating attacks on members of their communities.  The Chief Rabbinate continued not to recognize as Jewish some citizens who self-identified as Jewish, including Reform and Conservative converts to Judaism and others who could not prove Jewish matrilineage to the satisfaction of the Chief Rabbinate.  As a result, the government prohibited those individuals from accessing official Jewish marriage, divorce, and burial services in the country.  Some Jewish individuals and groups performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount despite the longstanding historical norms against overt non-Islamic prayer there.  On July 8, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 10-to-one, rejected 15 petitions challenging the Basic Law of Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People (Nation State law).  The government maintained its policy of not accepting new applications for official recognition from religious groups but stated that members of unrecognized religious groups remained free to practice their religion.  Members of some religious minorities said that the government did not provide the same service and benefits to them as to the country’s majority Jewish population.

During a one-week period in May, amid tensions in Jerusalem and violence in Gaza, ethnic-based violence and civil unrest broke out in a number of mixed Jewish-Arab cities in the country, leading to multiple deaths and injuries.  The violence during the unrest included gunfire, stone throwing by protesters (both Jewish and Arab/Palestinian citizens), arson attacks on synagogues, desecration of Muslim gravestones, and vandalism of automobiles.  The Israel National Police (INP) made approximately 1,550 arrests during and after the unrest with the overwhelming majority of the arrestees being Arab/Palestinian citizens.  On May 12 in the mixed Jewish-Arab town of Lod, Jews shot and killed Moussa Hassouna in clashes between residents.  Later on May 12, Arab/Palestinian citizens in Lod stoned the car of Jewish resident Yigal Yehoshua who died on May 17 after being hit in the head with a thrown brick.  In the northern city of Acre on May 11, Arab/Palestinian citizens set fire to a hotel leading to the death of 84 year-old retiree Aby Har-Even on June 6.  On May 19, teenager Mohammed Mahamid Kiwan died after he was shot on May 18 at the Mei Ami junction on Route 65.  His family said police were responsible.  In April, during the period leading up to the unrest, Palestinian youths in Jerusalem physically attacked ultra-Orthodox individuals and posted videos of the attacks on the social media app TikTok.  On July 1, police arrested Palestinian Jerusalemites for defiling graves in the Har Hamenuchot Cemetery while filming themselves on TikTok.  Jewish individuals and groups continued to engage in nationalist violent hate crimes against Palestinians and their property in the West Bank and Arab/Palestinians in the country, (which the attackers called “price tag” attacks to exact a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests).  Tension continued between the ultra-Orthodox community and other citizens, including concerns related to service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), housing, public transportation, participation in the workforce, and adherence to COVID-19 regulations.  In its annual Israel Religion and State Index poll of 800 adult Jews published in September, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Hiddush reported that 65 percent of respondents identified as either secular (48 percent) or traditional not religious (17 percent), the same result as in the 2020 poll.

In meetings with Israeli government officials, the Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other U.S. embassy officials stressed the importance of religious pluralism and respect for all religious groups.  Numerous high-level U.S. officials made formal stops at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance site, to keep a public spotlight on antisemitism and highlight religious tolerance.  Senior U.S. officials spoke publicly about the importance of maintaining the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and conveyed this message in meetings with government officials.  Throughout the year, embassy officials used social media platforms to express U.S. support for tolerance and the importance of openness to members of other religious groups.  Embassy-supported initiatives focused on interreligious dialogue and community development and advocated a shared society for Arab and Jewish populations.  The embassy also promoted the reduction of tensions between religious communities and an increase in interreligious communication and partnerships by bringing together representatives of many faith communities to advance shared goals and exchange knowledge and experience, and through engagements aimed at greater integration of the Arab minority into the broader national economy, especially the high-tech sector.

This section of the report covers Israel within the 1949 Armistice Agreement line as well as Golan Heights and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war and where it later extended its domestic law, jurisdiction, and administration.  The United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019.  Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 8.8 million (midyear 2021).  According to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) classification system (2020 data), approximately 73 percent of the population is Jewish, 18 percent Muslim, 2 percent Christian, and 1.6 percent Druze.  The remaining 5 percent consists of those the CBS classifies as “other.”  This includes those who identify as Jewish but do not satisfy the Orthodox Jewish definition of “Jewish” that the government uses for civil procedures, such as many immigrants from the former Soviet Union.  There are also relatively small communities of Samaritans, Karaite Jews, Messianic Jews, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and members of the Baha’i Faith.  The majority of non-Jewish citizens are of Arab/Palestinian origin.  This includes approximately 77 percent of the country’s 182,000 Christians, according to the CBS as of December.  Non-Arab/Palestinian Christians are mainly those who emigrated from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s as descendants of Jews or alongside Jewish family members and their descendants.

According to the annual religion and state poll conducted by religious freedom NGO Hiddush, 57 percent of Jewish citizens do not affiliate with any religious group, 19 percent are “Zionist Orthodox,” 11 percent “ultra-Orthodox,” 6 percent “Reform,” 5 percent “Conservative,” and 2 percent “National Orthodox.”

The Arab/Palestinian Muslim, Druze, and Christian communities are located throughout the country.  In the Galilee region, some communities are homogenous, while others feature a mix of these groups.  There are dozens of Muslim-majority communities in the Negev.  In addition to an Alawite community in Ghajar, there are several Druze communities in the Golan Heights.

In 2019, the most recent year for which results are available, the CBS and the Jerusalem Institute estimated 563,200 Jews, 345,800 Muslims, and 16,150 Christians lived in the current municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, accounting for approximately 99 percent of the city’s total population of 936,400 as of 2019.

According to government and NGO data, there are approximately 330,000 foreign workers in the country, including 97,000 documented Palestinian workers; 31,000 undocumented Palestinian workers; 98,000 migrant workers with permits, 77,000 non-Palestinian undocumented workers (either migrant workers without a permit or tourists who overstayed their visa); and 31,000 asylum seekers, of whom an unknown number work.  Foreign workers and asylum seekers include Protestants, Roman Catholics, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, Orthodox Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims.  According to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Catholics among the foreign worker population include 19,000 Filipinos, 15,000 Indians, 5,655 Sri Lankans, 2,500 Colombians, and 1,100 individuals from other South American countries.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Although the country has no constitution, a series of “Basic Laws” enumerate fundamental rights, which serve as the country’s constitutional foundation.  The 1992 Basic Law:  Human Dignity and Liberty describes the country as a “Jewish and democratic state” and references the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, which protects freedom to practice or not practice religious beliefs, including freedom of conscience, faith, religion, and worship, regardless of an individual’s religion.  The law incorporates religious freedom provisions of international human rights covenants into the country’s body of domestic law, which applies to citizens and Palestinian residents.

The Basic Law:  Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People (Nation State Law)” recognizes “the exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel” as “unique to the Jewish People” and calls for promotion of “Jewish settlement” as a national value.  The law recommends – but does not require – that judges use Jewish jurisprudence and heritage as a source of legal principles in cases in which there is no relevant legislation or judicial precedent.

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is the supreme religious authority in the country and the law provides its council with authorities to handle Jewish religious services and rule on matters involving halacha (Jewish religious law).  The Council of the Chief Rabbinate consists of Orthodox rabbis chosen by an assembly of rabbis, local government leaders, government ministers, and laypersons appointed by the government.

Until March 1, the Chief Rabbinate retained the sole authority to issue certificates of conversion to Judaism within the country under Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law, although the government provided funding for both Orthodox and non-Orthodox conversion programs.  Relatives of Jewish converts could not receive residency rights, except for the children of converts born after the parent’s conversion was complete.  On March 1, the Supreme Court ruled that the government must recognize Conservative and Reform conversions performed in the country for the purpose of immigration, citizenship, and registration.

The Population and Immigration Authority of the Ministry of Interior (MOI) recognizes Conservative and Reform conversions in the country for the purpose of being registered as Jewish in the population registry.  However, those who convert through a non-Orthodox denomination, whether inside or outside the country, are not able to obtain such religious services as marriage, divorce, or burial in a Jewish cemetery.  Descendants of Jews qualify for immigration under this law regardless of the religious beliefs under which they were raised.  The law considers those who were eligible for immigration and converted as adults to another religious tradition, including Messianic Judaism, as no longer eligible for benefits under the Law of Return.

The Law of Return provides the right for any Jew, including those who converted to Judaism, or any child or grandchild of a Jew, to immigrate from a foreign country with his or her spouse and children.  Under the law, the minor children of a grandchild of a Jew receive humanitarian status but are not automatically granted citizenship.  Non-Jews who are not descendants of Jews do not have this route to immigration.  Under this law, those who completed an Orthodox Jewish conversion inside or outside the country are entitled to immigration, citizenship, and registration as Jews in the civil population registry.  Those who completed conversion to Judaism in a recognized community outside the country, regardless of affiliation, are eligible for these benefits even if they are not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate; this would include Reform, Conservative, and other affiliations of Judaism.

The law recognizes only Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the Druze faith, and the Baha’i Faith.  Christian religious communities recognized according to the adopted Ottoman millet (court) system include Eastern Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Chaldean (Chaldean Uniate Catholic), Greek Catholic Melkite, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, and Evangelical Episcopal.  The Anglican and Baha’i communities are recognized through a British Mandate-era law adopted by the government.  The government does not recognize other religious communities, including major Protestant denominations with a presence in the country, as distinct religious communities.  The two legal pathways to formal recognition, according to laws adopted from the British Mandate period, include petitioning either the Prime Minister’s Office or the MOI.  Groups may appeal rejected applications to the Supreme Court.

Recognized religious communities are exempt from taxation of places of worship and may have separate courts to apply their religion’s personal status laws.  Municipalities may levy property taxes on religious properties not used for prayer, such as schools, monasteries, pilgrim hostels, and soup kitchens.

Legislation establishes religious councils for Jewish communities and for the Druze.  The Ministry of Religious Services (MRS) has jurisdiction over the country’s 133 Jewish religious councils that oversee the provision of religious services for Jewish communities.  The government finances approximately 40 percent of the religious councils’ budgets, and local municipalities fund the remainder.  The MOI Department of Non-Jewish Affairs has jurisdiction over religious matters concerning non-Jewish groups and oversees the religious council for the Druze.  The Department of Non-Jewish Affairs annually convenes an interreligious council of all recognized religions, including Judaism, which serves as a discussion forum for recognized religious communities.  The council did not meet in 2021 and 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the last meeting took place in 2019, and it is planned to convene again in 2022.

The law criminalizes the damage, destruction, or desecration of religious sites (subject to seven years’ imprisonment) and actions that “harm the freedom of access” of worshippers to religious sites (subject to five years’ imprisonment).  Certain religious sites considered antiquities receive further protection under the antiquities law.  The Ministry of Tourism is responsible for the protection and upkeep of selected non-Jewish religious sites, while the MRS protects and maintains selected Jewish religious sites.  The law also provides for up to five years’ imprisonment for actions “likely to violate the feelings of the members of the different religions” regarding their religious sites.  The law grants the government, not the courts, the authority to decide the scope of the right to worship at certain religious sites.

The law criminalizes willfully and unjustly disturbing any meeting of persons lawfully assembled for religious worship or assaulting someone at such a meeting.  It also criminalizes intentionally destroying, damaging, or desecrating any object held sacred by any group of persons, with punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for violations.  Government regulations recognize 16 sites as holy places for Jews, while various other budgetary and governmental authorities recognize an additional 160 places as holy for Jews.

The law criminalizes calling for, praising, supporting, or encouraging acts of violence or terrorism where such actions are likely to lead to violence, including calls for violence against religious groups.  The law criminalizes statements demeaning, degrading, or showing violence toward someone based on race, but provides an exception for statements citing a religious source, unless there is proof of intent to incite racism.  The infliction of “injury to religious sentiments” constitutes a criminal offense and is punishable by one year’s imprisonment.  Such injury includes publishing or saying something that is liable to offend the religious sentiment or faith of others.

The law states that acts of enmity towards a person or a group due to religious affiliation with or membership in a religious group are considered offenses under aggravating circumstances, and penalties are set at double the penalty for the original offense or 10 years imprisonment, whichever is the lesser penalty.

The Jordanian Waqf in Jerusalem administers the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, while the Jordanian Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Holy Places supports maintenance and salary of the Waqf staff in Jerusalem.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled since 1993 that Jews have the right to pray on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, but police may restrict this right in the name of public order and safety.  The court reiterated in 2019 that its precedent on this issue is nonintervention in government decisions, “except in highly unusual cases when the decision constitutes a major distortion of justice or is extremely unreasonable.”  The court upheld this position again in a decision in 2020.

The law prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to refer to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the country’s 1948 War of Independence.  Activities forbidden by the law include rejection of the existence of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” or commemorating “Israel’s Independence Day or the day on which the State was established as a day of mourning.”

The law requires citizens to obtain a permit from the MOI or the Prime Minister for travel to countries with no diplomatic relations with Israel, including Hajj travel to Saudi Arabia; the government issues these permits in the vast majority of cases.  Illegal travel is punishable by a prison sentence or fine if the traveler does not request prior approval.

It is illegal to proselytize to a person younger than 18 without the consent of both parents.  The law prohibits offering a material benefit to potential converts while proselytizing.

The government provides separate public schools for Jewish and Arab/Palestinian children, with instruction conducted in Hebrew and Arabic, respectively.  For Jewish children there are separate public schools available for religious and secular families.  Individual families may choose any public school for their children regardless of ethnicity or religious observance.  Minor children have the right to choose a public secular school instead of a religious school regardless of parental preference.  By law, the state provides the equivalent of public school funding to two systems of “recognized but not official” (a form of semiprivate) ultra-Orthodox religious schools affiliated with ultra-Orthodox political parties, the United Torah Judaism-affiliated Independent Education System and the Shas-affiliated Fountain of Torah Education System.

Churches receive partial government funding to operate “recognized but not official” schools.  Palestinian residents in Jerusalem may send their children to one of these church schools or a private school operated by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf; both include religious instruction.  Some Israeli-funded public schools in Jerusalem use the Palestinian Authority (PA) curriculum.  Religious education is part of the PA curriculum for students in grades one through six in these schools, with separate courses on religion for Muslims and Christians.  Students in these schools may choose which class to take but may not opt out of religion courses.

The Chief Rabbinate determines who may be buried in Jewish state cemeteries, limiting this right to individuals considered Jewish by Orthodox Jewish standards.  The law provides for the right of any individual to burial in a civil ceremony and requires the government to establish civil cemeteries in various areas around the country.  The law criminalizes the intentional desecration of, or trespass on, places of burial, which is punishable by three years’ imprisonment.

Laws inherited from the Ottoman Empire and British Mandate periods establish the legal authority of religious courts operated by officially recognized religious communities over their members in matters of marriage, divorce, and burial.  The law allows for civil registration of two persons as a married couple outside of the religious court system only if they married outside the country or if the partners are of different religions and their respective religious courts do not object to a civil registration, or if both partners are listed as “lacking religion” in the population registry.  A law mandating women’s equality contains language that explicitly exempts matters of marriage, divorce, and appointments to religious positions.

The only domestic marriages with legal standing and that may be registered are those performed according to the religious statutes of recognized religious communities.  Marriages performed outside of the country may be registered with the MOI.  Members of some unrecognized groups may process their personal status documents, including marriage licenses, only through the authorities of one of the recognized religious communities, if those authorities agree.

The law imposes a two-year prison sentence for persons who conduct a marriage or are married in a Jewish wedding or divorce outside the Chief Rabbinate’s authority in the country.

Religious courts have exclusive jurisdiction over divorce cases when the husband and wife are registered with the same recognized religion.  Members of religious groups not permitting divorce, such as Catholics, may not obtain a divorce.  Paternity cases among Muslim citizens are the exclusive jurisdiction of sharia courts.  Civil courts have jurisdiction over personal status cases when religious courts lack jurisdiction, as in cases of interfaith and same-sex couples.

Matters stemming from divorce proceedings, including alimony, child support, child custody, guardianship, and property division, are under the parallel jurisdiction of religious and civil courts.  The first court to receive a case acquires exclusive jurisdiction over it.  The Jordanian Waqf administers Islamic courts in Jerusalem for Muslim residents, with the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in Jordan having appellate authority.

In accordance with halacha, a Jewish woman whose husband refuses to give her a get (Jewish legal writ of divorce) may not legally remarry in the country.  While a rabbinical court may order a husband to give a get, it does not have the power to terminate the marriage if he refuses.  In such cases, rabbinical courts may impose community-based punishments on the husband, including avoiding financial dealings with a get-refuser, excluding him from community activities, and advertising these decisions to the public.  The law permits rabbinical courts to hear cases of get refusals in which the spouses are not Israeli citizens, if certain other conditions are met (for example, if the couple lives abroad in a location where there is no rabbinical court).

Secular courts have primary jurisdiction over questions of inheritance, but parties may file such cases in religious courts by mutual agreement.  Decisions by these bodies are subject to Supreme Court review.  The rabbinical courts, when exercising their power in civil matters, apply religious law, which differs from civil law, including in matters relating to the property rights of widows and daughters.  A child born to a woman still married to another man is considered a mamzer (child of an unpermitted relationship) under Jewish law, which restricts the child’s future marriage prospects in the observant Jewish community.

Military service is compulsory for Jewish citizens, male Druze citizens, and male Circassian citizens (Muslims originally from the northwestern Caucasus region who migrated in the late nineteenth century).  The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) do not consider conscientious objection on the basis of religious belief as a reason for exemption from military service.

Religious Jewish women and ultra-Orthodox men may request an exemption from military service.  For most ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Druze religious students, military service is postponed for several years, after which they receive an exemption.  A petition on the conscription of ultra-Orthodox men was pending at the Supreme Court as of the year’s end.  Arab Muslims and Christians as well as Druze and Circassian women receive a de-facto exemption by not being called for military service.  Those exempt from military service may volunteer for it or for national civil service.  Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses are not eligible for the national civil service program.

Membership in a recognized religion is recorded in the National Registry and generally passed from parents to children unless a person changes it through a formal conversion to another recognized religion.  Religious identification is listed in the National Registry but not on official identity cards.

All citizens who meet the Chief Rabbinate’s criteria as “Jewish” under Jewish religious law are recorded as Jewish, whether Orthodox or not (unless they convert to another religion).  Approximately 450,000 citizens who identify as Jewish but do not meet the Chief Rabbinate’s criteria as “Jewish” as well as members of religious groups that are not recognized are recorded as “lacking religion.”  The vast majority are immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their children, who gained citizenship under the Law of Return but are not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate because they cannot prove they meet the Orthodox definition of Jewish through matrilineal descent.

The Law of Citizenship and Entry, first passed in 2003 and renewed annually, explicitly prohibited residence status for non-Jewish Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, including those who are spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, unless the MOI makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds.

The law declares in the context of labor rights that Shabbat and Jewish holidays are national days of rest, while permitting non-Jewish workers alternate days of rest.  The law criminalizes (up to one month imprisonment) employers who open their businesses and employ Jews on Shabbat, except those who are self-employed.  There are exceptions for essential infrastructure and the hospitality, culture, and recreation industries.  The law instructs the Minister of Labor and Welfare to take into account “Israel’s traditions,” among other factors, when considering whether to approve permits to work on Shabbat.  The law prohibits discrimination against workers who refuse to work on their day of rest based on their religion and regardless of whether they are religiously observant.

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation, including against employees, contractors, or persons seeking employment based on age, race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, and disability.

The law states that public transportation operated and funded by the national government may not operate on Shabbat, with exceptions for vehicles bringing passengers to hospitals, remote localities, and non-Jewish localities and for vehicles essential to public security or maintaining public transportation services.

The Chief Rabbinate has sole legal authority to issue certificates of kashrut (i.e., complying with Jewish dietary laws), which certify a restaurant or factory’s adherence to Jewish dietary laws.  Businesses are allowed to display a declaration regarding the kashrut standards they observe and the organization that supervises those standards but may not use the words “kosher” or “certificate” without a kashrut license from the rabbinate.  The Chief Rabbinate has the authority to indicate businesses that violate this law.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with a reservation stating that matters of personal status are governed by the religious law of the parties concerned and the country reserves the right to apply that religious law when inconsistent with its obligations under the covenant.

Government Practices

Because religious and national identities were often closely linked, it was often difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

In September, the Lod District Court sentenced Zion Cohen to three years in prison for carrying out a series of bomb attacks on rabbinical courts; it also ordered him to pay a 10,000-shekel ($3,200) fine.  Authorities arrested Cohen in 2020 in connection with the attacks.  Cohen confessed and said his aim was to prevent the courts providing religious services to the secular public to further his goal of separating religion and state.

On June 9, according to press reports, police arrested 12 demonstrators who threw heavy objects towards them in a protest by a small ultra-Orthodox sect near Bar-Ilan Street in Jerusalem; the group was protesting the construction of part of the city’s light rail system through an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.  On August 24, approximately 300 ultra-Orthodox demonstrators gathered at the Bar-Ilan junction intersection, blocking the road, to protest the light rail line’s construction.  Police used water cannons to disperse the crowd.  Authorities said that they arrested four individuals for disturbing the peace and that one police officer was injured by pepper spray.  According to press, the protesters said the construction of the rail line was a “decree of expulsion and annihilation” aimed at Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community.

Clashes broke out in April and May with “Day of Rage” demonstrations throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem against Israeli actions in Sheikh Jarrah, Damascus Gate, and the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  The Palestinian National and Islamic Factions in the West Bank called on Palestinians across West Bank cities, villages, and refugee camps to participate in a “Day of Rage” on May 11 to protest actions by Israeli security forces and Israelis living in East Jerusalem against Palestinians at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound and in Sheikh Jarrah.

According to press and NGO monitors, multiple events related to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount contributed, along with other factors, to escalations resulting in unrest and conflict across Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.  On April 13, on the evening of the first day of Ramadan, media and Waqf officials reported that the Israeli National Police entered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and disconnected loudspeakers used for the call to prayer after the Waqf’s call to prayer disrupted an official Memorial Day service for fallen soldiers attended by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the adjacent Western Wall Plaza.

On June 17, the government charged a police officer, whose name was not released, with reckless homicide in the 2020 killing of Iyad Halak, an autistic Palestinian man, in Jerusalem’s Old City.  Following an investigation, the Ministry of Justice said that Halak had not posed any danger to police.  At Halak’s funeral, the press reported that mourners chanted, “Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews, the army of [the Prophet] Mohammed will return,” a taunt referring to the seventh century Muslim massacre and expulsion of the Jews of Khaybar.

During the last Friday of Ramadan on May 7, Israeli police entered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount using teargas, stun grenades, and rubber tipped bullets to disperse Palestinians they said were throwing rocks.  Media reported that in the aftermath, Palestinians stockpiled stones on the compound for use against the police and far-right Israeli nationalists planning to march through the Old City.  On May 10, Israeli police entered the compound again and used stun grenades, teargas, and rubber tipped bullets to disperse Palestinians.  The Palestinian Red Crescent said that more than 300 individuals suffered injuries.  In an attempt to ease tensions and reduce potential for clashes, Israeli police temporarily barred non-Muslims from visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.

On December 13, authorities released Raed Salah, the head of the outlawed northern branch of the Islamic Movement, from Megiddo Prison, where he served 17 months of a 28-month sentence for incitement to terrorism in 2019 when he preached at the funeral for three terrorists who were involved in the killing of police officers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.  A crowd of approximately 1,000 supporters greeted Salah upon his return to his home in Umm al-Fahm.  On December 20, Knesset member (MK) Mazen Ghnaim, a member of the Ra’am Party and the ruling coalition, met with Salah, which caused opposition politicians to state that Ghnaim was “supporting terrorism.”

On February 2, former Yitzhar settlement Yeshiva Rabbi Yosef Elitzur was convicted of incitement to violence for publishing articles in 2013 calling on Jews to rise up against Palestinian violence and calling on authorities not to arrest those who committed violent hate-filled attacks against Palestinians in what the attackers called “price tag” attacks (attacks with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions by the government contrary to the attackers’ interests).  According to the prosecution, Elitzur was also one of the authors of a book stating the killing of non-Jews is permitted according to halacha.  On March 18, Elitzur was sentenced to four months’ probation and a fine.  On May 5, the prosecution appealed the sentence, and demanded a sentence of nine months’ imprisonment.  The appeal was pending as of the year’s end.

The government continued to allow controlled access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.  The government expressed continued support for the post-1967 status quo pertaining to the site to allow non-Muslim visitors but prohibit non-Islamic worship there, while stating that Israel respected Jordan’s “special role” at the site, as reflected in the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty.  The Waqf said that Israeli authorities continued to interfere in the Waqf’s administration of the site, including delaying longstanding maintenance and restoration work.  Israeli officials and activists again stated the Waqf sometimes attempted to conduct repairs without coordinating with Israeli authorities.  In addition to the police banning individual Waqf staff members from the site, the Waqf said that it had a reduced capacity to administer the site because Israeli authorities refused to grant permits to new staff hired to work there, leaving the Waqf seriously understaffed.

On October 5, the Jerusalem Magistrate Court ruled that “silent Jewish prayer” on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount did not violate existing police rules on the site.  The ruling was in response to a case involving a 15-day administrative restraining order against a man whom police had removed from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount on September 29 on grounds that he disturbed public order by engaging in Jewish prayer.  The judge ruled that silent prayer “does not in itself violate police instructions,” which prohibit “external and overt” non-Islamic prayer on the site.  Al-Monitor said the Magistrate’s Court’s ruling was “unprecedented” and “seem[ed] to question the status quo that has prevailed over the site.”  The Jerusalem District Court overturned the lower court’s ruling on October 8, ruling that the INP had acted “within reason,” and “the fact that there was someone who observed [him] pray is evidence that his prayer was overt.”  Minister of Public Security Omer Bar-Lev supported the appeal, saying “a change in the status quo will endanger public security and could cause a flare-up.”  The Waqf said the lower court’s ruling was “a flagrant violation” of the complex’s sanctity and a “clear provocation” for Muslims.

In April during the beginning of Ramadan, Israeli authorities restricted the number of Palestinians allowed to enter Jerusalem from the West Bank for the purpose of traveling to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount to 10,000 vaccinated persons because of “high morbidity rates” from coronavirus in the West Bank.  Israeli military authorities said the measures were to allow freedom of worship and religion, while also preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the area.

In December, the press reported that a religious extremist group had invoked halachic law in calling for the killing of Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana.  Haaretz said the exact identity of the group was unknown, but other sources stated it was “a religious extremist fringe group.”  According to the newspaper, sources tied the threats to Kahana to several religious reforms he promoted, including regarding conversions, kashrut certification, a compromise with non-Orthodox Jewish movements on an egalitarian (mixed gender) prayer space at the Western Wall, and his participation in a government that excluded ultra-Orthodox parties.  The country’s security service, Shin Bet, stated it viewed the threat as an immediate danger to Kahana and ordered bodyguards and security for the Minister as soon as the threat was discovered.

On June 22, Channel 13 News reported that Minister of Public Security Omer Bar Lev (Labor) and Chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Ram Ben Barak (Yesh Atid) requested assistance from the Attorney General and the Minister of Defense in defining as a terror organization Lehava (an acronym for “prevention of assimilation in the Holy Land,” which also translates as “flame”), described by press as a radical right-wing Jewish supremacist group.  These officials further asked the Minister of Defense and the Attorney General to outlaw Lehava as well as the registered NGO that funds it, The Fund for Saving the People of Israel.  According to the Anti-Terrorism Law, the Minister of Defense, with the approval of the Attorney General, has the authority to designate an organization as a terrorist group.  On September 12, a group of prominent rabbis, described in the press as religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox, signed a petition protesting this initiative, stating that Lehava was within its rights to protest intermarriage, acted in accordance with the law and the Torah, and was not involved in violence or illegal activity.  Following the petition, NGO Tag Meir, an umbrella of Jewish groups working to monitor and counter hate crimes and religion-based racism in the country, urged the government to declare Lehava a terrorist organization.

Due to elections in March and the change in government in June, the Supreme Court postponed until January 6, 2022, the implementation of a 2017 verdict that struck down the exemption of ultra-Orthodox men from military service.  This was the 10th time the court postponed the implementation.  On August 22, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a draft bill calling for the gradual increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox men serving in the IDF.  The bill includes yearly benchmarks for ultra-Orthodox serving in the military and a deduction in government support for yeshivas if those benchmarks are not achieved.

While some ultra-Orthodox communities stated that mandatory conscription was a violation of the right to conscientious objection on the basis of religious beliefs, the Ministry of Defense rejected this argument.  The IDF reported increasing numbers of ultra-Orthodox recruits since at least 2011, mainly into dedicated ultra-Orthodox units such as the Netzah Yehuda Battalion.

Authorities continued to allow use of a temporary platform south of the Mughrabi Bridge and adjacent to the Western Wall, but not visible from the main Western Wall Plaza, for non-Orthodox “egalitarian” (mixed gender) Jewish prayers.  Authorities designated the platform for members of the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism, including for religious ceremonies such as bar and bat mitzvahs.  On November 4, the Supreme Court criticized the government for its lack of progress upgrading the area to a more permanent egalitarian prayer space.  On December 7, the government told the Supreme Court it intended to continue to upgrade the egalitarian plaza but did not mention steps it would take towards further equality and recognition included in the 2016 Western Wall Agreement.  The 2016 agreement was a compromise between Orthodox and non-Orthodox communities, which the government “froze” in 2017, that included the construction of a permanent plaza for mixed gender prayer managed by non-Orthodox groups, and a merged entry to all prayer spaces adjacent to the Western Wall.  The government requested to update the court on developments within six months.

The Supreme Court case was a combination of lawsuits against the government, some dating back to 2013, that would allow prayer for all religious streams of Judaism at the Western Wall.  It resulted in the 2016 Western Wall Agreement.  In 2018, a special government committee approved expansion of the temporary platform for members of the Conservative and Reform movements.  The non-Orthodox Jewish movements stated that upgrading the prayer space alone would not fulfill their 2016 agreement with the government.  In addition, observers stated that scaffolding prevented visitors from touching the sacred wall in the egalitarian prayer space since a rock fell there in 2018.  Over the same period, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation managed large construction projects in the main plaza, making routine inspections for loose rocks at the main plaza without blocking access to the wall.

On September 2, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by female rabbis demanding structural improvements to prevent collapse of the Mughrabi Bridge (the only entrance for non-Muslims to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, that crosses over the women’s section of the main Western Wall Plaza); the court accepted the state’s argument that it was taking action to restore the wooden beams on metal bases which support the bridge.  The court added, “in a place like the Temple Mount, where any change could lead to political or security turbulence, the decision of state institutions to not change the existing situation on the ground is a practical and reasonable decision in which there is no room to intervene.”

In November and December, the press reported that despite the government’s declared intention to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, the proposal appeared to be losing support within the ruling coalition.  Minister of Religious Affairs Kahana said the vast majority of Jews in Israel were Orthodox and that it would not be right to give control of parts of the space to the Conservative and Reform streams.  Kahana said the issue “must be studied, to see how we resolve the [religious] wars.”  Other members of the cabinet continued to publicly support the plan.  According to Haaretz, the two key components of the proposal were creating a new and enhanced space on the southern side of the Western Wall for egalitarian prayer and providing official recognition to the Conservative and Reform movements at the site.  The newspaper reported that “the disagreements [were] about that second component.”  Under the government’s original plan, a new authority would have been created to govern the egalitarian space and representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements would sit on its board.  However, Haaretz reported that two Orthodox members of the cabinet, Kahana and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, found this unacceptable and suggested that the egalitarian prayer space continue to operate under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office or, alternatively, be handed over for supervision to the Jewish Agency.  Leaders of the non-Orthodox movements rejected that plan.  At year’s end, the government had taken no action to move the proposed changes forward.

Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site, including Jewish activists believed to have violated the status quo understanding prohibiting non-Islamic prayer, Muslims believed to have verbally harassed or acted violently against non-Muslim visitors to the site or incited others to violence, and public figures whose presence authorities feared would inflame tensions.  Banned individuals included Waqf guards and administrative and maintenance staff and imams delivering sermons at the site, as well as prominent activists.  The Israeli government said that some individuals – including both Muslims and Jews – were prevented access to the site during the year because they could have caused disturbances and riots.  The government said Israeli security prevented access to the site for 389 Muslims and 99 Jews during 2021 due to previous incidents of public disorder at the site, including assaulting or interfering with police, or based on intelligence information.  The Wadi Hilweh Information Center reported that Israeli authorities banned 357 individuals from the site during the year.

While the government stated it was rare for any individual to be barred entry to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, human rights and civil society organizations said Israeli authorities banned some Palestinian residents in the occupied territories, and Arab/Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel from the site.  Palestinian civil society organizations said that, in a practice that began in 2020, police continued to check the identify cards of individuals entering the Old City to visit the site for Friday prayers and would bar from entry those with West Bank identity cards and return them to the West Bank.  In May, media reported that Israeli police blocked several buses of Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel outside of Jerusalem from visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.  Police said they stopped the buses because they had intelligence indicating some of the passengers were planning to riot at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.

At the main Western Wall Plaza, the place of Jewish worship nearest the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and Judaism’s holiest site, the government continued to prohibit the performance of any “religious ceremony that is not in accordance with the customs of the place, [or] which harms the feelings of the public towards the place.”  Authorities interpreted this prohibition to include mixed-gender Jewish prayer services, over the objections of the Jewish Conservative and Reform movements.  The organization Women of the Wall, whose membership is composed of mostly Reform and Conservative Jewish women and whose goal is to secure the official right for women to pray at the Western Wall, stated that their monthly presence at the wall for more than 30 years had established them as part of the “customs of the place.”

Authorities continued to prohibit visitors from bringing private Torah scrolls to the main Western Wall Plaza and women from accessing the public Torah scrolls or giving priestly blessings at the site.  Authorities, however, permitted women to pray with tefillin and prayer shawls pursuant to a 2013 Jerusalem District Court ruling stating it was illegal to arrest or fine them for such actions.  On several occasions, MK Gilad Kariv (Labor) used his parliamentary immunity to bring Torah scrolls for the use of Women of the Wall and referred to the prohibition as illegal.

Within COVID-19 limitations, authorities allowed Women of the Wall to hold its monthly service in a barricaded portion of the women’s area of the main Western Wall Plaza.  Ultra-Orthodox protesters harassed and attacked Women of the Wall members repeatedly during their monthly services by throwing coffee or bottles at them, screaming, cursing, blowing whistles, or pushing them.

Representatives of Women of the Wall said police or ushers from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the main Western Wall Plaza and which is ultra-Orthodox-run, were reluctant to intervene when ultra-Orthodox women and men disrupted the women’s monthly prayer service with screaming, whistling, and pushing.  Ahead of a November 5 service held by Women of the Wall, tension rose when former Shas MK Aryeh Deri called MKs and the public to attend the service and prevent MK Kariv from bringing Torah scrolls to the women’s section, which Deri said would be a “desecration of the Western Wall.”  The Western Wall Heritage Fund announced it would not take responsibility for maintaining public order at the plaza, leading to increased INP presence the day of the service.  With President Isaac Herzog’s intervention, and his promise to hold a meeting on non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall, most MKs refrained from attending the service at the Western Wall on November 5.  MK Ben Gvir of the Religious Zionist Party still attended to protest against the Women of the Wall, expressing outrage that police confronted protesters who attempted to reach the women who were conducting services at the site.  According to the NGO Israel Religion Action Center (IRAC), INP and the Western Wall Heritage Fund guards confronted Women of the Wall during the service.  The President held a meeting on pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall on December 1.

A 2017 petition to the Supreme Court by Women of the Wall asking that ushers and police prevent disruption of their services was pending at year’s end.

In May, the Jerusalem Municipality opened a parking lot on property it had leased from the Armenian Church in 2020.  In July, the Church signed a new contract with the Jerusalem Municipality extending the lease for 99 years, and the municipality announced that a Jewish-Australian developer would construct a new hotel on the property.  Palestinians widely criticized the Church for leasing the property to the municipality, including public statements by PA figures.  PA Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Riyad Malki raised the transaction with his Armenian counterpart and asked for Armenian Foreign Ministry assistance in pressuring the Church to cancel the lease.  Malki characterized the deal as opening the door for “the gradual encroachment of Israel’s settler-colonialism into the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem,” and said it “risks accelerating the obliteration of the Palestinian, Muslim, and Christian character of Jerusalem.”

On February 24, the Supreme Court ordered the government to answer a series of questions by April 22 regarding its plan to build an aerial cable car over a Karaite (a Jewish religious movement) cemetery in Jerusalem.  This order was in response to petitions filed by the Karaite community, the NGO Emek Shaveh, and the NGO Israel Union for Environmental Defense from 2019 and 2020.  According to the Karaite community, the cable car would desecrate the cemetery, thus preventing its further use.  The government stated the cable car was meant to solve accessibility problems to holy sites such as the Western Wall, but some NGOs said the project was meant to specifically promote Jewish touristic sites in East Jerusalem and to reinforce the country’s claims of sovereignty over the area.  Despite respective statements by Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg on November 26 and December 13 opposing the project, the government told the Supreme Court on December 28 that it supported the construction of the cable car.  The petition was pending at year’s end.

In October, Palestinian demonstrators sporadically clashed with the INP after the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority began landscaping work on public land adjacent to the Islamic al-Yusufiya Cemetery and unearthed human remains in a shallow grave.  The cemetery, which is hundreds of years old, is affiliated with the Islamic Waqf.  Multiple graves and headstones are located in the disputed area adjacent to the cemetery, some dating from Jordanian control of Jerusalem and others allegedly from recent burials conducted without authorization.  According to an October 11 report in Haaretz, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said, “This territory is a national park and open public space, outside the Muslim cemetery.  The Muslim Waqf, unlawfully and in violation of court orders, placed several graves there.  During works with the Jerusalem Development Authority to develop the open public space, a shallow dig was uncovered with several bones in it.  The matter is being investigated.  The works at the site are ongoing under court orders.”  On October 17, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court rejected requests submitted by the Committee for the Care of Islamic Cemeteries in Jerusalem to suspend bulldozing and exhuming graves on the site.  However, the court restricted construction activity to only light work, such as covering ground, placing grids, and gardening, and prohibited demolition, excavation, casting, or drilling.  Authorities did not allow construction that would impact any graves at the site.  On October 28, Israeli authorities fenced the walls surrounding the area and installed surveillance cameras.  On October 29, police deployed stun grenades and tear gas to disperse demonstrators who threw rocks at the site.  The PA President’s advisor for religious and Islamic affairs described the bulldozing as an ongoing crime against the cemetery, while the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem stated that “no tomb was damaged during the works, and there is no intention to displace any grave, even if built illegally.”

Some former mosques and Islamic cemeteries remained sealed and inaccessible, including to Muslims.  These sites belonged to the defunct pre-state Waqf (distinct from the current Jordanian-administered Waqf in Jerusalem) until confiscated by the state after the 1948 War of Independence.  Other former mosques continued to be used for secular purposes.

Government restrictions on gathering for prayer varied due to the COVID-19 pandemic and included limitations on the number of worshippers at the Western Wall as well as requiring a “Green Pass,” which indicated a person’s vaccination status, to enter synagogues.

In June, before taking office as Minister of Finance, Avigdor Lieberman said that raising the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the workforce would be one of his main goals.  In particular, he said bringing ultra-Orthodox men into the labor force would be a major challenge.  According to the Jerusalem Post, at the beginning of 2020, approximately 53 percent of ultra-Orthodox men were employed, compared with more than 85 percent of non-ultra-Orthodox men.  According to Reuters, those ultra-Orthodox men who did not work in paid employment were devoted full-time to religious studies and relied on government allowances and handouts from donors.  Lieberman said, “We will do everything to provide them [the ultra-Orthodox] an education and enable them to learn a profession and stand on their own two feet, as opposed to [depending on] charity and all the stipends.”

On July 7, in office as Finance Minister, Lieberman revoked the eligibility of fathers studying full-time in yeshivas for childcare subsidies, a move which, according to press coverage, enraged ultra-Orthodox political leaders.  According to the decision, to be eligible for such subsidies, fathers would need to work or study in a nonreligious educational institute for at least 24 hours a week, which would preclude full-time yeshiva study.  Lieberman said the changes were designed to prioritize “those who work and pay taxes.”  United Torah Judaism party leader Moshe Gafni called Lieberman “an evil man” for the policy change, while Shas party chairman Deri described the decision as “destructive and wicked.”  In response, Lieberman said, “Those who are harming the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] community are the MKs of Shas and United Torah Judaism.  They want to leave the entire Haredi public without a living, so that they will remain dependent on handouts and financial assistance all their lives.”  After the new policy was formally announced in August, lawyers and ultra-Orthodox organizations filed court petitions against the policy shift as discriminatory against the ultra-Orthodox.  The implementation of the plan was initially delayed until November and then until the new year.  On November 10, a Supreme Court panel rejected the ultra-Orthodox organizations’ request for an interim order on the policy itself but issued an interim order that required the government to explain the basis for its authority to change the rules regarding subsidies for ultra-Orthodox childcare after the school year had already started in September.  The case remained pending at year’s end.

The security barrier that divided the majority of the West Bank from the rest of the country also divided some communities in Jerusalem, affecting residents’ access to places of worship.  The government stated that the barrier was needed for security reasons.

Several groups, including religious minorities and human rights NGOs, continued to criticize the Nation State Law.  On July 8, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 10-to-one, rejected 15 petitions challenging the Nation State Law.  According to the court’s opinion, the law should be interpreted in a way that does not detract from individual or cultural rights at the subnational level and the provisions of the Nation State Law do not diminish “the components of the state’s democratic identity that are anchored in other Basic Laws.”  The ruling further stated that, although some of the provisions of the law raise “difficulties,” it should be interpreted in light of the country’s other basic laws, in particular the basic laws on the Knesset, on human dignity and liberty, and on freedom of occupation, which specifically address the dual character of the country as a Jewish and democratic state.  Haaretz reported that the law had been “lambasted for the absence of the words ‘equality’ and ‘democracy’ in the text.”  Justice Minister Gideon Saar said that the court recognized “the essence and character of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.”  The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights said the decision “enshrined Jewish supremacy and racial segregation as founding principles of the Israeli regime.”

On November 4, the Knesset approved the state budget, which included 40 million shekels ($12.91 million) for Conservative and Reform Judaism for 2022, to be managed through a new department for Progressive Judaism at the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.  While Progressive Judaism organizations welcomed the funding, the NGO Jewish Pluralism Watch of the Conservative Judaism movement stated the department managing the funds should have been placed in the Ministry of Religious Services, stating that the latter should stop serving Orthodox Judaism only.

In March, NGOs Emek Shaveh and the Arab Culture Association filed a petition with the Supreme Court against the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, demanding that criteria for funding heritage sites by the ministry not exclude non-Jewish sites.  In response, on August 9, the ministry stated it was only responsible for the conservation of Jewish-related heritage while other offices were funding heritage sites of minority populations.  The petition was pending at the year’s end.

In a November 29 meeting with Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, a delegation of representatives of the ultra-Orthodox community asked to discuss “kosher phones,” a special phone service widely used by their community, despite its announced boycott of the government, which does not include ultra-Orthodox members.  The “kosher cellphones” are configured only for calls and text messages, with no Internet access or apps.  Unlike other users, owners of kosher phones are not able to change their provider while keeping their number.  A story in Haaretz said, “But this is not just about numbers.  It’s about the rabbis controlling the free flow of information into their communities.  Without that control, their power over their followers is greatly diminished.”  The Jerusalem Post reported that Hendel had pointed out that “kosher phones” were a sort of fiefdom within Israeli telecommunications; unlike other phone numbers, since “kosher” numbers could not be moved from one company to another, severely limiting competition.

Following the March elections, Gilad Kariv, former head of the national Reform movement, became the first Reform rabbi member of Knesset.  In his first speech in the Knesset on May 5, Kariv said that the “Jewish pluralist renewal,” including his election, elevated the principles of “tolerance, equity, and most importantly, the recognition that there is more than one way to be a Jew.”  He stated that “heavy obstacles” had been put in the way of this renewal, especially “the monopoly over Israeli Judaism that had been given to one particular stream and institution,” a reference to Orthodoxy and the Chief Rabbinate.

On June 28, MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) responded to the appointment of Kariv as the Chair of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, by comparing him as a Reform Jew to a pig pretending to be kosher.  MK Itamar Ben Gvir (Religious Zionism) responded by saying Kariv is the number one enemy of halacha.

On May 4, Rabbi David Yosef of the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem announced he was retiring following a 2020 Women of the Wall and IRAC petition demanding a disciplinary hearing against him, after his repeated alleged incitement against Women of the Wall.  Yosef served as rabbi in a public servant position in which the office holder is required to act in accordance with the civil service regulations.

In 2019, six Orthodox women halacha students and NGOs petitioned the Supreme Court to permit women to take the halacha examinations used to ordain rabbis.  While Orthodox women cannot become rabbis, passing the examinations is equal to receiving a bachelor’s degree and grants an advantage when applying for certain public sector positions.  On October 21, in its response to the petition, the state offered a compromise whereby the Religious Services Ministry would establish “an alternative, independent examination framework” for women and men.  The petitioners opposed the compromise, arguing it further strengthened the existing discrimination against women and constituted a waste of resources.  The petition was pending at the year’s end.  On June 30, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef threatened that the rabbinate would not conduct any exams to ordain state-authorized rabbis, including for men, if the court ruled that women could be ordained in contradiction to halacha.

The government employed an “appropriate representation” policy for non-Jewish minorities in the civil service.  The percentage of Arab/Palestinian employees in the public sector was 13.2 percent (61.5 percent of them entry-level), according to the Civil Service Commission.  The percentage of Arab/Palestinian employees in the 62 government-owned companies was approximately 2.5 percent; however, during the year Arab/Palestinian citizens held 12 percent of director positions in government-owned companies, up from 1 percent in 2000, and Arab/Palestinain workers held 13.2 percent of government positions, up from 5 percent in 2000, according to Sikkuy-Aufoq, an NGO that supports full equality between Jewish and Arab/Palestinian citizens.  Of the 13.2 percent, 68 percent were employed in government health services.

Women’s rights and religious freedom NGOs filed a petition with the Supreme Court on May 12 against the Ministry of Religious Services, demanding appropriate representation for women on religious councils.  According to the petitioners, only eight women served on religious councils nationwide, despite an Attorney General directive from 2016 and a 2017 Ministry of Religious Service directive requiring a minimum representation of 20-33 percent.  According to the petitioners, 80 percent of the councils had no women members.  In August, the government responded to the court, stating the Minister of Religious Affairs was working to promote appropriate representation for women in religious councils. The petition was pending at year’s end.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid, in remarks on July 14 to the Global Forum on Combatting Antisemitism, said that antisemitism was part of a broad family of hatreds and that antisemites start by attacking Jews but “always” move on to focus their hate and violence on other groups as well.  After pointing to the slave trade, the massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda, the deaths of Muslims at the hands of Muslim extremists, and fatal attacks on members of the LGBTQI+ community, Lapid said, “The antisemites are all those who persecute people not for what they’ve done, but for what they are, for how they were born… Antisemitism isn’t the first name of hatred, it’s the family name; it’s all those consumed by hatred to the point that they want to murder and destroy and persecute and banish people just because they’re different.”  According to the Times of Israel, Lapid’s comments “ignited a firestorm of criticism and a fierce left-right dustup in the Hebrew-language media.”  The website reported that “right-wingers, led by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu,” said that Lapid’s comments were “scandalous and irresponsible, warping history and emptying the concept of antisemitism of all content.”  In a July 26 article in Haaretz defending his statement, Lapid wrote, “The State of Israel is in need of a dramatic and fundamental change in direction in its fight against antisemitism, and it must acknowledge that in recent years, it has abjectly failed in that battle.”

The MOI continued to rely on the sole discretion and approval of the Jewish Agency, a parastatal organization, to determine who qualified to immigrate as a Jew or as a descendant of a Jew.  The government continued to deny applications from individuals, including those holding Messianic or other Christian beliefs, whom the government said became ineligible when they converted to another religion.

A group of Orthodox rabbis continued to operate a private conversion court for children of families whom the state or rabbinical courts did not recognize as Jews.  The Chief Rabbinate and MOI continued not to recognize non-Orthodox converts to Judaism as Jews, although they remained eligible for immigration under the Law of Return if they converted outside the country.

After the Supreme Court’s March 1 decision that the government must recognize Conservative and Reform conversions performed in the country, the Jerusalem Post reported that Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yizhak Yosef said, “What Reform and Conservative call ‘conversion’ is nothing but a forgery of Judaism.”  The Times of Israel reported that Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau said that those who undergo Reform or Conservative conversions “are not Jews.”  Saying the decision “was mainly symbolic,” the New York Times cited a report by the Israel Religious Action Center that only 30 or 40 foreigners convert each year.  In a December 6 article, Haaretz stated that of the approximately 80 non-Orthodox converts who applied for citizenship since the ruling, only three had been approved by the Ministry of Interior.  Rabbi Andrew Sacks, the director of the Rabbinical Assembly for the Conservative-Masorti movement, said that the ministry was “slow-walking the implementation of the conversion process.”

The court’s decision became an issue in the campaign for the March 23 election.  Then Prime Minister Netanyahu reposted a tweet that said, the decision [about recognizing conversions] should be left to “the people and the Knesset.”  Then Interior Minister Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, promised to introduce legislation to ensure only Orthodox conversions would be recognized in the country.  Leaders of both Shas and the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party said they would not join a government coalition that was not committed to overturning the court’s decision.  During the campaign, United Torah Judaism posted a video showing pictures of dogs wearing prayer shawls and kippahs, with a voiceover, “The Supreme Court says they’re Jewish.”  Finance Minister Lieberman, then a candidate to replace Netanyahu, said he and his party would “continue to fight against religious coercion and preserve the character of Israel as a Jewish, liberal, Zionist state.”  Yair Lapid, then head of the Knesset opposition said, “Israel must have complete equality of rights for all streams of Judaism – Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative.”

In July, Kan News reported that Minister of Religious Services Kahana planned to introduce legislation to liberalize conversions to Judaism.  In December, Kahana outlined the framework for his proposed changes, which he said he planned to introduce in Knesset legislation.  As part of Kahana’s proposed framework, municipal rabbis would be able to establish conversion courts to allow them to convert citizens of Jewish descent who were not considered Jewish according to religious law.  According to the Jerusalem Post, Kahana’s legislation would grant the chief rabbis and the Council of the Chief Rabbinate the power, under certain circumstances, to revoke the appointment of a rabbinical judge on the new conversion courts.  On December 29, the government postponed a vote on the legislation after determining it lacked sufficient support to advance the bill.  On the same day, Chief Rabbi David Lau, whose authorization is required for all conversions in the country, wrote the Prime Minister saying if the bill moved forward, “I will be forced to declare myself no longer responsible for anything to do with conversions.”  He added that the reforms had the potential to cause an “irreparable” split among the Jewish people: “two states for two peoples, divided Judaism instead of united Judaism.”  Finance Minister Lieberman said that Lau’s threat to freeze conversions “is not appropriate to the status of the chief rabbi and may lead to proceedings being taken to end his term.”  Minister of Communications Yoaz Hendel said, “A public servant should fulfill the government’s decisions, and if he does not do so, he should not be in office.”

On October 6, Minister Kahana said that although he believed marriage is a religious construct, he believed there should be legal alternatives for those unable to marry in the country’s religious institutions.  He said, “I believe that every citizen needs to be able to actualize their partnership in a legal manner.  I think that marriage is a religious term which should remain ‘according to the religion of Moses and Israel.’  There are enough rabbis, much wiser than me in Judaism and Jewish law, who have outlines for [legal, nonreligious partnerships].”  A member of the opposition Shas party responded by saying, “Kahana is not the minister of religious services, he is the minister of destroying religion and the destruction of Jerusalem.”  In a November interview with the Times of Israel, while declining to offer specific proposals, Kahana said, “I am opposed to civil marriage.  I believe that the concept of marriage, the sacred connection between a man and a woman, in the State of Israel, must remain in the province of halachic Judaism.”

On July 20, the Supreme Court approved an agreement to halt the practice of the Chief Rabbinate using information collected during Jewish status investigations (used to verify individuals’ Jewish status) to question the validity of third parties claiming Jewish ancestry.  The agreement was a result of a 2017 petition by NGOs and individuals affected by the practice.

In February, KAN News reported that the Ashkelon Rabbinical Court conducted Jewish status investigations during two cases of divorce involving Jewish Ethiopian-Israelis and refused to give a writ of divorce prior to the confirmation of the couples’ Jewish status, even though they married in the country in accordance with the rules of the Chief Rabbinate.

In November, the Rabbinate granted ultra-Orthodox music and film entertainer Shuli Rand permission to marry TV personality Zufit Grant despite his wife’s refusal to accept a get from him, thus denying him a divorce.  After his first wife refused to agree to a divorce, Rand reportedly received an exemption signed by 100 rabbis that allowed him to remarry.  NGOs including Mavoi Satum, an organization that aids women who have been refused a Jewish divorce by their husbands, and The Center For Women’s Justice continued to criticize the inequality facing women who cannot remarry because they are unable to obtain a get from their ex-husbands and who consequently are denied similar permission to marry again.

In August, a Tel Aviv rabbinical court “canceled” the 18-year marriage of a couple, following claims of abuse, after the husband refused a get.  In November, the same court overturned its decision, following pressure from ultra-Orthodox public figures, according to Haaretz.

On October 6, Alon Tal, a Conservative Jewish member of Israel’s governing coalition, criticized the then-pending bill opening the kashrut-certification market, saying he was “hugely disappointed” to discover that the reform plans were “intent on excluding anybody that is not Orthodox.”  On October 28, before passage of the bill, the two chief rabbis of the country issued a joint declaration that stated, “The decision on the new kashrut outline is the destruction of kashrut and reflects a trend towards the displacement of Judaism of Israel, another step in making Israel a state of all its citizens.”  The statement also said that changing the kashrut system could lead to “conversion and marriage outside the framework of the Chief Rabbinate, which will inevitably lead to the separation of communities in Israel.”   They also said Israeli rabbis should refuse to cooperate with the reform efforts and refrain from granting certification to any establishment without the authorization of the Chief Rabbinate Council.

On November 4, the Knesset passed a law opening the kashrut-certification market to competition.  According to the law, beginning on January 1, 2022, religious councils would be able to award kashrut certification anywhere in the country, not only in the cities to which they belong.  Then, from January 1, 2023, both private organizations and religious councils would be able to award kashrut certificates, while the Rabbinate would go from certifying food as kosher to performing a regulatory function, certifying others to certify food as kosher.  The new law does not allow for non-Orthodox kashrut certificates.

According to Haaretz, after the kashrut-certification bill was passed, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef organized a conference of rabbinical judges opposing the reforms regarding kashrut certification and conversion.  After the conference, Yosef issued a statement saying that he “utterly rejects the … dangerous initiatives to destroy Kashrut and Judaism in Israel.”  After reviewing the statement, the judicial ombudsman, retired Supreme Court Justice Uri Shoham, asked the Minister of Religious Affairs to consider dismissing Yosef from his position on the Grand Rabbinical Court.

At a December 6 meeting of ultra-Orthodox religious parties, MKs discussed a range of options, including boycotts and mass protests, to oppose various reforms impacting the ultra-Orthodox that were under consideration by the government.  One Shas MK said that the government was seeking to establish “a nation of all its citizens in place of a Jewish and democratic state.”  Another participant said the government was waging a “culture war against the ultra-Orthodox” and that the country was engaged in “a real war” over the future of the Jewish people.

In August, NGOs Hiddush and Secular Forum, in a letter to the IDF Chief of Staff, protested Military Rabbinate orders published during the year that restricted the use of kitchenette facilities during Shabbat, or for preparing nonkosher foods, following complaints from soldiers.  According to the NGOs, the Military Rabbinate was not authorized to order restrictions on food not served by the IDF, and its actions constituted “religious coercion.”

During a June 8 press conference, MK Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism called on soon-to-be Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to “take off his yarmulke, for he disgraces it.”

Yitzhak Pindrus of United Torah Judaism said in the Knesset on June 28 that the Minister of Religious Services should follow the path of a biblical character who killed people who intermarried, referring to such marriages as “miscegenation.”

On October 13, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism) directed his comments from the Knesset plenary’s podium towards Arab MKs, referring to them as “anti-Zionists,” “terror supporters,” and “enemies.”  He also said: “You’re here by mistake, it’s a mistake that Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job and didn’t throw you out in 1948.”

The website Al-Monitor reported that there were varied opinions within the country about the Muslim political party Ra’am becoming the first Arab party to join a government.  Members of then Prime Minister Netanyahu’s party protested in front of the homes belonging to members of Prime Minister Bennett’s Yamina party to pressure Yamina from joining a coalition that included Ra’am.  A member of the Ra’am party told Al-Monitor that the “responses [in the street] to the move are positive and give us credit,” adding that joining the government was the first step in “a long journey.”

Members of some religious minorities said that the government did not provide the same service and benefits to them as to the country’s majority Jewish population and in many jurisdictions made it difficult for members of minority groups to obtain permits needed for new construction.  In January, the Druze and Circassian mayors’ forum chairman demanded that the problem of urban planning be addressed in those local council districts facing high fines for illegal construction.

The MRS listed 21 dedicated cemeteries in Israel and West Bank settlements for burial of persons the government defined as “lacking religion,” and 33 cemeteries for civil burial, but only three were available for use by the general public regardless of residence, and one had been full for several years.  The state permitted other cemeteries located in agricultural localities to bury only “residents of the area.”  This, according to Hiddush, left the majority of the country’s population deprived of the ability to exercise its right, as mandated by law, to be buried in accordance with secular or non-Orthodox religious views.  The two MRS-administered cemeteries in West Bank settlements were available only for the burial of Israeli citizens.  On September 12, the Supreme Court rejected a 2019 petition by Hiddush that demanded civil burial in agricultural localities for individuals who were not local residents and who did not have another alternative.  According to the government, the existing issues regarding civil burial could not justify burial outside of place of residence, as the law mandates.  The court invited Hiddush to submit a new petition regarding a specific locality, rather than a principled petition.

According to Hiddush, an absolute majority of the MRS licenses for civil burial are held by Jewish Orthodox NGOs and religious councils and some of these organizations conducted a “less religious burial” rather than a secular one, did not allow burial in a coffin, and stated on their websites that their services were only for non-Jews.

Those exempt from compulsory military service continued to have the option to join the National Service, a civilian alternative in which volunteers work for two years to promote social welfare in schools, hospitals, or NGOs.  According to government officials and NGOs, this alternative was more popular among women from Jewish Orthodox backgrounds than other exempt groups.

According to representatives of the ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit community, some of their members did not receive an exemption from military service because its yeshivas were not recognized by the state and young men studying in those yeshivas did not submit draft exemption applications.  As a result, dozens of them were arrested every month, community members said.

According to the Karaite community’s NGO, during the year the IDF requested religious Karaite women who sought to be exempted from military service to declare their status as religious women at a rabbinical court; the Karaite community said this would be contrary to its beliefs.  Up until 2020, Karaite women were able to submit a letter from a Jewish Karaite court to the IDF to prove their status.  On March 21, three Karaite women petitioned the Supreme Court concerning this matter and as a result, the IDF announced on June 6 that it exempted them from military service.  Due to the IDF’s action, the women’s petition was “deleted” on June 10.

According to the website of Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center, the government maintained an agreement with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that no member of the Church “will engage in proselytizing of any kind” within Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza as a condition to lease land for its campus on the Mount of Olives.  Some other unrecognized Christian communities reported that the MOI Department of Non-Jewish Affairs discouraged them from proselytizing or holding large public gatherings outside their houses of worship.

The Center of Scientology Israel reported that it was targeted by the NGO Israeli Center for Victims of Cults using derogatory labels on their website and categorizing it as a cult.  The NGO Yad L’Achim paid for a campaign to target Scientology online.

The government maintained its policy of not accepting applications for official recognition from unrecognized religious groups, including evangelical Christian churches and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but stated that no religious community applied for recognition during the year.  The government stated some leaders of unrecognized religions were invited to and participated in official events and ceremonies, along with the leaders of recognized religions.

After the Supreme Court ordered the government on April 29 to explain why it would not discuss a 2017 application by the Jehovah’s Witnesses for recognition, the government told the court on December 29 that it had tasked the Ministerial Committee on Internal Affairs to review the request.  The government asked the committee to submit an update to the court within 90 days.

On June 15, the Supreme Court ruled that the Knesset Finance Committee had no authority to reject the application for tax-deductible status submitted by the Messianic Jews’ NGO Yachad Ramat HaSharon, and ordered that the NGO be granted tax-deductible status.  A similar petition by the Jehovah’s Witnesses NGO Watchtower Association was pending at the year’s end.  In 2020, the Finance Committee rejected applications for tax-deductible status by the two NGOs despite objections from legal advisors in the Ministry of Justice and the Tax Authority.  On December 8 and 13, the Knesset Finance Committee discussed the Watchtower Association’s application and decided on a Tax Authority audit of the group to take place in 2022 due to concerns raised by Shas MK of alleged missionary activity directed at minors.

Separate public and semipublic school systems varied widely in educational quality around the country, according to NGOs and international organizations.  During the year, Arab/Palestinians including Christians, Muslims and Druze, as well as ultra-Orthodox students, passed the matriculation exam at lower rates than their non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish counterparts.  The government continued educational and scholarship programs to benefit Arab/Palestinian students.  Between the academic years of 2009-10 and 2020-21, the percentage of Arab/Palestinian students enrolled increased significantly:  in undergraduate programs from 13 percent to 19 percent, in master’s degree programs from 7 percent to 15 percent, and in doctoral programs from 5 percent to 7 percent, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

According to the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), the gap in funding for Jewish students and Arab/Palestinian students in elementary and middles schools continued to narrow, but the largest gap in funding was found in high schools.  According to IDI, the gap was not solely a result of differences in the Ministry of Education budget, but was also influenced by local government funding and parental contributions.

According to the Secular Forum, growing “religionization” (hadata) of the education system continued, including in textbooks and through programs in schools taught by Orthodox NGOs.  On April 7 the Supreme Court ruled that government funding previously granted to pluralistic Jewish organizations’ activities in secular schools must be “reexamined” after the government cancelled this funding in 2019.  Prior to the ruling, the state only granted such funding to Orthodox organizations, some of which promoted a pro-settler agenda, according to the NGO Molad – The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy.  According to Haaretz, in November, the Ministry of Education reissued its previous policy on funding Jewish organizations’ activities in secular schools and did not comply with the court’s ruling.   The Israel Religious Action Center said the ministry’s actions ignored the court’s ruling and sought to continue a policy that was rejected by the High Court.  The ministry told Haaretz it has begun acting to fulfill the court’s ruling.

Public Hebrew-language state schools taught Jewish history, culture, and some basic religious texts.  Many ultra-Orthodox religious schools in the “recognized but not official” category continued not to offer a basic humanities, mathematics, and science curriculum.  The government, however, included a basic curriculum for public ultra-Orthodox schools.  Public Arabic-speaking schools continued to teach religion classes on the Quran and the Bible to both Muslim and Christian Arab students.  A few independent mixed Jewish-Arab schools also offered religion classes.  For example, the curriculum at the nonprofit school Hand-in-Hand:  Center for Jewish-Arab Education, which received a third of its funding from the government, emphasized commonalities in the holy writings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The government funded approximately 34 percent of the budget of Christian school systems in the “recognized but not official” category, in which schools had autonomy over hiring teachers, admitting students, and the use of school property, according to church officials.  The government repeated its offer made in previous years to fully fund Christian schools if they became part of the public school system, but churches rejected this option, stating that, unlike in Orthodox schools, they would lose autonomy over hiring, admitting students, and use of property.  Church leaders criticized the disparity between government funding for their schools and those affiliated with the ultra-Orthodox political parties United Torah Judaism and Shas, which were also categorized as “recognized but not official” but received full government funding.

On August 28, the Jerusalem Post said that, according to a report by the Shoresh Institute, 50 percent of children from the country’s fastest growing sectors (including 43 percent from the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities) “are getting a third-world education that will not be able to support a first world economy.”  The author of the Shoresh report, Dan Ben-David, said that these and broader challenges facing the country’s school system “turn the national education picture into a ticking time bomb.”

Seventh-day Adventists and others who worshipped on Saturday stated they faced difficulty traveling to their houses of worship in cities in which public transportation was unavailable on Shabbat, including Jerusalem.

Some unrecognized religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists, received a property tax exemption on their houses of worship, although others, such as Buddhists and the Church of Scientology, did not.

In an October 26 meeting, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked announced that the northern Druze town of Mughar would receive city status, making it the country’s first majority-Druze city.  Shaked noted that her decision was proof of the “courageous and strong ties between the Druze and Jewish people.” According to the press, the elevation to status as a city would make various planning, economic, and organizational processes easier and would provide greater authority to local officials.  According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 57.5 percent of the residents of Mughar were Druze while 21.4 percent were Muslims and 21.1 percent Christians.

Christian leaders reported little difficulty obtaining visas for clergy to serve in the country, except for Christian clergy from Arab countries, some of whom reported long delays for, and periodic denials of their visa applications.  The government stated Christian clergy from Arab countries were subject to the same entry laws and similar security procedures as clergy from other parts of the world and that any visa delays or denials were due to security reviews.  The government also said there were some “unavoidable delays” in cases of applicants from countries that did not have diplomatic relations with Israel.  Church officials noted that the clergy visas did not allow the bearer access to basic social benefits such as disability insurance or national health insurance, even for those who had served in the country for more than 30 years.

The MOI appointed and funded approximately half of the Druze and Muslim clerics in the country and continued to train Druze and Muslim clerical employees of the state on how to work with government ministries.  Muslim leaders criticized the MOI for appointing non-Muslims – mostly Druze former military officers – to head the Muslim Affairs Department at the ministry.  Muslim leaders again said the MOI routinely monitored and summoned for “talks” those whom the ministry suspected of opposing government policies.  The government said it did not monitor clerics, but government employees of all faiths were “expected not to incite against the state in their official capacities.”  The government stated the remaining Druze and Muslim clerics were not state employees due to either the preference of the local community or lack of MOI budgetary resources.  Muslim leaders stated sharia court judges, who were Ministry of Justice employees, were their preferred religious representatives.

No Islamic seminaries remained in the country, and students of Islam traveled elsewhere, primarily to Jordan or the West Bank, to study.  The government stated there were “Islamic colleges” in Umm al-Fahm, Baqa’a al-Gharbia, and Kfar Baraa.  Muslim leaders continued to reject this assertion and stated that none of those institutes was an Islamic seminary.

The government continued to promote measures to encourage increased Jewish-Israeli residence and economic development in the thinly populated Negev Desert in the south of the country, including development plans for military industries, railways, the expansion of Road 6, and a phosphate mine.  Civil society organizations criticized government plans, stating they could lead to the displacement of 36,000 Bedouins.  The government made more funding available for government-approved Bedouin cities and towns to relocate Bedouins displaced by economic expansion.

 

On October 21, Minister of Interior Shaked announced that the government planned to establish 11 new localities in the Negev, including removing planning obstacles regarding the Jewish town of Hiran.

 

In reports on its website, the NGO Adalah:  The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel continued to state that the government discriminated against the Bedouin residents of the Negev in several ways, including charging those in unrecognized villages the highest water prices in the country; refusing to classify camels as “farm animals”; preventing Bedouin herders from using the grazing land in the region; not addressing overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in local schools; and displacing residents to allow for the expansion of primarily Jewish towns and the relocation or expansion of government military facilities.

In a June 3rd report to the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Right Adequate Housing, Adalah stated that the government pursued two main policies discriminating against Bedouin citizens living in the Negev:  “denying their historical land rights and instead labelling them as trespassers” and forcibly displacing and …urbanizing them by concentrating them into a limited number of urban/semi-urban townships and recognized villages.”

On October 20, the Supreme Court rejected a petition against the State Attorney’s decision asking that the government reopen an investigation against police officers involved in the 2017 shooting of teacher Yaqub Musa Abu al-Qian.  Police shot Abu al-Qian during an operation to demolish homes in the unrecognized village of Umm al-Hiran, which was scheduled to be replaced by the Orthodox-only Jewish town of Hiran.  In 2020, Adalah and the NGO Public Committee Against Torture in Israel filed the petition with the Supreme Court on behalf of Abu al-Qian’s family.  The court ruled that the State Attorney’s decision and the preliminary investigation procedure conducted by the Department for Investigation of Police Officers indicated that they made their decision after an in-depth examination and extensive collection of evidence, and that there was no need for the court to intervene in the decision.  The NGOs’ petition disputed the details of the government’s account of the incident.

Bedouin residents in Umm al-Hiran continued to not fulfill their obligations, under the 2018 Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev Agreement with the government, to demolish their structures and relocate to vacant plots in the Bedouin town of Hura.  Jewish families sponsored to move into Hiran by the OR Movement, an organization dedicated to expanding the Jewish Israeli population of the Negev and Galilee regions, remained in the forest outside Umm al-Hiran, living in mobile homes donated by the Jewish National Fund, while waiting for village land vacated by Bedouins to become available for them.

In November, the cabinet approved a draft resolution to legalize three unrecognized Bedouin villages in the southern Negev:  Rakhma, Hashm al-Zena, and Abda.  The NGO Negev Coexistence Forum said approximately 4,000 Bedouin lived in the villages.  NGOs subsequently wrote the Labor Ministry asking that it change the text of the government’s resolution, because it included problematic conditions that would “doom it to failure.”  On November 3, the government also said it would establish a new planned Bedouin community in the south.  On December 6, the Knesset completed the first reading of a bill to enable thousands of homes constructed without permits in Arab communities in the Negev and elsewhere to be connected to the country’s electrical grid.

An August 4 report by the State Comptroller said that the Arab/Palestinian Bedouins of the Negev were the most impoverished community in the country, lagging far behind all the others.  The report also noted that, despite the planned investment of billions of shekels over the years, gaps between Bedouin settlements and their neighbors in the Negev continued to grow.  State Comptroller Matanyahu Engelman stated that basic municipal and regional infrastructure for Bedouin communities such as sanitation, water, and electricity as well as sidewalks and roads lagged far behind and that the government “is responsible for increasing governance in the Negev.”  He also said that blame did not lie with local and state authorities alone, but that the Bedouin community shared responsibility for compounding these problems.  The Arab/Palestinian Muslim Ra’am Party demanded greater investment in Bedouin communities.

On May 26, Haaretz reported that the Tel Aviv-Jaffa planning and building committee gave its approval to a plan to legalize the Tasso Muslim cemetery in Jaffa, the only Islamic cemetery in the city.  According to the report, the zoning plan required the approval of the district planning and building committee before it could take effect.

The IDF continued to have only Orthodox Jewish chaplains.  The government employed civilian clergy of different faiths, including Muslim imams, as chaplains at military burials when non-Jewish soldiers died in service.

In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, private organizations posted “modesty signs” demanding women obscure themselves from public view to avoid distracting devout men.  The Beit Shemesh municipality received several extensions from the Supreme Court, which ordered it to remove such signs in 2018.  On July 1, because Beit Shemesh had not removed the signs, the Supreme Court ordered the Attorney General to develop a national enforcement policy within 90 days that would allow the implementation of the court’s verdict, due to the failure at the local level to remove such “modesty signs.”  The court ruled that 30 days after the new policy was in place, fines would be imposed on municipalities for lack of enforcement.

Women’s photos were regularly vandalized in cities with large ultra-Orthodox populations.  The AP reported in October that vandals “widely believed to be ultra-Orthodox extremists” defaced the photograph of a 94-year-old female Holocaust survivor five times since the April start of the outdoor exhibit that included the photo.  According to media reports, due to failed local law enforcement, companies did not include women in their advertisements, to prevent them from being vandalized.  In a December 2020 Knesset hearing, the police stated it had opened 21 investigations following the vandalizing of women’s photos in public spaces between 2018-2020; police closed 19 of these investigation files without charges and transferred one for prosecution.

On January 10, the Supreme Court denied the Chief Rabbinate’s request to hold an additional hearing on a petition by NGOs Adalah and the Secular Forum against a ban on bringing foods forbidden to Jews during Passover (foods with grains or leavening agents, known as hametz) into public hospitals during the holiday.  The court ruled in 2020 that hospitals must allow nonkosher food for those that wanted it during Passover.  On March 10, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef asked the Attorney General to postpone the ruling’s implementation due to “insufficient preparation time” and to handle the matter by means of legislation.  According to the Secular Forum, most hospitals adhered to the Supreme Court ruling and made nonkosher food available during Passover for staff and patients who wanted it.  However, during March, the Secular Forum wrote two hospitals in Jerusalem and Netanya threatening them with contempt of court charges because they continued to ban hametz in their facilities during Passover, despite the court’s ruling.  In December, the Secular Forum submitted another petition to the Supreme Court demanding to stop a similar ban on allowing external food into military bases during Passover.  The petition was pending at year’s end.

On July 6, the coalition government failed to renew the Law on Citizenship and Entry, resulting in its expiration and paving the way for family reunification of some 3,000 Palestinians and their Israeli citizen spouses.  Under the law, non-Jewish spouses of Israelis from certain countries and the West Bank and Gaza had been denied residency without a special determination from the MOI.  Although the law lapsed, Interior Minister Shaked ordered the ministry to continue functioning as though the law were in place.  On September 14, three NGOs, including HaMoked, petitioned the Court for Administrative Affairs demanding that the MOI respect the consequences brought about by the expiration of the law.  On November 11, the government responded, supporting Shaked’s continued handling of Palestinians’ requests in accordance with the now-expired regulations, stating that Shaked could implement “interim procedures and regulations” until a new law was passed.  No new procedures were published by year’s end, however.  On November 15, the court rejected the three NGOs’ request for an injunction prohibiting the handling of requests based on the expired law.  As a result, the petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court on November 17.  At year’s end, both the petition and new legislation remained pending.

According to the NGO HaMoked, there were approximately 10,000 Palestinians living in the country, including in Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits because of the citizenship and entry law, with no legal guarantee they could continue living with their families.  When the previous citizenship and entry law was not renewed and expired in July, HaMoked petitioned the Supreme Court to direct the Ministry of Interior to adjudicate reunification applications.  HaMoked and Israeli media reported that the Ministry of Interior refused to deal with these applications, and as of December, there were 1,680 such applications waiting to be reviewed.  There were also cases of Palestinian spouses of Palestinian residents living in East Jerusalem without legal status.  Some Palestinian residents moved to Jerusalem neighborhoods outside the security barrier to live with their nonresident spouse and children while maintaining Jerusalem residency.  According to Christian religious leaders, this situation remained an especially acute problem for Christians because of their small population and consequent tendency to marry Christians from the West Bank or elsewhere (Christians who hold neither citizenship nor residency).  A Christian religious leader expressed concern that this was a significant element in the continuing decline of the Christian population, including in Jerusalem, which negatively affected the long-term viability of their communities.

According to NGOs, community members, and media commentators, several factors contributed to Christian emigration.  These included political instability, the inability to obtain residency permits for spouses due to the (now expired) 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry, the limited ability of Christian communities in the Jerusalem area to expand due to building restrictions, the difficulties Christian clergy experienced in obtaining Israeli visas and residency permits, the loss of confidence in the peace process, and economic hardships created by the construction of the security barrier and the imposition of travel restrictions.  The government stated such difficulties stemmed from the “complex political and security reality” and not from any restrictions on the Christian community itself.

The law continued to prevent the Israel Land Authority (ILA), which administered the 93 percent of the country in the public domain, to lease land to foreigners.  In practice, however, foreigners were allowed to lease if they could show they would qualify as Jewish under the Law of Return.  This public land included approximately 12.5 percent owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes strictly prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.  The application of ILA restrictions continued to limit the ability of Muslim and Christian residents of Jerusalem who were not citizens to purchase property built on state land, including in parts of Jerusalem.  In recent years, however, an increasing number of Palestinian citizens in Jerusalem have acquired property built on ILA-owned land.  During the year, Arab/Palestinian citizens were allowed to place bids on JNF land, but sources stated that the ILA granted the JNF another parcel of land whenever an Arab/ Palestinian citizen of the country won a bid.  Despite a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that the ILA Executive Council must include an Arab/ Palestinian citizen, Druze, or Circassian member to prevent discrimination against non-Jews, there were no members from these groups on the council at year’s end.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate continued its legal efforts to block the transfer of properties in Jerusalem’s Old City to Ateret Cohanim, a Jewish organization that signed a 99-year lease for the properties in 2004.  Courts previously ruled in favor of Ateret Cohanim, and in 2020 the district court ruled against reopening the case to hear new evidence brought forward by the Church.  A Supreme Court hearing is set for 2022 to determine if the case should be reopened based upon the new evidence.

On December 12, 13 heads of Christian communities in Jerusalem issued a joint statement entitled, “The Current Threat to the Christian Presence in the Holy Land,” that said, “Christians have become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups.  Since 2012 there have been countless incidents of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, attacks on Christian churches, with holy sites regularly vandalized and desecrated, and ongoing intimidation of local Christians who simply seek to worship freely and go about their daily lives.  These tactics are being used by such radical groups in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land.”  The statement acknowledged “the declared commitment of the Israeli government to uphold a safe and secure home for Christians in the Holy Land” but said, “It is therefore a matter of grave concern when this national commitment is betrayed by the failure of local politicians, officials and law enforcement agencies to curb the activities of radical groups who regularly intimidate local Christians, assault priests and clergy, and desecrate Holy Sites and church properties.”  The appeal continued, “The principle that the spiritual and cultural character of Jerusalem’s distinct and historic quarters should be protected is already recognized in Israeli law with respect to the Jewish Quarter.  Yet radical groups continue to acquire strategic property in the Christian Quarter, with the aim of diminishing the Christian presence, often using underhanded dealings and intimidation tactics to evict residents from their homes, dramatically decreasing the Christian presence, and further disrupting the historic pilgrim routes between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.”

Haaretz reported that the statement marked the beginning of a campaign that included a dedicated website and articles in the media.  In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the allegations made by the Christian leaders were “baseless and distort the reality of the Christian community in Israel” and that the Christians’ joint statement “could lead to violence and bring harm to innocent people.”  In an editorial, Haaretz stated, “The Christian leadership in Jerusalem may be exaggerating the sense of threat against them, to draft support from communities throughout the world… However, this does not justify the government’s irresponsible behavior toward the Christian public.  The government must recognize that the Christian congregations have an important place in Jerusalem’s human mosaic.  The government must pay attention to the needs and problems of Christian communities.”

On December 29, at an annual New Year’s reception for the spiritual and lay leaders of Christian churches and communities, President Herzog affirmed his commitment to freedom of worship and religion in the country.  Herzog said that each of the Christian groups was “a blessing and an integral part” of the country’s mosaic.  He explicitly rejected all forms of racism, discrimination, and extremism as well as any threat to Christian communities in the country.  Interior Minister Shaked also made remarks, saying that the new year offered an opportunity to build new bonds of friendship and cooperation among all religions.

In December, an interministerial team approved a proposal by Minister of Interior Shaked to exempt tourist groups that fell into the category of “Jewish tourism” from entry restrictions associated with the omicron variant of COVID-19.  According to the press, Christian organizations said the decision was unfair especially given the impending Christmas holidays.  According to a lead editorial in Haaretz, “this is a discriminatory exception, not to say a bigoted one.”  In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said, “These unfounded allegations of discriminatory conduct are outrageous, false, and dangerous.”

In April, the news website Al-Monitor reported that then Minister of Tourism Orit Farkash-Hacohen said that after the signing of the Abraham Accords normalizing relations between Israel and four Arab states, “Israel’s tourist branch began preparing for Muslim tourism.”  Senior ministry officials said the ministry was expecting tens of thousands of Muslim tourists in the upcoming months and that the ministry was mapping religious Islamic sites throughout the country.

In a December Hebrew-language press interview, Arab Muslim MK and member of the governing coalition Mansour Abbas told journalist Mohammad Magadli, “The State of Israel was born as a Jewish state, and the question is how we integrate Arab society into it.”  Responding to Magadli’s comment that no Arab MK ever said such a thing before, Abbas replied: “I was at a demonstration against the Nation State Law, and I don’t want to mislead anyone.  The question is: ‘What is the status of an Arab citizen in the Jewish state of Israel?’  That’s the question.  So the challenge now is not just for Mansour Abbas, but for the Jewish public and the Jewish citizen.”  According to Haaretz, Abbas’s remarks resulted in an immediate backlash.  Masoud Ghanim, former head of the United Arab List (UAL), the bloc of parties that traditionally represented Arab constituencies in the Knesset, said “We in the movement and the party do not recognize the state as Jewish.  Of course, we do not deny the reality in which the State of Israel defines itself as Jewish, but we do not accept or recognize this reality.”  Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List, which served as an umbrella group for four Arab parties until the UAL left the group in January, said, “This is our homeland, citizens by right, and we will work for the state to be egalitarian and democratic.”

Under the Israeli Antiquities Law, excavations within a sacred site require the approval of a ministerial committee, which includes the Ministers of Culture, Justice, and Religious Affairs.  The government stated that Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) researchers “have greatly intensified their research on ‘non-Jewish’ periods in the history of the land of Israel, [including] the Prehistoric, Early Bronze, Byzantine, Muslim, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods.”  Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Muslim leaders continued to protest archaeological excavations and construction work done at the City of David National Park in the Silwan neighborhood outside the Old City, and in the Old City near the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, including an elevator for persons with disabilities being installed at the rear of the Western Wall Plaza.  Some NGOs monitoring archaeological practices in Jerusalem continued to state the IAA emphasized archaeological finds that bolstered Jewish claims while minimizing historically significant archaeological finds of other religions.  Archeologists from Emek Shaveh continued to dispute the government’s representation of the “Pilgrimage Road,” a tunnel dug by the IAA and inaugurated in Silwan in 2019 as being historically part of the pilgrimage route to the Jewish Second Temple.  Emek Shaveh said the excavation method did not establish with certainty the date and purpose of the road.  NGOs such as the City of David Foundation (EL-AD) and the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies continued to concur with the government’s position.

According to Haaretz, an interagency meeting in the spring organized by the Justice Ministry’s director general found that the government was not adequately enforcing a ban on polygamy among the Bedouin population.  A presentation at the meeting said that hundreds of polygamous men were detected in recent years, without consequences.  The director of the country’s sharia courts, Iyad Zahalka, said all polygamous marriages must be registered in a sharia court.

At year’s end, the 120-member Knesset had 13 members from religious minorities (nine Muslims, three Druze, and one Christian), compared with 18 religious minority members (11 Muslims, five Druze, and two Christians) in the previous Knesset.  There was one Muslim member of the cabinet, but no Druze or Christians.  In June, then Jewish Agency Chairman Herzog appointed Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh, a Druze woman and former MK, to be the senior representative for the Jewish Agency in Washington, D.C.

President Herzog hosted Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Druze, and Baha’i leaders to issue a joint call for worldwide vaccination against COVID-19.  In a joint statement, the leaders said that “saving the life of any human being – all created in the image of God – is the greatest religious obligation of all” and, “it is manifestly clear that the mass vaccination of entire populations is our primary tool for defeating this terrible pandemic.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religious and national identities were often closely linked, it was often difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

In September, authorities charged Muad Hib with murder for killing his mother and hiding her body in August, after she converted from Islam to Orthodox Christianity.  Prosecutors stated that her conversion was the motive for the killing.

Amid tensions in Jerusalem and violence in Gaza, ethnic-based violence and civil unrest broke out during a one-week period in May in a number of mixed Jewish-Arab cities in the country, including Lod, Acre, Jaffa, Haifa, and Ramle.  Incidents of violence included automobile vandalism; gunshots fired at a group of Jewish individuals, stone throwing by both Jewish and Arab protestors; arson attacks on synagogues; and desecration of Muslim gravestones.  Armed Jewish Israelis clashed with Palestinians in East Jerusalem neighborhoods.  Responding to the violence, the government reassigned additional security personnel, including border police from the West Bank, to augment INP personnel.  The INP reported it made approximately 1,550 arrests, with the overwhelming majority of the arrestees being Arab/Palestinian citizens.  Security officials said the arrested Jewish citizens were predominately “middle-aged nationalist extremists.”

On May 12 in the mixed Jewish-Arab town of Lod, Jews shot and killed Moussa Hassouna in clashes between residents.  Later on May 12, Arab/Palestinian citizens in Lod stoned the car of Jewish resident Yigal Yehoshua who died on May 17 after being hit in the head with a thrown brick.  In the northern city of Acre on May 11, Arab/Palestinian citizens set fire to a hotel leading to the death of 84 year-old retiree Aby Har-Even on June 6.  On May 19, teenager Mohammed Mahamid Kiwan died after he was shot on May 18 at the Mei Ami junction on Route 65.  His family said police were responsible.

According to the Lod Municipality, Arab/Palestinian citizens perpetrated five arson attacks against four synagogues in the city, and shattered windows of two additional synagogues.  Media reported that Jewish individuals threw stones at worshippers at the Lod Dahmash Mosque on May 12 during prayer time and shattered the windows of the mosque.  On May 13, unknown individuals desecrated an Islamic Cemetery in Lod, tried to set it on fire, and broke 10 of its gravestones.

In the aftermath of the civil unrest, the state filed indictments against 150 persons.  Some NGOs said most were against Arab/Palestinian citizens and expressed concern that the INP disproportionately targeted Arab/Palestinian citizens.  A significant number of demonstrations calling for calm and coexistence were held in multiple cities after the civil unrest.

On September 9, three minors attacked a worshipper and caused damage to a synagogue in Acre.  The police later arrested and released the suspects to house arrest.

In April, during the period leading up to the civil unrest, Palestinian youth in Jerusalem physically attacked ultra-Orthodox individuals and posted the attacks on the social media app TikTok.  The first video of a young Palestinian Jerusalemite slapping a Yeshiva student on the Jerusalem Light Rail was posted on the social network on April 15.  According to the government, the police opened 14 investigations and arrested 31 suspects for being involved in such attacks.  Four of the cases led to indictments, and one suspect was convicted and sentenced to 10 months imprisonment, six months probation and a fine of 2,500 shekels ($810).  On July 1, police arrested Palestinian Jerusalemites for defiling graves in the Har Hamenuchot Cemetery while filming themselves on TikTok.

Racial and religiously motivated attacks by Jewish individuals and groups continued to take place during the year against individuals – particularly Arab/Palestinian citizens of the country and Palestinians of the West Bank and their property – with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests.  The attacks occurred against both Christian and Muslim targets.  The NGO Tag Meir continued to organize visits to areas where these attacks occurred and sponsored activities promoting tolerance in response to the attacks.  On March 12, Jewish individuals set cars on fire and sprayed graffiti with a Star of David and the writing: “enough with intermarriage” in the village of Ein Naqquba in the central part of the country.

According to Tag Meir, the assailants also poured gasoline on the home of two families, including on the window of the room of a six-year-old and a seven-year-old, and tried to set it on fire.  Tag Meir stated that “only a miracle” prevented a disaster similar to that of the 2015 Duma arson attack in the West Bank, which resulted in the death of a Palestinian couple and their infant child.  The INP opened an investigation on March 12.

On March 25, unknown individuals spray-painted the words “deport or kill” on a car in the predominantly Arab town of Kfar Qasim.  They also punctured the tires of dozens of cars and spray-painted Stars of David on them.  Police opened an investigation into the case.

On March 1, unknown assailants set fire to the entrance of the monastery of the Romanian Church in Jerusalem near the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim.  The local priest put out the fire quickly.  According to Church officials, this was the fourth act of vandalism in 2021 that targeted the same monastery.  Christian representatives said they believed religious Orthodox Jews were the probable assailants.  The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem said the arson was “a sign of hatred for the Christian religion” among some Israelis.

On April 5, arson attacks took place against two synagogues in Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan.  On May 8, according to media reports, police arrested an individual from Rosh HaAyn for committing the attacks.

Swastikas were painted on synagogues several times during the year.  On July 31, unknown individuals painted swastikas on the structures of two synagogues in Bnei Brak.  The individuals also left photos of Shira Banki, a 16-year-old who was stabbed to death at the Jerusalem Pride Parade in 2015, at the sites.  On August 26, individuals painted swastikas on the door of a Tel Aviv synagogue.

On November 6, ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Meir Mazuz said that Jews from the former Soviet Union and Reform Jews were nonbelievers who were destroying Judaism in the country.

Christian clergy and pilgrims continued to report instances of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem harassing or spitting on them.

During the year, ultra-Orthodox women attacked members of Women of the Wall during their monthly prayers at the Western Wall.  For example, on June 11, ultra-Orthodox protesters shredded and desecrated dozens of prayer books belonging to Women of the Wall.

On July 17, during the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting when Jews commemorate the destruction of the temples, activists of Liba Yehudit, a national-ultra-Orthodox NGO described by Haaretz as “ultra-extreme,” put up a makeshift partition in the middle of the egalitarian prayer area of the Western Wall Plaza, intended to divide those praying by gender, and yelled and cursed to disrupt those praying there for the holiday.  According to Haaretz, “hundreds of right-wing, Orthodox Jews, mostly teenagers” disrupted the reading of the Book of Lamentations by a female member of the Conservative movement, which organized the annual event.  Haaretz described Liba as “an extreme right-wing group, which has been trying to prevent the non-Orthodox from having access to a new and revamped prayer plaza at the southern end of the site.”

On July 18, on Tisha B’Av, Prime Minister Bennett tweeted thanks to the Public Security Minister and the Israel Police Inspector General for “maintaining freedom of worship for Jews on the Mount.”  On November 19, the Prime Minister’s Office said that the government’s policy regarding the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, which prohibits non-Islamic worship, had not changed and what Bennett actually meant was that both Jews and Muslims had “freedom of visitation rights.”

In March, during Passover, an unknown individual spread hametz outside of synagogues in Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan.

According to missionary organizations, societal attitudes toward missionary activities and conversion to other religions continued to be negative.  Some Jews continued to oppose missionary activity directed at Jews, saying it amounted to religious harassment, and reacted with hostility toward Jewish converts to Christianity, such as Messianic Jews.

On June 2, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, police closed an investigation of a 2019 complaint regarding an attack on two Jehovah’s Witnesses members during door-to-door activity in Bat Yam.  The police stated there were no grounds for a further criminal investigation.  After the initial complaint was filed, police summoned one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and told her that the individual who had attacked her later submitted a complaint against her for making threats and trespassing in her efforts to convert him to Christianity.

According to media reports, members of the NGO Lehava used violence and incited violence against Palestinians and Arab/Palestinian citizens of the country during the period of civil unrest in May.

Lehava continued to criticize or assault Arab men who were in relationships with Jewish women and to harass “mixed” couples.  On June 9, the police interrogated Lehava Director Ben-Zion Gopstein on suspicion of incitement to violence following posts in social media regarding intermarriage.  A trial against Gopstein for offenses of incitement to terrorism, violence, and racism, which began in 2020, was ongoing at year’s end.

The NGO Yad L’Achim continued to disrupt instances of cohabitation between Jewish women and Arab men and viewed itself as a “Jewish rescue corps” which recovers Jewish women from “hostile” Arab villages, according to Yad L’Achim’s website.

In October, the Jerusalem Post reported that police arrested several members of La Familia, often described in the press as an ultranationalist fan club for the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, following the group’s violent attack on a fan who was cheering the team’s Muslim player.  In May, a court agreed to a request by the team, which disavowed La Familia, to ban three of the group’s leaders from attending the team’s games.

There continued to be reports of ultra-Orthodox Jews in public areas of their neighborhoods harassing individuals who did not conform to Jewish Orthodox traditions, such as driving on Shabbat or wearing clothing that they perceived as immodest.  The harassment included verbal abuse, spitting, and throwing stones, and kicking cars driving on Shabbat.

Tension continued between the ultra-Orthodox community and other citizens, including concerns related to service in the IDF, housing, public transportation, participation in the workforce, and adherence to COVID-19 regulations.

On April 30, a deadly stampede occurred at Mt. Meron during the annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on the Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer, with an estimated 100,000 persons in attendance.  Press reports stated that 45 men and boys were killed, and approximately 150 were injured in the deadliest civil disaster in the country’s history.  Many commentators suggested the ultra-Orthodox community’s extensive autonomy in the country was a major contributing factor to the catastrophe, with ultra-Orthodox MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) calling for greater government control over the pilgrimage site.  On June 20, the government approved the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the event.

Although the Chief Rabbinate and rabbis of many ultra-Orthodox denominations continued to discourage Jewish visits to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site due to the ongoing halakhic (Jewish legal) debate about whether it is permissible or forbidden for Jews to enter the Temple Mount, some Orthodox rabbis continued to say entering the site was permissible.  Many among the self-identified “national religious” Zionist community stated they found meaning in visiting the site.  Groups such as the Temple Institute and Yaraeh continued to call for increased Jewish access and prayer there as well as the construction of the third Jewish temple on the site.  In some cases, Israeli police prevented individuals from praying and removed them; in other cases, reported by the Waqf, on social media, and by NGOs, police appeared not to notice the activity.

According to local media, some Jewish groups escorted by Israeli police performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration.  Some Jewish visitors publicly noted that the INP was more permissive to them in permitting silent prayer.

NGOs reported that some LGBTQI+ minors who revealed their sexual orientation in religious communities faced expulsion from their homes and stigmatization by rabbis.  NGOs noted reports of mental illness among the LGBTQI+ minor community because of this treatment, leading some to attempt suicide.  Other NGOs noted that an increasing number of rabbis, educators, and community leaders in Orthodox Jewish communities were adopting a more inclusive approach to LGBTQI+ minors.

Several religious NGOs, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, conducted private, unrecognized religious services such as marriages and conversions, and issued unrecognized Kashrut certificates to provide an alternative to the Chief Rabbinate for Jews who could not or did not want to use the Rabbinate’s services.  According to the NGO Panim, 2,486 weddings took place outside of the rabbinate’s authority in 2019, compared with 2,610 in 2018.  These included unofficial Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and secular ceremonies.

According to Bar Ilan University’s Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women, thousands of Jewish women were trapped in various stages of informal or formal get refusals, especially in the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities.  The Rackman Center stated that in some instances a woman’s husband made granting a get contingent on his wife conceding to extortionate demands, such as those relating to property ownership or child custody.  According to the Center for Women’s Justice, one in three Jewish women who divorced faced such demands.

NGOs, including Mavoi Satum and Itim, promoted the use of prenuptial agreements to prevent cases of aginut (in which a woman whose husband is unwilling or unable to grant her a get).  Such agreements provide financial incentives paid by a refusing spouse until the termination of the marriage.

Analysis by Natanel Fisher at the Sha’arei Mishpat Academic College of Law and Science based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics found that approximately 85,000 married couples in Israel, constituting 7 percent of all married couples in the country, involved a Jewish and a non-Jewish partner.  In 90 percent of the cases, the non-Jewish partner was “without religious classification,” in most cases from the former Soviet Union, and while many of them consider themselves Jewish, the rabbinate did not recognize them as such.  The article stated that nearly 60 percent, or 52,000 out of 87,000 such couples involve a woman who is not Jewish, which means that their children would not be considered Jewish either.

A variety of NGOs continued to try to build understanding and create dialogue among religious groups and between religious and secular Jewish communities, including Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam, the Abraham Fund Initiative, Givat Haviva, the Hagar and Hand-in-Hand integrated Jewish-Arab bilingual schools, Hiddush, Israeli Religious Action Center, Mosaica, Tag Meir, and Interfaith Encounter Association.  For example, the number of children studying at integrated Yad BeYad Jewish-Arab schools in the school year beginning in September was 2,000, up from 1,800 in the previous year.

Despite the labor law, some foreign domestic workers stated that some employers did not allow their domestic workers to take off their weekly day of worship.

In April, the news website Al-Monitor reported that approximately 20 families from the Gur Hasidic community had bought apartments in the southern city of Dimona.  In response, one resident wrote on social media, “It’s not suitable… An extreme group like this can only ruin it.”  Dimona’s mayor, in a radio interview, suggested that the Gur Hasidim should go elsewhere.

In its annual Israel Religion and State Index poll of 800 adult Jews conducted in July and published in September, the NGO Hiddush reported that 65 percent of respondents, the same result as the 2020 poll, identified as either “secular” (48 percent) or “traditional-not-religious” (17 percent), with positions regarding public policy on religion and state close to the positions of secular Israelis.  Of those surveyed, 81 percent supported freedom of religion and conscience, and 59 percent supported the separation of religion and state.  Sixty-one percent supported equal status for the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform traditions.  A large majority did not see the need for religious conversion approved by the Chief Rabbinate as a condition for the state to recognize the Judaism of new immigrants, with 35 percent considering conversion via the Chief Rabbinate necessary, compared with 34 percent in the previous year.  Thirty-five percent stated immigrants should be recognized as Jewish if they identify as such, and 35 percent stated immigrants should be recognized as Jewish if they undergo either an Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform conversion.  Of those surveyed, 23 percent accepted the position of the ultra-Orthodox parties that yeshiva students should be exempted from military or civic service.

According to the Hiddush poll, 63 percent of the country’s adult Jewish population supported recognition by the state of freedom of choice in marriage, doing away with the rabbinate’s monopoly, and equally recognizing civil and non-Orthodox religious marriages.  According to the same survey, 51 percent of the public stated that had they been allowed a choice, they would not have married in an Orthodox ceremony, compared with 35 percent who expressed the same sentiment in 2009, 39 percent in 2013, and 47 percent in 2016.  Eighty-one percent supported freedom of religion and conscience while 59 percent supported separation of religion and state.  According to the poll, the majority (73 percent) did not observe Shabbat according to religious law.

In a report released December 22, the government’s Central Bureau of Statistics stated that 84 percent of the country’s Christian community said that they were satisfied with life in the country.  Also, according to the study, Arab Christian women had some of the highest education rates in the country.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In meetings with Israeli government officials, the Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials stressed the importance of religious pluralism and respect for all religious groups.  Numerous high-level U.S. officials made formal stops at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance site, to keep a public spotlight on antisemitism and highlight religious tolerance.  The U.S. Secretary of Defense visited Yad Vashem in April and the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations visited the site in November.  The U.S. Ambassador’s first official event was to Yad Vashem on December 2, shortly after his arrival in Israel, and he publicly condemned antisemitism on social media.

In November, the Charge d’Affaires hosted an interfaith reception for representatives of the country’s diverse religious groups.

Senior U.S. officials spoke publicly about the importance of maintaining the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and conveyed this message in meetings with government officials.  Throughout the year, embassy officials used social media platforms to express U.S. support for tolerance and the importance of openness to members of other religious groups.  Embassy officials advocated for the right of persons from all faiths to practice their religion peacefully while also respecting the beliefs and customs of their neighbors.  The embassy also issued public statements condemning attacks on places of worship.

Embassy-supported initiatives focused on interreligious dialogue and community development and advocated a shared society for Arab and Jewish populations.  One project was the Jerusalem Intercultural Center for an interreligious community economic development program in the Old City.  Another project brought together three interfaith groups in Jerusalem’s Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods to meet with U.S. experts, coordinators, and fellow interfaith groups to transform attitudes through constructive conversations on each religion’s similarities and differences.

The embassy also promoted the reduction of tensions between religious communities and an increase in interreligious communication and partnerships by bringing together representatives of many faith communities to advance shared goals and exchange knowledge and experience.  Embassy programs supported mixed Jewish-Arab educational and community initiatives to reduce societal tensions and violence through sports, the arts, environmental projects, and entrepreneurship.

Continuing embassy initiatives included a project by the Citizens Accord Forum that brought together Bedouins and Jews of Ethiopian descent to address violence and build strong relationships between their communities.  Both Ethiopian and Bedouin religious leaders were interviewed about the principles of their Shmagloch and Sulha methods (traditional conflict resolution methods of the respective communities), with the interviews recorded and broadcast at an online convention in August.  Embassy support to the Tag Meir Forum continued to provide joint training sessions for Muslim and Jewish teachers to promote interreligious tolerance in classrooms.

The embassy worked to mitigate interreligious and intercommunal tensions between the country’s non-Jewish and Jewish citizens through the greater integration of the Arab minority into the broader national economy, especially the high-tech sector.

Throughout the year, the embassy highlighted events, programs, religious holidays and observances, and news related to interfaith dialogue and religious freedom across embassy social media platforms and in conversations with reporters.

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Executive Summary

The Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) grants residents freedom of religious belief, freedom to preach and participate in religious activities in public, and freedom to pursue religious education.  These rights may be limited in extraordinary situations for national security reasons.  The law protects the right of religious assembly and stipulates religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad.  Under the Basic Law, the SAR government, rather than the central government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), safeguards religious freedom in the SAR.  In June, a group of 25 representatives from various religious groups, accompanied by officials from Beijing’s Central Government Liaison Office in Macau, visited Zhejiang Province in mainland China.  The office said the visit was designed to maintain good relations between the PRC government and Macau’s religious communities.  Some religious activists in the diaspora called on the PRC government to allow for greater religious expression in Macau, as provided for by the Basic Law.  Some activists on social media criticized the meeting as insincere, stating the PRC has frequently cracked down on religious expression.

In May, a video showing more than 100 primary school students from a prominent Macau Catholic school singing “We Are the Successors of Communism” in front of a Catholic site sparked discussion online on the ability of religious schools to preserve their religious values and implement their educational mission while conforming to government ideology.  Falun Gong practitioners reported they continued to be able to discuss their beliefs openly with Macau residents.

In virtual meetings with civil society representatives, religious leaders, and nongovernmental organizations, representatives from the U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau stressed the importance of religious diversity and religious freedom and discussed religious communities’ relations with their coreligionists on the mainland and in Hong Kong.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 630,000 (midyear 2021).  According to a 2015 estimate by the research group Association of Religion Data Archives, 48.1 percent of the population are folk religionists, 17.3 percent Buddhist, 11 percent Taoist, 4.5 percent Catholic, 2.5 percent other Christian, 1.2 percent other religious groups (including Hindus, Muslims, and Jews), and 15.4 percent nonreligious.  The SAR Government Information Bureau 2021 yearbook states the majority of the population practices Buddhism or Chinese folk religions.  The yearbook does not provide an estimate for Buddhists, but it states they are numerous and individuals often practice a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Chinese folk religions.  The SAR Government Information Bureau estimates 4.5 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, of whom almost half are foreign domestic workers and other expatriates, and 2.5 percent of the population is Protestant.  Protestant denominations include the Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian Churches.  Evangelical Christian and independent local nondenominational churches, some of which are affiliated with officially recognized mainland churches, are also present.  Various reports estimate the Muslim population at 5,000 to 10,000.  Smaller religious groups include Baha’is, who estimate their membership at more than 2,000, and Falun Gong practitioners, who estimate their numbers at 20 to 50 persons.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

Under the Basic Law, the SAR government, rather than the central government of the PRC, safeguards religious freedom in the SAR.

PRC State Administration for Religious Affairs regulations entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” which came into force on the mainland May 1, requiring clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and promote the “Sinicization of religion,” do not apply to Macau.

The law states there is no official religion in the SAR and stipulates all religious denominations are equal before the law.  The law provides for freedom of religion, including privacy of religious belief, freedom of religious assembly, freedom to hold religious processions, and freedom of religious education.  In 2020, the SAR enacted bylaws to the 2009 NSL allowing the Judiciary Police to create four new national security branches:  the National Security Information Division; the National Security Crime Investigation Division; the National Security Action Support Division; and the National Security Affairs Integrated Service Division, with investigative authority over religious groups and personnel, among others.

Religious groups are not required to register to conduct religious activities, but registration enables them to benefit from legal status.  Benefits include exemption from taxation (such as property tax, stamp duty, complementary tax [profit tax], and industrial tax) and receiving financial assistance from the government.  Religious groups are required to register with the Identification Bureau, providing the name of an individual applicant and that person’s position in the group, identification card number, and contact information, as well as the group’s name and a copy of the group’s charter.  Registered charities receive the same benefits as registered religious groups.  Religious groups need to be registered separately as a charity under a similar or different name in order to provide charitable services.

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

There is no religious education in public schools.  A small number of schools run by religious organizations receive no public funding, and these schools may require students to receive religious education.

By law, religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad.

Government Practices

In June, a group of 25 representatives from various religious groups, accompanied by officials from Beijing’s Central Government Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Macau, visited Zhejiang Province in mainland China.  The delegation included representatives of Buddhism, Christianity, Catholicism, Taoism, and the Baha’i Faith.  The office stated the goal of the visit was to maintain good relations between the PRC government and Macau’s religious communities.  Some religious activists in the diaspora community called on the PRC government to allow for greater religious expression in Macau, as provided for by the Basic Law.  Some activists on social media criticized the meeting as insincere, stating the PRC has frequently cracked down on religious expression.

Some religious groups continued to report they retained their ability to conduct charitable activities on the mainland by working through official channels and officially recognized churches.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In May, a video went viral on social media showing more than 100 primary school students from the Catholic Pui Ching Middle School singing “We Are the Successors of Communism” in front of the Ruins of St. Paul’s, the site of a former Catholic Church, as part of events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.  The event sparked discussion online among Macau residents about whether religious schools could preserve their religious values and implement their educational mission while conforming to government ideology.  Some educators stated they believed that politics should not be brought onto campus, and that patriotism did not equate to loving the Communist Party.

The Catholic Church in Macau, in communion with the Holy See, continued to recognize the Pope as its head.  The Vatican appointed the bishop for the diocese.

The Catholic Diocese of Macau continued to run many educational institutions.

Falun Gong practitioners reported they continued to be able to discuss their beliefs openly with Macau residents.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. Consulate General representatives were unable to visit Macau during the year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.  U.S. Consulate General representatives in Hong Kong, including the Consul General, stressed the importance of religious diversity and religious freedom and discussed religious communities’ relations with their coreligionists on the mainland and in Hong Kong.  They raised these points in virtual meetings with civil society representatives, religious leaders, and nongovernmental organizations.

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ChinaTibet | XinjiangHONG KONG

Tibet

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CHINA | Xinjiang | Hong KongMacau

Executive Summary

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief,” but it limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining “normal.”  CCP regulations allow Chinese citizens to take part only in officially approved religious practices and stipulate religious activity “must not harm national security.”  CCP regulations control all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, including religious venues, groups, personnel, and schools, and prohibit “accepting domination by external forces,” which authorities said included Tibetans living outside the country – particularly the Dalai Lama.  The State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) issued new regulations, effective May 1, entitled the “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” that required all clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and socialism and created a database of “religious personnel” to track their performance.  The SARA also issued new regulations on September 1 that required all religious schools to teach Xi Jinping Thought and adhere to the “Sinicization” of religion.  In the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas, there were reports of forced disappearances, arrests, torture, physical abuse, and prolonged detentions without trial of monks, nuns, and other individuals due to their religious practices.  There were also media reports stating prison authorities routinely sexually abused nuns.  There were reports of individuals dying in custody after being beaten.  There were reports of individuals who had been released from detention dying as a result of long-term illnesses and injuries suffered following beatings and mistreatment during incarceration.  Authorities arrested writers and artists for promoting Tibetan language and culture.  Authorities continued to arrest individuals for possessing photographs of, or writings by, the Dalai Lama.  The government continued to restrict the size of Buddhist monasteries and other institutions and to implement a campaign begun in 2016 to evict monks and nuns from monasteries and to prohibit them from practicing elsewhere.  The CCP continued to promote “Sinicization” policies that aimed to interpret religious ideas in accordance with CCP ideology and to emphasize loyalty to the CCP and the state.  The CCP continued to implement the Administrative Measures for Religious Organizations regulations, released in 2020, that further formalized administrative procedures for Sinicizing all religions.  Media reported authorities took measures to require Buddhist monasteries to translate texts from Tibetan to Mandarin, in what observers said constituted an ongoing attempt to erase the Tibetan language.  On May 21, the government issued a white paper that asserted Tibet had always been part of China and that the PRC would be responsible for the selection of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including the Dalai Lama.  Authorities continued to restrict the religious practices of monks, nuns, and laypersons.  Travel and other restrictions hindered monastics and laypersons from engaging in traditional religious practices and pilgrimages.  Repression, including arbitrary surveillance, increased around politically sensitive events, religious anniversaries, and the Dalai Lama’s birthday.  The government, citing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, again canceled some religious festivals and limited access to religious sites for Tibetans but allowed Chinese tourists greater access to the same locations.  Authorities intensified overt surveillance of monks and nuns and forced former political prisoners to use government-issued mobile phones and wear ankle bracelets containing recording and GPS tracking devices.  One nongovernmental organization (NGO), the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), described surveillance methods at monasteries and nunneries, including ubiquitous closed-circuit cameras, police stations adjacent to or on the premises, monitoring monks’ and nuns’ internet and social media use, and thousands of government workers employed at temples, as being “of dystopian proportions.”  The government encouraged families to inform on their neighbors, and it attempted to control access to social media.  It continued to force monasteries to display portraits of CCP leaders and the national flag and required Tibetans to replace images of the Dalai Lama and other lamas in their homes with portraits of prominent CCP leaders, including Chairman Mao Zedong and General Secretary and PRC President Xi Jinping.  PRC authorities continued to restrict children from participating in many traditional religious festivals, going on pilgrimages during school holidays, or receiving religious education.  As part of efforts to Sinicize the population, authorities aggressively promoted Mandarin-language-only instruction.  According to a report by the NGO Tibet Action Institute (TAI), the government required nearly 80 percent of Tibetan children to attend government-run boarding schools, where they were separated from their families, suffering emotional and psychological harm, and were at risk of losing connection to their language and culture.  Authorities continued to engage in widespread interference in monastic practices, including by appointing government and CCP personnel and government-approved monks to manage religious institutions.  The government continued to control the selection of Tibetan Buddhist lamas and supervised their religious and political education.  It continued to force monks and nuns to undergo political training in state ideology.  Religious leaders and government employees were often required to denounce the Dalai Lama and express allegiance to the government-recognized Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu.  Officials routinely made public statements denigrating the Dalai Lama and promoting the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.  President Xi visited the TAR on July 21-22, where he urged Tibetans to “follow the party.”  Authorities continued in state media to justify interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by associating the monasteries with “separatism” and pro-independence activities.

Some Tibetans continued to encounter societal discrimination when seeking employment, engaging in business, and traveling for pilgrimage, according to multiple sources.

The PRC continued to tightly restrict diplomatic access to the TAR and to deny U.S. embassy in Beijing’s requests to visit the area.  No U.S. diplomats were allowed to visit the TAR during the year.  U.S. officials repeatedly raised concerns about religious freedom in Tibet with Chinese government counterparts at multiple levels.  U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, who was appointed in December, Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy officers continued sustained and concerted efforts to advocate for the rights of Tibetans to preserve, practice, teach, and develop their religious traditions and language without interference from the government.  U.S. officials underscored that decisions on the succession of the Dalai Lama should be made solely by the Tibetan people, free from interference, and they raised concerns about the continued disappearance of Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, missing since 1995.  During the year, the U.S. government used a variety of diplomatic tools to promote religious freedom and accountability in Tibet, including continuing visa restrictions on PRC government and CCP officials that it had determined to be “substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies related to access for foreigners to Tibetan areas,” pursuant to the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018.  In July, the U.S. Secretary of State met with Central Tibetan Administration representative Ngodup Dongchung in New Delhi.  In April, the Department of State spokesperson said, “We respect Tibetans’ right to select, educate, and venerate their own leaders, like the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, according to their own beliefs, and without government interference.”  The embassy and consulates used social media to deliver direct messaging about religious freedom in Tibet to millions of Chinese citizens.

Section I. Religious Demography

According to official data from the 2020 estimate of the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the total population of the TAR is approximately 3,648,000, of which Tibetans make up approximately 90 percent.  Han Chinese make up approximately 8 percent.  Other ethnicities comprise the remainder.  Some experts, however, believe the number of Han Chinese and other non-Tibetans living there is significantly underreported.  The majority of ethnic Tibetans in the PRC live in the TAR, in Tibetan autonomous prefectures (TAPs), and in counties in Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces.  Official census data show Tibetans constitute approximately 24.4 percent of the total population in Qinghai Province, 2.1 percent in Sichuan Province, 1.8 percent in Gansu Province, and 0.3 percent in Yunnan Province, although the percentage of Tibetans is much higher within prefectures and counties of these provinces designated as autonomous for Tibetans.

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The PRC constitution, which cites the leadership of the CCP and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping Thought, states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief,” but it limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining “normal.”  The constitution bans the state, public organizations, and individuals from compelling citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion.  It says religion may not be used to disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens, or interfere with the educational system.  The constitution states religious bodies and affairs are not to be “subject to any foreign control.”  The government recognizes five official religions:  Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism.  Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” representing these religions are permitted to register with the government and legally hold worship services or other religious ceremonies and activities.

CCP regulations regarding religion are issued by the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD).  The UFWD’s Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Work manages religious affairs through the SARA.

The UFWD controls the selection of Tibetan religious leaders, including lamas.  Regulations stipulate that, depending on the perceived geographic area of influence of the lama, relevant administrative entities may deny permission for a lama to be recognized as reincarnated (a tenet of Tibetan Buddhism), and that these administrative entities must approve reincarnations.  The UFWD claims the right to deny recognition of reincarnations of high lamas of “especially great influence.”  The regulations also state no foreign organization or individual may interfere in the selection of reincarnate lamas, and all reincarnate lamas must be reborn within China.  The CCP maintains a registry of officially recognized reincarnate lamas.

Regulations issued by the UFWD allow Chinese citizens to take part only in officially approved religious practices; these regulations assert CCP control over all aspects of religions, including religious venues, groups, personnel, and schools.  Through local regulations issued under the framework of the national-level Management Regulation of Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries, governments of the TAR and other autonomous Tibetan areas control the registration of monasteries, nunneries, and other Tibetan Buddhist religious centers.  The regulations also give the CCP formal control over building and managing religious structures and require monasteries to obtain official permission to hold large-scale religious events or gatherings.

The central government’s Regulations on Religious Affairs require religious groups to register with the government, impose fines on landlords who provide facilities for unauthorized religious activities, and restrict contact with overseas religious institutions.  The regulations require religious groups to seek approval to travel abroad and prohibit “accepting domination by external forces,” which authorities say include Tibetans living outside the country, particularly the Dalai Lama.  The regulations submit religious schools to the same oversight as places of worship and impose restrictions on religious groups conducting business or investments, including placing limits on the amount of donations they may receive, thereby constraining property ownership and development.  Publication and distribution of literature containing religious content must follow guidelines determined by the State Publishing Administration.  Publication of religious material must also conform to guidelines determined by the Propaganda Department of the CCP Central Committee.

The regulations also require that religious activity “must not harm national security.”  While the regulations stipulate that religious groups must abide by the law, safeguard national unity, and respond to “religious extremism,” the term “extremism” is undefined.  Measures to safeguard unity and respond to “religious extremism” include monitoring groups, individuals, and institutions, and recommending penalties such as suspending groups and canceling clergy credentials.  The regulations stipulate that the online activities of religious groups must be approved by the provincial UFWD.

On January 1, the “Regulations on Counter-espionage Security of the Tibet Autonomous Region” came into force.  According to the regulations, “counter-espionage” in the TAR includes activities such as “ethnic separatism,” “ethnic conflict,” and “using religion to endanger national security.”

On January 18, the SARA issued new regulations, effective May 1, entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” that require all clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and socialism and that create a database of “religious personnel” to track their performance.  Article 3 of the regulations states religious clergy “should love the motherland, support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, support the socialist system, abide by the constitution, laws, regulations, and rules, practice the core values of socialism, adhere to the principle of independent and self-administered religion in China, adhere to the direction of the Sinicization of religion in China, and operate to maintain national unity, religious harmony, and social stability.”  Article 6 states, in part, that clergy should “resist illegal religious activities and religious extremist ideology, and resist infiltration by foreign forces using religion.”  The regulations also provide that “entrance to religious places of worship should be regulated through strict gatekeeping, verification of identity, and registration.”  The regulations also stipulate that religious organizations and institutions will be held responsible for the behaviors of individual religious clergy.  Article 7 stipulates religious staff should “focus on improving their own quality, improving their cultural and moral literacy, studying the contents of doctrines and regulations that are conducive to social harmony, progress of the times, and health and civilization, and integrate them into preaching, and play a role in promoting the Sinicization of religion in our country.”

The SARA also issued new regulations on September 1 requiring all religious schools to teach Xi Jinping Thought and adhere to the “Sinicization of religion.”  The 2020 “Guidelines for National Security in Universities, Primary, and Secondary Schools” require school curriculums to ensure students “adhere to the correct path” by “strengthening the party’s leadership, enhancing political ideology, and practicing core socialist values.”

Children younger than the age of 18 are prohibited from participating in religious activities and receiving religious education, even in schools run by religious organizations.  Enforcement and implementation of these rules vary widely across and within regions.  One regulation states that no individual may use religion to hinder the national education system and that no religious activities may be held in schools.  These regulations have effectively barred Tibetan youth from entering monasteries prior to reaching 18 years of age.

In January 2020, the government adopted the “Regulations on the Establishment of a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress in the Tibet Autonomous Region.”  These require “equal opportunities” for non-Tibetan ethnic groups at all levels of government and in schools, private business companies, religious centers, and the military in the TAR.

A government policy introduced in 2018 requires Tibetan monks and nuns to undergo political training in CCP ideology.  Monks and nuns must not only demonstrate competence in religious studies, but must also show “political reliability,” “moral integrity capable of impressing the public,” and a willingness to “play an active role at critical moments.”

Self-immolation (setting oneself on fire as a form of protest) is considered homicide, and family members, teachers, and religious leaders may be charged as accessories to homicide if a relative, pupil, or follower chooses to self-immolate.

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

Individuals must apply to the TAR CCP Committee to take up religious orders, and the committee may deny any application.  Regulations also require monks and nuns to obtain permission from officials in both the originating and receiving counties before traveling to other prefectures or to county-level cities within the TAR to “practice their religion,” engage in religious activities, study, or teach.  TAPs outside the TAR have similar regulations.

At the central level, the CCP Central Committee’s Central Tibet Work Coordination Group and the UFWD are responsible for developing and implementing religious management policies, which are carried out with support from the five state-sanctioned patriotic religious associations:  The Three-Self Patriotic Movement (Protestant), the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the Chinese Taoist Association, the Islamic Association of China, and the Buddhist Association of China (BAC).  At local levels, party leaders and branches of the UFWD, SARA, and BAC are required to coordinate implementation of religious policies in monasteries.

CCP members and retired government officials, including Tibetans, are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practices.  CCP members who are found to belong to religious organizations are subject to various types of punishment, including termination of their employment and expulsion from the CCP.

Government Practices

Human rights and media reported authorities exercised strict control over telephone and online communications in Tibetan areas.  As a result, some disappearances, arrests, detentions, and deaths that occurred in prior years only became known during the year.  Limited access to information, as well as travel restrictions, due both to government policies limiting access to Tibetan areas and to the COVID-19 pandemic, made it difficult to ascertain the exact number of individuals imprisoned because of their religious beliefs or affiliation, determine the charges brought against them, or assess the extent and severity of abuses they suffered.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize some incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

The Taiwan Times reported authorities in “reeducation camps” starved women with substandard meals, and some died of malnutrition.  One survivor, Adhi, said she obtained extra food by providing “sexual favors” demanded by the Han Chinese bureaucrats overseeing the detention center.

The India-based NGO Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) reported that in September 2019, authorities detained Norsang, a resident of Tachu Township in Nagchu (Chinese:  Naqu) Prefecture, TAR, for refusing to participate in “patriotic education” during the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC.  TCHRD later reported, “In May 2021, it was learned that Norsang had died in custody a week after his detention in 2019.”  A source told TCHRD that Norsang died as a result of authorities’ severely beating and torturing him.

The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in January that Tibetan monk Tenzin Nyima, after his release from custody in October 2020, died in late December 2020 or early January 2021 from injuries sustained while in custody.  HRW said Nyima, from Dza Wonpo Monastery in Dza Wonpo Township, Kardze (Ganzi) TAP, Sichuan Province was initially arrested in November 2019 for distributing pamphlets and shouting slogans calling for Tibetan independence.  Authorities released him in May 2020 but rearrested him in August for posting news of his initial arrest online.  Sources told HRW that when he was released the second time, Nyima was unable to speak or move and suffered from an acute respiratory infection, which they believed was due to beatings, severe malnourishment, and mistreatment while in custody.

The India-based Tibetan media outlet Phayul reported in May that Norsang (no last name), a man held incommunicado after his 2019 detention for refusing to participate in government-led political reeducation training, was allegedly tortured to death.  According to Phayul, Norsang died in 2019 while in the custody of local security officials, who did not reveal his death until May.  Authorities said Norsang committed suicide to escape debts, but a source stated he was not in debt at the time of his arrest.

There were no reported cases of Tibetans self-immolating during the year as a means of protesting against government policies, compared with no individuals in 2020 and one in 2019.  In January, the Central Tibetan Administration reported one case of self-immolation that occurred in 2015 but was previously unreported.  The man, Shurmo, was 26 when he self-immolated on September 17, 2015, in Shagchukha Village, Driru County, Nagchu Prefecture, TAR.  According to ICT, from 2009 to December 2019, 157 Tibetans set themselves on fire in protest against what they said was the occupation of Tibet and abuses of Tibetans’ religion and culture under PRC rule.  Experts and local sources attributed the decrease in the number of self-immolations to tighter control measures by authorities and the fear that family members and associates of self-immolators might be punished, including by being charged as accessories to homicide.

The whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, recognized as the 11th Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama and most Tibetan Buddhists, remained unknown since his 1995 forced disappearance by Chinese authorities.  Nyima was six years old at the time he and his family were reportedly abducted.  The Panchen Lama is considered by the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism to be the second-most-prominent leader after the Dalai Lama.  On April 25, the Tibetan diaspora marked the occasion of Nyima’s 32nd birthday.  Advocacy groups called on the government to release him and allow him to resume his religious duties.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported in August that according to TCHRD, at least 40 enforced disappearances had occurred in Tibetan areas over the prior three years.  Victims included Buddhist clergy, writers, artists, farmers, community leaders, students, and other intellectuals.  TCHRD stated the majority of those disappeared were described by authorities as suspects in cases of “endangering state security” or “disclosing state secrets.”  According to TCHRD, “Tibetans continue to disappear every year, crippling family life and community cohesion.”  Pema Gyal, a researcher at the London-based rights group Tibet Watch, told RFA’s Tibetan Service, “There are so many Tibetans who are arrested by the Chinese government, yet their whereabouts and the reasons for their arrests remain unknown for a very long time.”

RFA reported that on March 23, the family of monk Rinchen Tsultrim learned that authorities had sentenced him to four and a half years in prison after a closed trial at which he was denied access to an attorney.  Authorities arrested Tsultrim in 2019 on suspicion of working to “split the country” and held him incommunicado for two years.  His sister told RFA that prior to his arrest, authorities warned Tsultrim to stop expressing his thoughts and writing on a range of Tibetan political, social, and cultural issues.  At year’s end, Tsultrim was being held in Mianyang Prison in Sichuan Province.

Sources reported that the whereabouts of several monks remained unknown at year’s end.  These included Dorje Rabten, who in September 2018 protested against government policies restricting young people from becoming monks; Tenzin Gelek, who had protested Dorje’s detention; Lobsang Thamke, who was arrested in 2018 and sentenced on July 30, 2021, to four years in prison on unknown charges; Lobsang Dorje, who was arrested in August 2018; and Thubpa, whom police took from the Trotsik Monastery in Ngaba (Aba) County, Sichuan Province, toward the end of 2017.

Sources told media that authorities routinely physically abused Tibetan prisoners.  RFA reported in September that authorities released Tibetan Monk Thabgey Gyatso after he served 12 years of his 15-year sentence for participating in protests in Lhasa in 2008.  Sources told RFA that “due to harsh treatment in the prison, his vision and overall health have become very weak.”  For the first year following his arrest, his whereabouts were unknown.

In February, the Taiwan Times reported prison staff in “reeducation camps” routinely tortured women, including nuns, by beating them and shocked them with cattle prods.  Rinzen Kunsang, a Tibetan woman who was arrested for taking part in a demonstration, reported being handcuffed, stripped, prodded with electric batons, and beaten with bamboo sticks, often until the sticks broke.  Other Tibetan women reported guards hung them on the wall, sometimes upside down, and hit them with electric batons.  According to the Taiwan Times, Ngawang Tsepak, a nun, was taken down only after both her shoulders became dislocated.  Ngawang Jhampa, another nun, reported that she was beaten with chairs and sticks and shocked with electric cattle prods.  Several survivors said the guards set dogs on the prisoners.  Gyaltsen Chodon, a nun, reported that guards tread on their hands with iron-tipped boots; kicked them in the face and stomach; placed buckets full of urine and feces on their heads and struck the buckets with sticks; kicked them in the breasts and genitals until they were bleeding; and burned them with lighted cigarettes.

According to the Taiwan Times report, prison authorities routinely sexually degraded nuns and raped them.  One source said nuns were told their bodies “belonged to the CCP” rather than to the monasteries, commenting that these were not merely acts of violence, because once raped, a nun would consider herself to have broken the vows of celibacy and feel unworthy of continuing as a nun, leaving her no option but to lead a secular life.  One nun said guards forced the nuns to come out naked and prostrate themselves in front of the monks.  One survivor reported guards tying electric cords around her breasts and shocking her, while another reported guards setting dogs on the women while they were naked.

The Taiwan Times reported that in a prison in Lhasa, authorities raped 25 women after they wore Tibetan attire rather than their prison uniforms to celebrate the Tibetan New Year.

Sources told RFA that authorities sometimes released prisoners in failing health prior to the end of their sentences.  RFA reported in March that Gangbu Rikgye Nyima, serving a 10-year sentence for participation in protests, was released in February, a year early.  According to RFA, the release came about because Gangbu’s health had deteriorated badly due to her being beaten and otherwise physically abused in prison.

Voice of America (VOA) reported that on February 17, authorities detained three teenagers for creating a WeChat group called “White Rocky Mountain Club,” a reference to a local Tibetan Buddhist deity.  According to VOA, the youths organized the chat group to celebrate the Tibetan New Year from February 12 to 14, but authorities stated the group had violated government rules requiring all WeChat groups to register with local regulatory authorities so the government could monitor chat content.  VOA reported police badly beat the three boys, causing one to suffer a broken leg, requiring hospitalization.

According to HRW, Kunchok Jinpa, a tour guide and environmental activist, died in a hospital in Lhasa on February 6, less than three months after being transferred there from prison without his family’s knowledge.  Local sources said he had suffered a brain hemorrhage and was paralyzed.  Authorities arrested Jinpa in 2013 for allegedly passing information to foreign media about local environmental and other protests in his region and sentenced him to 21 years in prison for leaking “state secrets.”  Prior to his death, his family had no news of Kunchok Jinpa’s whereabouts since his detention in 2013.  The HRW China director stated, “Kunchok Jinpa’s death is yet another grim case of a wrongfully imprisoned Tibetan dying from mistreatment.  Chinese authorities responsible for arbitrary detention, torture or ill-treatment, and the death of people in their custody should be held accountable.”

TCHRD released a political prisoner database in December that documented that authorities had detained 5,500 Tibetan political prisoners since 1990.  VOA reported that authorities had released more than 3,000 of those but continued to hold more than 1,800 at year’s end.

RFA reported in March that the government conducted a wave of arrests in Lhasa and along Tibet’s border with India.  Names of those arrested were not reported, but RFA indicated the arrests occurred ahead of a month of politically sensitive anniversaries beginning in March, including the March 10 anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

In April, RFA reported officials in Sichuan Province arrested Go Sherab Gyatso, a monk at Kirti Monastery in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, and a well-known Tibetan educator and writer, although at the time his whereabouts were unknown.  The NGO TibetWatch reported in December that authorities secretly sentenced Go Sherab Gyatso in November to 10 years in prison for “inciting secession.”  According to TibetWatch sources, local authorities did not reveal the exact date of his sentencing or where he would serve his sentence.  Authorities had detained Gyatso twice before, from 1998 to 2002 for possessing a portrait of the Dalai Lama and from 2008 to 2009 for unspecified reasons.  RFA reported he was well known for his writings in support of the Dalai Lama.  In July, four UN experts, including the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, wrote the government about “the alleged arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance of two Tibetan Buddhists, Mr. Go Sherab Gyatso and Mr. Rinchen Tsultrim.”  A government letter in response from September confirmed the detentions.

RFA reported in April that authorities arrested six Tibetan writers, monks, and former political prisoners between March and April in Sichuan Province.  Sources told RFA that authorities in Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, arrested Gangkye Drubpa Kyab, Sey Nam, Gangbu Yudrum, and Gang Tsering Dolma, as well as two other unknown individuals, between February and March, but that due to the PRC’s “blockade” of information, no information was available about the charges or the whereabouts of the individuals.  No more information regarding their arrest or detention came to light by year’s end.

In April, Tibet.net, a website run by the Central Tibetan Administration, a representative civil support organization based in Dharamsala, India, reported the arrest of several Tibetans living in Driru County, Nagchu Prefecture, TAR, who were suspected of contacting Tibetans abroad via telephone and social media.  The report identified Gyajin as one of those detained but was unable to identify the other individuals.  According to the NGO Free Tibet, Driru County is one of the most severely and militarily controlled areas in the TAR, dating back to May 2013, when residents staged a protest against government-affiliated companies that had begun extraction activities on their sacred mountain, Naglha Zamba.

TibetWatch reported that in July, authorities shut down a private Tibetan-language school in Golog (Guoluo) TAP, Qinghai Province, without citing a reason, and in August, they arrested Rinchen Kyi, one of its longest-serving teachers.  Authorities charged Kyi with inciting separatism.  Sources from the area said the school’s closure was politically motivated because its primary language of instruction was Tibetan and it provided Tibetan culture-based learning for its students.

Human rights groups reported PRC authorities continued to criminalize the sharing or possession of photos of, or statements by, the Dalai Lama.  RFA reported in August that authorities in Dza Wonpo Township, Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, raided homes and arrested 19 monks and 40 laypersons for possessing photographs of the Dalai Lama.  Police called a mandatory meeting three days later for local residents aged 18 and older.  A source said, “The focus of the meeting was to warn people not to keep any pictures of the Dalai Lama or to share any information over their cell phones.”  Police then searched homes in the township looking for banned photographs.  Authorities also inspected a local old age home on the pretext of cleaning the facility, confiscated a number of banned photographs, and gave residents pictures of President Xi and other Chinese leaders to put up in their place.  The meeting and raids followed meetings earlier in the year in Dza Wonpo in which authorities forced Tibetans to sign a document pledging not to keep or circulate photographs of the Dalai Lama, on penalty of criminal prosecution and denial of state aid, according to sources.  Tibet.net also reported the event, saying authorities detained 121 Tibetans in Dza Wonpo for approximately one month and forced them to undergo political “reeducation.”  The monks were arrested after participating in informal Tibetan-language classes and language preservation groups on social media.  According to the report, authorities subsequently released all but three individuals.

According to Free Tibet and Phayul, in late October, authorities sentenced former monk and writer Thupten Lobsang Lhundup (known by his pen name Dhi Lhaden) to four years in prison for “disrupting social order.”  Authorities detained Lhaden in June 2019 in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province, and held him incommunicado until his trial.  A former monk in Drepung and Sera monasteries in Lhasa, Lhundup authored books and essays criticizing government policies.  According TCHRD, prosecutors used his book, “The Art of Passive Resistance,” as evidence against him.  TCHRD stated the “charge of ‘disrupting social order’ is a catchall term employed by the party-state to silence dissent and preserve the culture of censorship.”

Free Tibet reported that on March 14, local police in Dzato County, Qinghai Province, detained and interrogated four Tibetans for climbing a mountain to pray and burn incense.  In addition, police confiscated their identity cards and checked their phones to see whether their WeChat accounts were registered with the government as required.  Police arrested one of the men.  They warned the parents and relatives of the four men that they would be held responsible if a similar incident occurred.

RFA reported in December that authorities in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, sentenced Tibetan monk Lobsang Thinley to five years in prison for “spreading books and lectures” of the Dalai Lama.  According to the report, authorities arrested Lobsang in July for distributing information about the Dalai Lama, although they did not inform his family that he had been arrested or sentenced until September.  Sources told RFA that authorities denied him access to legal counsel.  According to sources, Lobsang had been detained previously for similar reasons.

A July report by HRW stated authorities in 2019 raided Tengdro Monastery, Shekar town, Tingri County, TAR, beat several monks and villagers, and detained approximately 20 individuals.  According to HRW, the monks were held on suspicion of having exchanged messages with Tibetans abroad, contributing to earthquake relief money sent to Tibetans at their sister monastery in Nepal following a 2015 earthquake in that country, and possessing photographs or literature related to the Dalai Lama.  The report said that following a secret trial, four monks received “extraordinarily harsh sentences” ranging from five to 20 years.

According to multiple sources, authorities often forced political prisoners, particularly monks and nuns, to perform patriotic songs and dances praising the CCP, and to watch propaganda films.  If participants seemed uninterested, authorities considered it evidence of disloyalty to the state and subjected them to severe punishment, including beatings, and refused them permission to receive gifts of food or clothing from visiting family members.

Media and human rights groups reported local officials in Tibetan areas explicitly stated supporters of the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders could be arrested under the government’s nationwide anti-organized crime program and that Tibetans were told to inform on anyone who “links up with the Dalai clique.”

The government continued to place restrictions on the size of Buddhist monasteries and other institutions and to implement a campaign begun in 2016 to evict monks and nuns from monasteries.  While exact numbers were difficult to ascertain, human rights groups and local sources said that between 2016 and 2019 (the most recent information available), authorities evicted between 6,000 and 17,000 Tibetan and Han Chinese monks and nuns from Larung Gar and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institutes, both in Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province.  According to local sources, authorities continued to prohibit monks or nuns from returning to these locations and rebuilding these sites.  Monastics expelled from Larung Gar and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institutes were specifically prohibited from transferring to other monasteries to continue their religious education.

RFA reported in August that authorities shut down Hongcheng Tibetan Monastery in Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province, and evicted an unknown number of nuns and monks.  According to RFA, videos of the incident showed monks at Hongcheng Monastery, also known as Yulingta Monastery, holding up banners that read “Forcible defrocking of monks is illegal and unacceptable!” and other protest slogans.  RFA reported videos showed nuns “wailed in mourning” at being made to leave, while others shouted “Stop this!  Stop this!” and “Film everything!”  Local officials denied the operation had occurred.  One foreign-based commentator told RFA the government was “getting ready to eliminate all Tibetan temples and monasteries within the majority Han Chinese area of China.”

During the year, the government reportedly continued its policy of resettling previously nomadic Tibetans in government-subsidized housing units.  In many areas, these were located near township and county government seats or along major roads that had no nearby monasteries where resettled villagers could worship.  The government prohibited construction of new religious sites in these areas without prior approval.  Traditionally, Tibetan villages were clustered around monasteries, which provided religious and other services to members of the community.  Many Tibetans continued to view these relocation measures as CCP and government efforts to dilute religious belief and weaken the ties between monasteries and communities.

Free Tibet reported that on October 21-22, security officials forcibly expelled 30 teenage student monks from Jakyung Monastery and 50 teenage student monks from Deetsa Monastery in Hualong Hui Autonomous County, Qinghai Province, on the grounds that individuals younger than 18 were not permitted to enroll in monasteries.  They took the youths home and informed them they could no longer wear monks’ robes or study at the monasteries.  Free Tibet stated, “Such a directive limits young Tibetan Buddhists’ access to their cultural heritage, as monasteries serve as an essential resource for Tibetan language and cultural learning… Furthermore, students are a vital part of a monastery’s structure; providing senior monks assistance in their duties to ensure smoother operation of the monastery[.]”

International media and NGOs reported the government continued carrying out its 2019-2023 five-year plan to Sinicize Buddhism in China by emphasizing loyalty to the CCP and the state.  The plan included Tibetan Buddhism, with the involvement of the state-run BAC.  The CCP’s Administrative Measures for Religious Organizations, promulgated in 2020, further formalized administrative procedures for Sinicizing all religions, including Tibetan Buddhism, to “follow the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics” and “correctly handle the relationship between national law and canon[.]”

The Catholic news outlet AsiaNews reported that new SARA regulations entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” which took effect on May 1, placed more ideological controls over the training, selection, and monitoring of clergy, including emphasizing allegiance to the CCP and socialism.  On February 11, Bitter Winter, an online publication that tracks religious liberty and human rights abuses in the country, published an English language translation and analysis of the new regulations.  According to Bitter Winter, registration in the government database was “complicated.”  Individuals who were not listed in the database but claimed to be clergy would be committing a crime.  Individuals unable to obtain a “clergy card” would include anyone not belonging to one of the five officially recognized patriotic religious associations, including the BAC.  Bitter Winter stated individuals had to prove they “support[ed] the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and support[ed] the socialist system.”  According to AsiaNews, under the regulations, “Living buddhas…will not be able to exercise any ministry, nor will they be considered true reincarnations without the permission of the [CCP].”  Bitter Winter stated the regulations created “an Orwellian system of surveillance, and strengthen[ed] the already strict control on all clergy.”

Associated Press (AP) reported that in June, President Xi visited Lhasa to mark the 70th anniversary of PRC control over Tibet, the first time he had visited Tibet in more than a decade.  AP reported that during the visit, one sign on public display read, “Xi Jinping’s new socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics is the guide for the whole party and all nationalities to fight for the great rejuvenation of China.”  At Jokhang Temple, considered the most sacred temple in Tibet and one of the holiest sites in Tibetan Buddhism, head monk Lhakpa said the Dalai Lama was not its spiritual leader.  Asked who was, he said, “Xi Jinping.”

RFA reported on a conference for more than 500 monks and nuns held at the Tso-Ngon Buddhist University in Xining City, Qinghai Province, September 27 to 30.  Attendees, including religious figures and students from Tibetan and Chinese Buddhist universities, were instructed that Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and study centers must begin to translate classroom texts from Tibetan into Mandarin.  RFA stated this new policy was designed to encourage the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism and to further enforce the government’s effort to promote Mandarin as the national language.  According to RFA, it was unclear if the policy would also include the gradual translation into Chinese of the thousands of classical Buddhist scriptures also written in Tibetan, many of which were originally translated from Sanskrit.  Geshe Lhakdor, director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India, said Mandarin was not able to communicate the full range of meaning of Buddhist doctrine.  He said, “There is no good intention behind this plan.”  In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in November, a Tibetan academic based in the United States wrote, “The ultimate goal is for future lamas and monks to learn Buddhism only in Mandarin – paving the way for the erasure of the Tibetan language.”

On May 21, the PRC government issued a white paper that asserted Tibet had always been part of China and that the PRC would be responsible for the selection of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including the Dalai Lama.  The government stated it shall be in control of important Tibetan Buddhist traditions, including the right to select which lamas would be “authorized” to reincarnate, and will ensure that reincarnation of living buddhas “has been carried out in an orderly manner in accordance with laws, regulations, religious rituals, and historical conventions.”  In addition, the paper stated Tibetan Buddhism would be required to conform to the CCP and socialism with Chinese characteristics.

The TAR government reportedly continued to maintain tight control over the use of Tibetan Buddhist religious relics and declared them, religious buildings, and religious institutions to be state property.  Sources continued to report that while authorities permitted some traditional religious ceremonies and practices, they continued to exercise control over the activities of religious leaders and religious gatherings of laypersons, confining many such activities to officially designated places of worship and preventing monks from traveling to villages for politically sensitive events and religious ceremonies.  Religious figures and laypersons frequently reported difficulty traveling to monasteries outside their home regions, both within the TAR and in other parts of the country.  Travelers said they encountered roadblocks and police checkpoints surrounding major monasteries, with security personnel often checking their identity cards and refusing entry to nonresidents.  Tibetans wishing to visit family members residing in monasteries noted frequent refusals or limits on their ability to visit.  Local sources reported similar restrictions on their movements and said checkpoints and fear of detention prevented them from visiting monasteries and participating in religious events.  Many monks expelled from their monasteries after 2008 protests in Lhasa and other areas, such as Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, had not returned, some because of government prohibitions.

Free Tibet reported in July that the CCP launched a “Party History” campaign across China in February in anticipation of the CCP’s 100-year anniversary in July.  As part of the campaign, the CCP sent party cadres to visit homes, monasteries, and schools across Tibet to spread “correct” party history and policies.  In Yulshul (Yushu) TAP, Qinghai Province, party officials and police visited families and public schools to spread party propaganda.  In May, party officials held a series of propaganda events at Dorje Drak Monastery Gongkar (Gongga) County, TAR.  Monks and nuns were required to write their names on a banner that said, “Good monks and nuns who appreciate the favor of the party, listen to the party, follow the party.”  In late June, CCP officials held propaganda events at monasteries in Lhasa, Chamdo, and Nagchu Prefectures, TAR, to mark the 100th anniversary of the CCP and the 70th anniversary of PRC control over Tibet.

According to sources, authorities continued to restrict many major monasteries across the Tibetan Plateau from holding large-scale religious events, citing COVID-19 concerns.  Local sources confirmed to Free Tibet that many Tibetan monasteries and other religious sites were closed during the year, with the authorities saying the closures were COVID-19 precautions.  Free Tibet reported that in January, citing COVID-19 concerns, the government issued a directive forbidding all “outsiders” from entering all areas of Larung Gar (former home to the Tibetan Buddhist Institute, which authorities had destroyed) and banning large-scale gatherings and religious activities there.  Many of these sources said officials were using pandemic restrictions to prevent individuals from participating in religious activities.

RFA reported that authorities cancelled public religious festivals and prayer ceremonies for Losar (the Tibetan New Year) in February and closed major religious sites in Lhasa, including the Potala Palace and Drepung and Sera monasteries, citing COVID-19 restrictions.  Local sources said Tibetans were also barred from holding social gatherings and visiting monasteries and temples in Nyagrong (Xinlong) County, Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, and authorities restricted travel in Tibetan-populated areas in Qinghai Province ahead of the start of Losar.  A source told RFA that in advance of Losar, authorities imposed a 10:00 p.m. curfew in Golog (Guoluo) and Matoe (Maduo) Counties in Golog TAP, Qinghai Province in the name of “social stability” and “sanitation.”  According to the source, security personnel were dispatched to restaurants, hotels, internet cafes, and “all places of recreation.”  Police checked identification cards.  The source said, “Anyone caught out after curfew risks punishment, including imprisonment and severe physical abuse.”

Local sources said the government continued to suppress religious activities it viewed as vehicles for political dissent.  There were reports that local authorities again ordered many monasteries and laypersons not to celebrate or organize any public gatherings to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 86th birthday on July 6, or to commemorate the anniversary of the March 10, 1959, Tibetan uprising or a March 14, 2008, outbreak of unrest across the Tibetan Plateau.  As in prior years, TAR authorities banned monks and nuns from leaving their monasteries and nunneries during such times, and pilgrimage sites were heavily policed.  Local sources reported that officials visited monasteries in the TAR and in Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu Provinces and warned staff not to host “outside visitors” on the Dalai Lama’s birthday.  Sources stated officials continued to urge Tibetans to report on foreign visitors to these areas and other “suspicious activities,” a policy that has been place for many years.

According to Tibet Watch, the government banned all religious activities, social events, and private gatherings in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, to celebrate the 80th birthday on August 8 of the 11th Kirti Rinpoche, Lobsang Tenzin Jigme Yeshe Gyamtso Rinpoche of Kirti Monastery, who is currently living in India.  The ban included Kirti Monastery and its associated monasteries in Ngaba and villages in the neighboring area of Zoege.  Sources told Tibet Watch authorities imposed special restrictions on social media.

ICT reported that in April, the CCP circulated a new six-point code of conduct for CCP members in the TAR that explicitly forbade party members from all forms of religiosity in public and private life, despite reports that many local government officials held religious beliefs.  ICT stated the code of conduct was “significant for being perhaps the first party regulation that clearly and comprehensively details the specific types of religiosity forbidden for party members in the TAR,” including wearing rosary beads or religious imagery, forwarding or “liking” religious materials online, and circumambulating mountains and lakes.  The code of conduct also required CCP members to actively promote the party’s antireligion stance among their relatives, refrain from setting up altars or hang religious imagery in homes, and seek party approval before inviting religious personnel to conduct rituals for customary occasions such as weddings and funerals.  The TAR regional government punished CCP members who made pilgrimages to India or sent their children to study with Tibetans living abroad.

In May, media outlet Phayul reported authorities continued to ban Tibetans and civil servants from participating in religious events during Saga Dawa, the month-long festival that marks the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death.  Sources said authorities threatened there would be “serious consequences” for individuals who defied the ban.  Authorities intensified surveillance of, and restrictions on, access to the Jokhang Temple complex on the 15th day of Saga Dawa, the holiest day of the month.

According to local sources, police maintained heavy security during the Shoton festival, held August 6 to 14 in Lhasa.  There were large numbers of uniformed and plainclothes police monitoring crowds of worshippers.  Officials delivered speeches at the festival denouncing the Dalai Lama and urging attendees to be loyal to the CCP.

In October, the U.S.-based news outlet The Hill reported that authorities continued to block or otherwise prevent Tibetans from accessing Jokhang Temple in Lhasa in order to expand access for Han Chinese tourists.  RFA reported that beginning on May 18, authorities allowed worshippers to enter the temple from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., while tourists, coming mainly from other parts of the country, could visit from 12:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.  RFA reported on October 25 that authorities cited COVID-19 protocols to severely restrict government employees, students, retired state workers, and pilgrims from accessing Potala Palace (the former residence of the Dalai Lama) but allowed Han Chinese tourists to visit if they showed proof of negative COVID-19 test results.

In August, the government again banned the annual Dechen Shedrub prayer festival at the site of the former Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute from occurring.  Authorities cited overcrowding and COVID-19 concerns as reasons for the ban.  The ban marked the sixth consecutive year the government prohibited the 23-year-old festival from taking place.

According to local sources, Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu provincial authorities again warned major monasteries in Tibetan areas, including Labrang, Amchok, and Bora Monasteries, that those holding special events or celebrations would face unspecified “severe consequences.”

Local authorities continued to invoke regulations concerning safeguarding national unity and responding to “religious extremism” in order to monitor individuals, groups, and institutions, and to punish adherents of religious leaders, such as the Dalai Lama.  In March, ICT released a report entitled Party Above Buddhism:  China’s Surveillance and Control of Tibetan Monasteries and Nunneries.  ICT stated the surveillance and control of the monastic community was carried out through a sophisticated network of both human and electronic means.  According to the report, “The methods deployed on the monastic community are of dystopian proportions and aim at its political neutralization.  Not only are physical activities surveilled and controlled, but the institutional method attempts also to stifle the inner world of the monastic community through ideological control.”  The report stated, “The intensive surveillance and control of the monastic community has led to either the expulsion of monks for not complying with the official policies, or to their voluntary departure due to constant harassment by officials creating an unbearably suffocating environment for them.”

Sources reported party leaders and branches of the UFWD, SARA, and the state-sanctioned BAC continued to station party and government officials, including security agents, in monasteries in Tibetan areas.  Provincial, prefectural, county, and local governments continued to establish police stations or security offices adjacent to or on the premises of many monasteries and nunneries.  While no updated statistics were available, sources estimated that in 2018, more than 15,000 government employees were working in approximately 3,000 Tibetan monasteries.

According to human rights groups and local sources, authorities continued to install overt camera surveillance systems at monasteries.  The ICT report Party Above Buddhism stated CCTV cameras were “massively deployed for surveillance of the monasteries within and outside their vicinities.  It is the single largest convenient tool used by law enforcement agencies to maintain surveillance of the monastic community, retain a cumulative record, and proactively crush any hint of dissent… The presence of ever-watching cameras within the monasteries produces a suffocating environment for the monastic community.”  The report contained a photograph of the surveillance control room at Kirti Monastery in Ngaba Prefecture, Sichuan Province, showing monitors linked to 35 separate cameras surrounding the monastery.  RFA reported in 2020 that authorities had opened “security centers,” or “convenience” police stations, throughout Lhasa.  RFA described the security centers’ role as “subverting local indigenous populations through surveillance.”

According to multiple sources in the TAR and in other Tibetan areas, officials continued to maintain a watch list of family members, relatives, and close friends of self-immolators to prevent them from meeting and communicating with international visitors, and, in some cases, deprived them of public benefits.

In March, RFA reported the PRC established 697 “Discipline Committees” across Tibet that included 1,960 “inspectors” assigned to surveil inhabitants in towns and rural areas.  A source told RFA, “Any Tibetans traveling there from outside these regions have to show a document stamped with a travel permit.”  RFA stated authorities maintained “tight controls over information flows in the region, arresting Tibetans for sharing news and opinions on social media and for contacting relatives living in exile.”

VOA reported in March that authorities continued to monitor and ban the use of social media apps and virtual private networks in Tibet.  Sources stated security officials searched the phones of Tibetans and often threatened to cut off basic social services if they remained in contact with their relatives in India or elsewhere abroad.  In its report Party Above Buddhism, ICT stated surveillance of internet and social media activities of monks had “deeply affected the monastic community, as they are at the forefront of resistance against the Communist Party of China’s atrocities in Tibet… Monks have faced arrest for messages deemed ‘illegal’ for sharing images of the Dalai Lama or talk about the state of the Tibetan language.”

RFA reported in November that authorities issued government mobile phones to Tibetan former prisoners, particularly political prisoners, as a means of further monitoring their movements.  One former prisoner told RFA, “Cell phones issued by the government have tracking devices installed in them that note your location and who you are meeting.  The SIM card used in these phones is directly linked to a government control office[.]”  TCHRD reported authorities forced some Tibetan former prisoners in Qinghai Province to wear ankle bracelets that monitored movements, recorded conversations, and set off alarms when the person crossed set boundaries or attempted to tamper with the bracelet.

Human rights groups stated authorities continued to use the “Regulations on the Establishment of a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress in the Tibet Autonomous Region,” adopted in January 2020, to further impose central government control and Han culture on the Tibetan population and to encourage Tibetans to become informants on each other.  As part of the government’s January “Regulations on Counter-espionage Security of the Tibet Autonomous Region,” authorities deployed what ICT characterized as “deceptive language” to persuade Tibetans that their neighbors and foreigners were a threat to national security.  According to ICT, “Pressure on individual Tibetans to report on their neighbors is intensified by the widespread use of surveillance technologies.  If cameras and facial recognition algorithms pick up activity deemed suspicious, those who witnessed it, yet failed to report it, also fall under suspicion, and may face interrogation at length.”

A Jamestown Foundation 2020 report, Xinjiang’s System of Militarized Vocational Training Comes to Tibet, stated that the government employed “grid management” and a “double-linked household” system to surveil and control communities.  Under a grid management system, neighborhoods and communities were divided into smaller units with administrative and security staff who maintained detailed databases on everyone living in that grid.  The system “corrals regular citizens into the state’s extensive surveillance apparatus by making sets of 10 ‘double-linked’ households report on each other.”  Tibet.net reported in March that authorities rewarded individuals with money and other forms of compensation for reporting on neighbors who were “extremist” or “splittist.”  The maximum reward for information leading to the arrests of social media users deemed disloyal to the government was 300,000 renminbi ($47,100), six times the average per capita GDP in the TAR, according to local media.

According to human rights groups and media sources, authorities frequently checked mobile phones for pictures of the Dalai Lama and other content that was considered sensitive.  There were reports that authorities surveilled ordinary Tibetans for years after finding such material.

In its report Party Above Buddhism, ICT stated monks and nuns were “also under constant pressure to change their ideological underpinnings, which are based on Buddhist philosophy.  The authorities require the monks and nuns to ‘correct’ their thoughts by checking themselves and criticizing each other.”  ICT published photographs of monks studying CCP ideology.  The report stated, “The active presence of police forces the monastics to constantly ask themselves whether anything they do could be considered illegal.”

Sources stated authorities forced monasteries to display portraits of CCP leaders and the national flag.

Human rights groups and local sources reported that during the year, authorities continued to expand the requirement that families replace images of the Dalai Lama and other lamas in their homes with portraits of preeminent CCP leaders, including Chairman Mao and President Xi.  Previously, this policy was only compulsory for families that were dependent on state support under the poverty alleviation program.  According to local sources, authorities required all monasteries, schools, and offices in the TAR and Tibetan areas to display pictures of CCP leaders.  Sources said authorities conducted inspections to check for compliance.

In addition to the prohibition on the open veneration of the Dalai Lama, including the display of his photograph, the government continued to ban pictures of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom the Dalai Lama and nearly all Tibetan Buddhists recognize as the 11th Panchen Lama.  In some counties of the TAR, punishments for displaying images of the Dalai Lama included expulsion from monasteries.  Local sources told RFA that officials from government bureaus monitoring religious practice visited Tibetan schools and warned teachers and students not to keep or display photographs of the Dalai Lama.

Local sources reported that “The 20 Prohibitions” were still in force.  These regulations, instituted in the TAR in 2019, forbade monks from using social media to “incite subversion, defame or insult others, assist extremist religious groups, provide undisclosed information of the state to domestic or foreign individuals or organizations, or receive or release illegal information.”  TAR government offices also announced that those who misused social media could be imprisoned for up to eight years.

Authorities increased the surveillance of, and efforts to restrict, access to WeChat and other social media.  TCHRD reported that on August 4, the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, in conjunction with nine other party and government departments and agencies, held a video conference launching a campaign to crack down on “illegal” online activities.  The other participants were the Central Cyberspace Administration, Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Ministry of Public Security, State Administration of Taxation, State Administration for Market Regulation, State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television, and the All-China Association of Journalists.  Within a week of the campaign’s announcement, Tibetan diaspora sources reported Tibetans were detained following random searches of personal phones and contents posted on WeChat.

RFA reported that on July 20, police in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province arrested Konmey, the head of the discipline committee at Ngaba’s Trotsik Monastery, on suspicion of holding politically sensitive discussions on WeChat.  According to a local source, Konmey was arrested solely because he recited prayers on WeChat.  The source stated, “He said nothing at all about political issues.”

Free Tibet reported in January that PRC authorities in Nagchu Prefecture, TAR, replaced a Tibetan mantra, “The Jewel is the Lotus,” which was written in Tibetan on a hillside in letters large enough to be seen from planes landing at Nagchu Dagring Airport, with an image of China’s flag and the slogan, “Long Live the Motherland,” in Mandarin.  Accompanying the article were before-and-after aerial photographs showing where the mantra had been and what had replaced it.  Free Tibet stated the Tibetan mantra had once been ubiquitous throughout Tibet, but authorities were methodically replacing the phrase throughout the region.

Free Tibet reported that in late October, authorities in Drago (Luhuo) County, Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province ordered Drago Monastery officials to demolish the monastery’s Gaden Rabten Namgyal Ling school, saying the buildings violated local land-use laws.  The school trained young monks in Tibetan language and grammar, Mandarin, English, and Madhyamaka and other Buddhist doctrines.  Authorities ordered 130 students attending the school to return to their homes.

RFA reported that on December 12, authorities in Drago County, Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, destroyed a 30-meter (99-foot) tall statue of the Buddha.  Authorities said the statue, which was built in 2015, was constructed without county authorization.  They also burned prayer flags and destroyed prayer wheels around the statue.  RFA later reported that authorities took four individuals from the Gaden Namgyal Ling Monastery in Drago into custody days before the statute’s demolition, including the abbot, his assistant, and two monks.

Multiple sources reported the government continued to interfere in the religious education of laypersons and children.  Authorities in the TAR required monks to cancel all classes with children, warning that monks and parents could have their social security benefits restricted or be detained if classes continued.  The ban on religious education was also implemented in some places outside of the TAR.

The Tibet Action Institute (TAI) published a report in December that stated nearly 80 percent of all Tibetan school children – roughly 800,000 students – were forced to attend state-run boarding schools.  According to the report, the government maintained “a vast network of colonial boarding schools in Tibet where students live separated from their families and subjected to highly politicized education, primarily in Chinese.”  The report concluded that these schools were “the cornerstone of an assimilationist agenda advanced by Chinese President Xi Jinping himself, intended to preempt threats to Chinese Communist Party control by eliminating ethnic differences.”  The TAI report outlined government efforts to “remold” Tibetan youth through a system of education that eliminated “all but token elements of their ‘Tibetanness.’”  The report stated the boarding school system was at the heart of the CCP’s effort to subsume Tibetans into Chinese culture and identity.

The TAI report stated that due to the government’s efforts over the last decade to eliminate monasteries as an option for Tibetan education, Tibetan parents were “compelled by a lack of viable alternatives to send their children to boarding schools.”  The TAI report also presented evidence that the government used fines and threats to coerce parents into sending their children to state-run boarding schools.  The TAI report indicated that Tibetan parents had concluded that sending their children to these schools was the only way for the children to “survive in their profoundly changing world.”

ICT reported in March that TAR regulations required schools to incorporate national security programming and counterespionage “security knowledge” into the curriculum for school children, in accordance with national regulations that called for school curriculums to ensure students “adhered to the correct path” by “strengthening the party’s leadership, enhancing political ideology, and practicing core socialist values.”

Local sources reported that during the year, provincial officials in the TAR and other Tibetan areas again banned all underage students from participating in religious activities during school holidays.  School officials again required students to sign an agreement stating they would not participate in any form of religious activity during the summer.

RFA reported that beginning in April, schools in Nagchu Prefecture, TAR posted regulations prohibiting parents of schoolchildren from carrying rosaries, prayer wheels, or other religious items on school grounds.  A source told RFA the new regulations stated that “schools are places to cultivate and produce socialist scholars and should not be used as places in which to follow rituals and traditions.”  The source said authorities were “stepping up their efforts to spread the party’s ideology in Tibetan counties, towns, monasteries, and schools” in advance of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP.

According to RFA, local sources expressed concern that restrictions on the use of the Tibetan language in Tibetan schools, where preference was given to instruction in Mandarin, were causing Tibetan children to lose fluency in their own language.  Authorities also suppressed informally organized language courses in monasteries and towns, which they labeled illegal associations, and subjected teachers to detention and arrest.

The government continued to maintain that Gyaltsen Norbu, whom it selected in 1995, was the Panchen Lama’s true reincarnation, and not Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom authorities had disappeared that same year.  Norbu remained the vice president of, and highest-ranking Tibetan in, the government-affiliated BAC.  According to numerous Tibetan Buddhist monks and scholars, the SARA and provincial religious affairs bureau officials frequently pressured monks and laypersons, including government officials, to attend religious study sessions presided over by Norbu.

In accordance with official guidelines for monastery management, leadership of and membership in committees and working groups remained restricted to individuals the guidelines described as “politically reliable, patriotic, and devoted monks, nuns, and party and government officials.”  General administrative affairs in TAR monasteries, which monks traditionally managed, continued instead to be overseen by monastery management committees and monastic government working groups, both of which were composed primarily of government officials and CCP members, in addition to a few government-approved monks.  Since 2011, the government had established such groups in all monasteries in the TAR and in many major monasteries in other Tibetan areas.

In its report Party Above Buddhism, ICT reported multiple CCP and government bureaus were involved in the “social management” of monasteries.  According to ICT, “24 Party and government entities maintain control of monasteries in Ngaba (Aba) Prefecture as per article 4 of the ‘Notice of the People’s Government of Ngaba Prefecture on Issuing the Interim Measures for the Administration of Tibetan Buddhist Affairs in Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture’ issued in 2009.”

The traditional monastic system reportedly continued to decline as many senior Buddhist teachers from Tibet remained or died in India or elsewhere abroad.  The heads of most major schools of Tibetan Buddhism – including the Dalai Lama, Karmapa, Sakya Trizin, and Khatok Getse Rinpoche, as well as Bon leader Kyabje Menr Trizin – all continued to reside abroad.  The government also banned India-trained Tibetan monks, most of whom received their education from the Dalai Lama or those with ties to him, from teaching in Tibetan monasteries in China, although there were reportedly rare exceptions made for progovernment monks.

As in previous years, senior monks at some monasteries continued to report informal agreements with local officials whereby resident monks would not stage protests or commit self-immolations as long as the government adopted a hands-off approach to the management of their monasteries.  Sources said authorities monitored all financial transactions involving monasteries inside Tibet and entities abroad.

According to media and NGO reports, the CCP maintained a list of state-approved “living buddhas.”  Such individuals reportedly continued to undergo training on patriotism and the CCP’s socialist political system.  In 2018, the BAC announced its database contained 1,311 “living buddhas” that it deemed “authentic.”  The Dalai Lama was reportedly not on the list.  This database reportedly overlapped with the newly established database required by the “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” which also included monks who were not “living buddhas.”

According to sources, every individual on the official reincarnation database received political training in state ideology, entirely separate from religious training, that emphasized that their career and role in the religious community depended on motivating religious believers “to love the party, love the country and social stability maintenance work, as well as fight against ‘separatism’ and the Dalai Lama.”  On source said, “This means that now the Tibetan reincarnations are becoming Communist-trained talents rather than religious leaders.”  Religious leaders continued to report that authorities incentivized lamas and monks to leave monastic life voluntarily by emphasizing the attributes of secular life, as compared to the more disciplined and austere religious life.  Monastery leaders cited continued revisions to education policies, religion regulations, and government control of monastery management as reasons for the declining number of young monks.  Religious leaders and scholars continued to say these and other means of interference continued to cause them concern about the ability of religious traditions to survive for successive generations.

In December, HRW reported an unnamed senior Party official visited three townships in Sog County, TAR, in November “to ensure local Tibetan officials endorse government policies on the recognition of Tibetan Buddhist incarnations.”  According to state-run media, more than 120 township officials, staff of monastery management committees, village-based cadres, village officials, local police, and schoolteachers attended sessions with the official at which they “unanimously declared their willingness to follow laws and regulations concerning Tibetan Buddhist incarnation affairs.”

Sources said the state required monks and nuns to demonstrate – in addition to competence in religious studies – “political reliability,” “moral integrity capable of impressing the public,” and willingness to “play an active role at critical moments.”  Since the policy’s inception in 2018, many major monasteries and religious institutes implemented political training programs.  The ICT report Party Above Buddhism contained numerous examples of monks and nuns viewing CCP propaganda materials and studying the “Four Standards for Monks and Nuns,” which included compliance with “the standard on political reliability.”  According to the ICT, the four standards policy “in essence requires the monastic community to be loyal to the Communist Party of China and embrace socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

According to media reports, authorities continued “patriotic reeducation” campaigns at many monasteries and nunneries across Tibetan areas.  All monks and nuns were required to participate in several sessions of “legal education” per year, during which they were required to denounce the Dalai Lama, express allegiance to the government-recognized Panchen Lama, study President Xi’s speeches, learn Mandarin, and hear lectures praising the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system.

According to multiple government media sources, the PRC conducted a series of training sessions for Tibetan Buddhist clergy during the year.  In September, the UFWD hosted a seven-day training session for clergy across the TAR that included “patriotic films” and “theoretical political education” and focused on the clergy’s role in upholding principles of the CCP.  The curriculum included studying the National Security Law and speeches by President Xi.

Media reported that in April, the UFWD hosted a five-day training session for 40 Tibetan nuns in the TAR that focused on advocating “love of country,” “maintaining national unity,” and following the CCP.

Authorities continued to ban minors younger than 18 from participating in monastic training.  Multiple sources reported authorities forced underage monks and nuns to leave their monasteries and Buddhist schools to receive “patriotic education.”  Journalists reported police arrested, and in some cases beat, some underage monks who refused to cooperate, and that parents and other family members were also threatened with loss of social benefits if underage monks did not comply.

Government officials regularly denigrated the Dalai Lama publicly and accused the “Dalai clique” and other “outside forces” of instigating Tibetan protests, stating such acts were attempts to “split” China.  Throughout the year, then TAR Communist Party Secretary Wu Yingjie publicly criticized the Dalai Lama’s “clique” and called on party cadres to eliminate the negative influence the Dalai Lama had on religion.  The Economist reported that Wu publicly replied to a letter purportedly written by a Tibetan herder in February, calling for him to share the message that Tibetans must “reduce religious consumption” and eliminate the Dalai Lama’s “negative influence.”

RFA reported on March 11, the government-recognized Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, in his capacity as a member of the Chinese People’s Consultative Congress, told the congress, “Foreign anti-China forces have been hyping Tibet issues and religious issues in China, and transforming the topics into political bargaining chips.”

State-run media reported that during President Xi’s visit to Qinghai Province in July, he called on Tibetans to “resolutely implement the decisions and deployments of the CCP Central Committee” and strive to “write the Qinghai chapter of building a modern socialist country in an all-round way.”  Xi also visited the TAR on July 21-22, where he urged Tibetans to “follow the party.”  According to the state-run media outlet Xinhua, Xi instructed local provincial officials to work toward making people in Tibet identify more with the “great motherland, Chinese people, Chinese culture, the Chinese Communist Party, and socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

The Chinese internet company Baidu reported that Wang Yang, chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, delivered a speech in Tibet in August in which he said, “Over the past 70 years, Tibetan ethnic unity has shown historic progress.  We adhere to the correct path of solving ethnic problems with Chinese characteristics, eliminate ethnic discrimination and ethnic estrangement in the old society, defeat the separatist and sabotage activities of the Dalai clique and foreign hostile forces, and promote the unity and struggle of all ethnic groups for common prosperity and development.”

Authorities continued to justify in state media their interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by associating the monasteries with “separatism” and pro-independence activities.

During the year, there were no reports that the Boundary Management System Agreement signed by the PRC and the government of Nepal in 2019 had been used to return long-staying Tibetan refugees to the PRC from Nepal.  Tibetan advocacy groups had stated when the agreement was signed that the provision requiring both countries to hand over citizens who illegally crossed the Nepal-China border was potentially in conflict with Nepal’s international commitments under the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as a “gentlemen’s agreement” with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that provides for Tibetan refugees in Nepal’s custody to transit to India.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, most individuals were unable to travel abroad during the year, including for religious purposes.  In past years, individuals seeking to travel for religious purposes reported continued difficulties traveling to India for religious training, meetings with religious leaders, or to visit family members living in monasteries.  In many cases, Public Security Bureau officials refused to approve their passport applications.  In other cases, prospective travelers were able to obtain passports only after paying bribes to local officials.  Some individuals seeking to travel said they could only obtain passports after promising not to travel to India or not to criticize government policies in Tibetan areas while overseas.  In some cases, family members were required to sign a guarantee that passport applicants would return from their travel.  According to local sources, numerous Tibetans in Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan Provinces waited up to 10 years to receive a passport, often without any explanation for the delay.  There were also instances of authorities confiscating and canceling previously issued passports, reportedly as a way of preventing Tibetans from participating in religious events in India involving the Dalai Lama.

Tibetans who traveled to Nepal and planned to continue to India reported that PRC officials visited their families’ homes in Tibet and threatened their relatives if they did not return immediately.  Sichuan Province and TAR officials continued to require religious travelers returning from India to attend political training sessions.  According to sources, these restrictions had prevented thousands of Tibetans from attending religious training in India.

Restrictions remained in place for monks and nuns living abroad, particularly those in India, which made it difficult or impossible for them to travel into Tibetan areas.

Tibetans who returned from India reported facing difficulties finding employment or receiving religious or secular education.  Returning Tibetans were not allowed to study at Chinese monasteries, and most were denied admission to secular schools because they did not have education certificates recognized by the government.  Local sources said some Tibetans were subject to additional government scrutiny as a result of having relatives at religious institutions in India.

According to sources, authorities in some areas continued to enforce special restrictions on Tibetans staying at hotels inside and outside the TAR.  Police regulations forbade some hotels and guesthouses in the TAR from accepting Tibetan guests, particularly monks and nuns, and they required other hotels to notify police departments when Tibetan guests checked in.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Tibetans, particularly those who wore traditional and religious attire, regularly reported being denied hotel rooms, refused service by taxi drivers, and discriminated against in employment and in business transactions.

Many Han Buddhists continued to demonstrate interest in Tibetan Buddhism and donated money to Tibetan monasteries and nunneries, according to local sources in such monasteries and nunneries.  Tibetan Buddhist monks frequently visited Chinese cities to provide religious instruction to Han Buddhists.  In addition, a growing number of Han Buddhists visited Tibetan monasteries, although officials sometimes imposed restrictions that made it difficult for Han Buddhists to conduct long-term study at many monasteries in Tibetan areas.  State propaganda reported on these activities.

Media and NGOs reported that monasteries collected donations to purchase and distribute personal protective equipment to local residents and populations in other parts of China during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The PRC continued to tightly restrict diplomatic access to the TAR and to deny the U.S. embassy in Beijing requests to visit the area.  No U.S. diplomats were allowed to visit the TAR during the year.

U.S. officials repeatedly raised concerns about religious freedom in Tibet with Chinese government counterparts at multiple levels.  U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, who was appointed in December, the Charge d’Affaires, and other Department of State and embassy officials continued sustained and concerted efforts to advocate for the rights of Tibetans to preserve, practice, teach, and develop their religious traditions and language without interference from the government.  The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy officials regularly expressed concerns to the Chinese government at senior levels, including central government and provincial leaders, regarding severe restrictions imposed on Tibetans’ ability to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom and cultural rights.  The Charge d’Affaires pressed senior PRC officials on the government’s refusal to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama.  U.S. officials continued to underscore that only the Dalai Lama and other faith leaders could decide the succession of the Dalai Lama, and they also raised concerns about the disappearance of the Panchen Lama.  In addition to raising systemic issues, such as impediments to passport issuance to Tibetans, U.S. officials expressed concern and sought further information about individual cases and incidents of religious persecution and discrimination, and they sought increased access to the TAR for U.S. officials, journalists, and tourists, including for religious pilgrims and those traveling for other religious purposes.

During the year, the U.S. government used a variety of diplomatic tools to promote religious freedom and accountability in Tibet, including continuing visa restrictions on PRC government and CCP officials that the U.S. government had determined to be “substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies related to access for foreigners to Tibetan areas,” pursuant to the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018.

In July, the U.S. Secretary of State met with Central Tibetan Administration representative Ngodup Dongchung in New Delhi.

On March 9, the State Department spokesperson stated, “We believe that the Chinese Government should have no role in the succession process of the Dalai Lama.  Beijing’s interference in the succession of the Panchen Lama more than 25 years ago, including by ‘disappearing’ the Panchen Lama as a child and attempting to replace him with a PRC government-chosen successor – it remains an outrageous abuse of religious freedom.”  On April 22, speaking on the disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Department of State spokesperson said in a statement, “We respect Tibetans’ right to select, educate, and venerate their own leaders, like the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, according to their own beliefs, and without government interference.  We call on the [PRC] government to immediately make public the Tibetan-venerated Panchen Lama’s whereabouts and to give us the opportunity to meet with him in person.”

In January, the then U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues met virtually with the Dalai Lama.  According to RFA, the Dalai Lama “stressed the importance of preserving Tibet’s Buddhist religion[.]”

On June 22, the United States joined a group of 44 countries in issuing a Canada-led joint statement expressing grave concern about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, as well as deep concern about the deterioration of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong and the human rights situation in Tibet.

On December 20, the Secretary of State selected the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights to serve concurrently as the new U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues.  In his announcement, the Secretary said the Special Coordinator would continue to “promote respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Tibetans, including their freedom of religion or belief[.]”

Although U.S. officials were denied access to the TAR during the year, they maintained contact with a wide range of religious leaders and practitioners, as well as NGOs in other Tibetan areas, to monitor the status of religious freedom.

The embassy and consulates used social media to deliver direct messaging about religious freedom in Tibet to millions of Chinese citizens.  In March, the embassy posted the Secretary of State’s remarks to PRC State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, noting that the Secretary “raised concerns about a range of PRC actions that undermined the international rules-based order and that run counter to our values and interests and those of our partners, including actions related to human rights, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, the East and South China Seas, and Taiwan.”  Following the U.S. President’s November virtual meeting with President Xi, the embassy posted on WeChat and Weibo, “President Biden raised concerns about the PRC’s practices in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, as well as human rights more broadly.”

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CHINA | Xinjiang | Hong KongMacau

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 enable the practice of Islam, provide religious education, and manage religious institutions.  According to media, some members of the Uyghur Muslim community expressed fear that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was attempting to pressure the government to change its policy of not deporting members of the Uyghur diaspora community to the PRC.  According to media and public government statements, the government generally showed willingness to protect Uyghur Muslims in the country, did not deport any Uyghurs to the PRC during the year, and consistently denied plans to change this policy.  In July, media reported nine Kurdish Sunni imams were arrested, charged with terrorism related offenses and for preaching in Kurdish, and then released.  The lawyer representing the imams told media he believed his clients’ “freedom of religion and belief has been openly violated” because they could not preach in their chosen language.  In March, government media regulator Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) fined independent television broadcasters for “insulting society’s religious values,” which independent Turkish media stated was a common means of retaliation against media organizations critical of the government.  In March, the Constitutional Court upheld a regional court decision sentencing a journalist to seven months in prison for tweets “insulting religious values.”  Government officials continued to use antisemitic rhetoric in speeches.  In May, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Israelis were “murderers, to the point that they kill children who are five or six years old.  They are only satisfied with sucking their blood.”  The government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim religious 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.  Media and nongovernmental organizations reported continued entry bans and deportations of non-Turkish citizen leaders of Protestant congregations.  The government continued to restrict efforts of minority religious groups to train their clergy domestically, and the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed.  In January, an Armenian Christian parliamentarian condemned the demolition of a 17th-century Armenian church in Kutahya that had been protected under local law.  Construction of a new Syriac Orthodox church in Istanbul continued, according to the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Office.

According to media reports, isolated acts of vandalism of places of worship and cemeteries continued.  In February, media reported that unidentified individuals vandalized the gate of the Jewish cemetery in Akhisar District of Izmir.  According to media, in March, police opened an investigation of a fire set at the gate of the historical Kasturya Synagogue, located in Ayvansaray District in Istanbul.  Media reported that three men videotaped themselves dancing atop the gates of Surp Tavakor Armenian Church, causing damage to the gate’s crucifix, in Istanbul’s Kadikoy District on July 11.  Government officials condemned the men’s actions; authorities subsequently detained and then released them.  In December, the three suspects were indicted and charged with “insulting religious values.”  Judicial proceedings continued through year’s end.  In September, media reported unidentified individuals vandalized Kurdish Alevi homes with graffiti that read, “Kurdish Alevi get out,” in the province of Mersin.  Antisemitic discourse and hate speech continued in social media and the print press; in August, some social media personalities and journalists linked the devastating wildfires spreading through the country to a foreign rabbi living in the country.  On June 18, media reported that representatives of the Jewish community filed a criminal complaint against the head of a health and social services business after he tweeted that those protesting at Bogazici University “are all dishonest… You are all a traitor.  You are all a Jew.”

On October 25, the U.S. President met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.  According to the White House press release, they discussed the importance of religious freedom as a fundamental human right.  The Secretary of State also met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, tweeting afterwards, “We value our partnership with the Orthodox Christian community worldwide and religious minorities in Turkey and the region.”  The U.S. Ambassador, visiting senior U.S. officials, and other embassy and consulate officials continued to emphasize to government officials the importance of respect for religious diversity and equal treatment under the law.  On May 18, the Department of State spokesperson issued a statement condemning President Erdogan’s antisemitic rhetoric.  U.S. officials urged the government to lift restrictions on religious groups and make progress on property restitution.  Senior U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, continued to call on the government to allow the reopening of Halki Seminary and to permit the training of clergy members from all communities in the country.  In May, during a visit to Istanbul, the Deputy Secretary of State met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.  The Deputy Secretary also visited St. George’s Cathedral.  Embassy and consulate officials continued to hold meetings with a wide range of Islamic religious leaders and religious minority community leaders, including those of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Alevi, Syriac Orthodox, Baha’i, and Chaldean Catholic 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 82.5 million (midyear 2021).  According to the Turkish government, 99 percent of the population is Muslim, approximately 78 percent of which is Hanafi Sunni.  Representatives of other religious groups estimate their members are 0.2 percent of the population, while the most recent public opinion surveys published in January 2019 by Turkish research and polling firm KONDA Research and Consultancy suggest approximately 3 percent of the population self-identifies as atheist and 2 percent as nonbelievers.

Leaders of Alevi foundations estimate Alevi Muslims comprise 25 to 31 percent of the population.  KONDA Research and Consultancy estimates the Alevi community at approximately 6 percent of the population, almost 5 million individuals.  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 12,000-16,000 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.

Estimates of other groups include 7,000-10,000 members of Protestant and evangelical Christian denominations, 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, fewer than 3,000 Chaldean Christians, fewer than 2,500 Greek Orthodox Christians, and fewer than 1,000 Yezidis.  There also are small, undetermined numbers of Bulgarian Orthodox, Nestorian, Georgian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Chaldean Catholic, and Maronite Christians.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) 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 exploitation or abuse of “religion or religious feelings, or things held sacred by religion.”  It also prohibits “even partially basing” the order of the state on religious tenets.

The constitution establishes the Diyanet, through which the state coordinates Islamic matters.  According to the law, the Diyanet’s mandate is to enable 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 Services, Hajj and Umrah Services, Education, 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.

Blasphemy is outlawed under the penal code, which provides punishment for “provoking people to be rancorous and hostile,” including showing public disrespect for religious beliefs, and criminalizes “insulting values held sacred by a religion.”  Insulting a religion is punishable by six months to one year in prison.

The penal code prohibits religious clergy 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.

Although registration with the government is not explicitly mandatory for religious groups to operate, registering a group is required to request legal recognition for places of worship.  Gaining legal recognition of a place of worship requires permission from the municipalities for the construction or designation of a new place of worship.  It is against the law to hold religious services at a location not recognized by the central government as a place of worship; the government may fine or close the venues of those violating the law.

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.  A government policy allows individuals to pay a fee of 43,151 Turkish lira ($3,300) instead of performing full military service; however, they are required to complete a three-week basic training program.  Those who oppose mandatory military service on religious grounds may face charges in military and civilian courts and, if convicted, could be subject to prison sentences ranging from two months to two years.

The leadership and administrative structures of religious communities do not have a legal personality, leaving them unable to directly buy or hold title to property or press claims in court.  Communities rely on separate foundations or associations governed by individual boards to hold and administer assets and property.

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.  Non-Muslim citizens direct these longstanding foundations; 167 continue to exist, the majority of which are associated with the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish communities.  In practice, a religious group formed after 1935 may successfully apply to register as an association or foundation provided its stated objective is charitable, educational, or cultural rather than religious.  There are six Protestant foundations (four existing before the passage of the 1935 foundation law), 36 Protestant associations, and more than 30 representative offices linked with these associations.

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 charter.  There are several categories of foundations, including religious community foundations existing prior to the 1935 law.

If a foundation becomes inactive, the government may petition the courts to rule it is no longer operational and transfer 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.

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.

Several religious communities have formally registered corresponding associations.  Associations must be nonprofit and receive financial support only in the form of donations.  To register as an association, a group must apply to the provincial governor’s office with supporting documentation, including bylaws and a list of founding members.  A group must also obtain permission from the Ministry of Interior as part of its application if a foreign association or nonprofit organization is a founding member; if foreigners are founding members of the group, the group must submit copies of its residence permits.  If the governorate finds the bylaws unlawful or unconstitutional, the association must change them 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.  A court order may close an association, and the Ministry of Interior may temporarily close an association or foundation and apply to a court within 48 hours for a decision on closure.  Otherwise, the government may close associations and foundations by decree under a state of emergency.  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 religion while incarcerated; however, not all prisons have dedicated places of worship.  According to the law, prison authorities must allow visitation by clergy members of registered religions and allow them to offer books and other materials that are part of the prisoner’s faith as long as the prisoner is a member of a registered religion.

The constitution establishes compulsory religious and moral instruction in public and private schools at all levels starting with fourth grade, with content determined by the Ministry of National Education’s Department of Religious Instruction, which falls under the authority of the Office of the President.  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, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Confucians, Taoists, and Buddhists, or those who left the religion section blank on their national identity card are rarely granted exemptions 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.

The government issues chip-enabled national identity cards that contain no visible section to identify religious affiliation.  The information on religious affiliation is recorded in the chip and remains visible to authorized public officials as “qualified personal data” and protected as private information.  Previously issued national identity cards, which continue in circulation, contain a space for religious identification with the option of leaving the space blank.  The new cards include the same options for religious identities as the older cards:  Muslim, Greek Orthodox, non-Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist, “no religion,” or “other/unknown.”  Baha’i, Alevi, Yezidi, and other religious groups with known populations in the country were not options, requiring individuals of other religions or no religion to leave the category blank or to state “other/unknown.”

According to 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.

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

On July 4, a court sentenced Syriac Orthodox priest Father Bilecen (also known as Father Aho) to 25 months in prison for “aiding a terrorist organization.”  According to the Province of Mardin Public Prosecutor, local gendarmerie arrested Aho and two other Syriacs in 2018 for providing bread and water to members of the U.S.- and Turkish-designated terror organization Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who visited the 1,500-year-old Mor Yakub Monastery in Mardin Province.  According to Aho, he provided food and water to the individuals in question because his religion “commanded” him to help others, stating he acted “out of my belief, not out of help to any organization.”  The case was pending appeal at year’s end.

On July 11, media reported nine Kurdish Sunni imams were arrested, charged with terrorism-related offenses, and then released seven days later.  Authorities detained the nine imams along with 19 others during a counterterrorism operation.  Media reported the charges for arrest also included preaching sermons in Kurdish.  The nine imams were reportedly asked why they had deviated from the mandatory Diyanet-approved Friday sermon (khutbah) and why they delivered the sermon in Kurdish.  While by law the Diyanet’s mandate is to govern and coordinate all matters of Islamic practices, teachings, and beliefs, the law does not forbid preaching in Kurdish.  The lawyer representing the imams told media that he believed his clients’ “freedom of religion and belief has been openly violated,” since they were not able to practice in their chosen language.  One of the imams told media, “God gave us this language.”  According to media, authorities released the imams under travel restrictions.  The case continued through the year’s end.

The country continued to host a large diaspora community of ethnic Uyghur Chinese Muslims.  The PRC continued to seek the forcible repatriation of some Uyghur Muslims from Turkey; however, local Uyghur community sources said they knew of no cases of deportations of Uyghurs to the PRC during the year.  During the year, members of the Uyghur community expressed concern regarding an extradition treaty the government signed with the PRC in December 2020.  By year’s end, lawmakers had not debated or ratified the treaty.  According to media and public government statements, the government generally showed willingness to protect Uyghur Muslims in the country, did not deport any Uyghurs to the PRC during the year, and consistently denied plans to change this policy.  According to media, Uyghur individuals whom police detained in counterterrorism security raids and subsequently released expressed fear that they were targeted because of PRC pressure on the country.  During Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s March visit to Ankara, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told media he “conveyed [their] sensitivity and thoughts on Uyghur Turks.”

In March, the Constitutional Court ruled a lower court had infringed on journalist Hakan Aygun’s rights following his arrest for a March 2020 social media post in which he used a religious pun to criticize a government Twitter campaign soliciting donations; authorities freed Aygun in May 2020.  The Constitutional Court awarded him compensation of 40,000 lira ($3,100) for his wrongful arrest.  His case with the local court that sentenced him to seven months and 15 days in prison for “insulting the religious values adopted by a section of the population” was pending appeal at year’s end.

Also in March, government media regulator RTUK fined independent television broadcasters Halk TV and TELE1 for “insulting society’s religious values,” which independent media stated was a common means of retaliation against media organizations critical of the government.  In another case, RTUK fined TELE1’s program “18 Dakika” (18 Minutes) for using the term “Islamic terrorism” on its program.

In March, the government announced its Human Rights Action Plan, to be implemented within two years and which included several reforms for religious minority communities, including provisions to hold General Directorate of Foundation elections.  Elections, however, were not held by year’s end, and the plan did not become law.  Representatives from religious groups reported no change in interactions with the government following the plan’s announcement.

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 continued not to recognize the leadership or administrative structures of non-Muslim minorities, such as the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, 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.

According to a Seventh-day Adventist source, during the year, the government compensated at least one of six Seventh-day Adventist adherents for its refusal to allow the Seventh-day Adventists to establish a foundation.  The source said the compensation was in line with a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) 2010 ruling that found the government had violated the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for freedom of assembly and association, when the government refused to allow the establishment of the foundation.  The court ruling required the government to pay six members of the congregation in Istanbul a total compensation of 8,724 euros ($9,900).

The Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate continued to seek legal recognition, and their communities operated as conglomerations of individual religious foundations.

In December, media reported Archbishop of Armenian Catholics in Turkey Levon Zekiyan led the first Mass in Surp Hovsep Armenian Catholic Church in Diyarbakir in nearly a century.  The building had been damaged during clashes between police and Kurdish demonstrators in the city in 2015.  Restored by the General Directorate of Foundations, the church will be used by Dicle University for 10 years as a cultural center under the condition that the Armenian Catholic community retain the right to use the church on demand.

In September, media reported the Assyrian community, with bureaucratic assistance from the GDF, reopened Mor Dimet Church in the southeast province of Mardin after 30 years of inactivity.  The church was abandoned in the height of tensions in the region in 1980s and early 1990s.

On August 15, for the first time in six years, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, whom the government continued not to recognize as the leader of the world’s approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians, presided over the Divine Liturgy at Sumela Monastery.  This was the second time the government granted the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate permission to hold its annual August 15 service at the fourth-century monastery since suspending services in 2015 for restoration.  During the liturgy, the Patriarch thanked President Erdogan and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for allowing the ceremony to take place and for caring for the space.

According to media reports, in January, the private owner demolished the 17th century Church of Surp Toros in the eastern province of Kutahya.  Although the place of worship had been deconsecrated and abandoned since 1915, Garo Paylan, an Armenian Christian member of parliament for the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), condemned the act.  Although used as a film set and a wedding hall, the centuries-old former Armenian church had been classified as an “immovable requiring protection” by the Kutahya Regional Board of Cultural Heritage Protection.  Paylan stated authorities remained indifferent to the Armenian community’s calls for the church’s restoration or, at least, its use as a cultural center, and he referred to a statement by President Erdogan that there would be no interference with the belief or worship of anyone.

On August 10, Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy presented 12 recovered icons stolen from local historical churches to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in a ceremony held at the Canakkale Troy Museum in the northwestern part of the country.  The 12 artifacts, including depictions of Jesus, Christian saints, and a crucifix, were reportedly stolen from several historical churches on Bozcaada (Tenedos) Island in the Aegean Sea.  Ersoy said the items were recovered in a multinational antismuggling operation that seized more than 4,000 items before they left the country.  Ersoy emphasized the government’s determination to combat trafficking in antiquities and cultural artifacts.

In August, media reported the restoration of Surp Yerrortutyun Armenian Church (known in Turkish as Uc Horan) in Malatya was complete.  The building, which will serve as both a church and a cultural center, hosted its first Mass in decades on August 29.  The Malatya Metropolitan Municipality financed part of the restoration.

Multiple Protestant church representatives continued to report bureaucratic difficulties in registering places of worship.  According to the Protestant Church Association headquartered in Ankara, it did not attempt to register any church during the year, and it reported no progress on the fewer than 10 registration requests it had made in previous years.  Church representatives said they were obliged to continue meeting in unregistered lo