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Albania

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religion. It stipulates there is no official religion and that the state is neutral in matters of belief, recognizes the equality and independence of religious groups, and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The government has distinct agreements with the Sunni Muslim and Bektashi communities, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the Evangelical Brotherhood of Albania (VUSH), a Protestant umbrella organization, regarding recognition as one of the country’s main faith communities, property restitution, and other arrangements. The law stipulates the government will give financial support to faith communities, but the government’s agreement with the VUSH under the law does not specifically designate it to receive such funding. The VUSH reported, despite the State Committee on Religion’s written commitments to advocate for financial support from the government for evangelical Christian churches, the government did not allocate funds. Religious communities noted positively the State Committee on Religion’s engagement with them and the work of the Interreligious Council, a forum for the country’s religious leaders to discuss shared concerns, although the VUSH expressed concern the government showed indifference towards it relative to other faith communities. The government legalized 135 buildings owned by religious groups during the year, compared with 105 in 2018, and the status of 11 additional properties was under review. The Agency for the Treatment of Property (ATP) reported that, through February, it rejected 150 claims for title. The law then required the ATP to send the remaining 410 pending cases to the court system. The Albanian Islamic Community (AIC) and the Bektashi community raised concerns about having to start over with their claims in the judicial system. VUSH leaders continued to report difficulties in acquiring land to construct places of worship and problems concerning municipal government fees. The Bektashi and the AIC reported problems defending title to certain properties. The AIC reported it had not received a permit, requested in early 2018, to build a new campus for Beder University, but Beder’s religious studies program received accreditation for another five years in November. The State Committee on Religion and the AIC reported the government did not recognize diplomas received from foreign institutions in theology and religious studies. The Council of Ministers still had not finished adopting regulations to support implementation of a 2017 law on the rights and freedoms of national minorities, including religious freedom.

During antigovernment protests, religious leaders issued statements condemning violence and calling for calm and dialogue. The Interreligious Council held several meetings domestically and internationally. The council signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Albanian Center for the Coordination against Violent Extremism in May to enhance cooperation on preventing violent extremism and monitoring school texts to highlight misleading statements about religion. On March 2, the AIC elected its new chairman, Bujar Spahiu, to a five-year term, a contest that attracted significant commentary from the media regarding the candidates, allegations of foreign influence, and concerns about the process. Spahiu, the former deputy chair, joined the AIC in 2006.

U.S. embassy officers again urged government officials to accelerate the religious property claims process and return to religious groups buildings and other property confiscated during the communist era. Embassy officers also urged the government to recognize diplomas granted by foreign universities. In May the Charge d’Affaires hosted an iftar for Muslim students and leaders from the AIC and Bektashi communities, stressing the value of religious dialogue and harmony. Embassy-sponsored programs focused on promoting women’s empowerment in religious communities and the compatibility of religious faith and democracy. The embassy continued its work with religious communities to discourage the appeal of violent extremism related to religion among youth. In August a visiting Department of State official met with faith community leaders, the Commissioner of the State Committee on Religion, and officials from the Ministry of Education to explore the relationship between religious harmony and efforts to counter violent extremism and radicalization.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 3.1 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the most recent census, conducted in 2011, Sunni Muslims constitute nearly 57 percent of the population, Roman Catholics 10 percent, members of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania nearly 7 percent, and members of the Bektashi Order (a form of Shia Sufism) 2 percent. Other groups include Protestant denominations, Baha’is, Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a small Jewish community. Nearly 20 percent of respondents declined to answer the optional census question about religious affiliation.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates there is no official religion, recognizes the equality of all religious communities, and articulates the state’s duty to respect and protect religious coexistence. It declares the state’s neutrality in questions of belief and recognizes the independence of religious groups. According to the constitution, relations between the state and religious groups are regulated by agreements between these groups and the Council of Ministers and ratified by the parliament.

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and guarantees freedom of conscience, religion, and free expression. It affirms the freedom of all individuals to choose or change religion or beliefs and to express them individually, collectively, in public, or in private. The constitution states individuals may not be compelled to participate in or be excluded from participating in a religious community or its practices, nor may they be compelled to make their beliefs or faith public or be prohibited from doing so. It prohibits political parties and other organizations whose programs incite or support religious hatred. The criminal code prohibits interference in an individual’s ability to practice a religion and prescribes punishments of up to three years in prison for obstructing the activities of religious organizations or for willfully destroying objects or buildings of religious value.

By law, the Office of the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination receives and processes discrimination complaints, including those concerning religious practice. The law specifies the State Committee on Religion, under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Prime Minister, regulates relations between the government and religious groups, protects freedom of religion, and promotes interfaith cooperation and understanding. The law also directs the committee to maintain records and statistics on foreign religious groups that solicit assistance and to support foreign employees of religious groups in obtaining residence permits.

The government has agreements with the Sunni Muslim and Bektashi communities, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the VUSH. These bilateral agreements codify arrangements pertaining to official recognition, property restitution, tax exemptions on income, donations and religious property, and exemption from submitting accounting records for religious activities. A legal provision enacted in 2009 directs the government to provide financial support to the four religious communities with which it had agreements at the time. This provision of the law does not include the VUSH, whose agreement with the government dates from 2011. There is no provision of the law to provide VUSH with financial support from the government.

The 2016 law that established the ATP imposed a three-year deadline for the agency to address claims by all claimants, including religious groups, for properties confiscated during the communist era. As of February, ATP’s jurisdiction in these cases ceased and the law requires the ATP to forward open cases to the court system for judicial review. Religious communities must take their cases to court for judicial review, as must all other claimants.

The law allows religious communities to run educational institutions as well as build and manage religious cemeteries on land the communities own.

Public schools are secular, and the law prohibits instruction in the tenets of a specific religion, but not the teaching of the history of religion or comparative religions as part of a humanities curriculum. Private schools may offer religious instruction. Religious communities manage 114 educational institutions, including universities, primary and secondary schools, preschools, kindergartens, vocational schools, and orphanages. By law, the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport must license these institutions, and nonreligious curricula must comply with national education standards. Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox, and VUSH communities operate numerous state-licensed kindergartens, schools, and universities. Most of these do not have mandatory religion classes but offer them as an elective. The AIC runs six madrassahs that teach religion in addition to the state-sponsored curriculum.

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

Government Practices

The government continued the process of legalizing unofficial mosques, Catholic and Orthodox churches, and tekkes (Bektashi centers of worship) built after the 1990s. The Agency for the Legalization, Urbanization, and Integration of Informal Construction (ALUIZNI) reported that through September it legalized 135 religious buildings, including four Catholic churches, 71 mosques, 12 Orthodox churches, and 48 tekkes. There were some discrepancies between the figures reported by ALUIZNI and those of the religious communities. The AIC reported it obtained legalization papers for 245 legalized mosques out of 850 applications remaining. The Orthodox Church reported that during this year ALUIZNI considered 13 of its requests for objects in Tirana and legalized two of them.

The AIC expressed concern that ALUIZNI only gave it title to the buildings and not to the land. ALUIZNI reported that it compensated the AIC with 231.6 square meters (2,500 square feet) and the Bektashi community with 1,320.7 square meters (14,200 square feet) of new land in exchange for land illegally occupied by unpermitted construction. In addition, ALUIZNI issued titles for religious buildings constructed on government or third-party land. ALUIZNI also issued titles, thereby legalizing ownership, for 1,569.7 square meters (16,900 square feet) of land to the AIC, 1,303 square meters (14,000 square feet) of land to the Bektashi, and 227.7 square meters (2,450 square feet) of land to the Orthodox Church.

The ATP reported that it rejected 150 claims for title to land and compensation through February. The ATP typically rejected claims because material documents were missing from the claimant’s file or due to competing claims for the same property, over which the courts rather than the ATP have jurisdiction. The ATP ceded jurisdiction on the remaining 401 cases to the court system, as required by law. Religious communities brought court actions on 71 of those 401 cases. The AIC, Bektashi, and the Orthodox Church expressed concerns about court proceedings, which required them to begin their claims again in a new forum.

The AIC reported it had applied in early 2018 for a permit to build a campus for Beder University to save funds spent on renting the university’s current facilities, but the government has not issued the permit or explained the delay.

Bektashi leaders reported construction continued on two places of worship in Gjirokaster, one in Permet, and one in Elbasan, and the government legalized four tekkes and other Bektashi facilities in Elbasan. The Bektashi community reported it continued to have problems with local registration offices in Gjirokaster regarding one property, stating the registration process was slow, bureaucratic, and vulnerable to corruption. The Bektashi community expressed concerns that ALUIZNI had legalized nonreligious buildings on Bektashi property. The Ministry of Finance, according to the Bektashi community, did not reimburse it for the value-added tax paid for the 2016 construction of a multipurpose center at the World Bektashi Headquarters in Tirana, even though they said the law required the reimbursement. The Orthodox Church also raised concern about paying approximately 25 million leks ($31,000) in value-added tax as well as paying other taxes and fees, and stated those payments violated the agreement with the government.

The Bektashi community stated the State Advocate unfairly challenged title to properties in Berdanesh and Ksamil. The community received a favorable ruling on title for the property in Berdanesh, while the claim for the Ksamil property remained in the court system at year’s end.

The VUSH reported it had asked the government in March 2017 for land to build a main church similar to the main cathedrals and mosques of other faith communities but had not received an answer.

The VUSH reported it continued to have problems registering the property of one of its churches with the local registration office in Korca. The VUSH also stated the Tirana municipal government unlawfully issued a permit for construction of residential and commercial buildings on VUSH land.

Leaders of the five main religious groups expressed concern with a pilot project curriculum for teaching religion as part of the humanities curriculum for sixth and 10th grade students, which started in 2016 but stalled. They stated they were concerned because they did not participate in the drafting and were never informed about the results of the piloting stage or the postpilot plans for the project.

The State Committee on Religion and the AIC expressed concern that the government continued not to recognize diplomas received from foreign institutions in theology and religious studies. The AIC reported the government in November accredited the religious studies program of the AIC’s Beder University, the only university in the country offering degrees in Islamic studies, for another five years.

VUSH leaders stated the central government continued to exempt the organization from property taxes on its churches, but local authorities imposed fees they said were not taxes. The VUSH continued to dispute the municipalities’ position.

The Catholic, Sunni Muslim, Orthodox, and Bektashi communities reported their total government financial support was 109 million leks ($1.01 million), the same level since at least 2015. The Sunni Muslim community continued to receive approximately 29 percent of the funding, while the remaining three each continued to receive 23.6 percent. The communities continued to use the funds to cover part of the salaries for administrative and educational staff. The Bektashi community, which had fewer staff members than the others, continued to use part of these funds for new places of worship.

The VUSH continued to state that, although the organization still was unable to obtain a formal written agreement with the government on receiving financial support, in 2018 the State Committee on Religion provided a written commitment to advocate for extending financial support to evangelical Christian churches. Although the committee submitted a request for financial support to the government in 2018, the VUSH reported it had not received any funds.

The five religious communities expressed appreciation for the State Committee on Religion’s engagement with them. The VUSH, however, also expressed concern that the government and some media outlets showed indifference towards it in comparison with other faith communities, stating the government sent officials to attend iftars during election years but did not attend non-Islamic holy day ceremonies.

The Council of Ministers again did not finish adopting regulations to implement a 2017 law providing additional protection for minority rights, including freedom of religion.

A State Committee on Religion census of religious organizations conducted during the year counted 611 groups, including 248 foundations, 323 religiously related nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and 40 centers. The AIC has one foundation, while the Orthodox Church has three. The Catholic Church has 16 foundations and NGOs, while the VUSH has 160.

In June the Office of the President and the Embassy of the Netherlands held an international conference on interfaith dialogue in Tirana that addressed interreligious harmony as a factor in social stability and policies for managing religious diversity. In his opening remarks, President Ilir Meta said that he was proud that his country was “based on the coexistence and harmony of religious communities.”

On November 18 and 19, the Office of the President held a regional conference on advancing religious freedom, following through on a commitment to hold a follow-on, regional event after the July Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

During antigovernment protests in the spring and summer, religious leaders from all five groups issued statements jointly and separately condemning violence and calling for calm and dialogue.

On October 11, the Interreligious Council, established as a forum for leaders of the Catholic, Sunni Muslim, Orthodox, VUSH, and Bektashi communities to discuss shared concerns, held its first meeting of the year, during which it established a section of the council focused on women and another on youth.

The AIC elected its new chairman, Bujar Spahiu, to a five-year term on March 2. Spahiu, the former deputy chair, earned a degree in theology from Al-Azhar University in Egypt and joined the AIC in 2006. He declared in his acceptance address his priority would be to preserve and strengthen interfaith harmony in the country. Observers and media deemed the election free and fair and Spahiu’s election as a victory for the continuation of the AIC’s moderate and cooperative approach to interfaith relations. The run-up to the election spurred speculation in the media that third countries sought to sway the outcome. Some members of the political opposition stated the government sought to manipulate the election. International representatives, including from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, observed the election.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

At the November regional conference on advancing religious freedom, the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom addressed the audience on religion as a means of reconciliation, gave interviews on the importance of religious freedom in Albania, and visited religious sites in the northern part of the country together with leaders of the country’s faith communities.

Embassy officials promoted religious tolerance in meetings with the Sunni Muslim, Bektashi, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant communities, and in visits to religious sites. In May the Charge d’Affaires hosted an iftar for Muslim students and leaders from the AIC and Bektashi community; the Charge stressed the value of religious dialogue and tolerance during the event.

The embassy continued its youth education programs and work with religious communities to decrease the potential appeal of violent religious extremism. As part of these programs, students at Islamic, Catholic, and Orthodox religious schools and students from public schools planned and carried out projects highlighting religious diversity and tolerance, focusing on youth activism and common civic values. Other embassy-sponsored programs in Cerrik and Peqin helped establish “schools as community centers,” which promoted tolerance through partnerships with local schools, regional education directorates, municipalities, and law enforcement. The success of the program led to its expansion into six additional municipalities by the end of the year.

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Read A Section: The Area Administered By Turkish Cypriots

Republic of Cyprus 

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

Executive Summary

The Turkish Cypriot “constitution” refers to the “state” as secular and provides for freedom of religious faith and worship consistent with public order and morals. It prohibits forced participation in worship and religious services and stipulates religious education may be conducted only under “state” supervision. The “constitution” grants the Vakf the exclusive right to regulate its internal affairs. Turkish Cypriot authorities continued to grant improved access to Greek Orthodox religious sites compared with previous years. The “Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)” said during the year it approved 156 of 203 total requests to hold religious services during the year, compared with 118 of 153 requests in 2018. Turkish-Speaking Protestant Associations (TSPA) representatives continued to report police surveillance of their activities.

The TSPA said Turkish Cypriots who converted to other faiths often experienced societal criticism. The TCCH reported completing restoration of three more religious sites – two archeological sites that have basilicas and a minaret of a mosque – and said the restoration of five churches continued at year’s end. Mufti of Cyprus Atalay and Church of Cyprus Archbishop Chrysostomos II met throughout the year and arranged visits to places of worship across the buffer zone. In February the leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Maronite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic communities renewed their plea for the restoration of St. James Church and St. George Church, two Greek Orthodox churches located in the buffer zone.

In May the U.S. Ambassador met with Mufti of Cyprus Atalay, who was also head of the “Religious Affairs Department,” to discuss cooperation among religious leaders and access to religious sites. Embassy officials met with representatives at the “MFA” and the Vakf to discuss unrestricted access to religious sites. In September embassy officials attended a Greek Orthodox worship service at Panagia Lysi Church, the first service held in the church since 1974. Embassy officials continued to meet with leaders from Sunni and Alevi Muslim, Armenian and Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Roman Catholic, and Protestant communities to discuss access to religious sites and instances of religious-based discrimination.

Section I. Religious Demography

According to 2011 census information from the Turkish Cypriot authorities, the most recent data available, the population of the area administered by Turkish Cypriots is 286,000. The census contains no data on religious affiliation. Sociologists estimate as much as 97 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim. The Alevi Culture Association estimates that approximately 10,000 immigrants of Turkish, Kurdish, and Arab origin and their descendants are Alevi Muslims. The TSPA estimates there are 1,000 Turkish-speaking Protestants. The government of the Republic of Cyprus estimates 314 members of the Church of Cyprus and 69 Maronite Catholics reside in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. According to sociologists, other groups include Russian Orthodox, Anglicans, Baha’is, Jews, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to “Ministry of Education (MOE)” statistics for the 2017-18 academic year, there were slightly more than 90,000 foreign students enrolled at universities in the area administered by the Turkish Cypriots. Of these, 61 percent were Muslim Turks, and the rest were predominantly Christians and Muslims from more than 140 different countries.

Section II. Status of “Government” Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Turkish Cypriot “constitution” states the territory is a “secular republic” and provides for freedom of conscience and religious faith and unrestricted worship and religious ceremonies, provided they do not contravene public order or morals. It prohibits forced prayer, forced attendance at religious services, condemnation based on religious beliefs, and compelling individuals to disclose their religious beliefs. It stipulates religious education requires “state” approval and may only be conducted under “state” supervision, but the “law” allows summer religious knowledge courses to be taught in mosques without “MOE” approval. The “law” does not recognize exclusively any specific religion, and individuals cannot “exploit or abuse” religion to establish, even partially, a “state” based on religious precepts or for political or personal gain.

According to the “constitution,” the Vakf has the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and property in accordance with Vakf laws and principles. Although the “constitution” states the Vakf shall be exempt from all taxation, its commercial operations are subject to applicable taxes. The “constitution” does not explicitly recognize religious groups other than the Vakf. According to the “constitution,” Turkish Cypriot authorities shall help the Vakf in the execution of Islamic religious services and in meeting the expenses of such services. No other religious organization is tax exempt or receives subsidies from Turkish Cypriot authorities.

The 1975 Vienna III Agreement covers the treatment of Greek Cypriots and Maronite Catholics living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots and the treatment of Turkish Cypriots living in the government-controlled area. Among other provisions, the agreement provides for facilities for religious worship for Greek Cypriots. The agreement states they are free to stay and “will be given every help to lead a normal life, including facilities for education and for the practice of their religion.”

Turkish Cypriot “regulations” stipulate Greek Orthodox residents may conduct liturgies or masses led by two priests designated by the Orthodox Church at three designated functional churches in the Karpas Peninsula without advance notification or permission: Agia Triada Church in Agia Triada/Sipahi, Agia Triada Church in Rizokarpaso/Dipkarpaz, and Agios Synesios Church in Rizokarpaso/Dipkarpaz. According to the “MFA,” Maronite Catholic residents may hold liturgies or masses led by Maronite-designated clergy without seeking permission at three designated functional Maronite churches: Agios Georgios Church in Kormakitis/Korucam, Timios Stavros Church in Karpasia/Karpasa, and Panagia Church in Kampyli/Hisarkoy.

Greek Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox worshippers must submit applications to the authorities for permission to hold religious services at churches or monasteries other than these six designated churches, including at restored religious heritage sites. For the authorities to consider an application the date should be of significance to that religious group; the church or monastery must be structurally sound; it must not be located in a military zone, with exceptions for some Maronite churches; it must not have a dual use, for example, as a museum; there should be no complaints from local Turkish Cypriot residents; and police must be available to provide security. Permission is also necessary for priests other than those officially predesignated to conduct services. Specific permission is required for individuals who do not reside in the Turkish Cypriot-administered area, including members of the Greek Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox Churches, to participate. UNFICYP coordinates these applications, which religious groups must submit 10 days before the date of the requested service.

The mufti heads the “Religious Affairs Department,” which represents Islam in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots and functions as a civil authority. Whereas the Vakf manages Muslim-donated property as an endowment for charitable purposes, the “Religious Affairs Department” oversees how imams conduct prayers and deliver Friday sermons in mosques.

Religious groups are not required to register with authorities as associations to assemble or worship, but only associations registered with the “Ministry of Interior (MOI)” have the right to engage in commercial activity and maintain bank accounts. Religious groups and nonreligious groups have the same registration process, and they are required to submit the founders’ names and photocopies of their identification cards to the “MOI,” along with a copy of the association’s rules and regulations. Associations do not receive tax-exempt status or any “government” benefits or subsidies. Religious groups are not permitted to register as associations if the stated purpose of the association is to provide religious education to their members.

There is mandatory religious instruction in grades four through eight in all schools, public and private. These classes focus primarily on Sunni Islam but also include sessions on comparative religion. The “MOE” chooses the curriculum, which is based on a textbook commissioned by the Ministry of Education in Turkey. Students may opt out of mandatory religion courses in grades six through eight. At the high school level, religion classes are optional.

There are no provisions or “laws” allowing conscientious objection to mandatory military service, which requires a 12-15-month initial service period and one-day annual reserve duty. The penalty for refusing to complete mandatory military service is up to three years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 10,800 Turkish lira ($1,800), or both. “Government” Practices

“Government” Practices

Three Greek Orthodox churches, Apostolos Andreas, St. Barnabas, and St. Mamas Churches, were again open for prayers throughout the year, as they had been in previous years, but Turkish Cypriot authorities continued to require advance notification for religious services there. While St. Mamas and St. Barnabas Churches functioned as museums and were only open during working hours, the Greek Orthodox priest held the key to Apostolos Andreas Monastery, according to the “MFA.” According to the “MFA,” services took place for the first time since 1974 at four Greek Orthodox churches during the year. The four churches were Panayia Eleousa Church in Trypimeni/Tirmen Famagusta Area; Ayia Paraskevi in Angastina/Aslankoy Famagusta; Ayios Theodoros Church in Lapithos/Lapta; and Panayia in Lysi/Akdogan.

According to statistics reported by the “MFA,” authorities continued to grant improved access to Greek Orthodox places of worship compared with previous years. UNFICYP reported the “MFA” approved 83 of 129 requests it received to facilitate religious services at churches in the northern part of the island during the year, compared with 90 approvals of 123 requests in 2018. The “MFA” reported it approved 156 out of 203 total requests (including both UNFICYP-facilitated requests and requests submitted directly to the “MFA”) to hold religious services during the year, compared with 118 approvals of 153 requests in 2018. A Greek Orthodox Church representative said Turkish Cypriot authorities continued to deny access requests without explanation, stating the list of criteria a request must meet is “self-explanatory.” Orthodox representatives continued to report the “MFA” sometimes approved applications with insufficient time before the dates of requested religious services, resulting in cancellations or low attendance. Armenian Orthodox leaders said they had not submitted religious access requests during the year partly out of frustration with delayed approvals in prior years. A Greek Orthodox representative stated 63 religious sites remained inaccessible due to being located within Turkish military zones or the buffer zone.

In April Turkish Cypriot authorities again allowed Greek Orthodox worshippers to hold Good Friday church services at St. George Exorinos Church in Famagusta.

A Maronite community representative said the Turkish military continued to restrict access to the Church of Archangelos Michael in the village of Asomatos/Ozhan. Maronite representatives continued to report being required to submit a list of persons planning to attend Sunday services by the preceding Tuesday. The “MFA” said this was because the Church of Archangelos Michael is located within a military zone. The “MFA” said it required only advance notification, not a request for access, to hold Sunday services and that no one was refused admittance during the year. According to the “MFA,” the Turkish military again allowed Maronites to celebrate Mass in Ayia Marina on July 17, the name day of Ayia Marina, and denied Maronites access to the Church of Marki near Kormakitis/Korucam. A Maronite representative said Turkish Cypriot authorities allowed services at Panagia Church in Kampyli/Hisarkoy without prior permission only on August 15 for the Assumption of the Virgin observation.

Armenian Orthodox representatives said continued limitations on access imposed by Turkish Cypriot authorities prevented them from fully renovating and maintaining the Sourp Magar Monastery.

The TSPA reported police continued to monitor its activities, asking specific questions about TSPA members and ceremonies. According to the TSPA, in April police interrupted a training for young pastors organized by TSPA at a hotel in Koma Yialou/Kumyali, questioning and intimidating participants.

According to the Alevi Culture Association, the first phase of construction on an Alevi house of worship (cemevi) and cultural complex was completed in July. The association said the six million Turkish lira ($1 million) provided by the “government” for the internal design and construction of the building was insufficient for connecting electricity and water to the complex, establishing a morgue and kitchen, and finishing the external design. The Alevi Culture Association continued to say it perceived favoritism in “state” funding toward the Sunni Muslim population through financing of mosque construction and administration.

According to local press reports, the Turkish government provided much of the aid to fund construction of Sunni Muslim mosques.

In July the “Ministry of Education” announced a protocol was signed with Turkey to open the Religious Anatolia High School within the premises of Hala Sultan Religious High School, a public school. Secular Turkish Cypriot groups criticized the protocol, stating it imposed Islam on secular Turkish Cypriots. In August the Secondary Education Teacher’s Union criticized the Hala Sultan Religious High School administration and the “Ministry of Education” for organizing a competition with prizes for students who could recite the hadith.

The “Religious Affairs Department” continued to appoint and fund all 205 imams at the 210 Sunni mosques in the northern part of the island.

A representative of the Church of Cyprus again stated some religious sites, to which Church officials had little or no access, were deteriorating. Since 1974 the Church of Cyprus has been unable to access St. James Church in the buffer zone. In February the already damaged church partially collapsed amid heavy rains.

Greek Orthodox religious groups continued to state authorities placed religious items, including icons, in storage rooms or displayed them in museums, against the wishes of the communities to whom they were sacred. In January local press reported the international NGO Walk of Truth recovered four fragments of religious frescoes removed from churches in the north after 1974 and returned them to the Republic of Cyprus. Two of the frescoes were identified as belonging to Panayia Absinthiotissa Church and Monastery in Sychari/Asagi Taskent.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The TSPA continued to report societal discrimination toward Protestants, including denial of access to venues to hold religious events and verbal harassment. For example, in April a TSPA representative said local authorities in Karavas/Alsancak canceled a previously approved Easter celebration on the day of the event. The TSPA said Turkish Cypriots who converted to other faiths, particularly Christianity, faced societal criticism. The TSPA stated a Turkish Cypriot security forces member stopped attending church services due to pressure from colleagues in the military.

Muslim and Orthodox religious leaders continued to promote religious tolerance by meeting and arranging pilgrimages for their congregations to places of worship across the “green line,” including Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque in the Republic of Cyprus and St. Barnabas in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.

On February 14, the leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Muslim, Maronite Catholic, and Roman Catholic communities issued a joint statement calling for the restoration of the Church of Saint James and the Church of Saint George located in the buffer zone in Nicosia, renewing a joint plea they made in 2014. On March 19, representatives of each of the five religious communities visited the partially collapsed Greek Orthodox Church of Saint James in the buffer zone in Nicosia.

The TCCH reported it had completed restoration of two religious heritage sites: the Basilica of Agia Triada and the Agios Philon archeological site (site of a Byzantine church and early Christian episcopal complex). Neither was functioning as an active place of worship following the restoration, and no religious group requested to use either site for religious purposes during the year. The TCCH continued restoring another five religious sites. The TCCH and the UN Development Program Partnership for the Future continued restoration work on the Greek Orthodox Apostolos Andreas Monastery in the Karpas Peninsula, a popular destination for pilgrims. The TCCH reported the tendering process for the second phase of the restoration had been completed; it anticipated work to commence by the end of the year.

In March local press reported three individuals stole a 300-kilogram (660-pound) church bell from the nine-meter (30-foot) tower of the recently renovated St. Panteleimon Monastery in Myrtou/Camlibel. According to press reports, police arrested three suspects and found the bell in a barn belonging to one of the suspects in Avlona/Gayretkoy village. The suspects were released on bail pending trial, which had not begun as of year’s end.

In May police arrested the caretaker of Selimiye Mosque (formerly Agia Sophia Cathedral) and three of his colleagues, who were reportedly attempting to sell two church bells and five chandeliers that were kept in the mosque’s storage room. The “Religious Affairs Department” announced it had suspended the personnel involved in the theft and recovered all the items; the police investigation continued at year’s end.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In May the Ambassador met with Mufti of Cyprus Atalay, head of the “Religious Affairs Department,” to encourage cooperation among faith communities and discuss ways to expand access to religious sites on both sides of the island. Embassy representatives continued to meet with Turkish Cypriot authorities at the “MFA” and the Vakf to discuss access to religious sites and the ability to hold religious services at sites without restrictions.

On September 8, embassy officials attended a Greek Orthodox service, the first service since 1974, at the Panagia Lysi Church. Embassy officials discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom, including instances of societal discrimination within the Turkish Cypriot community, with representatives of the Armenian Orthodox, Alevi Muslim, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Protestant, and Sunni Muslim communities. Embassy officials frequently discussed with Greek Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox leaders concerns about restricted access to churches and other religious sites in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.

All references to place names within this report are for reference purposes only and are meant to convey meaning. They should not be interpreted as implying or indicating any political recognition or change in longstanding U.S. policy.

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Republic of Cyprus 

Armenia

Executive Summary

The constitution states that everyone has freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It recognizes the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) as the national church and preserver of national identity but also establishes separation of “religious organizations” and the state. The law prohibits, but does not define, proselytism, which may be interpreted as forced conversion. The trial continued of a prominent Baha’i lawyer, charged in 2017 with organizing illegal migration to the country. Baha’i community members said they believed the charges were brought because of his religion. According to the Alternative Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child With A Focus on Yezidi Children in Armenia, minority children were frequently deprived of their freedom to practice their religion and faced challenges in preserving and expressing their ethnic and religious identities. The 2018 dismissal of a police officer for being a member of a religious organization triggered a Constitutional Court review of the laws prohibiting police officers’ membership in religious organizations. There were reports the government arbitrarily enforced the law, targeting police officers affiliated with minority religious groups. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan spoke about the importance of freedom of religion and established a working group to review AAC-government relations, the public-school curriculum on the history of the Armenian Church, and other issues. Some AAC representatives objected to the review, describing the process as a threat to Armenian national identity. In September, built with private funds on private land, the world’s largest Yezidi temple opened in Aknalich Village, Armavir Region. Speaker of Parliament Ararat Mirzoyan spoke at the inauguration, stating, “It is symbolic and logical that the largest Yezidi temple in the world is in Armenia. Armenia is a home for the Yezidi people.” Some Yezidis interviewed at the celebration said the temple was an important step for the preservation of Yezidi culture and religion, while others said the primary purpose of the temple was more likely to serve as a tourist attraction.

Religious minorities said they continued to face hate speech and negative portrayals of their communities, especially in social media. According to observers, anti-Semitic slurs were posted on social media platforms, in some cases together with cartoons depicting Jews in an offensive manner. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, there were again societal incidents of verbal harassment towards the group’s members, to which authorities responded promptly and appropriately. There were 16 reported instances of verbal harassment, compared with 12 in 2018. In November an AAC priest published an article on an AAC website, where he discussed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Pentecostals, Protestants, and others, referring to them as “sects.” He stated, “Sectarian organizations hurt our nation by creating divisions among our people, removing it from our Holy Church and the true faith of our ancestors.” Societal and family pressure also remained a major deterrent for ethnic Armenians to practice a religion other than Armenian Orthodox.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials continued to promote religious tolerance, respect for religious minorities, and interfaith dialogue during meetings with government officials. Embassy officials met with AAC leaders to discuss the right of religious minorities to practice their faiths without restrictions. In August the Ambassador hosted an event to foster interreligious dialogue, mutual respect, and cooperation – bringing together representatives of religious and ethnic minorities, civil society, and the government. In September the Ambassador, with national and local government officials, celebrated the completion of a U.S.-funded cultural preservation project of the AAC Saint Hovhannes Church and the restoration of its rare 17th century frescoes in Meghri, Syunik Region. The embassy used Facebook and Twitter to convey messages in support of religious tolerance. The Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly met with minority religious groups, including evangelical Christians and other Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ, Yezidis, the Jewish community, Apostolic Assyrians, Pentecostals, and Baha’is, as well as with individual Muslims, to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 3.0 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census, approximately 92 percent of the population identifies as Armenian Orthodox. Other religious groups include Roman Catholics, Armenian Uniate (Mekhitarist) Catholics, Orthodox Christians, evangelical Christians, including Armenian Evangelical Church adherents, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, charismatic Christians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are also followers of the Church of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, Molokan Christians, Yezidis, Jews, Baha’is, Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and pagans, who are adherents to a pre-Christian faith. According to an International Republican Institute (IRI) poll released in 2018, 94 percent of the country’s population identifies as Armenian Apostolic, 2 percent Catholic (includes all rites), 3 percent other, and 1 percent none. A May IRI poll listed 94 percent of the population as Armenian Orthodox, 4 percent other, and 1 percent none, with no mention of Catholic affiliation. According to members of the Jewish community, there are approximately 800 to 1,000 Jews in the country.

According to the country’s 2011 census, there are more than 35,000 Yezidis, with some more recent estimates suggesting approximately 50,000. Yezidis are concentrated primarily in agricultural areas northwest of Yerevan around Mount Aragats. Armenian Uniate Catholics live primarily in the north. Most Muslims are Shia, including Iranians and temporary residents from the Middle East.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right includes the freedom to change one’s religion or beliefs and the freedom to manifest religion or belief in rituals of worship, such as preaching or church ceremonies, either alone or in community with others, in public or in private. The constitution allows restrictions on this right to protect state security, public order, health, and morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. The constitution establishes separation of “religious organizations” and the state. It recognizes the “exclusive mission of the Armenian Apostolic Church” as the national church in the “spiritual life, development of the national culture, and preservation of the national identity of the people of Armenia.” The constitution prohibits the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms to incite religious hatred. It allows conscientious objectors to military service to perform alternative civilian service.

The law prohibits, but does not define, “soul hunting,” a term describing both proselytism and forced conversion. The law prohibits religious organizations with spiritual centers located outside the country from receiving funding from those foreign centers; however, there is no mechanism to enforce the law. The law also prohibits religious organizations from funding or being funded by political parties.

The law does not categorize or regulate the residence status of foreign religious volunteers.

By law, a registered religious group may minister to the religious and spiritual needs of its faithful; perform religious liturgies, rites, and ceremonies; establish groups for religious instruction; engage in theological, religious, historical, and cultural studies; train members for the clergy or for scientific and pedagogical purposes; obtain and utilize objects and materials of religious significance; use media; establish ties with religious organizations in other countries; and engage in charity. The law does not require religious groups to register, but they must do so to conduct business in their own name (e.g., to own property, rent property, and establish bank accounts). The law does not stipulate rights accorded to unregistered groups.

To register as a legal entity, a religious community must present to the Office of the State Registrar an assessment from the Division of Religious Affairs and National Minorities stating its expert opinion whether the community complies with the requirements of the law that it be based on “historically recognized holy scripture.” It also must be “free from materialism and [be] of a spiritual nature,” have at least 200 adult members, and follow a doctrine espoused by a member of the “international modern system” of religious communities. The law does not define “free from materialism” or state which religious communities are part of the “international modern system.” The law specifies that this list of registration requirements, to which the Division of Religious Affairs and National Minorities must attest, does not apply to a religious organization based on the faith of one of the groups recognized as national minorities, including Assyrians, Kurds, Russians, and Yezidis, among others. A religious community may appeal a decision by the Office of the State Registrar through the courts.

The criminal code prohibits “obstruction of the right to exercise freedom of religion” and prescribes punishment ranging from fines of up to 200,000 drams ($420) to detention for up to two months.

The Office of the Human Rights Defender (ombudsman) has a mandate to address violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of religion, committed by officials of state and local governments.

The law prohibits police and employees of the NSS, the service for mandatory enforcement of court rulings, penitentiary service, and rescue service from being a member of a religious organization; however, the law does not define the meaning of “membership” in a religious organization. The law prohibits members of police, military, and NSS, as well as prosecutors, customs officials, diplomats, and other national, community, and civil servants, from using their official positions for the benefit of “religious associations” or from preaching in support of them. The law also prohibits police, prosecutors, and other state and civil servants from conducting other religious activities while performing official duties. While the law defines a “religious organization” as an association of citizens established for professing a common faith as well as for fulfilling other religious needs, it provides no definition for “religious associations.” A military service member may not establish a religious association. If a member of the military is a member of a religious association, the member does not have the right to preach to other service personnel during military service.

The penitentiary code allows penal institutions to invite clergy members to conduct religious ceremonies and use religious objects and literature. Prisoners may request spiritual assistance from the religious group of their choice. A joint Ministry of Defense-AAC agreement allows only AAC clergy to serve as military chaplains.

The law allows the AAC free access and the right to station representatives in, hospitals, orphanages, boarding schools, military units, and places of detention, while other religious groups may have representatives in these locations only with permission from the head of the institution. The law also stipulates the state will not interfere with the AAC’s exclusive right to preach freely and spread its beliefs throughout the entire territory of the country.

The law mandates public education be secular and states, “Religious activity and preaching in public educational institutions is prohibited,” with the exception of cases provided for by law. While adding a history of the Armenian Church (HAC) course in a public or private school is optional, once a school chooses to do so, the course becomes mandatory for all students in grades five to 11; there is no opt-out provision for students or their parents.

The AAC has the right to participate in the development of the syllabi and textbooks for the HAC course and to define the qualifications of their teachers. While the Church may nominate candidates to teach the course, HAC teachers are state employees. The law grants the AAC the right to organize voluntary extracurricular religious instruction classes in state educational institutions. Other religious groups may provide religious instruction to their members in their own facilities, but not within the premises of state educational institutions.

The labor code prohibits employers from collecting and analyzing data on the religious views of employees.

The law provides for two types of service for conscientious objectors as an alternative to compulsory, two-year military service: alternative (noncombat) military service for 30 months, or alternative labor service for 36 months. Evasion of alternative service is a criminal offense. Penalties range from two months’ detention to eight years’ imprisonment, depending on the circumstances of the case.

The criminal code prohibits incitement of religious hatred calling for violence through public statements, mass media, or using one’s public position, and prescribes punishments ranging from fines of 200,000 to 500,000 drams ($420 to $1,100) to prison terms of between three and six years.

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

Government Practices

During the year, Edward Manasyan, a prominent member of the Baha’i community, continued to face charges of facilitating illegal migration to the country by advising Iranians wishing to settle in Armenia. He was arrested and charged in 2017 and held under pretrial detention for eight months before the trial court judge released him on bail in July 2018. Local NGOs and human rights lawyers shared concerns about the surveillance of Baha’i community members preceding Manasyan’s arrest, which they believed was approved in violation of the law because it violated lawyer-client privilege. In April the Baha’i community filed a countersuit against the NSS with the Court of Appeals, stating the NSS illegally used wiretaps to surveil a Baha’i community member and the community’s office and used the information gathered as the basis to charge Manasyan. According to the documents provided to the Baha’i community, the surveillance authorizations were approved based on the assertion that Manasyan was the head of a “religious-sectarian” organization and was “soul-hunting,” but no charges were proffered on these grounds.

Most public and private schools continued to teach HAC courses throughout the country in grades five through 11. There were anecdotal reports that at least one public school in Yerevan and two public schools in Yezidi villages did not teach the course.

Yezidi community representatives again reported dissatisfaction with the mandatory HAC course, terming it “religious indoctrination.” While schools with an all-Yezidi student body were able to remove the course from their curriculum, Yezidi children who attended schools with a mixed student body were obliged to take the course, regardless of parental objections. According to the December Alternative Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child with a Focus on Yezidi Children in Armenia prepared by local NGOs, minority children were frequently deprived of their freedom to practice their religion and faced a number of challenges in preserving and expressing their ethnic and religious identities. The report identified schools, and HAC classes in particular, as the main setting where the right of minority children to freedom of religion was frequently abused. According to the report, in addition to obliging children of religious minorities to learn about and discuss religious beliefs other than their own, the class often included religious practices such as group prayer, Bible reading, the presence of church clergy in the classroom, school trips to religious sites, and participation in religious celebrations and ceremonies. The report identified widespread discriminatory attitudes as another obstacle to the realization of freedom of religion for minority children, including the usage of “Yezidi” as an insult. According to the report, Yezidi children tended to conceal their identity from teachers and classmates to avoid discrimination. This behavior occurred most often in schools in Yerevan and other locations where Yezidis are a small minority.

Several non-AAC religious groups again said they did not object to the inclusion of the HAC course in public schools, although some objected to the prayers and making the signs of the cross, reportedly occurring during those classes, and said they would like to see a more accurate portrayal of religious groups other than the AAC. The Ministry of Education again stated that during the year it did not receive any complaints about the HAC course and that it had instructed HAC teachers to maintain the secular nature of the class and refrain from religious propaganda. According to various minority religious groups, the personality of the teacher was the crucial factor in the treatment of minority children in class. Christian groups reported no egregious cases of classroom discrimination. Cases that Christian groups considered as minor, such as perceived unfavorable treatment of a student by a teacher because of the student’s religion, were resolved between parents and schools, according to those groups. Most religious organizations said classroom discrimination was likely more common in the regions outside Yerevan where they said tolerance for religious diversity was less common.

NGOs, other religious organizations, atheists, and nonpracticing members of the AAC continued to publicly voice concerns about what they stated were elements of religious indoctrination contained in the HAC course, as well as material equating AAC affiliation with national identity. There were reports of AAC clergy teaching the course in some schools and requiring visits to AAC churches as part of the course without providing opportunities for discussion of other faiths or for students to visit non-AAC religious sites. According to the government, during the 2018-19 academic year (September-May), AAC clergy members taught the HAC course in less than 1 percent of all schools. According to official information provided to the Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF), AAC priests taught the HAC course in six schools, four public and two private.

According to media reports, the government’s plans to review the HAC curriculum and possibly replace it with a broader History of Religions class spurred heated debate, with more traditional groups describing the plans as an attack on Armenian identity and stating the course was needed to stop the spread of “sects.” On November 4, Prime Minister Pashinyan in a live Facebook broadcast discussed the issue of the HAC course, questioning the separate teaching of AAC and general Armenian history classes. In an interview with RFE/RL Armenia, AAC Chancellor Bishop Arshak Khachatryan said the position of the AAC had not changed and that in the Church’s opinion HAC should remain a separate course. In the same media report, historian Vahram Tokmajyan said the ongoing discussions around the HAC were a “fake agenda,” since before any substantive changes could be made to the school curriculum, new official educational objectives had to be adopted, a lengthy process expected to last until 2021-2022. Some observers said the discussion of the HAC course was being used by government opponents to manipulate public opinion.

According to the EPF, the following phenomena connected with the HAC course raised concerns: performing religious rituals or elements of religious rituals during classes; preaching and sowing hatred against religious organizations other than the AAC; equating religious and national identity; sowing intolerance toward other opinions; and hindering creative and critical thinking. According to some minority religious groups, a similar intolerance of religious groups other than the AAC, including slurs insulting minority religions, also occurred in universities.

Based on a Ministry of Education program launched in 2012, school administrations continued to have the option to include an additional course, entitled “History of the AAC/Christian Education,” in their curriculum for grades two through four. During the new school year, 74 schools followed this option, the same number as the previous year.

According to the government, as in 2018, no religious groups other than the AAC requested to visit a military unit. The chaplaincy program, a joint Ministry of Defense-AAC initiative, continued to allow only AAC clergy to serve in the program.

According to official information from the Ministry of Justice, to satisfy the spiritual needs of detainees and convicts, AAC clergymen regularly visited penitentiaries, organized baptisms, offered liturgies, and celebrated holidays. Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Armenian Evangelical Church visited penitentiaries seven, four, and 17 times, respectively, during the first nine months of the year for spiritual conversations with convicts.

On March 12, Epress.am, an independent online news outlet focused on human rights, published an article entitled “The Army Converts Atheists.” The article reprinted a copy of a questionnaire, initially posted by a Facebook user and reportedly distributed in military commissariats to be completed by future conscripts. One of the questions was: “Religious affiliation: if you belong to or are affiliated with any religious sect, belief, faction, or organization. You must also indicate since which year, as well as which of your family members belong to this or another belief. If not, fill in as a follower of the Armenian Apostolic Church.” The government did not respond directly to the news item but stated the Ministry of Defense did not organize discussions or seek information on the religious affiliations of conscripts.

On February 19, the Center for Religion and Law filed a lawsuit on behalf of a teacher in Yelpin Village in Vayots Dzor Region against her school administration, requesting the 2017 decision reducing her classes be rescinded, the number of classes she taught restored, she be paid back wages, and the fact she was subjected to discrimination on religious grounds be acknowledged. According to the Center for Religion and Law, the teacher had become a subject of discrimination based on her religion after the parents of students had accused the teacher of belonging to a “sect” because she was a member of an evangelical Christian church. The parents initially stopped allowing their children to attend her classes, stating they feared she might indoctrinate them. The acting principal temporarily restored the teachers’ hours despite community pressure, including the threat that he would not be elected principal on a permanent basis unless the teacher was removed. As of early December, the teacher continued to teach at the school, and the acting principal had managed to convince the parents to send their children to her class.

According to the Center for Religion and Law, in October 2018, the national chief of police dismissed longtime police officer, Edgar Karapetyan, on the grounds he was attending an evangelical Christian church and, according to police, was a member of a religious organization, although it was not customary for religious groups to maintain membership records. According to local observers, the same legal restrictions were not enforced for AAC members. The Center for Religion and Law appealed the dismissal to the Administrative Court and requested Karapetyan be reinstated, paid back wages, and that the court acknowledge he had been subjected to discrimination on religious grounds. The Administrative Court suspended the hearings and appealed to the Constitutional Court to determine if the relevant provisions of the law on police service complied with the constitution. On September 13, the Constitutional Court accepted the appeal. The court did not rule on the case by year’s end.

There were reports from other minority religious groups that their members were discriminated against in seeking public employment. Some individuals employed by public offices or law enforcement said they were afraid to make their religious affiliation known at the workplace or attend church services because they feared losing their jobs if they did so.

Even though there was no mechanism for enforcement of the legal provision prohibiting funding of religious organizations by spiritual centers located outside the country, several religious organizations said they adhered to the ban and restricted their operations because they did not want to violate the law.

At year’s end, 129 Jehovah’s Witnesses were working in the alternative civilian service program, compared with 123 in 2018. The alternative service appointments included positions in various hospitals; local utility companies; park maintenance services; and facilities such as boarding schools, eldercare facilities, and orphanages. According to government sources, Jehovah’s Witnesses were the only individuals participating in these programs, and none chose to serve in the alternative military service (military service that does not involve combat duty or the carrying, keeping, maintaining, or using of arms).

On January 29, Prime Minister Pashinyan established by decree a working group on government-AAC relations. The prime minister’s chief of staff led the working group, which included deputy ministers of justice, defense, education, and other ministries and agencies, as well as five representatives of the AAC, including Chancellor of the AAC Bishop Khachatryan. Prime Minister Pashinyan and Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin II co-chaired the group’s first meeting on May 3. The prime minister noted AAC’s unique role in the preservation of national identity and stated that the working group would review relations between the state and Church and discuss issues such as taxation and the mandatory teaching of the HAC course in schools.

On May 24, Prime Minister Pashinyan participated in an EPC regional conference held in Yerevan entitled “Contemporary Issues of Freedom of Religion or Belief in Armenia, Georgia, and Beyond.” The prime minister emphasized the government’s commitment to religious freedom. In his welcoming speech he stated, “Freedom of religion, freedom to believe in God is first of all the freedom of an individual to believe in himself.”

During Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan’s participation in the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom held in Washington D.C in July, he stated, “Armenia became a safe haven for a number of vulnerable religious minorities, particularly Yezidis and Assyrians. Today Yezidis are the strongest minority group in Armenia, and we are very proud that the biggest temple of this ancient people very soon will open in their Armenian homeland.”

On September 29, the world’s largest Yezidi temple, Quba Mere Diwane, opened in the small village of Aknalich in Armavir Region. Speaker of Parliament Mirzoyan said at the opening, “It is symbolic and logical that the largest Yezidi temple in the world is in Armenia. Armenia is a home for the Yezidi people. The children of the Yezidi people have been standing beside their Armenian brothers at many fatal and heroic moments.” Many Yezidis interviewed at the celebration stated the opening of the temple was an important step for the preservation of Yezidi culture and religion, while others said the primary purpose of the temple was more likely to serve as a tourist attraction. A private venture maintained by the family that funded its construction, and sited on private land, the temple attracted tourists during the year in addition to serving as a site for Yezidi funerals.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to observers, extremely offensive anti-Semitic slurs were posted on social media platforms, in some cases together with cartoons depicting Jews in an offensive manner. The use of offensive slurs was particularly prevalent in posts on Facebook by anonymous antigovernment individuals targeting the Jewish leader of an international foundation. Some posts commented on a “Turkish-Masonic-Jewish” conspiracy aimed against the Armenian people.

On November 26, an AAC priest published an article entitled “Sects” on the website of one of the churches of the Araratian Pontifical Diocese, where he discussed several religious groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Pentecostals, Protestants, and others, referring to them as “sects.” According to the priest, “Sectarian organizations hurt our nation by creating divisions among our people, removing it from our Holy Church and the true faith of our ancestors.”

A minority religious group reported that an AAC priest, who in September 2018 blamed the “evangelical sect” for the country’s loss of statehood in the past and accused it of working with the country’s historic enemy, the Turks, continued to enter public schools during the year. The priest urged students not to attend Sunday schools organized by evangelical Christian churches, even though the AAC had reportedly advised him not to provide such advice.

According to media analysts, private individuals affiliated with or sympathetic to the former government ousted in 2018 continued to use religious issues to denounce the government. According to media and religious freedom experts, those individuals used various websites, controversial blogs, local troll factories, false Facebook groups, and false stories to propagate the idea that the revolution was carried out by minority religious groups or “sects” (commonly considered any group other than the AAC).

The NSS continued its 2018 criminal case on charges of incitement of religious hatred against the creators of a 2018 Facebook page that falsely presented itself as associated both with the Word of Life Church and the prime minister’s Civil Contract party. According to Word of Life representatives, the Facebook page posted a photograph of the senior pastor of the Church and included an article with anti-Armenian and anti-AAC statements, causing a public uproar against the Church. On April 8, the prosecution charged Iranian-Armenian dual citizen Armen Abi in this case; the investigation continued through year’s end.

There is one Shia mosque, located in Yerevan, serving all Islamic groups.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to promote religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue during meetings with government officials. The Ambassador and other embassy officials raised reported discrimination against minority religious groups, including religious education in schools. Embassy officials monitored the trial of the Baha’i charged and facing prosecution on what the group stated were religious grounds.

The Ambassador regularly met with representatives of the government, political parties, social groups, and religious minorities to discuss problems of discrimination faced by religious minorities, foster a dialogue between the government and the religious groups, and explore cooperative solutions to those problems. In August the Ambassador hosted an event to foster interreligious dialogue, mutual respect, and cooperation, bringing together representatives of religious and ethnic minorities, civil society, and the government to discuss issues of concern and foster a dialogue among the groups.

On September 17, the Ambassador and national and local government officials marked the completion of a U.S.-funded cultural preservation project in Meghri, Syunik Region. Launched in 2016, the project involved the preservation of the most critically endangered parts of the AAC Saint Hovhannes Church and the restoration of its rare 17th century frescoes, painted in the unique Persian-Armenian style.

The Ambassador met with leaders of the AAC and engaged them on the importance of supporting the right of religious minorities to practice their faiths without restrictions.

Embassy officials attended conferences and discussions on nondiscrimination, national religious minorities, and religious tolerance regularly hosted by the EPF, including a regional conference held in Yerevan titled, “Contemporary Issues of Freedom of Religion or Belief in Armenia, Georgia, and Beyond.” Embassy officials participated in the EPF Annual Media Award jury and February 26 ceremony to support religious tolerance in media.

In October embassy officials visited an Assyrian village in Armavir Region and in December the new Yezidi temple in Aknalich Village. They held regular meetings with representatives of the AAC and religious and ethnic minorities, including evangelical Christians and other Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ, Yezidis, the Jewish community, Apostolic Assyrians, Pentecostals, and Baha’is, as well as meeting with individual Muslims. In these meetings, embassy officials and religious group representatives discussed the state of religious freedom in the country, including minority religious group concerns. They also met with civil society groups to discuss concerns about the HAC course taught in public schools, as well as the importance of respect for religious freedom in the country.

The embassy used social media, including Twitter and Facebook, to send messages supporting religious diversity and tolerance.

Azerbaijan

Executive Summary

The constitution stipulates the separation of state and religion and the equality of all religions. It also protects the right of individuals to express their religious beliefs and practice religious rituals, provided these do not violate public order or public morality. The law prohibits the government from interfering in religious activities, but it also states the government and citizens have a responsibility to combat “religious extremism” and “radicalism.” The law specifies the government may dissolve religious organizations if they cause racial, national, religious, or social animosity; proselytize in a way that “degrades human dignity;” or hinder secular education. Local courts sentenced 57 of the 77 individuals detained after the July 2018 attack on the then head of the city of Ganja Executive Committee, and subsequent killing of two police officers. Authorities said those sentenced were part of a Shia “extremist conspiracy” that sought to undermine the constitutional order. Human rights defenders considered 48 of these individuals to be political prisoners at year’s end; they also reported that in court hearings throughout the year, these individuals testified that police and other officials tortured them to coerce false confessions. Local human rights groups and others stated the government continued to physically abuse, arrest, and imprison religious activists. Leaders of the political opposition party Muslim Unity Movement Taleh Bagizade and Abbas Huseynov conducted hunger strikes of 16 days and 14 days respectively to protest their poor treatment by Penitentiary Services officials in Gobustan Prison. Human rights defenders said they considered these and other incarcerated Muslim Unity Movement members to be political prisoners. Estimates of the number of religious activists who were political prisoners or detainees ranged from 45 to 55 at the end of the year. Authorities briefly detained, fined, or warned individuals for holding unauthorized religious meetings. The government’s requirements for legal registration were unachievable for communities with less than 50 members. The government continued to control the importation, distribution, and sale of religious materials. The courts fined individuals for the unauthorized sale or distribution of religious materials. According to an article in the online media outlet Eurasianet, women wearing hijabs faced discrimination in the public sector. A senior government official stated in May while the law did not explicitly address the issue of the hijab in the workplace, there remained an unofficial ban on wearing it in government employment. The government sponsored events throughout the country to promote religious tolerance and combat what it considered religious extremism, including the November 14-15 Baku Summit of World Religious Leaders.

Civil society representatives stated citizens continued to tolerate “traditional” minority religious groups (i.e., those historically present in the country), including Jews, Russian Orthodox, and Catholics; however, groups viewed as “nontraditional” were often viewed with suspicion and mistrust.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officers urged government officials to investigate allegations of serious physical abuse – including alleged torture – of those individuals detained after July 2018 unrest in the city of Ganja, and engaged the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations (SCWRA) to address longstanding issues with the registration process for religious communities. The Ambassador and embassy officers met regularly with representatives of traditional and nontraditional religious groups and civil society in and outside the capital to discuss the situation for religious freedom in the country. Embassy officials met with representatives of various religious groups in Baku and in the regions to discuss religious freedom in the country. Officials had consultations with theologians and civil society representatives and urged the government to implement the constitutionally provided alternative to military service for conscientious objectors.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.1 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to 2011 data from the SCWRA, 96 percent of the population is Muslim, of which approximately 65 percent is Shia and 35 percent Sunni. Groups that together constitute the remaining 4 percent of the population include the Russian Orthodox Church; Georgian Orthodox Church; Armenian Apostolic Church; Seventh-day Adventists; Molokan Church; Roman Catholic Church; other Christians, including evangelical churches and Jehovah’s Witnesses; Jews; and Baha’is. Others include the International Society of Krishna Consciousness and those professing no religion.

Christians live mainly in Baku and other urban areas. Approximately 15,000 to 20,000 Jews live in Baku, with smaller communities throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates the separation of state and religion and the equality of all religions and all individuals regardless of belief. It protects freedom of religion, including the right of individuals to profess, individually or together with others, any religion, or to profess no religion, and to express and spread religious beliefs. It also provides for the freedom to carry out religious rituals, provided they do not violate public order or public morality. The constitution states no one may be required to profess his or her religious beliefs or be persecuted for them; the law prohibits forced expressions or demonstrations of religious faith.

The law requires religious organizations – termed “associations” in the country’s legal code and encompassing religious groups, communities, and individual congregations of a denomination – to register with the government through the SCWRA. The SCWRA manages the registration process and may appeal to the courts to suspend a religious group’s activities. A religious community’s registration is tied to the physical site where the community is located, as stated in its application. A subsequent move or expansion to other locations requires reregistration. Registration allows a religious organization to hold meetings, maintain a bank account, rent property, act as a legal entity, and receive funds from the government.

To register, a religious organization must submit to the SCWRA a notarized application signed by at least 50 of its members, a charter and founding documents, the names of the organization’s founders, and the organization’s legal address and bank information.

By law, the government must rule on a registration application within 30 days, but there are no specified consequences if the government fails to act by the deadline. Authorities may deny registration of a religious organization if its actions, goals, or religious doctrine contradicts the constitution or other laws. Authorities may also deny registration if an organization’s charter and other establishment documents contradict the law or if the information provided is false. Religious groups may appeal registration denials to the courts.

The Caucasus Muslim Board (CMB) is registered by the SCWRA as a foundation and oversees the activities of registered Islamic organizations, including training and appointing clerics to lead Islamic worship, periodically monitoring sermons, and organizing pilgrimages to Mecca. Muslim communities must receive an approval letter from the CMB before submitting a registration application to the SCWRA.

While the law prohibits the government from interfering in the religious activities of any individual or group, there are exceptions for suspected extremist or other illegal activity. The law states government entities and citizens have rights and responsibilities to combat “religious extremism” and “radicalism,” referring to other criminal, administrative, and civil provisions of the law in prescribing punishments. The law defines religious extremism as behavior motivated by religious hatred, religious radicalism (described as believing in the exceptionalism of one’s religious beliefs), or religious fanaticism (described as excluding any criticism of one’s religious beliefs by those outside of the same religious group). According to the law, this behavior includes forcing a person to belong to any specific religion or to participate in specific religious rituals. It also includes activities seeking to change by force the constitutional structure of the country’s government, including its secular nature, or setting up or participating in illegal armed groups or unions, and engaging in terrorist activities. The law penalizes actions that intend to change the constitutional order or violate the territorial integrity of the country on the grounds of religious hatred, radicalism, or fanaticism, with prison terms from 15 years to life.

The law also specifies circumstances under which religious organizations may be dissolved, including if they act contrary to their founding objectives; cause racial, national, religious, or social animosity; or proselytize in a way that degrades human dignity or contradicts recognized principles of humanity, such as “love for mankind, philanthropy, and kindness.” Other grounds for dissolution include hindering secular education or inducing members or other individuals to cede their property to the organization.

The law allows foreigners invited by registered religious groups to conduct religious services, but it prohibits citizens who received Islamic education abroad from leading religious ceremonies unless they have received special permission from the CMB. Penalties for violating the law include up to one year’s imprisonment or fines from 1,000 manat ($590) to 5,000 manat ($2900). A longstanding agreement between the government and the Holy See allows foreigners to lead Catholic rituals.

An administrative code prohibits “clergy and members of religious associations from holding special meetings for children and young people, as well as the organizing or holding by religious bodies of organized labor, literary, or other clubs and groups unassociated with holding religious ceremonies.”

The law restricts the use of religious symbols and slogans to inside places of worship.

According to the law, the SCWRA reviews and approves all religious literature for legal importation, sale, and distribution. Punishment for the illegal production, distribution, or importation of religious literature can include fines ranging from 5,000 ($2900) to 7,000 manat ($4,100) or up to two years’ imprisonment for first offenses, and fines of 7,000 ($4,100) to 9,000 manat ($5,300) or imprisonment of between two and five years for subsequent offenses. There is no separate religious component in the curriculum of public or private elementary or high schools; however, students may obtain after-school religious instruction at registered institutions. Students may take courses in religion at higher educational institutions, and the CMB sponsors some religious training abroad. Individuals wishing to participate in state-supported religious education outside the country, whether supported by the national or foreign governments, must obtain permission from, or register with, the SCWRA or the Ministry of Education. If religious education abroad is not supported by the national or foreign governments, individuals are not required to obtain advance permission from authorities. The law prohibits individuals who pursue foreign government-supported or privately funded religious education abroad without permission from the government from holding official religious positions, preaching, or leading sermons after returning to the country.

Although the constitution allows alternative service “in some cases” when military service conflicts with personal beliefs, there is no legislation permitting alternative service, including on religious grounds, and refusal to perform military service is punishable under the criminal code with imprisonment of up to two years or forced conscription.

The law stipulates the government may revoke the citizenship of individuals who participate in terrorist actions; engage in religious extremist actions; undergo military training abroad under the guise of receiving religious education; propagate religious doctrines in a “hostile” manner, which the law does not further define; or participate in religious conflicts in a foreign country under the guise of performing religious rituals.

According to the constitution, the law may restrict participation of “religious officials” in elections and bars them from election to the legislature. By law, political parties may not engage in religious activity. The law does not define “religious officials.” The law prohibits religious leaders from simultaneously serving in any public office and in positions of religious leadership. It proscribes the use of religious facilities for political purposes.

The constitution prohibits “spreading propaganda of religions humiliating people’s dignity and contradicting the principles of humanism,” as well as “propaganda” inciting religious animosity. The law also prohibits threats or expressions of contempt for persons based on religious belief.

The law prohibits proselytizing by foreigners but does not prohibit citizens from doing so. In cases of proselytization by foreigners and stateless persons, the law sets a punishment of one to two years in prison.

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

Government Practices

The Ganja and Lankaran Courts of Grave Crimes sentenced 57 individuals from the 77 persons detained after the July 2018 attack on the then mayor of the city of Ganja and subsequent stabbing to death of two police officers during a related demonstration against local government authorities. Security forces took 77 individuals into custody and killed five during operations in the cities of Ganja, Shamkir, Sumgait, and Baku. The government said the individuals were part of a Shia Muslim “extremist conspiracy” to destabilize the country, and that those killed resisted arrest. Civil society activists and family members disputed the government account of the events and stated the five individuals whom security forces killed did not resist arrest. The Ganja Court of Grave Crimes conducted the trials in Baku, in what observers said was an effort to avoid causing further social unrest in Ganja. Those convicted received sentences ranging from 18 months to 18 years imprisonment. Civil society activists and human rights defenders said they considered the vast majority of the verdicts as politically motivated.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, there were 17 incidents between September 2018 and August 2019 in Baku and eight other cities or towns. One follower said two police officers forcibly took a Jehovah’s Witness in Khachmaz to the police station in February. International religious freedom nongovernmental organization (NGO) Forum 18 reported that in February a State Committee official asked the Jehovah’s Witness why he was talking about the Bible and not the Quran. Officers reportedly seized his religious literature, threatened to have him fined, held him for 12 hours without food or water, mocked his beliefs, forced him to write two statements, and then freed him. The Forum 18 report said one police officer threatened to beat him during his detention.

In January former member of parliament Rahim Akhundov stated publicly he had been forced to resign from his professional position in the International Relations Department of the Azerbaijani Parliament due to his Christian faith. He stated he had been threatened with dismissal unless he chose to resign voluntarily; he said the reason was fabricated. According to Akhundov, security services conducted surveillance on him and his home and informed parliamentary leadership that he had held prayer meetings at his house and proselytized.

In February Muslim Unity Movement leaders Taleh Bagizade and Abbas Huseynov conducted hunger strikes of 16 days and 14 days respectively to protest their poor treatment by Penitentiary Service officials in Gobustan prison. Authorities partially responded to their complaints, but the prisoners reported ongoing issues.

Authorities continued legal action against individuals associated with Islamic groups, such as the Muslim Unity Movement, that they asserted mixed religious and political ideology. Charges against these individuals included drug possession, incitement of religious hatred, terrorism, and attempted coup d’etat. Human rights defenders and other civil society activists characterized the charges as baseless and designed to preclude political activity similar to previous years. According to data collected by the Working Group on a Unified List of Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan and other NGOs, the estimated number of religious activists incarcerated at the end of the year ranged from 45 to 55, compared with 68 in 2018.

On January 30, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Muslim Unity Movement activist Ahsan Nuruzade on charges of drug possession. The Baku Grave Crimes Court sentenced Nuruzade to seven years in prison in March 2018, but activists stated the charges were fabricated to punish him for publicly supporting the imprisoned leadership of the Muslim Unity Movement.

On June 12, the Supreme Court rejected the appeals of Muslim Unity members Ebulfez Bunyadov and Elkhan Isgandarov, convicted in 2018 on charges that included inciting religious hatred and terrorism, and sentenced to 15 and 14 years respectively. On July 10, the Nizami District Court ordered Bunyadov’s release on medical grounds.

On February 18, the Baku Court of Appeals ordered the release of Telman Shiraliyev with time served. The Khazar District Court had extended Shiraliyev’s prison term for an additional five months and 18 days for alleged possession of a weapon in his prison cell, a charge human rights defenders said was fabricated to prevent his imminent release at the conclusion of his six-year prison term for protesting against a ban on schoolgirls wearing headscarves.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported the government had not implemented alternative military service for conscientious objectors despite being required to do so by the constitution. In April the Supreme Court rejected the appeals of Jehovah’s Witnesses Emil Mehdiyev and Vahid Abilov of their 2018 convictions and one-year probation sentences for criminal evasion of military service. In October Mehdiyev and Abilov filed appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

On October 17, the ECHR ruled Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country who conscientiously objected to military service should not be criminally convicted. The ruling consolidated four applications to the Court lodged between 2008 and 2015. The applications involved five Witnesses: Mushfig Mammadov, Samir Huseynov, Farid Mammadov, Fakhraddin Mirzayev, and Kamran Mirzayev. Each had been convicted and had served a prison term for their refusal to perform military service. The Court found since the Witnesses’ conscientious objection to military service was based on “sincere religious convictions,” the country’s actions against them violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

Unregistered Muslim and non-Muslim religious groups considered “nontraditional” by the government reported authorities at times subjected them to harassment and fines for conducting religious activities. Regional branches of Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses reported their inability to obtain legal registration. Some Protestant and home-based church leaders reported that their inability to obtain legal registration forced them to keep their activities discreet. The government said the inability to obtain registration stemmed solely from the groups’ inability to meet the law’s requirement of 50 members, and no administrative action was taken against unregistered religious communities.

According to a report from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in April a police officer went to the home of Jehovah’s Witness Gulnaz Nasirova in Lankaran and forcibly escorted her to the police station for interrogation. Police officers reportedly insulted her, threatened to send her to a mental hospital, questioned her about her beliefs and fellow believers, and demanded she provide her family members’ personal data. One officer made a vague threat that he would harm her children, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses. She was detained for five hours before being released.

Religious communities continued to report frustration at the requirements for government registration, particularly the to have a minimum of 50 members to apply for registration. For instance, Baptists communities in the towns of Zagatala and Shirvan did not have sufficient members to apply for legal registration.

The government continued to allocate funds to religious groups. Experts said the Moral Values Promotion Foundation’s funding amounted to further government control over the practice of Islam.

On June 25, the Supreme Court upheld a 2018 government prohibition on the publication of theologian Elshad Miri’s book Things Not Existing in Islam. The SCWRA said it prohibited the book because its enumeration of ideas and practices alleged to have no theological basis in Islam, such as the use of magic and child marriage, could have a negative influence on religious stability in the country.

The SCWRA reported during the year, it prohibited the importation of 216 books out of 3,888, and the publication of 14 books out of 239. By comparison, in 2018 the SCWRA prohibited the importation of 52 books out of 1,704, and the publication of 26 books out of 192.

On May 6, the Constitutional Court informed Baptist Pastor Hamid Shabanov that it would not consider his appeal of a 1,500 manat ($880) fine for a 2016 gathering in the village of Aliabad of his unregistered Baptist community. It was Shabanov’s second time appealing to the Constitutional Court; his first appeal was similarly dismissed in January 2018. Human rights defenders stated there were multiple violations of law and process in the case, such as the court’s failure to provide a Georgian language interpreter and requiring Shabanov to sign documents he could not read.

On April 4, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Jehovah’s Witnesses Eldar Aliyev, Maryam Aliyeva, Elchin Bakirov, and Bahruz Kerimov in a civil case against the Mingechevir police department. The plaintiffs sought compensation of 500 manat each for the 2016 police raid on a prayer meeting in Mingachevir that they stated violated their religious freedom. On June 23, according to Forum 18, three police officers in Mingachevir tried to search the home of a Jehovah’s Witness where other Jehovah’s Witnesses had gathered. They took the names of those present, but when they tried to search the home without a warrant the homeowner refused to allow it. The officers left, saying they would return with a warrant, but did not.

On June 4, the Shirvan Court of Appeals upheld the April 16 verdict of the Sabirabad District Court that fined husband and wife Safqan Mammadov and Gulnar Mammadova 1,500 ($880) manat for holding an illegal religious gathering for minors in their home. The Baptist couple stated they held a secular New Year’s celebration for community children in their home, and that police interrupted the event and characterized it as a Christian meeting by a non-registered group, which would make it illegal.

Following the December 2018 police dispersal of a prayer meeting of Christians Samir Ismayilov, Ismat Azizov, and Jalil Rahimli, the Sheki District Court fined them 1,500 ($880) manat each in separate hearings December 19, 2018 and January 3 for violating an administrative code that prohibits “clergy and members of religious associations holding special meetings for children and young people, as well as organizing or holding by religious bodies of organized labor, literary, or other clubs and groups unassociated with holding religious ceremonies”.

On March 3, the SCWRA registered the Baku community of the Fire Christian Church. On July 11, the SCWRA registered the Baku Christian communities of Star in the East and Evangelical Christian Baptist Church.

During the year, the SCWRA registered 34 religious communities, of which 31 were Muslim and three Christian, compared to 90 religious communities registered in 2018, of which 86 were Muslim and four Christian. The total number of registered communities at the end of the year was 941, of which 35 were non-Muslim: 24 Christian, eight Jewish, two Baha’i, and one the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. The SCWRA also reported 2,250 mosques, 14 churches, and seven synagogues were registered.

A March 16 presidential pardon that released a number of individuals considered political prisoners by human rights defenders included at least 16 religious activists, including 11 individuals arrested after a large police operation that targeted members of the Muslim Unity Movement in November 2015.

The SCWRA reported it continued to provide letters authorizing previously registered communities to operate, based on their pre-2009 registration. While the SCWRA continued to state the religious activities of these communities in locations not covered under their pre-2009 registration status were prohibited, it occasionally granted exceptions upon request, an authority the SCWRA said it could employ when necessary. Jehovah’s Witness and other communities have benefited from these letters.

According to an article in the online media outlet Eurasianet, women wearing hijabs faced discrimination in the public sector. Aynur Veyselova, a senior advisor at the State Committee on Family, Women and Children’s Affairs, stated in May that while the law did not explicitly address the issue of the hijab in the workplace, there remained an unofficial ban on wearing it in government employment.

On May 24, President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree allocating two million manat ($1,1800,00 ) to the CMB for the needs of Muslim communities, compared with one million manat ($590,000 in 2018) and 350,000 manat ($206,000) each to the Baku Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church and the religious community of Mountain Jews (250,000 manat – $147,000 in 2018). The decree also allocated 150,000 manat ($88,000) each to the European Jewish community, the Albanian-Udi community, and the Catholic Church of Baku (100,000 manat – $59,000 in 2018) and 100,000 manat ($59,000) to the Moral Values Promotion Foundation.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Local experts on religious affairs and civil society representatives stated the country’s historical societal tolerance continued with regard to “traditional” minority religious groups such as Jews, Russian Orthodox, and Catholics, but many persons viewed groups considered “nontraditional,” such as Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, with suspicion and mistrust. For example, one Baptist leader stated common citizens, as well as police and local government officials, did not understand or trust his community.

Sevda Kamilova, a linguist, stated she interviewed with several international companies, but each time was asked if she would be willing to remove her headscarf while working.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers engaged government officials to advocate the release of those they believed wrongly convicted of wrongdoing related to the July 2018 unrest in the city of Ganja. The Ambassador and embassy officers also pressed for the implementation of an alternative to military service for conscientious objectors, as stipulated in the constitution, and met with senior Cabinet of Ministers, SCWRA, and CMB officials to urge resolution of longstanding issues with the registration process for religious groups and other obstacles faced by religious minorities. For example, the Ambassador called on the country to continue promoting religious tolerance in a November 20 meeting with the CMB Head Sheikh Allahshukur Pashazade.

The Ambassador and embassy officers continued to meet regularly with the leaders of registered and unregistered religious communities and with representatives of civil society to discuss issues related to religious freedom, including challenges in registration, raids and subsequent fines against nontraditional groups for holding “unauthorized” religious meetings, and the prohibition of publication of books deemed sensitive by the government.

On May 30, the Ambassador hosted an iftar for a community of internally displaced persons who benefited from U.S.-sponsored programs. Representatives of SCWRA, the CMB, the State Committee for Affairs of Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons and others also attended the event. The Ambassador’s remarks highlighted the importance of religious tolerance as a key element of religious freedom.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Executive Summary

The constitutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and each of the country’s two entities – the Federation of BiH (the Federation) and Republika Srpska (RS) – provide for freedom of religious thought and practice, prohibit religious discrimination, and allow registered religious organizations to operate freely. The Federation constitution declares religion to be “a vital national interest” of the constituent peoples. The RS constitution establishes the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) as “the Church of the Serb people and other people of Orthodox religion.” The BiH constitution reserves all positions in the Presidency and one of two houses of parliament and certain other government offices to members of the three major ethnic groups – predominantly SOC-member Serbs, predominantly Roman Catholic Croats, and predominantly Muslim Bosniaks. The human rights ministry issued new regulations allowing reporting of religious freedom abuses directly to the ministry, which is then charged with working with relevant authorities to correct the abuses. Religious groups in areas where they were a local minority reported continued government discrimination regarding denial of permits for construction or repair of religious properties, and in education, employment, and provision of social services. The Presidency again failed to approve an agreement that would provide religious accommodations to Muslim workers. In a report covering 2018, the Islamic Community (IC) said a school threatened to punish Muslim students if they did not make up classes missed during a religious holiday. The same report said the military served Muslim soldiers pork over a two-month period. The Interreligious Council (IRC), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) comprising representatives of the country’s four major religious communities, again reported authorities moved unacceptably slowly to investigate and prosecute religiously motivated crimes. In September Speaker of the Sarajevo Canton Assembly Dino Konakovic said in an interview he did not mind that a local elementary school continued to be named for a World War II-era Ustasha anti-Semite who glorified Hitler.

The IRC registered 10 reported acts of vandalism against religious sites and one case of verbal abuse against an Orthodox priest during the year and said the actual number of incidents was likely much higher. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported receiving reports in 2018 of 17 incidents of bias against Muslims, 10 against Christians, and two against Jews. The one incident of violence reported by the OSCE mission in the country involved an assault and verbal insults against a Serb man during an Orthodox Christian holiday. Anti-Islamic incidents included shots being fired at a mosque, theft, and vandalism against mosques involving pig entrails, broken windows, or graffiti. In the two anti-Semitic incidents, vandals painted graffiti, including swastikas, on Jewish housing. The IRC continued to promote interfaith dialogue through conferences and projects with local governments.

U.S. embassy representatives emphasized to government officials the need to promote respect for religious diversity and enforce equal treatment for religious minorities. In regular meetings with religious groups, embassy officials continued to urge these groups to improve interreligious dialogue to help develop a peaceful and stable society. The embassy continued to maintain regular contact with the IRC and to fund some of its interfaith activities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 3.8 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the most recent census, conducted in 2013, Sunni Muslims constitute approximately 51 percent of the population, Serbian Orthodox Christians 31 percent, Roman Catholics 15 percent, and others, including Protestants and Jews, 3 percent.

There is a strong correlation between ethnicity and religion: Bosnian Serbs affiliate primarily with the SOC, and Bosnian Croats with the Roman Catholic Church. Bosniaks are predominantly Muslim. The Jewish community estimates it has 1,000 members, with the majority living in Sarajevo. The majority of Serbian Orthodox live in the RS, and most Muslims and Catholics in the Federation. Protestant and most other small religious communities have their largest memberships in Sarajevo and Banja Luka.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Annex IV of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which serves as the country’s constitution, provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It stipulates no one shall be deprived of citizenship on grounds of religion and all persons shall enjoy the same rights and freedoms without discrimination as to religion.

The entity constitution of the Federation states all individuals shall have freedom of religion, including of public and private worship, and freedom from discrimination based on religion or creed. It defines religion as a vital national interest of the constituent peoples.

The entity constitution of the RS establishes the SOC as “the Church of the Serb people and other people of Orthodox religion.” It guarantees equal freedoms, rights, and duties for all citizens irrespective of religion and prohibits any incitement to religious hatred or intolerance. It specifies religious communities shall be equal before the law and free to manage their religious affairs and hold religious services, open religious schools and conduct religious education in all schools, engage in commercial activities, receive gifts, and establish and manage legacies in accordance with the law.

A national law on religion guarantees freedom of conscience and grants legal status to churches and religious communities. To acquire official status as recognized religious communities, religious groups must register. Unregistered religious groups may assemble to practice their religion, but they have no legal status and may not represent themselves as a religious community. Registration grants numerous rights to religious communities that are not available to those who do not register, including the rights to conduct collaborative actions such as do charity work, raise funds, and construct and occupy places of worship. The law states churches and religious communities serve as representative institutions and organizations of believers, founded in accordance with their own regulations, teachings, beliefs, traditions, and practices. The law recognizes the legal status of four “traditional” religious communities: the IC, SOC, Catholic Church, and Jewish community. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) maintains a unified register of all religious communities, and the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees (MHRR) is responsible for documenting violations of religious freedom.

According to state law, any group of 300 or more adult citizens may apply to register a new religious community or church through a written application to the MOJ. Other requirements for registration include the development of a statute defining the method of religious practice and a petition for establishment with the signatures of at least 30 founders. The ministry must issue a decision within 30 days of receipt of the application, and a group may appeal a negative decision to the BiH Council of Ministers. There are no reports the ministry had denied any registration applications by religious communities. The law allows registered religious communities to establish their own suborganizations, which may operate without restriction. The law also stipulates the ministry may deny the application for registration if it concludes the content and manner of worship may be “contrary to legal order, public morale, or is damaging to the life and health or other rights and freedoms of believers and citizens.”

The law states no new church or religious community may be founded bearing the same or similar name as an existing church or religious community. The law also states no one may use the symbols, insignia, or attributes of a church or a religious community without its consent.

A concordat between the BiH government and the Holy See recognizes the public juridical personality of the Catholic Church and grants a number of rights, including to establish educational and charitable institutions, carry out religious education in public or private schools, and officially recognize Catholic holidays. The commission for implementation of the concordat comprises five members from the government and five from the Holy See. A similar agreement exists between the BiH government and the SOC, but the parties have not established a commission for implementation of the concordat.

The state recognizes the IC as the sole supreme institutional religious authority for all Muslims in the country, including immigrants and refugees, as well as for Bosniaks and other Muslim nationals living outside the country who accept the IC’s authority. According to the law, no Islamic group may register with the MOJ or open a mosque without the permission of the IC.

All three BiH administrative units have hate crimes regulated within their criminal codes. The provisions in these codes regulate hate crimes as every criminal act committed because of the race, skin color, religious belief, national or ethnic origin, language, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity of the victim. Criminal codes also stipulate that this motivation is to be taken as an aggravating circumstance of any criminal act unless the code itself stipulates harsher punishments for qualified forms of criminal acts.

The laws of the Federation and RS, as well as those of all 10 cantons, affirm the right of every citizen to religious education. The laws allow a representative of each of the officially registered religious communities to assume responsibility for teaching religious studies in public and private preschools, primary, and secondary schools, and universities if there is sufficient demand. Children from groups that are a minority in a school are entitled to religious education only when there are 18 or more students from that religious group in one class. Religious communities select and train their respective religious education teachers. These individuals are employees of the schools where they teach, but they receive accreditation from the religious body governing the curriculum.

The IC, SOC, and Catholic Church develop and approve religious curricula across the country. Public schools offer religious education in a school’s majority religion, with some exceptions.

In the Federation’s five Bosniak-majority cantons, primary and secondary schools offer Islamic religious instruction as a twice-weekly course or students may take a course in ethics. In cantons with Croat majorities, Croat students in primary and secondary schools may attend an elective Catholic religion course twice a week or take a course in ethics. In the five primary and 10 secondary Catholic schools spread throughout the Federation and the RS that do not have Croat majorities, parents may choose either an elective Catholic religion course or a course in ethics. The Sarajevo Canton Ministry of Education offers Orthodox and Protestant religious education in addition to classes offered to the Muslim and Catholic communities. In September the RS Ministry of Education introduced elective religious education in secondary schools.

The BiH constitution provides for representation of the three major ethnic groups – Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks – in the government and armed forces. The constitution makes no explicit mention of representation for religious groups, although each ethnicity mentioned by the constitution is associated with a particular religion.

The BiH constitution reserves all positions in the House of Peoples (one of two houses of parliament) and apportions other government offices to members of the three major ethnic groups according to quotas. Members of religious minorities are constitutionally ineligible to hold a seat in the House of Peoples. The three-member presidency must consist of one Bosniak, one Croat, and one Serb.

A law against discrimination prohibits exclusion, limitation, or preferential treatment of individuals based specifically on religion in employment and the provision of social services in both the government and private sectors.

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

Government Practices

In April the MHRR issued new instructions on the implementation of the law on religious freedom and position of churches and religious communities. In addition to provisions dealing with cooperation with churches and religious communities and autonomy for churches and religious communities, the instructions contain a measure that allows churches, religious communities, and groups or individuals the right to report abuses of their right to religious freedom directly to the MHRR. The MHRR is then charged with requesting respective state, entity, cantonal, or municipal authorities to undertake legally prescribed measures to prevent such violations of the law.

Officials publicly acknowledged the need to address a 2009 decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) stating the country should amend its constitution to allow members of religious and other minorities, including Jews, to run for president and the parliament’s upper house but took no action during the year. According to the ECHR ruling, observers said, by apportioning government positions and seats in the parliament only among Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks, the constitution discriminated against minority groups.

According to IC officials, the Croat and Serb members of the Presidency again blocked from its agenda for approval an agreement, reached in 2015, between the state and the IC that addressed dietary restrictions in public institutions, employer accommodations for daily prayer, and time off to attend Friday prayers, as well as one-time travel to Mecca for the Hajj. The IC officials stated the agreement remained blocked because the Croat and Serb members of the Presidency believed it would grant Muslims more rights than those granted to the Catholic and SOC communities.

In March the Commission for Freedom of Religion of the Riyasat – the highest religious and administrative body of the IC – issued its 2018 Reported Cases of Violations of the Right to Freedom of Religion of Muslims in the country. The commission said it received six complaints, involving government and nongovernment entities. One was from the IC in Janja in the RS, saying Mesa Selimovic School officials violated the rights of approximately 500 Bosniak school children by threatening to sanction the students unless they made up school days they missed during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. In another case, the IC complained that schools in the country did not have prayer rooms.

Local NGOs continued to state that government authorities have not annulled the 2015 decision by the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) prohibiting employees of judicial institutions from wearing any form of “religious insignia” at work, including headscarves. However, there were no instances of the HJPC applying these instructions during the year.

According to officials of religious groups in a local minority, authorities at all levels continued to discriminate against those groups with regard to the use of religious property and issuance of permits to build new, or repair existing, religious properties. Drvar municipal authorities continued to refuse to allocate land for the construction of a new Catholic church, saying the construction was not foreseen by urban plans drawn up in 1980. In June the Livno Canton Ministry of Construction, Space Planning, and Environment ordered Drvar Municipality to issue a location permit to the Catholic Church in Drvar for the construction of a pastoral and charity center on property owned by the Catholic Church. This overturned Drvar Municipality’s initial rejection of the Church’s request. At year’s end, however, Drvar Municipality had declined to implement this decision, even though the deadline for implementation was June 5, 2019.

On October 1, the ECHR ruled that the government of BiH must remove a Serbian Orthodox church illegally built on plaintiff Fata Orlovic’s property in Bratunac. The court ruled the church construction in 1998 was illegal and ordered authorities to ensure its removal within three months, return the land to Orlovic, and pay 5,000 euros ($5,600) to Orlovic and 2,000 euros ($2,200) to her relatives in damages. The SOC constructed the church after Orlovic and her family were expelled from their home during the 1992-95 conflict. The ECHR ruled that authorities had failed to comply with previous decisions by the Commission for Real Property Claims of Displaced Persons and Refugees in 1999 and the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons of the RS in 2001 ordering that Orlovic be granted full restitution of her land, the seizure of which resulted in a violation of the right to property.

Leaders of the four traditional religious communities in BiH continued to say the country’s ongoing lack of any institution responsible for the rights of religious communities hindered efforts on the part of religious communities to resolve the issue of restitution for property confiscated and nationalized under communist rule from 1946 to 1965. In November Jakob Finci, the president of the country’s Jewish Community, said the country was the only one in the region that had done nothing to resolve the restitution problem. He said the lack of resolution posed a burden on religious communities, as disputed properties could be an important and much-needed source of revenue for them.

According to local NGOs such as Vasa Prava, the government again failed to implement legal provisions regarding the religious education of returnee children, particularly in segregated school systems, often at the behest of senior government officials seeking to obstruct the process. Parents of more than 500 Bosniak children, who returned to their prewar homes in several RS communities, continued to boycott public schools for a seventh year, choosing instead to send their children to alternative schools organized on the premises of the IC’s administrative buildings and supported by the Federation Ministry of Education.

Academic and NGO representatives reported continued social pressure on students from communities throughout the country to attend instruction in their respective religions. A mother in Banja Luka told media that her daughter did not want to stop attending religious education classes because she did not want to feel excluded or different from the other students.

According to Bosniak Muslim, Croat Catholic, and Serb Orthodox religious communities, authorities continued to enforce selectively the rights of religious groups in areas where those groups constituted religious minorities regarding access to education, employment, health care, and other social services. They said refugees returning to their original communities pursuant to the Dayton Peace Agreement were particularly subject to discrimination. Bosniak returnees complained that schools in the RS celebrated Saint Sava Day as an official holiday for their schools; Bosniaks said they considered this discriminatory, since Saint Sava is an Orthodox saint.

Leaders of religious minority communities and local NGOs, particularly in Canton 10 in the western part of the Federation and several municipalities in eastern RS, continued to say authorities again failed to provide government services and protections to minorities, including access to health care, pensions, other social benefits, and the transfer of student records between districts. Local NGOs reported government authorities discriminated against minority Serb Orthodox communities in the Canton 10 municipalities of Drvar, Bosansko Grahovo, and Glamoc, particularly by denying children access to education in their mother tongue (including using the Cyrillic alphabet) or to classes covering the history and literature of their national group and employment in public companies.

Religious leaders again said local authorities throughout the country continued to discriminate when it came to providing police protection and investigating threats of violence, harassment, and vandalism. While only a few cases were recorded, the IRC said law enforcement officials treated these cases as simple theft or vandalism, without taking into consideration the acts occurred at religious sites and could be categorized as hate crimes. For example, following an incident on July 24 when a group of five persons threw stones at the Rijecanska Mosque in Zvornik, the IRC said the police report stated the material damage to the mosque was negligible and did not treat the case as a hate crime.

According to the IRC’s 2018 annual report published in May, police identified only 34 percent of perpetrators of religiously motivated crimes in 2018, compared with 45 percent in 2017. Because religion and ethnicity often are closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many actions as solely based on religious identity.

In the report, the IRC said authorities moved unacceptably slowly in investigating and prosecuting crimes, taking an average of five to seven years to conclude cases reported as crimes. According to the IRC, of 219 incidents against religious sites or personnel it registered since 2010, police had identified suspects in 75 cases and prosecuted only 23. During the year, the IRC said authorities had identified only two suspects in the extant cases and initiated no new prosecutions. In addition, the IRC stated authorities continued their practice of not categorizing these attacks as hate crimes. The IRC said again that the failure of authorities to pursue many cases reflected ignorance about hate crimes and a desire to deflect criticism of religious intolerance.

The IC’s commission also said the armed forces failed to provide Muslim members with halal food and served them dried processed meals containing pork during a two-month period in 2018. The commission’s report said the Sarajevo Veterinary Institute confirmed the failure to provide halal food.

The Sarajevo Canton Assembly again failed to implement its 2018 decision to change the name of an elementary school and street in the town of Dobrosevici in the canton’s Municipality of Novi Grad named after Mustafa Busuladzic. Busuladzic was a World War II-era Ustasha figure who glorified Hitler and was known for his anti-Semitism. Both school and street retained the Busuladzic name. On September 16, Dino Konakovic, Speaker of the Sarajevo Canton Assembly, said in an interview that he did not mind that the Dobrosevici School continued to be named for Busuladzic.

According to representatives of the Catholic Church, the joint commission for the implementation of the concordat with the Holy See did not meet during the year and had not met since June 2016 due to a perceived lack of government interest and also because the government had still not formed a new Council of Ministers after the October 2018 general elections. According to the Catholic Church, the government had not implemented earlier agreements reached by the commission, including legislation on observing religious holidays.

The agreement between the government and the SOC also remained unimplemented; neither the SOC nor the government had nominated members to the implementing commission by year’s end.

International and local NGOs, academics, and government agencies said each of the country’s major political parties continued to align with the religion practiced by the dominant ethnic group among its membership: the largest ethnic Bosniak parties continued to align with the IC, the largest ethnic Croat parties with the Catholic Church, and the two largest ethnic Serb parties with the SOC.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In the case of verbal abuse against a religious official recorded by the IRC, an Orthodox priest from the Church of Saint Basil of Ostrog in Blagaj, near Mostar, said in August a Muslim man threatened him via social media. According to the Srpska Times, the man also posted on social media that Orthodox Serbs could worship at the church “unless Muslims get harassed; after that, they may wonder whether to come there again. Muslims get harassed in Gacko [in the RS], and you want to come here without problems? It will not do.”

The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE reported receiving reports in 2018 of 17 cases of bias against Muslims (two involving threats, the rest incidents against property), 10 against Christians (one involving violence, the rest incidents against property), and two against Jews (both involving incidents against property). The one incident of violence reported by the OSCE mission in the country involved an assault and verbal insults against a Serb man during an Orthodox Christian holiday. The man sustained injuries. Anti-Islamic incidents included shots being fired at a mosque, theft, and vandalism against mosques involving pig entrails, broken windows, or graffiti. In the two anti-Semitic incidents, vandals painted graffiti, including swastikas, on Jewish housing.

In early April after several attacks were reported to the IRC in a relatively short period of time, it issued a public statement strongly condemning the incidents and expressing particular concern over the misuse of religious symbols. The IRC reported that it had raised awareness among local religious communities and IRC chapters on the importance of condemning religiously motivated attacks, and as a result, the local religious communities proactively took it upon themselves to condemn these types of attacks when they occurred.

In December 2018 unknown persons broke into the Catholic Church of Saint Mother Teresa in Vogosca near Sarajevo and damaged furniture. The local chapter of the IRC condemned the incident. At year’s end, authorities had not identified any suspects.

In one of the three cases against SOC sites reported to the IRC, in July individuals broke into an Orthodox church in the village of Donje Vukovsko in the Kupres Municipality, broke the windows, and destroyed furniture.

In June a man destroyed four tombstones at an Islamic cemetery in Kazanbasca in Zvornik. Two weeks later, Zvornik police identified a suspect and submitted a criminal report to the district prosecutor’s office in Bijeljina, with charges of desecration of graves or a criminal act against a deceased person; the investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

The Council of Muftis of the IC continued efforts to persuade unregistered Islamic congregations (or para-jamaats), which gathered predominantly Salafist followers and operated outside the purview of the IC, to cease what they described as “unsanctioned” religious practices and officially unite with the IC. The IC reported 21 active para-jamaats during the year, the same number as in 2018 and down from 64 in 2016.

The IRC continued to sponsor projects aimed at increasing interfaith dialogue involving women and youth. In February the IRC organized a two-day conference in Sarajevo on strengthening interreligious dialogue at the local level in the country. During the conference, members and activists from the IRC’s 15 local chapters, among whom were religious officials from various cities, presented their activities and projects. Eight local chapters signed memoranda of cooperation with their respective municipalities, and some municipalities began providing financial support to local chapters for their activities, including some interfaith events designed to increase youth participation. One such activity involved organizing joint visits to Catholic, Islamic, Jewish, and Orthodox places of worship by mixed groups of youth from all four religions.

In November, according to a report in Reuters, Sarajevo’s Islamic and Jewish communities celebrated the bicentennial of an uprising by Sarajevo Muslims to rescue a dozen Jews from an Ottoman governor’s jail and impending execution. The event was marked by an exhibition and conference describing the episode and marking 500 years of what it described as peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Jews in the city, as well as among Jews, Orthodox Serbs, and Catholic Croats. BiH’s Grand Mufti Husein Kavazovic said, “Bosnian Muslims and Jews are one body,” adding, “…We are renewing our pledge that we will remain good neighbors who will watch over each other as we did in the past.” As part of the commemoration, the tombstone of a Jewish historian who recorded the uprising, Mose Rafael Attias, was renovated in the city’s Jewish cemetery.

Media reported that on May 4, the Aladza Mosque reopened as a working mosque in Foca in the eastern part of the country, following a five-year reconstruction effort led by international and local donors. Several thousand persons from throughout the country attended the event, which the IC described as its biggest event of the year. In 1992, Serb forces destroyed the mosque, originally built in 1549 and on the country’s cultural heritage list and the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials engaged with the Presidency, the Ministry of Security, and other ministries and underscored the need to promote respect for religious diversity and enforce equal treatment under the law for religious minorities.

Embassy officials had numerous meetings with the Catholic, Islamic, Jewish, and Orthodox communities and community leaders. The Ambassador had individual meetings with the leaders of the traditional religious communities, and embassy officials attended events hosted by the religious communities to commemorate religious holidays. At these events, which included events hosted by the religious communities as well as meetings hosted by the embassy, embassy officials emphasized the importance of interreligious dialogue and respect for religious diversity and urged the religious communities to continue efforts to foster reconciliation and condemn intolerance and hate speech. The embassy reinforced its messages of support following these events and meetings on its various social media platforms; these postings on Twitter and Facebook included calls for tolerance and the importance of interreligious dialogue in BiH.

The embassy helped to create and has continued supporting the first-ever joint master’s degree program among the three theological faculties and between two entities of BiH. The Interreligious Studies and Peacebuilding Master’s program is implemented jointly by the Catholic Theological Faculty, Faculty of Islamic Studies (University of Sarajevo), and Orthodox Theological Faculty (University of East Sarajevo) and is administered by a joint council. It was created in collaboration with the embassy and a visiting Fulbright specialist in 2018. Two cohorts of approximately 25 students had entered the course as of year’s end.

The embassy continued to maintain regular contact with the IRC and supported its activities by providing funding. Cooperation included the IRC’s participation in activities such as visits to the locations of atrocities, round tables on reconciliation, IRC involvement in Open Doors events, where youth visit houses of worship other than their own, and participation in the PRO Future program, which is designed to promote interreligious dialogue in BIH.

The U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom met with IRC leadership in November to discuss ways in which the embassy and government could help the IRC and individual religious communities resolve their differences. The IRC continued to participate in U.S. government-funded programs designed to help overcome ethnic and religious divisions through dialogue among the country’s religious groups. In February, under the auspices of a U.S. government-funded program, the IRC organized a roundtable in Bugojno that served as the initial meeting to form a network of women believers from Bugojno Municipality as part of the larger Network of Women Believers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, an interfaith network of women that meets to discuss various issues. By having women of all religious backgrounds come together, the network is able to highlight similarities that the women share rather than differences.

The Ambassador spoke at the reopening ceremony of the historic Aladza Mosque in Foca on May 4. In his remarks, he noted that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina must work together to ensure that all peoples and all faiths have a rightful place not only in Foca but throughout the country. The embassy contributed approximately $128,000 to finance several phases of reconstruction and restoration of the mosque as a cultural landmark.

Bulgaria

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and conscience. Religious groups may worship without registering, but registered groups receive benefits. The constitution recognizes Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the country’s “traditional” religion, and the law exempts the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (BOC) from registration. In April the Supreme Cassation Court convicted 13 Muslim leaders of spreading Salafi Islam, which the court ruled was an antidemocratic ideology. It sentenced one imam to one year in prison. In December the Pazardjik District Court convicted 14 Romani Muslims of supporting ISIS, assisting foreign fighters, incitement to war, and spreading Salafi Islam. Thirteen received prison sentences, and one received a suspended sentence. In August the government granted registration to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. Muslim leaders said several municipalities denied permission to build new or rehabilitate existing religious facilities. The Office of the Grand Mufti said its attempts to litigate its recognition as the successor to the pre-1949 organization Muslim Religious Communities for the purpose of reclaiming properties seized by the former communist government had reached an impasse. Parliament passed legislation allowing religious groups to defer payment of outstanding revenue obligations for 10 years and providing for a six-fold increase in government funding for the BOC and the Muslim community. There were multiple court decisions invalidating local administrations’ prohibitions on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ proselytizing activities; however, police in several municipalities continued to state the group could not distribute literature on the street or proselytize door-to-door.

According to a European Commission survey released in May, 20 percent of respondents said religious discrimination was widespread. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) and Jehovah’s Witnesses reported harassment and threats. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported a further decrease in cases of assault and harassment but said some media misrepresent their activities. In February 200-300 people attended the Bulgarian National Union’s annual march honoring Hristo Lukov, leader of a pro-Nazi organization in the 1940s. A number of officials spoke out against the march, and the Sofia municipality attempted to ban it, but a court overturned the ban. Jewish nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern about what they said was a continued increase of anti-Semitic speech in political rhetoric and in traditional and new media, as well as public manifestations of anti-Semitic symbols. Muslims and Jews reported incidents of vandalism of their properties. High-ranking BOC prelates dismissed Pope Francis’ calls for ecumenical unity during his visit in May, with Metropolitan Nikolai of Plovdiv saying, “It is not possible to unite the light and the darkness.” The National Council of Religious Communities continued its efforts to promote religious tolerance.

The Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom met with the foreign minister and religious leaders during his visit to the country in May to discuss combating religious persecution, as well as the importance of religious freedom in combating violent extremism. The U.S. Ambassador supported civil society efforts to encourage tolerance and the manifesto against hate speech signed by the Council of Ministers. The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials regularly discussed cases of religious discrimination, harassment of religious minorities, and legislative initiatives restricting religious activities, including with representatives of the National Assembly, Directorate for Religious Affairs, Office of the Ombudsman, Commission for Protection against Discrimination, local governments, law enforcement and minority religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 7.0 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census (the most recent), 76 percent of the population identifies as Eastern Orthodox Christian, primarily affiliated with the BOC. The census reports Muslims, the second largest religious group, are approximately 10 percent of the population, followed by Protestants at 1.1 percent and Roman Catholics at 0.8 percent. Orthodox Christians of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church (AAOC), Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, and other groups together make up 0.2 percent of the population. According to the census, 4.8 percent of respondents have no religion and 7.1 percent do not specify a religion. According to a report by the think tank Agency for Social Analyses released in April, 74 percent of individuals identify as Orthodox Christians, 10 percent as Muslims, 13 percent as atheists, and 3 percent are from other religious traditions.

Some religious minorities are concentrated geographically. Many Muslims, including ethnic Turks, Roma, and Pomaks (descendants of Slavic Bulgarians who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule) live in the Rhodope Mountains along the southern border with Greece and Turkey. Ethnic Turkish and Romani Muslims also live in large numbers in the northeast and along the Black Sea coast. Some recent Romani converts to Islam live in towns in the central region, such as Plovdiv and Pazardjik. According to the census, nearly 40 percent of Catholics live in and around Plovdiv. The majority of the small Jewish community lives in Sofia, Plovdiv, and along the Black Sea coast. Protestants are widely dispersed, but many Roma are Protestant converts, and Protestants are more numerous in areas with large Romani populations. Approximately 80 percent of the urban population and 62 percent of the rural population identifies as Orthodox Christian. Approximately 25 percent of the rural population identifies as Muslim, compared with 4 percent of the urban population.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states freedom of conscience and choice of religion or no religion are inviolable, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the state shall assist in maintaining tolerance and respect among believers of different denominations, as well as between believers and nonbelievers. It states the practice of any religion shall be unrestricted and religious beliefs, institutions, and communities shall not be used for political ends. It restricts freedom of religion to the extent its practice would be detrimental to national security, public order, health, and morals, or the rights and freedoms of others. It states no one shall be exempt from obligations established by the constitution or the law on grounds of religious or other convictions. The constitution also stipulates the separation of religious institutions from the state and prohibits the formation of political parties along religious lines, as well as organizations that incite religious animosity. The law does not allow any privilege based on religious identity.

The constitution names Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the country’s traditional religion. The law establishes the BOC as a legal entity, exempting it from the court registration that is mandatory for all other religious groups seeking legal recognition.

The penal code prescribes up to three years’ imprisonment for persons attacking individuals or groups based on their religious affiliation. Instigators and leaders of an attack may receive prison sentences of up to six years. Those who obstruct the ability of individuals to profess their faith, carry out their rituals and services, or compel another to participate in religious rituals and services may receive prison sentences of up to one year. Violating a person’s or group’s freedom to acquire or practice a religious belief is subject to a fine of between 100 and 300 levs ($57-$170). If a legal entity commits the infraction, the fine may range from 500 to 5,000 levs ($290-$2,900).

To receive national legal recognition, religious groups other than the BOC must register with the Sofia City Court. Applications must include: the group’s name and official address; a description of the group’s religious beliefs and service practices, organizational structure and bodies, management procedures, bodies, and mandates; a list of official representatives and the processes for their election; procedures for convening meetings and making decisions; and information on finances and property and processes for termination and liquidation of the group. The Directorate for Religious Affairs under the Council of Ministers provides expert opinions on registration matters upon the court’s request. Applicants must notify the Directorate for Religious Affairs within seven days of receiving a court decision on their registration. Applicants may appeal negative registration decisions to the Sofia Appellate Court and, subsequently, the Supreme Cassation Court. The law does not require the formal registration of local branches of registered groups, only that branches notify the local authorities, and local authorities enter them in a register. Local branches are not required to obtain registration from the local court. The law prohibits registration of different groups with the same name in the same location. The Directorate for Religious Affairs and any prosecutor may request a court revoke a religious group’s registration on the grounds of systematic violations of the law. There are 191 registered religious groups in addition to the BOC.

The law requires the government to provide funding for all registered religious groups based on the number of self-identified followers in the latest census (2011), on a scale of 10 levs ($6) per capita to groups that comprise more than 1 percent of the population, and varying amounts for the rest.

Registered groups have the right to perform religious services; maintain financial accounts; own property such as houses of worship and cemeteries; provide medical, social, and educational services; receive property tax and other exemptions; and participate in commercial ventures.

Unregistered religious groups may engage in religious practice, but they lack privileges granted to registered groups, such as access to government funding and the right to own property, establish financial accounts in their names, operate schools and hospitals, receive property tax exemptions, and sell religious merchandise.

The law restricts the wearing of face-covering garments in public places, imposing a fine of 200 levs ($110) for a first offense and 1,500 levs ($860) for repeat offenses.

The law allows registered groups to publish, import, and distribute religious media; unregistered groups may not do so. The law does not restrict proselytizing by registered or unregistered groups. Some municipal ordinances, however, restrict the activities of unregistered groups to proselytize, including going door-to-door, and require local permits for distribution of religious literature in public places.

By law, public schools at all levels may, but are not required to, teach the historical, philosophical, and cultural aspects of religion and introduce students to the moral values of different religious groups as part of the core curriculum. A school may teach any registered religion in a special course as part of the elective curriculum upon request of at least 13 students, subject to the availability of books and teachers. The Ministry of Education and Science approves the content of and provides books for these special religion courses. If a public school is unable to pay for a religion teacher, it may accept financial sponsorship from a private donor or a teacher from a registered denomination. The law also allows registered religious groups to operate schools and universities, provided they meet government standards for secular education.

The Commission for Protection against Discrimination is an independent government body charged with preventing and protecting against discrimination, including religious discrimination, and ensuring equal opportunity. It functions as a civil litigation court adjudicating discrimination complaints and does not charge for its services. The commission’s decisions may be appealed to administrative courts. If the commission accepts a case, it assigns it to a panel and then reviews it in open session. If it makes a finding of discrimination, the commission may impose a fine of 250 to 2,000 levs ($140-$1,100). The commission may double fines for repeat violations. Regional courts may also try civil cases involving religious discrimination.

The law establishes an independent ombudsman to serve as an advocate for citizens who believe public or municipal administrations or public service providers have violated their rights and freedoms, including those pertaining to religion, through their actions or inaction. The ombudsman may request information from authorities, act as an intermediary in resolving disputes, make proposals for terminating existing practices, refer information to the prosecution service, and request the Constitutional Court abolish legal provisions as unconstitutional.

The penal code provides up to three years’ imprisonment for forming “a political organization on religious grounds” or using a church or religion to spread propaganda against the authority of the state or its activities.

The penal code prohibits the propagation or incitement of religious or other discrimination, violence, or hatred “by speech, press or other media, by electronic information systems or in another manner,” as well as religiously motivated assault or property damage. Either offense is punishable by imprisonment for one to four years and a fine of 5,000 to 10,000 levs ($2,900-$5,700), as well as “public censure.” Desecration of religious symbols or sites, including places of worship or graves, is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 3,000 to 10,000 levs ($1,700-$5,700).

Registered religious groups must maintain a registry of their clergy and employees, provide the Directorate for Religious Affairs with access to the registry, and issue a certificate to each clerical member, who must carry it as proof of representing the group. Foreign members of registered religious groups may obtain long-term residency permits, but for the foreign member to be allowed to conduct religious services during his or her stay, the group must send advance notice to the Directorate for Religious Affairs.

The law provides for restitution of real estate confiscated during the communist era; courts have also applied the law to Holocaust-related claims.

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

Government Practices

On December 10, the Pazardjik District Court ruled on a case against 14 Romani Muslims, sentencing their leader, Islamic preacher Ahmed Mussa, to 8.5 years in prison. Twelve defendants received prison sentences ranging from 12 to 42 months, and the only woman in the group received a two-year suspended sentence. The trial against Mussa and his followers began in 2016 on charges of supporting ISIS, assisting foreign fighters, and propagating Salafi Islam, characterized by the government as an antidemocratic ideology, and incitement to war.

In April the Supreme Cassation Court rendered a final judgement in a separate case against 13 Muslim leaders, including Ahmed Mussa, upholding the Plovdiv Appellate Court’s sentences of one year suspended and a 3,000 lev ($1,700) fine for Sarnitsa Imam Said Mutlu; 10 months suspended and a 3,000 lev ($1,700) fine for Pazardjik Mufti Abdullah Salih; and one year in prison for Ahmed Mussa, who will serve four years due to a prior three-year suspended sentence for spreading radical ideology. In its ruling, the court stated that in his Friday sermons, Mussa preached hatred against Christians, Jews, and all other non-Islamic religions. In 2012 the 13 Muslim leaders were charged with spreading Salafi Islam, which the lower court prosecution characterized as an antidemocratic ideology, and for membership in an illegal radical organization. The court levied fines on the other nine defendants ranging from 1,500 to 2,000 levs ($860-$1,100) and found one individual not guilty. In 2016 the Supreme Cassation Court had vacated the guilty verdict against Mussa and rescinded the fines against the 12 other Muslims, ordering the Plovdiv Appellate Court to retry the case.

In August the government granted registration to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, thereby respecting a 2017 judgement by the European Court of Human Rights that the government had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by denying the group’s registration application.

In July the Smolyan Regional Court imposed a one-year suspended sentence, a 5,000 lev ($2,900) fine, and public censure (notice of the punishment published or publicly displayed) on Efrem Mollov for propagating ethnic and religious hatred in his book, Is There Future for Great Bulgaria or Why Pomak History Remains Hidden. The court found the book distorted history by glorifying Pomaks at the expense of other citizens of the country.

In addition to the annual funding allocations, the government allotted 25.77 million levs ($14.8 million) to the BOC and the Muslim community in accordance with legislation that passed in 2018 and entered into force during the year stipulating religious groups would receive 10 levs ($6) per follower identified in the 2011 census if the overall number of followers of that religion exceeded 1 percent of the country’s population. A rival group to the Muslim Denomination, the Muslim Sunni Hanafi Denomination led by Nedim Gendjev, stated that it was entitled to the government subsidy because “Sunni” is part of its name and the majority of Bulgarian Muslims identify as “Sunni.” Evangelical Alliance representatives said Protestants were not treated fairly because even though their overall numbers exceeded 1 percent, they did not receive a matching amount in government subsidies, possibly because they were not represented in a single organization.

The national budget allocated 5.5 million levs ($3.2 million) for the construction and maintenance of religious facilities and related expenses compared with 5 million levs ($2.9 million) in 2018. This included 4.1 million levs ($2.4 million) for the BOC; 460,000 levs ($264,000) for the Muslim community; and 70,000 levs ($40,200) each for the Catholic Church, AAOC, and the Jewish community. The budget allocated 120,000 levs ($68,900) for other registered religious groups that had applied for funds to the Directorate for Religious Affairs, and as of July the directorate had distributed 58,000 levs ($33,300) among seven groups. The government’s budget also allocated 350,000 levs ($201,000) for the maintenance of religious facilities of national importance, 60,000 levs ($34,500) for the publication of religious books and research, and 40,000 levs ($23,000) to support interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and the prevention of discrimination. The budget kept 160,000 levs ($91,900) in reserve.

In March the National Assembly passed legislation allowing religious groups up to 10 years to pay back outstanding revenue obligations incurred before December 31, 2018. This benefitted the Muslim Denomination, which owed 8.1 million levs ($4.7 million), and the BOC, which owed 160,000 levs ($91,900). The ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) Party had proposed completely forgiving the debts, but the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party opposed the move. The amendment specified that state-provided subsidies could not be used to repay the debts.

Jehovah’s Witnesses said the legal requirement for reporting to the government the names and contact information of all clerics violated the freedom of nondeclaration of religious affiliation guaranteed by the constitution.

Minority religious groups reported dozens of municipalities, including the regional cities of Kyustendil, Shumen, and Sliven, continued to have ordinances prohibiting door-to-door proselytizing and the distribution of religious literature. Several municipalities, including Kyustendil and Sliven, prohibited unregistered religious groups from conducting any religious activities. During the year, however, the municipalities of Varna and Vratsa revoked their restrictions on unregistered religious groups following a court order, and the Pleven municipality lifted its restrictions voluntarily.

Jehovah’s Witnesses said that, as a result of the group’s pursuing successful lawsuits in the past two years, fewer municipalities had ordinances restricting their religious activities, including preventing them from expressing their religious convictions in public by distributing free printed materials, which the ordinances termed “religious agitation on city streets,” and from visiting individuals at their homes, which the ordinances characterized as “religious propaganda.” The Jehovah’s Witnesses continued, however, to report instances in which police or local government officials fined, threatened, warned, or issued citations to individual Jehovah’s Witnesses for violating these ordinances. They said in some instances municipalities acted as a result of citizen complaints and imposed fines or otherwise restricted Jehovah’s Witnesses’ street activity even though city ordinances did not specifically prohibit the activity. Courts generally annulled these fines when Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed them.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that on January 5 in Kyustendil, two police officers approached three Jehovah’s Witnesses while they were talking to others about their faith using a portable literature cart. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the officers asked the group to show its permit for the cart, even though such a permit is not required by law. Because the group did not have a permit, the officers took the cart. The group returned later in the day with another literature cart. A municipal security officer seized the second cart and its contents. After the group filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office, the prosecutor concluded the Jehovah’s Witnesses had not committed a criminal offense and ordered the return of the carts and literature.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that on April 5, a police officer and three municipal clerks approached three Jehovah’s Witnesses who were sharing their faith with persons on the street in Turgovishte, issued them a notice for violating the regulation banning religious “advertising,” and threatened to fine them if the municipality continued to receive complaints about their activity.

In August the Supreme Administrative Court determined that a Shumen municipality ordinance restricting proselytizing violated the country’s constitution and declared it null and void. As of year’s end, the municipality had not complied with the court decision. The Supreme Administrative Court in 2018 ruled similar ordinances in Stara Zagora and Kyustendil municipalities restricting proselytizing were unconstitutional and revoked them, but these municipalities had not complied with the court’s decision as of year’s end.

In May the government allocated 500,000 levs ($287,000) in funding for construction of a BOC church in Varna, and the Sofia Municipal Council allocated 204,500 levs ($117,000) for repair and construction of three BOC churches and one AAOC church.

In December the Supreme Administrative Court confirmed a lower court’s ruling in favor of the Catholic Church’s appeal of a property tax assessment issued by the Sofia municipality, which had declined to recognize the religious status of two monasteries located in the municipality, treating them instead as taxable residential buildings.

The Office of the Grand Mufti and regional Muslim leaders said several municipalities, including Sofia, Stara Zagora, Razgrad, and Haskovo, had declined on nontransparent grounds Muslim requests to build new or to rehabilitate existing religious facilities. According to Grand Mufti Hadji, local officials in Stara Zagora threatened to bring a court action against the grand mufti’s office if it pursued its plan to build a multipurpose center, including a prayer house, on land purchased by the local Muslim community. According to former Razgrad mayor Valentin Vasilev, the national government provided a 2,374,836 lev ($1.4 million) grant for renovation of the landmark Makbul Ibrahim Pasa Mosque, which in turn justified the local government’s intention to convert the mosque into an Islamic museum and tourist attraction rather than allow it to be a functioning mosque. The mayor stated that constructing a prayer house would provoke local ethnic and political tensions. The Razgrad mufti said he would continue to negotiate with the newly elected mayor to reopen the mosque.

According to media reports, on October 7, parents disrupted classes in schools in Sliven, Topolchane, Karnobat, Yambol, Sungurlare, and Sofia and took their children home to prevent their rumored removal by social services, which the parents said could occur if the government passed a new draft child protection strategy. Critics of the draft law said it could provide the government with more authority to remove children from their families. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Minister of Education Krasimir Valchev accused some evangelical and other Protestant pastors of spreading the false rumor. The Minister of Education said, “We cannot say for certain who was the source of misinformation…. Not all pastors from the region were involved, but we heard reports. We still don’t know if they are Evangelicals or Protestants.” In a public declaration, the United Evangelical Churches (UEC) – a group representing nine individual Protestant churches and three unions of Pentecostal, Baptist, and Congregational Churches – expressed “great bitterness” regarding Prime Minister Borissov’s and Minister Valchev’s statements and deplored any negative aspersions cast on the reputation of any of the nine entities in the UEC. The UEC denied any involvement of its members and said Protestant pastors played a positive role in enhancing the social and educational status of their Roma congregations.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria and the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), both members of the United Patriots coalition, did not continue what they said was a negative media campaign against the group, a development which the Jehovah’s Witnesses said was likely due to their successful lawsuits against those political parties. In March the Supreme Cassation Court reversed a lower court judgment and imposed fines on seven IMRO members, including IMRO regional leader Georgi Drakaliev, for instigating and participating in an attack on the Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Burgas in 2011 in which several worshipers were injured.

Souvenirs exhibiting Nazi insignias continued to be widely available in tourist areas around the country. B’nai B’rith stated that local governments lacked political will to deal with the problem.

In May President Rumen Radev and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva hosted religious leaders representing the six groups on the National Council of Religious Communities, together with politicians, academics, and diplomats, at iftar receptions, where they highlighted tolerance and interfaith dialogue. In April Zaharieva hosted a Passover dinner for local and regional members of the Jewish community, a variety of other religious leaders, civil society representatives, politicians, and diplomats from member countries of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

The national public school elective curriculum continued to provide three religious studies programs: one for Christianity, one for Islam, and one for all religions as ethical systems.

In September the first Jewish school opened in Sofia in more than 20 years, funded by the Ronald S Lauder Foundation and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The new school builds on the Lauder Foundation’s previous work sponsoring Hebrew and Jewish studies curriculum through the public 134th School Dimcho Debelyanov.

History teachers continued to receive training on the Holocaust, based on a 2016 memorandum between the Ministry of Education and Israel’s Yad Vashem. In February, as part of Sofia municipality’s City of Tolerance and Wisdom program, Shalom, the umbrella organization of Jews in the country, and the NGO Marginalia hosted a workshop on enhanced methods of teaching the Holocaust for 22 history teachers from Sofia schools.

In November the country became a full member of the IHRA. Deputy Foreign Minister Georg Georgiev served as the national coordinator for combating anti-Semitism.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU-member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 20 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Bulgaria, while 62 percent said it was rare; 65 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 93 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 80 percent said they would be with an atheist, 79 percent with a Jew, 69 percent with a Buddhist, and 75 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 90 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 71 percent if atheist, 62 percent if Jewish, 49 percent if Buddhist, and 48 percent if Muslim.

In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism in December 2018 in each EU-member state. According to the survey, 64 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in Bulgaria, and 50 percent did not know whether it increased, decreased, or stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who felt that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 16 percent; on the internet, 12 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 15 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 15 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 18 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 16 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 14 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 12 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 12 percent.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ reported societal attitudes towards the Church improved. Representatives said there were only a few minor instances of harassment of missionaries in Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, and Sofia during the year, compared with at least 13 instances of physical assault and harassment in 2018. Church representatives, however, said police sometimes refused to accept incident reports from victims. On September 19, Church representatives in Stara Zagora reported that a group of four young persons had threatened two missionaries with a weapon, claiming to have tracked the missionaries’ movements.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on August 6, a man verbally abused their members who were proselytizing in the street in Dobrich, and threatened to call police and media. A member of the Vazrazhdane political party, Miroslav Donchev, joined the abuser. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Donchev accused the group of “stealing people’s possessions, being a dangerous sect, and jeopardizing members’ lives by refusing blood transfusions.” Donchev threatened to summon more people and inflict physical violence on the Jehovah’s Witnesses present unless they “disappear[ed].”

On February 15, media reported the Bulgarian National Union organized a rally with 200-300 participants in Sofia in honor of Hristo Lukov, leader in the 1940s of an anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi organization, the Union of Bulgarian National Legions. The government, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, NGOs, international organizations, and diplomatic missions denounced the rally. Sofia mayor Yorkanka Fandakova again banned the rally, but the Sofia Administrative Court again overturned the ban, as it had for the last few years. On the same day, the Council of Ministers purposefully hosted senior government officials, municipal leaders, intellectuals, civil society leaders, and diplomats from IHRA member countries. The group signed a manifesto against hate speech and vowed to protect public spaces from hatred and intolerance and to enhance public sensitivity to any acts of racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and discrimination.

Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued to appear regularly on social networking sites, in online media articles, and in the mainstream press. Anti-Semitic graffiti, such as swastikas and offensive inscriptions, appeared regularly in public places. Shalom cited increasing manifestations of anti-Semitism in the form of speech and imagery on social networks, marches and meetings by far right and ultranationalist groups, and periodic vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and monuments.

In May Shalom criticized one of the popular dailies, 24 Hours, for publishing ahead of Orthodox Easter an article blaming Jews for the death of Jesus Christ. The organization also accused the author of the article, Rosen Tahov, of instilling intolerance and inciting religion-based hatred.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported there were fewer negative characterizations in media than in prior years, but some local online media outlets continued to regularly misrepresent the group’s activities and beliefs. On April 1, the online media site Provaton criticized the Suvorovo Municipality for renting its sports facility to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Provaton described the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a “Satanic sect” and “organized crime group that robbed lonely and unstable persons of their property and encouraged them to commit suicide so that afterwards the sect’s gurus could perform Satanic rituals to ensnare the souls of the deceased.” In March the Supreme Cassation Court overturned a 2017 decision of the Burgas Appellate Court and levied a 3,000 lev ($1,700) fine on SKAT TV and its program host Valentin Kasabov for spreading false information and making derogatory comments about Jehovah’s Witnesses.

According to Jewish community leaders and the Office of the Grand Mufti, incidents of vandalism continued, including painted swastikas, offensive graffiti, and broken windows in their respective places of worship. For example, on July 2, unidentified individuals desecrated the historic Kursunlu Mosque in Karlovo with Nazi symbols, including the swastika, and offensive inscriptions. On July 4, an unidentified person broke the front door windows of the Office of the Grand Mufti in Sofia. A spokesperson for the grand mufti called the act “a typical hate crime.” In January a man threw stones at the synagogue in Sofia and broke several windows. Police subsequently identified the man and detained him; however, police concluded he was mentally unstable and did not press charges.

During his May 5 visit to the country, The New York Times reported Pope Francis met with BOC leader Patriarch Neophyte, but the Orthodox hierarchy ordered its priests not to worship with the pope. Ecumenical News reported that following Pope Francis’ call for religious unity and his appeal for the care of migrants, BOC Metropolitan Nikolai of Plovdiv dismissed the papal visit as political and criticized the pope’s efforts to improve ties between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Local news source Pod Tepeto quoted Metropolitan Nikolai as telling a local congregation, “The goal of [the ecumenical movement] is to unite all the religions around Rome, so that when the Antichrist comes, the pope will welcome him and through him, all who are coming along with him….How can everyone unite? It is not possible to unite the light and the darkness.”

On February 15, Taner Veli, the regional Mufti of Plovdiv, hosted the fifth annual Tolerance Coffee event, commemorating a 2014 attack on the local Cumaya Mosque. Representatives of the Christian and Jewish communities, local government officials, foreign diplomats, and representatives of civil society attended the event, intended to improve relations among religious groups.

The National Council of Religious Communities, whose members include representatives of Bulgarian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Muslim, evangelical Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish communities, continued its efforts to promote religious tolerance. It served as a platform for the largest religious groups to organize joint events and defend a common position on religious issues, such as certain legislative proposals, anti-Semitic actions, and acts of defacement. On September 19, in partnership with Sofia municipality, the council held the fourth Festival of Religions, organizing a concert by performers from different religious communities and a tour of different places of worship in Sofia. In April the council conducted an interfaith discussion in Belitsa.

A Muslim scholar from the High Islamic Institute who participated in a 2018 Department of State-funded exchange program on religious pluralism in Philadelphia applied his U.S. experience by organizing several events aimed at bringing together different religious communities. From September 25 to September 27, he partnered with the Forum for Interreligious Dialogue and Partnership to provide a workshop in which imams and Christian clergy from the whole country shared common values, goals, and challenges.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

On May 9, the Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Zaharieva and with leaders of the BOC, the Muslim community, the Catholic community, the United Evangelical Churches, the Armenian community, the Jewish community, and representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ to discuss the importance of religious freedom in combating violent extremism and religious persecution. He also visited an Orthodox cathedral as well as Sofia’s synagogue and mosque to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of diverse faiths.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials continued discussions with representatives of the National Assembly, Directorate for Religious Affairs, Office of the Ombudsman, Commission for Protection against Discrimination, local government administrations, and law enforcement agencies about cases of religious discrimination, harassment of religious minorities, and legislative initiatives restricting religious freedom. The Ambassador discussed religious tolerance during an iftar hosted by President Radev in May and a Passover dinner hosted by Foreign Minister Zaharieva in April.

On February 15, the Ambassador spoke about the importance of tolerance and expressed support for the manifesto against hate speech signed at the Council of Ministers; the embassy amplified the message on Facebook.

Embassy officials continued to meet with representatives of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, National Council of Religious Communities, Office of the Grand Mufti, Church of Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Catholic, Protestant, Armenian Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish communities to discuss religious independence from the state and problems faced by religious groups, including legislative changes potentially restricting the freedom to practice their respective religions. An embassy official participated in a forum on “Authentic Religious Identity and Sustainable Peace” organized by the interfaith group Forum for Interreligious Dialogue and Partnership. Embassy officials also met with human rights groups, such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Marginalia, Amalipe, Inforoma Center, Sofia Security Forum, and academics to discuss these issues.

The Ambassador continued to meet with Shalom and B’nai B’rith representatives to discuss the need to counter anti-Semitism and hate speech. In speeches at the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the saving of the country’s Jewish population and at a Shabbat dinner in March, the Ambassador spoke about the lessons of the Holocaust and the need for tolerance of different religious communities. The embassy used social media to disseminate the Ambassador’s remarks.

The Ambassador discussed religious tolerance during an Eid-al-Fitr reception hosted by Grand Mufti Hadji in June. In August and September the Charge d’Affaires met separately with Patriarch Neofit, Grand Mufti Hadji, and representatives of the Jewish community to discuss tolerance, interfaith dialogue, and bilateral cooperation. In September the Charge d’Affaires discussed with Kurdjali Regional Mufti Beyhan Mehmed the situation of the local Muslim community and its role in interfaith and ethnic community dialogue.

Canada

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression, and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination based on religion. The government does not require religious groups to register, but some registered groups may receive tax-exempt status. On December 7, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Canadian Church of Atheism did not qualify as a religion for purposes of obtaining charitable status. In June the Quebec government passed and implemented a law prohibiting certain categories of provincial government employees from wearing religious symbols while exercising their official functions, while requiring individuals seeking certain provincial government services to do so with the “face uncovered.” Observers said the legislation targeted Muslim women and would also effectively exclude some religious Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and Jews from positions of authority, including positions in the national legislature, education, the courts, and law enforcement. The National Council of Canadian Muslims, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and an individual plaintiff filed a legal challenge to the law in the Quebec Superior Court. In May an Ontario court dismissed the appeal of Ontario physicians who objected on religious and/or moral grounds to a provincial policy requiring them to refer patients for “medical services such as medical assistance in dying, abortion and reproductive health services.” In conjunction with a new antiracism strategy addressing all forms of discrimination, including based on religion, in June the government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. In March the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal heard the appeal of a 2017 lower court ruling in a decade-long case concerning whether the province could fund non-Catholic students to attend Catholic schools. The appeal process continued through year’s end.

Reports continued of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic activity, including cases of violence, hate speech, harassment, discrimination, and vandalism. In July Statistics Canada released hate crime statistics for 2018 showing the number of police-reported religiously motivated hate crimes was approximately 24 percent lower in 2018 than 2017, dropping to a total of 639; reported crimes against Muslims decreased by 50 percent, while those against Jews decreased by 4 percent. In 2018, the most recent year for which there were statistics, the B’nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights reported in its annual Audit of Anti-Semitic occurrences there were 11 cases of anti-Semitic violence nationwide, 221 reports of anti-Semitic vandalism, and 1809 occurrences of harassment, approximately 90 percent of which reportedly occurred online; physical location and identities of those posting the online messages are unknown. B’nai Brith received a total of 2,041 reports of anti-Semitic cases in 2018, compared with 1,752 reports of anti-Semitic cases in 2017 and 1,728 cases in 2016. In February a Quebec judge sentenced a man to a minimum term of 40 years after he pled guilty in 2018 to six counts of first-degree murder for killing six worshippers at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec in 2017. In August a taxi driver was arrested and charged with assaulting a Jewish man wearing a kippah, who reportedly wanted to take a photograph of the taxi to file a complaint about the taxi driver’s anti-Semitic comments. In November the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s adult population. It said 8 percent harbored anti-Semitic views, down from 14 percent in its previous 2014 survey which it stated represented the percentage of persons who agreed that a majority of the 11 statements were “probably true.”

The Ambassador, embassy and consulate officials, and other U.S. government officials raised respect for religious freedom and diversity with the national and provincial government. They also raised how we might partner to promote religious freedom around the world, better support individuals persecuted for their religion, and counter rising threats to religious freedom. Embassy officials discussed strategies to combat religious intolerance through engagement with religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and religious minority groups. The embassy sponsored and participated in public programs and events encouraging interfaith dialogue and freedom of religion. In October the Quebec City Consul General held a breakfast with faith leaders to discuss interfaith dialogue and cooperation. The embassy amplified these activities through social media.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 36.1 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census, which has the most recent data available on religion, approximately 67 percent of the population self-identifies as Christian. Roman Catholics constitute the largest Christian group (38 percent of the total population), followed by the United Church of Canada (6 percent), Anglicans (5 percent), Baptists (1.9 percent), and Christian Orthodox (1.7 percent). Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Pentecostal groups each constitute less than 2 percent of the population. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints estimates its membership at approximately 190,000. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS Church) estimates its membership at 1,000. Approximately 3 percent of the population is Muslim, and 1 percent is Jewish. Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Scientologists, Baha’is, and adherents of Shintoism, Taoism, and aboriginal spirituality together constitute less than 4 percent of the population. Approximately 24 percent of the population lists no religious affiliation.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, and expression. Every individual is equal under the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination based on religion. The law imposes “reasonable limits” on the exercise of these religious rights only where such restrictions can be “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” The law permits individuals to sue the government for “violations” of religious freedom. Federal and provincial human rights laws prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion. Civil remedies include compensation and/or changes to the policy or practice responsible for the discrimination.

The law does not require religious groups to register, but the government grants tax-exempt status to religious groups that register as nonprofit organizations with the Charities Directorate of the Canada Revenue Agency. Nonprofit status provides such organizations with federal and provincial sales tax reductions, rebates, and exemptions. To gain and retain tax-exempt status, a group must be nonpolitical and undergo periodic audits. Charitable status also grants members of the clergy various federal benefits, including a housing deduction under the tax code and expedited processing through the immigration system. The term “clergy” includes persons whose communities have licensed, ordained, or otherwise formally recognized them for their religious leadership and authority to perform spiritual duties and services within their religious organization. Individual citizens who donate to tax-exempt religious groups receive a federal tax receipt entitling them to federal income tax deductions.

The criminal code prohibits the practice of polygamy, which is an indictable offense subject to imprisonment of up to five years.

A Quebec government law passed and implemented in June prohibits certain government employees from wearing religious symbols while exercising their official functions. The law defines a religious symbol as “any object, including clothing, a symbol, jewelry, an adornment, an accessory, or headwear, that (1) is worn in connection with a religious conviction or belief; or (2) is reasonably considered as referring to a religious affiliation.” Among categories included in the law are president and vice presidents of the national assembly; administrative justices of the peace; certain municipal court employees; police, sheriffs and deputy sheriffs; certain prosecutors and criminal lawyers; and certain principals, vice principals, and teachers, among others. The law also requires anyone seeking certain provincial government services to do so with “face uncovered.” The bill invoked the “notwithstanding clause” of the federal constitution, which permits a province to override specific constitutional protections for a period of five years to prevent citizens from bringing challenges to the law based on the federal constitution. The religious symbols ban applies to public school teachers, government lawyers, judges, prison guards, and police officers, among others. It exempts provincial employees working prior to the implementation of the law, but they lose their right to wear religious symbols upon changing jobs or receiving a promotion.

Government policy and practices regarding education, including regulation of religious schools, fall under the purview of the provincial, rather than federal, governments. Six of the 10 provinces provide full or partial funding to some religious schools.

Catholic and Protestant schools in Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan retain the federal constitutionally protected right to public funding they gained when those provinces joined the federation. Other provinces either had no legally recognized denominational schools that qualified for such protection at the time of federation or accession, or they subsequently secured a federal constitutional amendment to terminate religious education funding rights and introduce an exclusively secular publicly funded education system. Federal statutory protection for Catholic and Protestant publicly funded minority education exists in the Yukon, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories, which do not have provincial status. Constitutional or federal statutory protection for public funding of religious education does not extend to schools of other religious groups, although British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Quebec offer partial funding to religious schools of any faith that meet provincial scholastic criteria. The law permits parents to homeschool their children or enroll them in private schools for religious reasons.

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

Government Practices

On December 7, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the Canadian Church of Atheism of Central Canada did not qualify as a charity under the Income Tax Act in part because it could not be found to be a “religion” in a charitable sense. The court based its finding on the Church’s failure to “demonstrate that its belief system was based on a particular and comprehensive system of doctrine and observances.” In its ruling, the court also noted that registration of an organization as a charity under the Income Tax Act is a privilege, and not a right.

In June the National Council of Canadian Muslims, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and an individual plaintiff filed a legal challenge in Quebec Superior Court against the provincial law prohibiting certain categories of government employees from wearing religious symbols while exercising their official functions. According to press reports, observers said the legislation would exclude some religious Muslims, Sikhs, and Jews from positions of authority, including in education and law enforcement. The observers also said the legislation unfairly targeted Muslim women in the province who wear hijabs or other head coverings. The challenged law was the third attempt by a Quebec government to pass such legislation regarding the delivery of provincial services; a Parti Quebecois government introduced a bill in 2013 but did not pass it before the 2014 Quebec election, and a Liberal government passed a bill in 2017 that never entered into effect because a series of judicial injunctions suspended its application. The plaintiffs also challenged portions of the newly passed law prohibiting individuals from receiving certain government services with their faces covered. The plaintiffs sought a temporary injunction against implementation of the law, but the Quebec Superior Court declined the request in July. In August the Quebec Court of Appeal agreed to hear the plaintiffs’ appeal of that decision, and in October the court declined to temporarily stay imposition of the law pending a ruling on its constitutionality; as a result, the law remained in force. In September a multifaith organization filed a separate challenge to the law on behalf of three teachers – a Roman Catholic and two Muslims – who wore religious symbols. In October the English Montreal School Board, the largest English language school board in Quebec, challenged the law in court. In November a Quebec teachers union representing 45,000 teachers also filed suit. In total, four different lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Quebec law remained pending at year’s end.

In May an Ontario court dismissed the appeal of Ontario physicians who objected on religious and/or moral grounds to a provincial policy that required them to provide patients with referrals for “medical services such as medical assistance in dying, abortion, and reproductive health services.” Federal law permits assisted death and abortion but specifies doctors have the right to freedom of conscience and the right not to perform or assist in providing the procedures. Ontario is the only province requiring referral directly to another individual physician if the treating physician has a religious or moral objection to providing the specified service. Ontario physicians had appealed a lower court ruling upholding the referral requirement. The Ontario Court of Appeals found that the physician referral mechanism struck the appropriate balance between a physician’s right to freedom of religion and a patient’s right to medical services.

In April a British Colombia (B.C.) court retried James Oler, a member of the FLDS Church, on charges that he unlawfully removed his underage daughter from Canada in 2004 to marry her to a 24-year-old U.S. citizen in Nevada. The court found Oler guilty after retrial, and in August sentenced him to 12 months in prison. A trial judge had acquitted Oler of the same charges following a trial in 2017 based on what the B.C Court of Appeal deemed to be the trial court’s erroneous interpretation of the required elements of the offense. The B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal in 2018 and ordered a new trial after the government appealed.

In February a federal trial court, which sits below the Supreme Court, stayed on procedural grounds seven of eight cases brought in 2018 by religious and other organizations seeking to reverse the denial of their federal grant applications. The federal government denied their applications over issues regarding an attestation the federal government imposed as a condition of receiving funding for the Canada Summer Jobs Program that year. For the first time, organizations were required to attest that their core mandate and the job for which they planned to use the federal funds respected the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as other rights and associated case law. The plaintiffs stated the attestation infringed on their rights to freedom of religion and of expression. The attestation included language that such rights “include reproductive rights, and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, color, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.” The court stayed seven of the cases until the first case, filed by Toronto and Area Right to Life (TRTL), is heard, based on a finding that there was “substantial overlap” of the legal issues involved in the eight cases.

In late 2018, the federal government made changes to the 2019 summer jobs application’s attestation, with new language focusing on activities for which the funds could not be used, rather than on the values of any given organization. According to media reports, TRTL filed a second lawsuit after it was also denied a grant in 2019. The cases were pending at year’s end.

In March the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal heard the appeal of a 2017 lower court ruling in a decade-long case concerning whether the province could fund non-Catholic students to attend Catholic schools. In 2017, the lower court had ruled that providing public funding for non-Catholic students to attend Catholic schools discriminated against secular schools and those of other religious groups in favor of Catholic education; it ordered the province to stop funding those students by the end of June 2018. The court had also ordered the government of Saskatchewan and the provincial Catholic School Boards Association to pay 960,000 Canadian dollars (C$) ($738,000) toward the opposing public school board’s legal costs. The Court of Appeal stayed the imposition of the funding order pending resolution of the appeal. At year’s end, the appeal remained pending.

On January 27, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement for International Holocaust Memorial Day, stating that Canada must also acknowledge its “own history of anti-Semitism, and its devastating results.” He pledged to “stand guard and speak out against anti-Semitism in our communities, to embrace our differences, and to find strength in our diversity.” On May 1, the prime minister issued a statement for Holocaust Memorial Day in which he said anti-Semitism was on the rise and stating, “We will not be silent in the face of oppression, or indifferent in the face of hate. We will always speak out against anti-Semitism, discrimination, and hatred in all its forms, and together, we will counter them.”

On May 7, Prime Minister Trudeau attended the National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony and delivered remarks in which he noted that “once again, people filled with hate are emerging from the shadows. Hateful words and speeches are spreading on social media and spreading across our daily lives.” He also stated, “The lessons of the Holocaust are at risk of being forgotten if we stand idly by, if we remain silent in the face of these events,” and that “it is our solemn duty as politicians, as leaders, as human beings, to stand united with one voice, and to say without equivocation, that anti-Semitic hatred has no place in Canada, or anywhere else.”

In June the government announced a new anti-racism strategy for 2019-2022 with the stated objective of combating systemic racism and discrimination of all kinds, including discrimination based on religion. The strategy also envisaged providing funding to empower religious minorities and others with expertise in addressing various forms of racism and discrimination and changing attitudes by increasing awareness of the historical roots of racism and discrimination. As part of that strategy, the country adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were reports of physical violence, vandalism, hate speech, and harassment directed at religious groups, in particular against Jews and Muslims. In July Statistics Canada released hate crime statistics for 2018, which showed a 24 percent decline in the number of police-reported religiously motivated hate crimes, from 842 in 2017 to 639 in 2018. Hate crimes targeting Muslims decreased by 50 percent. Hate crimes targeting Jews were down 4 percent, accounting for 19 percent of total police-reported hate crimes in 2018.

In February a Quebec judge sentenced a man to a minimum term of 40 years after he pled guilty in 2018 to six counts of first-degree murder for killing six worshippers at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec in 2017. The defendant had said he planned the assault after hearing news that Canada was prepared to accept more refugees from Muslim countries. He said he believed that Muslims posed a threat to his family’s safety. In June government prosecutors recommended the country’s longest sentence in history, 150 years, but the court rejected that request on the grounds that sentences exceeding a defendant’s life expectancy constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In March both the prosecution and the defense appealed the sentence. The case remained pending at year’s end.

In July a taxi driver reportedly assaulted a Jewish man wearing a kippah after an altercation in a parking lot in Montreal. The taxi driver allegedly yelled anti-Semitic statements at the man during the incident, which the Jewish man recorded on video. In August authorities arrested and charged the taxi driver. According to media reports, the victim was not seriously injured. The taxi company employing the driver fired him immediately after learning of the incident and issued a statement that “we don’t tolerate assaults, anti-Semitism, or racism.” The case remained pending at year’s end.

In January an Ontario court found two men who served as the editor and the publisher of a free Toronto newspaper guilty of using the publication for years to repeatedly promote hatred of Jews and of women. In August an Ontario court sentenced the editor of the newspaper to one year in prison. In August the same judge also sentenced the paper’s publisher, an indigenous person, to one year of house arrest. The judge said he took the publisher’s indigenous status, poor health, and expression of remorse into account at sentencing. The law requires judges to consider adverse cultural factors faced by indigenous persons as mitigating factors when sentencing indigenous offenders. According to news reports, both men were appealing their sentences. The cases remained pending at year’s end.

In August The Edmonton Journal apologized after running a cartoon some viewed as anti-Semitic.

In August a medical regulatory authority in British Columbia determined that a physician committed no wrongdoing when she participated in the medically assisted death of an elderly patient who had requested it but was a resident of an Orthodox Jewish nursing home that prohibited the practice on its premises. To provide medical assistance in the patient’s death as permitted by law, the doctor concealed her actions from the nursing home. The regulatory authority found the doctor had complied with all legal requirements. According to news reports, the case was believed to be the first where a medical regulator had opined on whether a physician could be punished for defying the wishes of a faith-based healthcare facility in order to satisfy the legal right to a medically assisted death.

In 2018, the most recent year for which there were statistics, the B’nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights reported 11 cases of anti-Semitic violence, compared with 16 in 2017; there were 221 reports of vandalism, including the painting of swastikas on buildings, and 1,809 reports of harassment, compared with 327 and 1409, respectively, in 2017. The league received 2,041 reports of anti-Semitic cases in 2018, compared with 1,752 reports of anti-Semitic cases in 2017, and 1,728 cases in 2016. Nearly 90 percent of the occurrences (1,809) involved harassment. Eighty percent of all incidents reported in 2018 occurred online or had an online component; the physical location and identities of those posting the online messages were unknown. The greatest number of reports (709) came from Quebec, which saw a 49.6 percent increase in the total number of incidents in 2018 – from 474 reports in 2017 to 709 in 2018. In 2018, two of the cases involved violence, 30 vandalism, and 677 harassment. B’nai Brith recorded a 40.5 percent decrease in the total number of reports in Ontario, from 808 incidents in 2017 to 481 incidents in 2018. In 2018 the greatest number of violent incidents, eight, occurred in Ontario, down from 13 the previous year.

In March the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of two Muslim students barred from praying at their nondenominational private school. In 2011, the students had been allowed to perform Islamic prayers for several weeks after enrolling there. According to media reports, however, the school subsequently told them they would not be allowed to pray because it was “too obvious and went against the academy’s nondenominational nature.” When the boys continued to pray, the school expelled them. The boys filed a religious discrimination action, and in 2015 the Alberta Human Rights Commission found in the boys’ favor and ordered the school to pay a C$26,000 ($20,000) fine. The school appealed, and the Alberta Court of Appeal eventually overturned the commission’s finding. In its ruling, the appeal court ordered a new hearing before the Alberta Human Rights Commission, which the commission then appealed to the Supreme Court. After the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, the Human Rights Commission held a new hearing in October and agreed to accept written closing arguments post-hearing. The hearing proceedings were not final by year’s end, and as a result, no decision had been rendered by the commission.

In March airport security screening agents in Halifax refused to allow an indigenous elder’s traditional herbal medicine pouch to be x-rayed, instead requiring the elder to open it for review, according to media reports. The elder wore the pouch around her neck and said it contained several grams of tobacco, sweetgrass, sage, and cedar. She said opening the pouch desecrated the contents and was contrary to her indigenous spirituality but opened the pouch so she could travel. According to media reports, Canadian airport screening policy states that if a traveler informs officers that the individual is carrying an item of religious significance, the officers may provide travelers with “screening options for the item based on the nature of the item” and the traveler’s preference.

In June an Ontario court ruled that a town council acted lawfully when it decided not to rename a street named “Swastika Trail.” Two residents of the Ontario town of Puslinch had petitioned the court to intervene in 2018 to implement the name change, according to media reports, after residents voted by a slim margin to keep the name.

According to media reports, in September an individual filmed himself heckling Sikh politician Gurratan Singh while Singh was giving a speech about discrimination against Muslims at Muslimfest, a two-day annual summer festival in Ontario. The man sought out Singh after the speech, reportedly to film himself yelling that “Islamophobia was created by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1990” and to otherwise harass Singh. Organizers of the event escorted the individual out of the venue.

In November the ADL released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 25 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Canada; 17 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 28 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

Numerous interfaith and ecumenical organizations at the national, provincial, and local levels continued to sponsor programs to foster respect for religious diversity, tolerance, and equal treatment for all religious groups. The groups included the Canadian Council of Churches, United Church of Canada, Catholic Church, the Salvation Army, other Protestant communities, as well as Jewish and Muslim associations. The Canadian Interfaith Conversation, a collaboration of 41 faith communities and faith-based organizations that collectively “advocate for religion in a pluralistic society and in Canadian public life,” continued to spotlight religious inclusion events held across the country throughout the year on its website, such as interfaith dialogues; a weeklong event exploring 11 world religions; and “Meet your Neighbor” dinners featuring different religious traditions.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, embassy and consulate officials, and other U.S. government officials raised respect for religious freedom and diversity with the national and provincial governments. They also raised how we might partner to promote religious freedom around the world, better support individuals persecuted for their religion, and counter rising threats to religious freedom. Embassy and other U.S. government officials met with representatives from Global Affairs Canada’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion to discuss issues of religious freedom in the country, including issues raised in this report. The U.S. Department of State Special Advisor for Religious Minorities visited Ottawa in May for meetings with Global Affairs Canada and civil society in which he discussed religious freedom, including our mutual efforts to promote religious freedom around the world.

Embassy and consulate officials conducted outreach to religious leaders, NGOs, and religious groups to discuss strategies for combating religious intolerance. In May the Quebec City consulate hosted an interfaith iftar that brought together interfaith leaders, youth, and government representatives. In June the Quebec City consulate hosted an event with a U.S. delegation, interfaith leaders, and community workers who promote interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding. In August an officer from the Toronto consulate delivered remarks at Pakistan Minority Day in Brampton, Ontario, where she emphasized religious freedom as a fundamental right. In September the Toronto consulate partnered with the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, a nonprofit organization that works to counter anti-Semitism and promote tolerance, to host a Rosh Hashanah event for guests in Toronto from the religious, civil society, and government spheres. In October the Quebec City Consul General held an event with faith leaders to discuss interfaith dialogue and cooperation.

The embassy and consulates amplified these events through social media and used their social media platforms to highlight messages of religious tolerance from senior Department of State officials in Washington.

Crimea

Read A Section: Crimea

Ukraine

In February 2014, armed forces of the Russian Federation seized and occupied Crimea. In March 2014, Russia announced Crimea had become part of the Russian Federation. A UN General Assembly resolution declared continued international recognition of Crimea as part of Ukraine. The U.S. government recognizes Crimea is part of Ukraine; it does not and will not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea. Occupation authorities continue to impose the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory of Crimea.

Executive Summary

On July 12, Human Right Watch reported religious activists in Crimea were among victims of torture by FSB agents. The Russian government reported there were 891 religious communities registered in Crimea, including Sevastopol, compared with 831 in 2018, a number that dropped by over 1,000 since the occupation began in 2014, the last year for which Ukrainian government figures were available. Religious activists, human rights groups, and media reports said Russian authorities in occupied Crimea continued to persecute and intimidate minority religious congregations, Jehovah’s Witnesses, OCU members, and Muslim Crimean Tatars. Occupation authorities continued to subject Muslim Crimean Tatars to imprisonment and detention, especially if authorities purportedly suspected the individuals of involvement in the Muslim political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia but is legal in Ukraine. According to Forum 18, administrative court hearings imposed by Russia on Crimeans for “missionary activity” were comparable with the previous year. There were 24 prosecutions for such activity, compared with 23 in 2018, 17 of which ended in convictions with a monetary fine. Greek Catholic leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation authorities. The UGCC said it continued to have to operate under the umbrella of the Roman Catholic Church. The OCU reported continued seizures of its churches. Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate attacks on Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all. Religious and human rights groups continued to report Russian media efforts to create suspicion and fear among certain religious groups, especially targeting Crimean Tatar Muslims, whom media repeatedly accused of links to Islamist groups designated by Russia as terrorist groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. Russian media also portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists.”

On November 6, the website Crimea-news reported that unidentified individuals destroyed crosses at a cemetery in Feodosia. According to Crimean Tatar activist Zair Smedlyaev, in November unidentified individuals destroyed a tombstone at a Muslim cemetery in Petrivka Village, in Krasnogvardiysk District.

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

There are several Jewish congregations, mostly in Sevastopol and Simferopol. Jewish groups estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before the Russian occupation began; no updates have been available since the occupation began in 2014. According to the 2001 census, the most recent, there are 1196 Karaites in Ukraine; 671 of them lived in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

Government Practices

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

According to the Ukrainian human rights organization Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG) with offices in Kyiv, 86 individuals were unlawfully incarcerated or imprisoned due to politically or religiously motivated persecution in Crimea as of September 7. Thirty-four of them had received prison sentences.

Human rights groups said occupation authorities continued to restrict the rights of Crimean Tatars, who are predominantly Muslim, following the 2016 designation of the Mejlis, recognized under Ukrainian law as the democratically elected representative council of the Crimean Tatars, as an “extremist organization.” Detentions and forced psychiatric examinations of Crimean Tatar Muslim prisoners continued throughout the year. charged the detainees with participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir. Krym Realii news website quoted human rights attorney Edem Semedlyaev, stating that that the three detainees had been placed in a psychiatric hospital for forced examinations due to their refusal to plead guilty to terrorism charges. Krym Realii is an independent news service focusing on human rights issues in Crimea.

According to the NGO Krymska Solidarnist, on April 15, armed FSB representatives detained Imam Rustem Abilev on charges of extremism during a raid of his mosque and home in Shturmove Village near Sevastopol. On June 7, occupation authorities changed his pretrial detention to house arrest. On October 10 the Balaklava District Court ordered him to pay a fine of 100,000 Russian rubles ($1,600).

On December 5, a Russian military court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Enver Seytosmanov, another prisoner in the 2015 Sevastopol Hizb ut-Tahrir case, to 17 years in a maximum security penal colony for managing a “terrorist” organization. Seytsomanov said authorities applied physical and psychological pressure to force him into giving false testimony. His lawyer said the occupation authorities toughened the charge against Seytosmanov, stating he was an organizer rather than a participant in a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell.

According to Krym Realii, on October 2, the North Caucuses Military Court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Tatar blogger Nariman Memedeminov to two-and-a-half-years in prison. Human rights activists linked the verdict to his reporting on the human rights situation in Crimea. Occupation authorities detained Memedeminov on terrorist charges in 2018, citing his involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Crimean Muslim Tatar prisoners arrested in the 2016 Bakhchisarai Hizb ut-Tahrir case – Ernes Ametov, Marlen Asanov, Seyran Saliyev, Memet Belialov, Timur Ibragimov, Server Zakiryayev, Server Mustafayev, and Edem Smailov – continued pretrial detention in Krasnodar and Rostov-on-Don until August. According to Krymska Solidarnist, on August 26 the North Caucasus District Military Court extended until February 13, 2020 the detention of Ametov, Asanov, Saliyev, Belyalov, Ibragimov, Zekiryayev, Mustafayev, and Smailov for their suspected involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir in Bakhchisarai.

According to Krymska Solidarnist, on July 11 the Russian Supreme Court altered the sentences of other defendants in the Bakhchisarai Hizb ut-Tahrir case, reducing Enver Mamutov’s maximum-security prison term from 17 years to 16 years and nine months; Remzi Memetov, Zevri Abseitov, and Rustem Abiltarov each receiving reduced sentences of eight years and nine months; and Ruslan Abiltarov, Remzi Memetov, and Zevri Abseitov each receiving reduced nine-year prison sentences. Krym Realii reported that the prisoners began serving their sentences in Russia’s Stavropol Krai in Russia. Their lawyer, Rustem Kyamilev, said the Kochubeyevskoye Prison administration’s decision to place Abseitov in an isolation cell upon his arrival was unlawful and arbitrary, although Kyamile attributed the move to the fact Abseitov had been “convicted of a serious crime.”

According to Krym Realii, on November 12, the Southern District Military court sentenced defendants Muslim Aliyev to 19 years, Іnver Bekirov to 18 years, Emir Usein Kuku and Vadim Siruk to 12 years, Refat Alimov to eight years, and Arsen Dzhepparov to seven years in a maximum security prison for their supposed involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir in Yalta. The suspects were arrested in a series of armed raids in February 2016 by Russian occupation authorities.

Krym Realii reported that on June 18, the North Caucasus District Military Court convicted five detainees arrested in October 2016 in Simferopol for involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. The court found them guilty of organizing or participating in the activities of a terrorist organization and sentenced them to high security prison terms of 17 years for Teymur Abdullaev, 14 years for Rustem Ismailov, and 13 years for Uzeir Abdullaev. Aider Saledinov and Emil Dzhemadenov each received 12-year sentences.

According to Krymska Solidarnist, on March 27 armed representatives of the FSB, National Guard, and police searched 30 Crimean Tatar homes in Simferopol, Volodymyrivka, Strohanivka, Kamyanka, Bile, Akropolis, and Alkavan, detaining 23 individuals for their alleged links to Hizb ut-Tahrir. During the searches, law enforcement representatives reportedly planted and “found” Hizb ut-Tahrir materials. The detainees’ lawyers were not allowed to be present during the searches. Krymska Solidarnist reported that on March 27 and 28, courts in Simferopol ordered the arrest of the following detainees: Imam Bilyal Adilov, Erfan Osmanov, Seyran Murtaza, Server Gaziyev, Mejit Abdurakhmanov, Tofik Abdulgaziyev, Rustem Seitkhalilov, Akim Bekirov, Farkhat Bazarov, Seitveli Seitabdiyev, Shaban Umerov, Riza Izetov, Jemil Gafarov, Alim Karimov, Yashar Muyedinov, Izet Abdulayev, Asan Yanikov, Enver Ametov, Raim Aivazov, and Ruslan Suleimanov.

On March 28, Russian authorities detained and beat Krymska Solidarnist activists Remzi Bekirov, Osman Arifmemetov, and Vladlen Abdulkadyrov in Rostov-on-Don following searches at their homes in Crimea for suspected involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Kyivsky District Court in Simferopol had ordered their arrest on charges related to “terrorism.” Law enforcement officers reportedly beat Abdulkadyrov while he was in detention.

According to a July 12 Human Rights Watch report, on April 16, FSB agents detained Raim Aivazov on the Russian-imposed “border” with Ukraine and “forced him to incriminate himself and others under torture.” According to Aivazov’s independent lawyer, Maria Eismont, who visited the detainee before his second pretrial custody hearing in May, Aivazov told her that three FSB agents had forced him into a car at the crossing check point and drove to a nearby forest. They then kicked him and forced him to his knees. One put a gun to Aivazov’s head as the others fired shots next to him, threatening to kill him and dump his body in a pond. The agents told him the only way he could save his life was by “cooperating” with them. They took him to the FSB office in Simferopol, where “officials” wrote up a detention report stating he was detained at 1:30 p.m. on April 17 in the office of an FSB investigator. The report made no mention of Aivazov having been seized at the crossing point. The investigator provided a state-appointed lawyer who advised Aivazov it was in his “best interest” to sign documents the investigator presented him. Aivazov signed a confession stating he was a member of a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell, along with the recently arrested men.”

Krym Realii reported that on November 11, the Kyivsky District Court in Simferopol extended until February 15, 2020 the arrest of Tatar Muslims Bilyal Adilov, Tofik Abdulgaziyev, Rustem Seitkhalilov, Farkhod Bazarov, Shaban Umerov, Riza Izetov, Jemil Gafarov, and Raim Aivazov on charges of “extremism.” On November 12, the Kyivsky District Court extended until February 15, 2020 the detention of Tatar Muslims Remzi Bekirov, Enver Ametov, Osman Arifmemetov, Seitveli Seitabdiyev, Riza Izetov, Alim Karimov, and Erfan Osmanov.

In December the Crimean Human Rights Group estimated the total number of Crimean residents imprisoned for their participation in “extremist” Muslim groups had reached 65.

An OHCHR report covering November 2018 to February 2019 found that, consistent with previous OHCHR findings, the pattern of criminalization of affiliation to or sympathy towards religious Muslim groups, banned in the Russian Federation, continued to disproportionately affect Crimean Tatars. According to an OHCHR quarterly report issued in September, since the beginning of the Russian occupation, at least 33 Crimean residents were arrested for alleged ties with radical Muslim groups. OHCHR reported four of them were convicted in the absence of “any credible evidence that the defendants called for the use of force, violated public order, or engaged in any unlawful activity in Crimea.”

According to CHRG, on December 24, Inna Semenets, magistrate of the Evpatoriya Judicial District, fined the Karaite Jewish religious community for failing to place an identifying sign on the building of a religious organization.

In December Crimean magistrates reviewed at least five cases pertaining to “illegal missionary activity.” During the year, 30 of these cases were reviewed, and the magistrates imposed an administrative penalty, fines of 5,000 to 30,000 Russian rubles ($80-$480), and a warning in at least 18 cases. According to Forum 18, the cases involved Protestants, Muslims, adherents of the Society of Krishna Consciousness, Falun Gong, as well as groups with unspecified affiliations.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, local authorities continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crimea under the 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. Forum 18 reported that on September 6, the Dzhankoy District Court began the trial of Jehovah’s Witness Sergei Filatov on extremism-related charges. The FSB had arrested Filatov, a former head of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community, in Dzhankoy in 2018.

According to Forum 18, on March 15, the FSB opened a criminal case against Jehovah’s Witnesses Artem Gerasimov and Taras Kuzio in Yalta, accusing them of conducting religious services in defiance of the occupation authorities’ ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ “extremist” activity. Occupation authorities made both of them sign a pledge not to leave the area. Five days later, the FSB raided eight Jehovah’s Witness family homes in and around the city. According to Forum 18, on June 4, the FSB opened a criminal case against Jehovah’s Witness Viktor Stashevsky in Sevastopol. The FSB required him to sign a pledge not to leave the city. That same day, FSB officers raided at least nine local homes. Another raid occurred on July 7.

According to Forum 18, administrative court hearings under Russian law imposed on Crimea for “missionary activity” were “at the same rate” compared with the previous year. There were 24 prosecutions for such activity, compared with 23 in 2018, 17 of which ended in convictions with some type of monetary fine. Many of those prosecuted had been sharing their faith on the street or holding worship at unapproved venues. According to Forum 18, 17 Russian citizens were fined approximately 5 days’ average local wages. Six Ukrainian citizens were given higher fines of up to nearly two months’ average local wages. Forum 18 stated these six cases, in addition to the case of another Ukrainian who was prosecuted, appear to be the first use in Crimea of a Russian Administrative Code on “foreigners conducting missionary activity” that is “specifically aimed at non-Russians.”

Forum 18 reported that occupation authorities brought 11 cases against individuals and religious communities for failing to use the full legal name of a registered religious community. Four of those cases involved fines of 30,000 Russian rubles ($480) (one month’s average local wage), and two defendants received a warning. The other five cases involved no punishment.

According to Krymska Solidarnist and Forum 18, local authorities continued the ban on the Tablighi Jamaat Muslim missionary movement in Crimea under a 2009 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. The movement is legal in Ukraine. On January 22, the Supreme Court of Crimea found Crimean Tatars Renat Suleymanov guilty of organizing an “extremist” group, and Talyat Andurakhmanov, Seiran Mustafayev and Arsen Kubedinov, whom the FSB had detained in 2017, guilty of membership in “extremist” groups because of their affiliation with Tabligh Jamaat. The court sentenced Suleymanov to four years in prison. Andurakhmanov, Mustafayev, and Kubedinov each received two-and-a-half-year suspended sentences. Forum 18 reported that the FSB initiated the case “based on secret recordings of meetings in mosques, testimony from unidentified witnesses, and books seized from the men’s homes.” On May 18, occupation authorities transferred Suleymanov to a prison in Russia.

Krymska Solidarnist reported that on October 11, masked law enforcement officials in an armored vehicle arrived at a mosque in Kurtsy Village, stating they had to inspect “electricity meters and mosque documents.” Following Friday prayers, the officials questioned members of the congregation. The Simferopol-based organization Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea and Sevastopol, which started collaborating with occupation authorities in 2014, justified the visit, stating that “in violation of the law,” the congregation had not officially registered and was not led by an imam appointed by the directorate. According to the directorate, the mosque had not provided information on the contents of its sermons, as required by law.

The Ministry of Justice of Russia said 891 religious organizations were registered in Crimea, including 105 in Sevastopol, as of year’s end, compared with 831 and 69, respectively, in 2018. These included the two largest religious organizations – the Christian Orthodox UOC-MP and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea (SAMC) – as well as various Protestant, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Greek Catholic communities, among other religious groups.

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

According to a 2018 OHCHR report, religious communities indicated more than 1,000 religious communities recognized under Ukrainian law had not reregistered. According to the OHCHR, stringent legal requirements under Russian legislation continued to prevent or discourage reregistration of many religious communities.

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

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

UGCC representatives said it could still only operate as a part of the pastoral district of the Roman Catholic Church.

According to the OCU, Russian occupation authorities continued pressure on the OCU Crimean diocese in an effort to force it to leave Crimea. Only six of the 15 churches, identifying as OCU but required to register as independent following the separation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Moscow Patriarchate, were functioning at the end of the year, compared with five in 2018 and eight in 2017. The CHRG reported that on June 28, Crimea’s “Arbitration Court” terminated a pre-annexation lease agreement between the local government and OCU for Saints Volodymyr and Olga Cathedral, the only OCU church building in Simferopol and the location of the OCU diocesan administration. The “court” ordered the congregation to return the premises to Crimea’s “Ministry of Property and Land Relations.” Before issuing the ruling, occupation authorities had removed a section of the church roof, citing the need to repair it; as a result, rainwater flooded part of the premises. According to the NGO Krym-SOS, on April 12, the Crimean branch of Russia’s Justice Ministry turned down OCU Archbishop Klyment’s request to register his Simferopol-based St. Volodymyr of Kyiv and Olga parish as an independent Orthodox congregation. In October according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the UN Human Rights Committee invoked the UN Charter to halt the eviction of the congregation. Congregation members reported they had been effectively evicted, with no access to the church building due to a series of bureaucratic administrative rulings.

On March 3, police in Simferopol briefly detained Archbishop Klyment as he was boarding a bus to visit Ukrainian political prisoner Pavlo Hryb, who was held in Rostov-on-Don. The Russian government released Hryb during a prisoner swap in September. The archbishop said the incident was part of the occupation authorities’ continuing efforts to deny him access to Hryb.

On September 5, Ukraine’s Ministry for Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons denounced the occupation authorities’ plans to lay a pipeline through an ancient Muslim cemetery in Kirovske District. Workers unearthed human remains at the site during preparatory excavations for the project. After receiving complaints from the Muslim community, authorities suspended the excavations to allow reburial of the remains.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On November 6, the website Crimea-news.com reported that unidentified individuals had destroyed crosses at a cemetery in Feodosia.

According to Crimean Tatar activist Zair Smedlyaev, in November unidentified individuals destroyed a tombstone at a Muslim cemetery in Petrivka Village, in Krasnohvardiysk District.

Krym Realii news website, in May unidentified individuals destroyed newly installed slabs etched with the names of 64 fallen Soviet Army soldiers, including 57 Crimean Tatars, at a World War II memorial in Orlovka Village, in Sevastopol.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. government continued its efforts to focus international attention on the religious freedom-related abuses committed by Russian forces and occupation authorities in Crimea, especially on actions taken by those forces and authorities against Christians and Muslims. U.S. government and embassy officials condemned the continuing intimidation of minority religious congregations, including Christians and Muslim Crimean Tatars. On March 4, the embassy wrote, “We remain deeply concerned about Archbishop Klyment’s detention in Crimea yesterday. Despite his subsequent release, this kind of harassment is unacceptable. We expect Russia to respect freedom of religion and stop detaining innocent Ukrainians in Crimea.” On July 25, the embassy wrote, “We are concerned by media reports of looting of the Volodymyr and Olha Cathedral in Simferopol, Ukraine. Residents of Crimea deserve to be able to worship freely, without intimidation, if they so choose. We call upon Russia to end its occupation of Crimea.”

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

Read a Section

Ukraine

Croatia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits incitement of religious hatred. All religious communities have the same religious protections under the law. The government has written agreements with the Roman Catholic Church that provide state financial support and favorable tax and other treatment; 54 other registered religious communities that have agreements with the state receive equivalent treatment that registered religious communities without such agreements and unregistered religious groups do not receive. During the year the state registered a newly established religious community called the Catholic Old Church. Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) representatives said lack of restitution of property seized by the Yugoslavia government remained an outstanding issue. Atheist groups continued to complain that Roman Catholic symbols remained prevalent in government buildings such as courtrooms, prisons, and public hospitals. Representatives of the Jewish and Serbian communities expressed concerns about the rise of neo-Ustasha sentiment and historical revisionism about atrocities committed by the pro-Nazi government during the Second World War (WWII) against those communities. They said the government did not take a strong enough stand against historical revisionism and downplayed the public display of symbols of the Ustasha regime. They also said the current exhibition of the WWII-era Jasenovac concentration camp obscures the cruelty toward victims and fails to explain the affiliation of the victims persecuted by the Ustasha regime. In August the High Misdemeanor Court fined a singer who used the Nazi-era Ustasha salute while performing a popular nationalist song. In an article published in June, media characterized Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Ruza Tomasic as sympathetic to the fascist Ustasha movement through her statements defending elements of the movement and leader Ante Pavelic. Jewish and Serb leaders, the latter largely Orthodox, and representatives of the Alliance of Anti-Fascist Fighters again boycotted the government’s annual commemoration at the Jasenovac concentration camp, citing the government’s lack of response to Holocaust revisionism and failure to address Holocaust-era property restitution issues.

SOC representatives reported an increased number of incidents targeting individuals of Serbian ethnicity compared with 2018, including physical and verbal attacks. According to SOC representatives, however, it was unclear if these incidents were religiously or ethnically motivated. In a European Commission study published in September, 40 percent of the respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country, while 58 percent said it was rare. On January 25, the Holocaust Remembrance Project published a “Holocaust Revisionist Report,” giving the country a “red card for revisionism” (the worst possible rating). The report pointed to the continued use of the wartime fascist Ustasha salute at public events, the relative lack of Holocaust commemoration sites, outstanding restitution issues, and what it said were President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s contradictory statements on the Ustasha.

U.S. embassy officials discussed the status and treatment of religious minorities, anti-Semitism, and Holocaust revisionism with the government. U.S. officials encouraged the government to amend existing legislation covering Holocaust-era property restitution to allow for restitution and compensation claims with a revised deadline for new applications. Embassy officials discussed religious freedom issues, including freedom of expression and efforts to counter discrimination, with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and representatives from a broad spectrum of religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 4.2 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census, 86.3 percent of the population is Catholic, 4.4 percent Serbian Orthodox, and 1.5 percent Muslim. Nearly 4 percent self-identify as nonreligious or atheist. Other religious groups include Jews, Protestants, and other Christians. According to the World Jewish Congress, there are approximately 1,700 Jews.

Religious affiliation correlates closely with ethnicity. Ethnic Serbs are predominantly members of the SOC and live primarily in cities and areas bordering Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most members of other minority religious groups reside in urban areas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for equality of rights regardless of religion, as well as freedom of conscience and religious expression. It prohibits incitement of religious hatred. According to the constitution, religious communities shall be equal under the law and separate from the state; they are free to conduct religious services publicly as well as open and manage schools and charitable organizations under the protection and with the assistance of the state.

The Roman Catholic Church receives state financial support and other benefits established by four concordats between the government and the Holy See. These agreements provide for state financing for salaries and pensions of some religious officials associated with religious education through government-managed pension and health funds. These agreements also stipulate state funding for religious education in public schools.

The law defines the legal position of religious communities and determines eligibility for government funding and tax benefits. Registered religious communities are exempt from taxes on the purchase of real estate, the profit/capital gains tax, and taxes on donations. According to the law, a religious community previously active as a legal entity before enactment of the current law in 2002 (amended in 2013) need only submit its name, the location of its headquarters, information on the office of the person authorized to represent it, and the seal and stamp it uses to register. To register as a religious community, a religious group without prior legal status must have at least 500 members and have been registered as an association, with at least three members, for at least five years. To register as a religious community, a group submits a list of its members and documentation outlining the group’s activities and bylaws and describing its mission to the Ministry of Administration. Nonregistered religious groups may operate freely but do not receive tax benefits. They may conduct financial transactions as legal entities. A contractual agreement with the state, which grants a registered religious community eligibility for further funding and benefits, defines the community’s role and activities and provides for collaboration with the government in areas of joint interest, such as education, health, and culture.

There are 55 registered religious communities, including the Roman Catholic Church, SOC, Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Christian Adventist Church, Church of Christ, Church of God, Croatian Old Catholic Church, Catholic Old Church, Evangelical Church, Macedonian Orthodox Church, Pentecostal Church, Reformed Christian Church, Union of Baptist Churches, Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Union of Pentecostal Churches of Christ, Coordination Committee of Jewish Communities in Croatia (an umbrella group of nine distinct Jewish communities), Jewish Community of Virovitica, Bet Israel (a Jewish group), and the Islamic Community of Croatia. In addition to the Roman Catholic Church, 19 religious communities have formal agreements with the state that more clearly define activities and cooperation, such as in the areas of marriage and of religious education in public schools. These groups may access state funds for religious activities.

The state recognizes marriages conducted by registered religious communities that have concluded agreements with the state, eliminating the need for civil registration. Marriages conducted by registered communities that have not concluded agreements with the state, or by nonregistered religious groups, require civil registration.

Registered religious communities that have not concluded agreements with the state and nonregistered religious groups may not conduct religious education in public schools or access state funds in support of religious activities, including charitable work, counseling, building costs, and clergy salaries; however, they may engage in worship, proselytize, own property, and import religious literature. Only registered religious communities, with or without agreements with the state, may provide spiritual counsel in prisons, hospitals, and the military.

Public schools at both the primary and secondary levels must offer religious education, although students may opt out without providing specific grounds. The Catholic catechism is the predominant religious text used. Other religious communities that have agreements with the state may also offer religious education classes in schools if there are seven or more students of that faith. Eligible religious communities provide the instructors and the state pays their salaries. Private religious schools are eligible for state assistance and follow a national curriculum. Registered religious communities may have their own schools. Unregistered religious groups may not have their own schools.

Education about the Holocaust is mandatory in the seventh and eighth grades of elementary school and during four years of high school.

The law allows foreign citizens whose property was confiscated during and after the Holocaust era to seek compensation or restitution if the applicant’s country has a bilateral restitution treaty with the state; however, no such bilateral treaties currently exist. Two court cases have held that such treaties are not required; however, the law has not changed. The law does not allow new property claims, because the deadline expired in 2003.

The ombudsperson is a commissioner appointed by parliament responsible for promoting and protecting human rights and freedoms, including religious freedom. The ombudsperson examines citizens’ complaints pertaining to the work of state bodies; local and regional self-government; and legal persons vested with public authority. The ombudsperson may issue recommendations to government agencies regarding human rights and religious freedom practices but does not have authority to enforce compliance with his or her recommendations.

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

Government Practices

The Ministry of Administration registered a newly established religious community called the Catholic Old Church, located on the island of Rab.

According to the Office of the Commission for Relations with Religious Communities, the government budgeted 299.5 million kuna ($46.15 million) during the year for the Roman Catholic Church for salaries, pensions, and other purposes, compared with 288.2 million kuna ($44.41 million) in 2018. The government provided funding to other religious communities that had concluded agreements with the state, a portion of which was based on their size, in addition to funds provided to support religious education in public schools, and the operation of private religious schools. The government budgeted 22.0 million kuna ($3.39 million) to these groups, compared to 21.4 million kuna ($3.3 million) in 2018. Atheist groups criticized the government for allocating more to the Roman Catholic Church than to other groups.

Some minority religious and nonreligious groups, including atheist groups, continued to say the Roman Catholic Church continued to enjoy a special status (and greater financial support) in relation to other religious communities, in part because of its concordats with the government and in part because of its cultural and political influence as the majority religion.

SOC representatives said the community still had outstanding issues with the government regarding repossession of property, residential buildings, and land (including forests) that the government appropriated during the Yugoslav period.

Atheist, Jewish, and Serbian Orthodox organizations continued to report that although the law allows students to opt out of religious education, in practice most public primary schools did not offer any alternatives to Catholic catechism.

Atheist groups continued to complain that Roman Catholic symbols remained prevalent in government buildings such as courtrooms, prisons, and public hospitals. They said they believed this practice was inconsistent with the constitution, which states religious communities shall be separate from the state.

On August 14, media reported the High Misdemeanor Court fined a singer who used the Ustasha salute “Za Dom Spremni” (“For the Homeland – Ready”) while performing a popular nationalist song. The court ruled the “salute conveyed hatred toward people of different races, religions, and ethnicities,” and fined the singer 965 kuna ($150).

In May MEP Tomasic told the media outlet Novosti weekly, “I do not denounce the regular Ustashas who fought for Croatia but did not commit crimes.” Speaking of Ante Pavelic, leader of the pro-Nazi Independent State of Croatia (NDH) that committed genocide against Jews, Serbs, and Roma during WWII, she said, “He did not have to agree to racial laws, but fine. He did not have to have camps, but it must have been war then. He had to live in that time.” On June 5, the Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned Tomasic’s statements. The center’s Director for Eastern European Affairs Dr. Efraim Zuroff called upon political leaders to officially reject Tomasic’s statements, “especially her attempt to whitewash the large-scale atrocities committed by the Ustasha and the NDH.” Members of opposition parties condemned her statements.

The ombudsperson’s 2018 report released in March said most complaints concerned religious discrimination regarding the organization of religious activities in public kindergartens and public primary schools, and complaints about discriminatory content in religious textbooks and Croatian language books for elementary school. Non-Catholic religious groups complained to the ombudsman about Catholic religious activities in schools and kindergartens. The Office of the Ombudsperson for Children said blessing students and common public prayers on the premises of an educational institution were inappropriate outside of catechism, and obliging all the pupils in schools or kindergartens to participate in religious activities could lead to discrimination against children who were nonbelievers or non-Catholics. Responding to complaints from non-Catholic groups about the religious content of Croatian language textbooks, at the end of 2018 parliament adopted amendments to the education legislation stipulating it is the duty of the public school system to be neutral and balanced.

The ombudsperson’s 2018 report stated members of minority religious communities encountered problems exercising their right to take time off for religious holidays and feasts that fell during the work week, and these issues continued during the year.

The ombudsperson’s 2018 report stated the office received complaints about displays of religious symbols in public spaces (e.g., a crucifix in the patient’s room at a gynecology clinic), where the complainants maintained that this was discrimination against persons who were not Catholic believers or were without religious beliefs. The ombudsperson’s office stated displays of religious symbols in public spaces continued to be an issue during the year.

In February parliament rejected a proposal to negotiate modifications to the four concordats between the Holy See and the government. During the year, secularist NGOs held seven rallies calling on the government to give less money to the Roman Catholic Church and terminate agreements with the Vatican guaranteeing the Church an important role in social affairs. Media reported in October the NGO Movement for Secular Croatia and the civil society organizations Protagora, LiberOs, and Atheists and Agnostics of Croatia, and two informal campaign groups, Voice of Reason – Movement for a Secular Croatia and Not a Believer, staged a protest rally in September attended by 500 people. The groups stated the Roman Catholic Church held a privileged position in relation to other religious communities, contrary to the constitution’s guarantee that all religious communities were equal before the law and separate from the state. Some protesters carried placards saying, “Constitution before Bible”, “Republic Strikes Back” and “Pope Francis: I Want a Poor Church.”

Media reported on April 12 that representatives from the Jewish, Serb, and Roma communities, as well as the Alliance of Anti-Fascist Fighters and a delegation from the main opposition Social Democratic Party, held a commemoration ceremony at the Jasenovac Memorial Museum for victims killed by the WWII-era Ustasha regime at the Jasenovac concentration camp. On April 14, the government held its annual commemoration at the camp site. For the fourth year in a row, Jewish community representatives, along with the other groups, boycotted the government event. During the official commemoration Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic called for a united commemoration in 2020 and condemned the Ustasha regime. On April 13, President Grabar-Kitarovic visited the Jasenovac memorial site on a personal visit. Members of Jewish groups, along with the other groups, said the boycott of the government commemoration was necessary to condemn what they said was its lack of response to Holocaust revisionism and failure to address Holocaust-era property restitution issues. Local Jewish community representatives said the government made no significant progress on these issues during the year.

In January the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Director of Eastern European Affairs Zuroff issued a statement calling on authorities to ban a book entitled, “The Jasenovac Lie Revealed,” saying the book “denied that mass murders of Serbs, Jews, Roma and Croatian anti-fascists were frequently carried out in the Jasenovac concentration camp.” According to media, on January 17, a church in Zagreb hosted an event promoting the book.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) reported in September that IHRA Chair Ambassador Georges Santer called on the government to improve the exhibit at Jasenovic concentration camp to provide historical context so that visitors could understand the situation in the country and Europe during the first half of the 20th century as well as the role of perpetrators who committed the crimes. Santer offered IHRA’s expertise and support for the creation of a new exhibit. Minister of Culture Nina Obuljen Korzinek agreed a renewed and extended exhibit should be developed in cooperation with all victim groups and other stakeholders. Minister of Education Blazenka Divjak said the government was willing to increase funding to support at least 100 school visits to the memorial site in 2020.

On April 28, Vukovar Mayor Ivan Penava attended an Orthodox Easter Sunday Mass upon invitation from the local branch of the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS). Penava said he attended the Mass as a show of support to Vukovar’s Serbian Orthodox population. Local SDSS leader Srdan Kolar said he appreciated the mayor’s participation, adding, “As far as a return gesture is concerned, the moment we receive an invitation to come to events marking Catholic Christmas and Easter, we will be there.”

International Orthodox Christian News reported on March 18 that Serbian Orthodox Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana Porfirije met with Prime Minister Plenkovic and expressed his desire to continue dialogue and partnership between the government and religious communities in the country. The metropolitan advocated a joint action program to solve issues important to members of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian national minority. The website of the Orthodox Church published photos of the meeting and said Prime Minister Plenkovic emphasized the government had been working towards strengthening the protection of rights of all national minorities, including through greater financial support for economic development and solving issues that had been postponed for years.

In January Prime Minister Plenkovic attended an Orthodox Christmas reception organized by the Serbian National Council, an association of members of the Serb minority in Croatia, and said, “Christmas is an opportunity to strengthen faith in peace, solidarity, and tolerance, as well as unity in the resolution of issues that are important to all our fellow citizens.”

A leader of the SOC in Eastern Slavonia said high-ranking representatives of the Catholic Church met with counterparts from the SOC in January to discuss cooperation and shared concerns such as demographic challenges in the country and outreach to the younger generation.

The Office of the President retained the position of special advisor for Holocaust issues, although the incumbent passed away in November.

The country is a member of the IHRA.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

SOC representatives anecdotally reported increased incidents targeting individuals of Serbian ethnicity compared with 2018, including physical and verbal attacks. According to SOC representatives, however, it was unclear to what extent religious motivations played a part.

In May the European Commission (EC) carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 40 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Croatia, while 58 percent said it was rare; 84 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 95 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, 90 percent with an atheist, 86 percent with a Jew, 82 percent with a Buddhist, and 81 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a loving relationship with an individual belonging to various groups, 94 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 82 percent if atheist, 75 percent if Jewish, 68 percent if Buddhist, and 64 percent if Muslim.

In January the EC published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 28 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in Croatia, and 54 percent believed it had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 37 percent; on the internet, 34 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 30 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 28 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 30 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 27 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 27 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 30 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 29 percent.

On January 25, the Holocaust Remembrance Project published a “Holocaust Revisionist Report” sponsored by Yale University, Grinnell College, and the European Union of Progressive Judaism. The report gave the country a “red card for revisionism” (the worst possible rating, meaning under the report’s methodology “tough work lies ahead”). The report pointed to the continued use of the wartime fascist Ustasha salute at soccer games, rallies, and protests, the relative lack of Holocaust commemoration sites, outstanding restitution issues, and what it said were President Grabar-Kitarovic’s contradictory statements on the Ustasha. The report said, “Croats continue to have difficulty coming to terms with [the country’s] wartime past under a Nazi collaborationist government. Although new historical research shows that most Croats opposed the fascist puppet regime and many saved Jews, the country’s troubled past, including five decades of post-war communist rule, continues to cast a heavy cloud.”

In May media reported political advertisements for a Serb party were repeatedly marked with symbols of pro-Nazi Ustasha regime and anti-Serb slogans in the run-up to European Union parliamentary elections. In Zagreb, an individual wrote, “Slaughter Serb children, kill the Serb” on an SDSS campaign billboard.

On January 24, the Roman Catholic Church unveiled a large banner on the Zagreb Cathedral to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The World Jewish Congress praised the commemoration, in which Cardinal Josip Bozanic, Archbishop of Zagreb, “declared it unacceptable to permit the re-emergence of anti-Semitism.” Observers from minority religious groups said this was a conspicuous and positive gesture, given complaints by minority groups that the Church has at times minimized its role in Croatia during the Holocaust.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and embassy staff regularly discussed religious freedom issues, including the status and treatment of religious minorities, property restitution, anti-Semitism, and Holocaust revisionism, with representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, and Culture; the ombudsperson; representatives of parliament; youth representing different religious groups, and other officials. The embassy emphasized to Ministry of Interior officials the importance of the government ensuring the religious rights of migrants and asylum seekers were respected.

In April the Ambassador, embassy staff, and the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met with the minister of justice, the minister of culture, minister of education and science, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, members of parliament, the head of the Clinical Hospital, which during WWII saved a number of Jews from persecution, and leaders of Jewish organizations. Similar meetings took place in November. A senior embassy official attended commemorations for victims of the Holocaust, including the April 14 commemoration at Jasenovac, and discussed religious freedom issues with the members of the government and minority groups. U.S. officials continued to encourage the government to adopt amendments to existing legislation to provide for restitution of private and communal or religious property seized during and after WWII, including provisions that would unequivocally allow for foreign claims and that would reopen the deadline for potential new claims. Embassy engagement also focused on the restitution of Jewish communal properties such as cultural centers, synagogues, and cemeteries, as well as private property, and the creation of a claims process for victims.

In October the Ambassador hosted a lunch with youth representatives from different religious communities, including one atheist, to discuss challenges each community faced. He highlighted the importance of interfaith dialogue and promoting religious freedom and tolerance.

Embassy officials discussed religious freedom issues, including freedom of expression and efforts to counter discrimination, with NGOs such as Human Rights House, Documenta, Protagora, and Zagreb Pride, as well as with representatives from Catholic, Serbian Orthodox, Baptist, Jewish, Muslim, and other religious groups. In cooperation with the Ministry of Science and Education, the embassy again funded Holocaust education training in the United States for high school teachers, sending four teachers during the year. These teachers later applied the training in the classroom. The Department of State, Association of Holocaust Organizations in New York, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum organized the annual program. The program continued to focus on new teaching methods and techniques, facilitated an exchange of ideas and experiences, and provided resources and materials for classroom instruction.

The embassy posted on social media platforms about a range of religious freedom issues, including support for Holocaust commemorations and the younger generation’s view of faith and religion in the country.

Cyprus

Read A Section: Republic Of Cyprus

The Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots 

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

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the freedom to worship, teach, and practice one’s religion. It grants the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and recognizes the Vakf, an Islamic institution that manages sites of worship and property Muslims have donated, as a charitable endowment. According to press reports, on September 6, the headmaster of a public secondary school instructed a Muslim student wearing a headscarf to leave the school and return only after removing it. Then minister of education Kostas Champiaouris ordered an investigation of the case and transferred the headmaster from the school. Two of the eight functioning mosques under the guardianship of the Ministry of Interior continued to lack bathroom and ablution facilities. The Department of Antiquities continued to limit access to Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque to only two of the five daily prayers, although it routinely granted expanded access during Ramadan and at the request of the imam. The imam of Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque said Department of Antiquities security guards refused to let some non-Muslim tourists attend Friday prayers, despite the imam having invited them to attend. The government continued to allow non-Cypriot nationals living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots to travel to Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque for pilgrimages during Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Mawlid al-Nabi. The Jewish community reported authorities continued to conduct autopsies in nonsuspicious deaths, against the community’s wishes, and the community continued to face difficulties obtaining government permission to perform animal slaughter for food production according to Jewish law.

The Jewish community continued to report isolated instances of anti-Semitic verbal harassment. The nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) Caritas and Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism (KISA) reported cases in which private employers refused to hire women who wore hijabs. According to Caritas, Muslim students faced less discrimination than in previous years. Some religious minority groups continued to report societal pressure to engage in public Greek Orthodox religious ceremonies. Greek Orthodox Christians reported they sometimes faced ostracism from that community if they converted to another religion. In September a European Commission study found that 48 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country. In January the European Commission (EC) published a Special Eurobarometer survey indicating 73 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem. Leaders of the main religious groups continued to meet under the framework of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) – an initiative of the Swedish embassy – and advocate for greater religious freedom for faith communities across the island.

U.S. embassy representatives continued to meet frequently with government officials to discuss issues including access to religious sites on either side of the “green line” dividing the country. The Ambassador met with many religious leaders to discuss religious freedom restrictions, access to religious sites, and interfaith cooperation. On September 3, the Ambassador hosted a reception for Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud, RTCYPP Executive Coordinator, to encourage continued cooperation among the faith communities and with government authorities to expand religious freedom on the island. Embassy staff met with NGOs and religious leaders to discuss topics including access to religious sites island-wide and discrimination against minority religious groups. Embassy officials also visited places of religious significance on both sides of the “green line” and encouraged continued dialogue and cooperation among religious leaders.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population of the island at 1.3 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census, the population of the government-controlled area is 840,000. Of that total, 89.1 percent is Orthodox Christian and 1.8 percent is Muslim. Other religious groups include Roman Catholics, known as Latins (2.9 percent), Protestants (2 percent), Buddhists (1 percent), Maronite Catholics (0.5 percent), and Armenian Orthodox (0.3 percent), with small populations of Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Baha’is. The country’s chief rabbi estimates the number of Jews at 4,500, most of whom are foreign-born residents in the country. A Jehovah’s Witnesses representative estimates the group has 2,600 members. Recent immigrants and migrant workers are predominantly Roman Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the right of individuals to profess their faith and to worship, teach, and practice or observe their religion, individually or collectively, in private or in public, subject to limitations due to considerations of national security or public health, safety, order, and morals, or the protection of civil liberties. The constitution specifies all religions whose doctrines or rites are not secret are free and equal before the law. It protects the right to change one’s religion and prohibits the use of physical or moral compulsion to make a person change, or prevent a person from changing, his or her religion.

The constitution grants the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus (Church of Cyprus) the exclusive right to regulate and administer the Church’s internal affairs and property in accordance with its canons and charter. By law, the Church of Cyprus pays taxes only on commercial activities.

The constitution sets guidelines for the Vakf, which is tax exempt and has the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and property in accordance with its laws and principles. According to the constitution, no legislative, executive, or other act may contravene or interfere with the Church of Cyprus or the Vakf. The Vakf, which acts as caretaker of religious properties in the Turkish Cypriot community, operates only in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. The government administers and provides financial support for the physical maintenance of mosques in government-controlled areas.

In addition to the Church of Cyprus and Islam, the constitution recognizes three other religious groups: Maronite Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, and Latins (Roman Catholics). Their institutions are tax exempt and eligible for government subsidies for cultural and educational matters, including to cover costs to operate their own schools, for school fees of group members attending private schools, and for activities to preserve their cultural identity.

Religious groups not recognized in the constitution must register with the government as nonprofit organizations in order to engage in financial transactions and maintain bank accounts. To register, a religious group must submit through an attorney an application to the Registrar of Companies under the Ministry of Energy, Commerce, Industry, and Tourism stating its purpose and providing the names of its directors. Religious groups registered as nonprofit organizations are treated the same as other nonprofit organizations; they are tax exempt, must provide annual reports to the government, and are not eligible for government subsidies.

The government has formal processes by which religious groups may apply to use restored religious heritage sites for religious purposes.

According to a public school regulation, students are not allowed to cover their heads in school; however, the regulation explicitly states that the regulation should be implemented without discriminating against a student’s religion, race, color, gender, or any political or other convictions of the student or the parents.

The law requires animals to be stunned before slaughter.

The government requires Greek Orthodox religious instruction and attendance at religious services before major holidays in public primary and secondary schools. The Ministry of Education (MOE) may excuse primary school students of other religious groups from attending religious services and instruction at the request of their guardians, but Greek Orthodox children in primary school may not opt out. The MOE may excuse secondary school students from religious instruction on grounds of religion or conscience and may excuse them from attending religious services on any grounds at the request of their guardians, or at their own request if over the age of 16.

The ombudsman is an independent state institution responsible for protecting citizens’ rights and human rights in general. The ombudsman may investigate complaints made against any public service or official for actions that violate human rights, including freedom of religion, or contravene the laws or rules of proper administration. The ombudsman makes recommendations to correct wrongdoings but cannot enforce them.

Conscientious objectors on religious grounds are exempt from active military duty and from reservist service in the National Guard but must complete alternative service. The two options available for conscientious objectors are unarmed military service, which is a maximum of four months longer than the normal 14-month service, or social service, which is a maximum of eight months longer than normal service but requires fewer hours of work per day. The penalty for refusing military or alternative service is up to three years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 6,000 euros ($6,700), or both. Those who refuse both military and alternative service, even if objecting on religious grounds, are considered to have committed an offense involving dishonesty or moral turpitude and are disqualified from holding elected public office and ineligible for permits to provide private security services.

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

Government Practices

On September 6, local press reported Apostolos Varnavas Lyceum Headmaster Loizos Sepos instructed a Muslim student wearing a headscarf to leave the school and only return after removing it. The headmaster subsequently told the student’s father that MOE regulations did not allow students to cover their heads, according to press reports. Then minister of education Champiaouris ordered an investigation of the incident, which was concluded by September 18. The MOE did not publicize the results of the investigation and announced on September 18 it would handle the issues arising from the investigation in accordance with the law. The minister met with the student, her father, and the headmaster on September 7. In response to continued criticism from students of the school, the MOE announced on September 8 it would transfer the headmaster to the State Institutes of Further Education.

In August the Department of Antiquities closed the Limassol Great Mosque for restoration without previously informing the Muslim community of the nature of or timeline for the restoration, according to Imam Shakir Alemdar, Representative of the Mufti in Cyprus. The representative sent a letter to the Ministry of Interior (MOI), which had not responded by year’s end.

Muslim community leaders stated the government continued to allow the community access for religious services to only six of 19 mosques located on cultural heritage sites, as well as to two other mosques not located on such sites. Of the eight functioning mosques, seven were available for all five daily prayers, and six had the necessary facilities for ablutions. The government again failed to respond to the Muslim community’s long-standing request for permission to make improvements at the functioning mosques, and there was no change from previous years in either the number of open mosques or the number of ablution and bathroom facilities available at those mosques. Bayraktar and Dhali Mosques had no ablution facilities and no bathrooms. The government installed temporary bathrooms at Bayraktar Mosque and Dhali Mosque during Ramadan. In 2018 the MOI determined ablution and bathroom facilities for Dhali Mosque could not be installed at the local imam’s house across the street from the mosque due to structural issues. During the year, the MOI said installing facilities remained difficult due to limited space near the mosque; however, it said it planned to identify a suitable location and develop new plans.

The Department of Antiquities of the Ministry of Communications and Works provided bathroom facilities approximately 330 feet from Bayraktar Mosque. In October the Department of Antiquities said it was studying the placement of ablution facilities near Bayraktar Mosque. It said any new additions must be carefully placed because the mosque was part of the medieval Venetian wall of the city, an officially recognized ancient monument.

In October the imam of Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque said Department of Antiquities security guards stationed at the complex refused to let some non-Muslim tourists attend Friday prayers, despite the imam having invited them to attend. He also said visiting Department of Antiquities staff refused to wear appropriate clothing when entering the complex and security guards sometimes allowed visitors to enter the mosque wearing shoes. He said he spoke with the Head of the Antiquities Department but did not reach agreement on these issues by year’s end.

According to the RTCYPP, the Muslim community, Republic of Cyprus authorities, local press, and the UNFICYP, the government continued to waive visa requirements for the movement of non-Turkish Cypriot pilgrims south across the “green line” to visit Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque to conduct prayers and services on special occasions. To cross the “green line” without identification checks to visit religious sites, Turkish Cypriots and foreign nationals residing in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots were still required to submit requests to UNFICYP, which then facilitated the approval process with the government.

According to the RTCYPP and local press, on June 6, 600 pilgrims, primarily of Turkish origin, crossed from the area under Turkish Cypriot administration to attend a special service led by Mufti of Cyprus Talip Atalay at Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque for Eid al-Fitr (compared with 884 in 2018). On August 13, police again escorted approximately 305 Turkish Cypriots, Turks, and other foreign nationals to Hala Sultan Tekke for prayers on Eid al-Adha (compared to 300 in 2018). On November 11, 415 pilgrims crossed into the government-controlled area to attend prayers at Hala Sultan Tekke on Mawlid al-Nabi (compared to 655 in 2018). A Muslim community representative said the government did not impose any new restrictions on those who could cross for the pilgrimages.

On January 25, UNFICYP facilitated the visit of 28 Turkish Cypriots to Deneia village inside the buffer zone for the first prayer service at Deneia Mosque since 1963. After the service, Deneia community leader Christakis Panayiotou held a welcome reception for the Turkish Cypriots.

Representatives of the Jewish community again reported authorities continued to perform autopsies on deceased members of the community for deaths that were not suspicious, a practice they said violated Jewish religious beliefs. They stated that, despite continuing to raise the issue with government authorities, it remained unresolved.

Jewish representatives said local Department of Veterinary Services officials continued to deny exemptions from the requirement to stun animals before slaughter, despite granting exemptions in previous years. A Department of Veterinary Services official said the department no longer granted exemptions for religious slaughter. The Jewish community reported they were able to import kosher meat from other European Union (EU) countries at a significantly higher cost than if it were locally available.

Jewish representatives said the government continued not to respond to their long-standing request to grant the Chief Rabbinate of Cyprus the right to officiate (sign as an authorized individual) documents, including marriage, death, and divorce certificates.

A Jehovah’s Witnesses representative said the Jehovah’s Witnesses were not allowed to bury their adherents in some municipal cemeteries, which were often managed by local Greek Orthodox churches. After the community wrote a letter to the Ministry of Interior, Larnaca Municipality responded it had designated a place within the municipal cemetery for non-Greek Orthodox groups to bury their followers.

Representative of the Mufti of Cyprus Imam Alemdar said the Larnaca Turkish cemetery was completely full. He sent a letter to the MOI requesting that a Vakf property near Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque be made available as a cemetery. The MOI had not responded by year’s end.

In June the Cyprus Humanists Association said a school in Famagusta District presented a student with an award donated by a local business that was conditional on the student being an Orthodox Christian. The association said public schools previously presented similar awards conditional on the students being Greek Orthodox. It called on the Ministry of Education, the ombudsman, and Commissioner for the Rights of the Child Leda Koursoumba to prevent discrimination and maintain the secular character of public schools. The commissioner’s office said as of year’s end it had not received any formal complaints.

The military continued to require recruits to take part in a common prayer led by Church of Cyprus clergy during swearing-in ceremonies. Recruits of other faiths, atheists, and those who did not wish to take the oath for reasons of conscience could refrain from raising their hand during the ceremony. They instead recited a pledge of allegiance at a separate gathering.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Representatives of the Jewish community continued to report instances of anti-Semitic verbal harassment on the street.

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

Caritas and KISA said women wearing hijabs often faced difficulties finding employment. According to Caritas, in August a Somali woman was refused employment in a hotel because she was wearing a hijab. The prospective employer wrote in the applicant’s rejection letter that “the covering of her face with a scarf is a problem.” The woman filed a complaint with the ombudsman that was under review at year’s end.

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

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

In May the EC carried out a study in each EU-member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 48 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Cyprus, while 48 percent said it was rare; 58 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 98 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, 81 percent said they would be with an atheist, 84 percent with a Jew, 78 percent with a Muslim, and 81 percent with a Buddhist. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 98 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 52 percent if atheist, 52 percent if Jewish, 48 percent if Buddhist, and 40 percent if Muslim.

In January the EC published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 73 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in Cyprus, and 47 percent believed it had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 26 percent; on the internet, 23 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 18 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 19 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 20 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 18 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 19 percent; anti-Semitism in political life,18 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 21 percent.

On June 22, the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage (TCCH), one of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot technical committees established as part of the UN-facilitated settlement negotiations process, organized an inauguration ceremony to mark the completed restoration of Camii-Kebir Mosque in the city of Paphos. The mosque is classified as an ancient monument, and it did not function as an active mosque after restoration.

The leaders of the main religious groups on the island continued to meet regularly and visit places of worship on both sides of the buffer zone within the framework of the RTCYPP. On March 19, the leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Armenian, Maronite, and Roman Catholic religious groups visited the collapsed Saint James Church in the buffer zone in Nicosia. They called for restoration of Saint James Church without delay, as well as for the restoration of Saint George Church, also located in the buffer zone in Nicosia.

On March 15, the religious leaders of the five groups recognized by the constitution jointly condemned the terrorist attacks at two mosques in New Zealand. On April 21, Mufti of Cyprus Atalay issued a statement condemning the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka targeting Christians on Easter Sunday.

On June 4, Christian religious leaders under the framework of the RTCYPP issued a joint greeting for the Mufti of Cyprus and all the Muslim faithful wishing them a blessed Eid al-Fitr.

A joint project of religious leaders through the RTCYPP offering Greek and Turkish language classes for members of the Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Armenian Orthodox, Maronite, and Roman Catholic communities continued; participants included priests, imams, nuns, and laypersons who worked for faith-based organizations. On May 9, language class participants attended an iftar at Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy representatives continued to meet frequently with government officials from the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Justice, as well as the Department of Antiquities, to discuss religious freedom issues, including encouraging greater access to religious sites on either side of the “green line” and discrimination against minority religious communities.

The Ambassador discussed restrictions on access to religious sites and interfaith cooperation with many religious leaders, including the Archbishop of the Church of Cyprus, the Archbishop of the Maronite Church of Cyprus, the Archbishop of the Armenian Orthodox Church of Cyprus, and the Apostolic Nuncio. The Ambassador visited Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque and discussed the mosque’s limited hours of operation and the condition of Larnaca Turkish Cemetery with the resident imam. She also visited the Jewish Community Center in Larnaca and discussed religious freedom and religious-based discrimination with the Chief Rabbi of Cyprus. The Ambassador discussed with the Swedish ambassador ways to promote religious freedom on the island and to support the efforts of the RTCYPP to encourage cooperation among religious leaders. On September 3, the Ambassador hosted a reception to honor RTCYPP Executive Coordinator Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud, a recipient of the Secretary of State’s 2019 International Religious Freedom Award, and to encourage continued cooperation among the faith communities and with government authorities to expand religious freedom on the island.

Embassy staff continued to discuss religious freedom issues, including religious-based discrimination, with NGOs Caritas and KISA. They engaged representatives of the Anglican, Armenian Orthodox, Baha’i, Buddhist, Evangelical, Greek Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jewish, Maronite, Muslim, and Roman Catholic communities to hear their concerns about access to and the condition of religious sites and cemeteries, incidents of religious-based harassment and discrimination, societal attitudes toward minority religions, and obstacles to religious freedom. Embassy officials supported religious leaders’ continuing dialogue within the RTCYPP and encouraged continuing reciprocal visits of religious leaders to places of worship on both sides of the “green line.”

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The Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots 

Czech Republic

Executive Summary

The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a supplement to the constitution, guarantees freedom of religious conviction and states everyone has the right to change, abstain from, and freely practice religion. The Ministry of Culture (MOC) registered one religious group and rejected the registration applications of two groups. The registration application of one group remained pending at year’s end. The Constitutional Court rejected an appeal of a lower court conviction of Path of Guru Jara (PGJ) leader Jaroslav Dobes and another PGJ member whom the lower court sentenced to prison in absentia for rape; a lower court reopened proceedings against the two PGJ officials on seven other counts of rape. The Supreme Administrative Court and several regional courts ruled the Ministry of Interior (MOI) should review 18 asylum applications by Chinese Christians whose applications the MOI rejected in 2018. Appeals of an additional 52 asylum applications the MOI rejected in 2018 were pending with courts at year’s end. The government stated that in 2018 it returned 1,797 properties confiscated from religious groups during the communist period. In October the Constitutional Court struck down a law parliament had approved in May, which was scheduled to come into effect in 2020, taxing compensation the government paid to religious groups for unreturned confiscated properties. The Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) Party continued to speak out against Islam and Muslim migrants.

In IUSTITIA, a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported 14 religiously motivated incidents – 12 against Muslims and two against Jews – compared with 17 in 2018. The government reported 15 anti-Semitic and three anti-Muslim incidents in 2018, compared with 27 and three, respectively, in the previous year. The Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) reported 347 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018 – including two physical attacks – an increase of 175 percent over 2015. Most incidents involved internet hate speech. According to a European Commission (EC) survey, 28 percent of respondents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in the country. Another EC survey found that 48 percent of respondents said they would be comfortable working with a Muslim, and 31 percent said they would feel comfortable if their child were in a “love relationship” with a Muslim. In March the Czech Muslim Communities Center ousted the lay chairman who headed the Prague Muslim community for posting a video urging Muslims to arm themselves following mosque mass shootings in New Zealand. The MOI reported 11 “white power” concerts where participants expressed anti-Semitic views.

U.S. embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues, including property restitution for religious groups and religious tolerance, with MOC officials and the envoy for Holocaust issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Embassy officials met with Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders and members of the Muslim community to reaffirm U.S. government support for religious freedom and tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.7 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census, of the 56 percent of citizens who responded to the question about their religious beliefs, approximately 62 percent held none, 18 percent were Roman Catholic, 12 percent listed no specific religion, and 7 percent identified with a variety of religious faiths, including the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, other Christian churches, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. Academics estimate there are 10,000 Jews, while the FJC estimates there are 15,000 to 20,000. Leaders of the Muslim community estimate there are 10,000 Muslims, most of whom are immigrants.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution does not explicitly address religious freedom, but the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a supplementary constitutional document, provides for freedom of religious conviction and the fundamental rights of all, regardless of their faith or religion. It states every individual has the right to change religion or faith; to abstain from religious belief; and to freely practice religion, alone or in community, in private or public, “through worship, teaching, practice, or observance.” The charter defines religious societies, recognizing their freedom to profess their faith publicly or privately and to govern their own affairs, independent of the state. It stipulates conscientious objectors may not be compelled to perform military service and that conditions for religious instruction at state schools shall be set by law. The charter states religious freedom may be limited by law in the event of threats to “public safety and order, health and morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.”

The law states the Department of Churches within the MOC is responsible for religious affairs. Religious groups are not required by law to register with the government and are free to perform religious activities without registering. The law establishes a two-tiered system for religious groups which choose to register with the ministry. The ministry reviews applications for first- and second-tier registration with input from other government bodies, such as the Office for Protection of Private Data, and outside experts on religious affairs. The law does not establish a deadline for the ministry to decide on a registration application. Applicants denied registration may appeal to the MOC to reconsider its decision and, if denied again, to the courts.

To qualify for the first (lower) tier, a religious group must present at least 300 signatures of adult members permanently residing in the country, a founding document listing the basic tenets of the faith, and a clearly defined structure of fiduciary responsibilities to the Department of Churches. First-tier registration confers limited tax benefits, including exemptions from taxes on interest earned on current account deposits, donations, and members’ contributions. It also establishes annual reporting requirements on activities, balance sheets, and the use of funds.

For second (higher) tier registration, a group must have been registered with the Department of Churches for 10 years, have published annual financial reports throughout the time of its registration, and have membership equal to at least 0.1 percent of the population, or approximately 10,700 persons. The group must provide this number of signatures as proof. Second-tier registration entitles religious groups to government subsidies, as well as the tax benefits granted to first-tier groups. Additionally, only clergy of registered second-tier religious groups may perform legally recognized marriage ceremonies and serve as chaplains in the military and at prisons. Prisoners who belong to unregistered religious groups or groups with first-tier status may receive visits from their own clergy.

Religious groups registered prior to 2002 received automatic second-tier status without having to fulfill the requirements for second-tier registration. These groups, like other registered groups, must publish financial reports annually.

There are 41 state-registered religious groups, 18 first- and 23 second-tier.

Unregistered religious groups are free to assemble and worship but may not legally own property. Unregistered groups may form civic associations to own and manage their property.

The law authorizes the government to return land or other property that was confiscated during the communist era and is still in the government’s possession to 17 religious groups (the largest of which are the Roman Catholic Church, FJC, Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, and Hussite Church). The government estimates the total value of property in its possession eligible to be returned at 75 billion crowns ($3.4 billion). The law also sets aside 59 billion crowns ($2.7 billion) in compensation for property – mostly in possession of private persons or entities or local or regional governments – that cannot be returned, payable over a 30-year period ending in 2043. Based on an agreement among the affected religious groups, the law allocates approximately 79 percent of these funds to the Catholic Church and 21 percent to the other 16 groups. The law prescribed a one-year deadline ending in 2013 for religious groups to file restitution claims for confiscated property. The government agency in possession of a property for which a group has filed a restitution claim adjudicates that claim. If the government agency rejects a property claim, the claimant may appeal the decision in court.

The law phases out direct state subsidies to second-tier religious groups over a 17-year period ending in 2029.

The law permits second-tier religious groups to apply through the MOC to teach religion in state schools if there is a demand for such classes. Eleven of the 23 second-tier groups, all of them Christian, received permission. The teachers are supplied by the religious groups and paid by the state. If a state school does not have enough funds to pay for its religious education teachers, religious groups pay for them. Student attendance at religious classes is optional. According to law, if seven or more students register for a particular religious class at the beginning of the school year, a school must offer that class to those who registered.

The government does not regulate religious instruction in private schools.

The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on religion. It also limits the denial of communist-era crimes and the Holocaust. Violators may be sentenced to up to three years in prison.

Religious workers who are not from European Economic Area countries or Switzerland must obtain long-term residence and work permits to remain in the country for more than 90 days. There is no special visa category for religious workers. Foreign missionaries and clergy are required to meet the conditions for a standard work permit.

The law designates January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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

Government Practices

In March the MOC registered the Community of Baptist Congregations, which applied in January 2018. In August the ministry rejected Ecclesia Risorum’s March 2018 registration application on the grounds the group failed to meet the legal definition of a first- or second-tier religious group. The group filed an administrative appeal with the MOC, which remained pending at year’s end. The Association of Buddhism in the Czech Republic applied for registration in April; in July the ministry suspended the registration process because it said the group did not respond to a request for completed registration documents. The MOC restarted the registration process in November, and the application was pending at year’s end.

In January the MOC denied the Cannabis Church’s registration. The group filed an administrative appeal with the MOC, which the ministry rejected in June. The Cannabis Church did not appeal the decision in court. The Cannabis Church had renewed its registration application in 2018 after the Prague Municipal Court overturned a 2016 decision by the MOC to halt the Church’s application and ordered the ministry to reopen the registration procedure. A 2017 appeal by the Lions of the Round Table – Order of the Lands of the Czech Crown regarding an MOC registration rejection remained pending with the Prague Municipal Court.

PGJ leader Jaroslav Dobes and member Barbora Plaskova reportedly remained in immigration detention in the Philippines, where they had been seeking asylum since 2015. International arrest warrants issued by Czech authorities for the pair remained outstanding. In April the Supreme Court rejected the pair’s appeal to overturn a 2018 guilty verdict on one count of rape by the Zlin Regional Court and upheld later that year by the Olomouc High Court. On September 11, the Constitutional Court rejected Dobes’ appeal of the verdict, and on October 16, it rejected Plaskova’s appeal. On September 16, the Zlin Regional Court renewed court proceedings against Dobes and Plaskova on seven other counts of rape. The Olomouc High Court had voided the Zlin court’s earlier convictions on those seven counts in 2018 and remanded the cases back to the lower court. After the high court’s decision, the Zlin court had dismissed the case at the end of 2018 but reversed that decision after an appeal by Dobes and Plaskova requesting a court verdict on the seven counts of rape. The trial continued at year’s end.

PGJ’s 2017 lawsuit against the government’s Office for Personal Data Protection alleging abusive investigation of the group’s registration application and against the MOC’s rejection of its registration application remained pending in the Prague Municipal Court at year’s end.

In letters to Czech authorities in May, PGJ called the criminal prosecutions against Dobes and Plaskova “violations of human rights” that contributed to discrimination and persecution of the group. In September a lawyer who worked with PGJ submitted a report to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Human Dimension Implementation Meetings criticizing the criminal proceedings against the group’s members and the Prague Municipal Court’s delay in issuing a ruling on PGJ’s appeal of the rejection of its registration application.

According to PGJ members, media coverage of the group was unfair and contributed to intolerance of it. A PGJ report stated media continued to misinform the public about the group and Plaskova’s case, citing 33 articles published during the year. Supporters of what PGJ members described as the anticult movement reportedly wrote three of these articles, issued in Dingir, an interreligious journal. According to PGJ, Jitka Schlichtsova, the author of a piece published in February, alleged the group was created as a “reaction” to the arrest of their two leaders in 2015. PGJ members also stated they “encountered several refusals” when attempting to hire architects, advisors, or consultants because the individuals feared “persecution for cooperating with the PGJ.” When seeking a venue for a nationwide spiritual meeting in the fall, PGJ members said they were rejected because of their faith; however, the group did not provide additional information.

In October the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) heard appeals by two Chinese Christians regarding the decision of the Hradec Kralove Regional Court and, previously, the MOI to reject their asylum applications filed in 2016 on the grounds of religious persecution in China. The SAC returned the cases to the MOI for review. In August the SAC had returned to the MOI for further review three other cases the ministry had previously rejected. During the year, regional courts in Ostrava, Hradec Kralove, and Pardubice issued similar verdicts returning 13 other cases to the MOI for review. All 18 applicants were part of a group of 70 Chinese Christians whose asylum applications the MOI had rejected in 2018. All of them appealed the MOI ruling; the other 52 cases were under review in the courts. At year’s end, the MOI had not ruled on any of the applications the courts had remanded to it for further review, and the government had not deported any of the 70 asylum applicants.

In April parliament approved a law, which President Milos Zeman signed in May and was scheduled to become effective on January 1, 2020, taxing the compensation the government paid religious groups for unreturned property confiscated prior to 1989. A group of 44 senators filed a legal challenge to the law, and on October 15, the Constitutional Court struck the law down as unconstitutional. The court ruled that although the state had the right to levy a tax to raise revenue, in this case the objective was to decrease compensation paid to religious groups.

The government was still processing restitution claims made between 2012 and 2013 for confiscated land and other real and personal property. It reported that in 2018 it returned 1,441 agricultural properties and 356 nonagricultural properties confiscated from religious groups during the communist period. The government had returned a total of 99,001 agricultural and nonagricultural properties between 2013, when the law on religious property restitution came into effect, and the end of 2018.

In August the Supreme Court upheld a 2017 ruling by the South Moravian Regional Court in Brno that the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and not the Brno Jewish Community (BJC) was the legal owner of a building in Brno. The BJC filed its claim in 2013, and the ministry rejected the claim in 2014. The BJC said it would appeal the Supreme Court decision to the Constitutional Court, which exercised final authority in such cases.

During the year, the government provided 17 second-tier religious groups with approximately 3.3 billion crowns ($148.9 million): 1.2 billion crowns ($54.1 million) in government subsidies and 2.1 billion crowns ($94.8 million) as compensation for communal property in private and state hands that would not be returned. Five of the 22 second-tier groups declined all state funding. While accepting the state subsidy, the Baptist Union opted not to accept compensation for unreturned property. In addition, the MOC provided three million crowns ($135,000) in grants for religiously oriented cultural activities in response to applications from various religious groups.

In September the government approved a 100 million crown ($4.5 million) contribution to the Endowment Fund for Holocaust Victims for projects focused on Holocaust remembrance and education, welfare for Holocaust victims, and care for Jewish monuments.

In November the Kolel Damesek Eliezer Foundation, a U.S. charity, the FJC, and the Hanacky Jerusalem Association signed a memorandum with the municipal government of Prostejov on restoration of a former Jewish cemetery in that city. The cemetery, along with its remaining tombstones found in other locations, was destroyed by the Nazis and later converted into a park. The MOC designated it a cultural monument in 2016 and 2017. In November a stone replica of Rabbi Zvi Horowitz’ original tombstone, which vandals destroyed in 2017, was installed in the area of the former cemetery.

In June press reported the municipal council in Prague was withholding issuance of a building permit for the Association for the Renewal of the Marian Column, a group trying to re-erect a Baroque-era column with a statue of the Virgin Mary in the city’s Old Town Square. A crowd tore down the original statue in 1918 shortly after Czechoslovakia gained its independence. Critics of the project said the statue was a symbol of Habsburg Empire-enforced Catholicism on the country. The association had already built a replica of the statue and was awaiting a decision from the municipal council at year’s end.

The SPD and its leader, Tomio Okamura, continued to speak out against Islam and Muslim migrants. In one post on social media, Okamura stated the idea of having Islamic schools in the country was unacceptable, and he did not want Islam to be practiced in the country. His posts, as well as the SPD party platform, included the slogan, “No to Islam, No to Terrorists.” In April the SPD held a rally in Prague attended by Okamura, France’s National Rally Party leader Marine Le Pen, and founder of the Dutch Party for Freedom Geert Wilders. Mateo Salvini, head of Italy’s League party, sent a video message. All the political leaders spoke out against immigration and Islam. According to press reports, Wilders said, “Islam is a medieval cult that denies freedom to others,” and the crowd repeatedly chanted, “We don’t want Islam here!” The Against the Hate platform, a Facebook group, organized an event at the same time protesting the SPD rally in a nearby location attracting approximately 100 participants. Dozens of persons also protested at the SPD rally itself.

In September the Prague Municipal Court upheld the Prague 1 District Court’s decision in 2018 to issue a suspended one-year sentence and 70,000 crown ($3,200) fine levied on former SPD secretary Jaroslav Stanik for hate speech after he publicly stated in 2017 that Jews, Roma, and homosexuals should be shot right after birth.

In May the government approved the annual Strategy to Combat Extremism that outlined specific tasks for various ministries, such as the MOI, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, MOC, and Ministry of Finance in fighting extremism and hate crimes, including hate crimes against religious groups. Steps the document outlined to reduce incidents included raising public awareness about extremist activities, campaigns to reduce hate speech on the internet, education and prevention programs at schools, specialized training for law enforcement, and assistance to victims.

In January in a session commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Chamber of Deputies officially adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.

On January 25, the senate, in cooperation with the FJC, organized an official ceremony to honor victims of the Holocaust as part of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Speakers from both houses of parliament delivered remarks and called for religious tolerance.

In October the Chamber of Deputies enacted a nonbinding resolution denouncing all manifestations of anti-Semitism against individuals, institutions, organizations, and the State of Israel. The resolution condemned actions and statements calling for the boycott of Israel and its products, services, or citizens. It also called for increased protection for persons or institutions that could be the target of anti-Semitic attacks.

In April President of the Senate Jaroslav Kubera again sponsored and participated in an annual march and the Culture Against Anti-Semitism Festival. The march, from the city center to the senate gardens, opened the festival, consisting of speeches, video messages, documentaries, and live readings and musical performances against anti-Semitism. Approximately 700 persons attended the event.

The government funded religiously oriented cultural activities, including the Night of Churches held in several cities; the annual National Pilgrimage of St. Wenceslaus (consisting of a march through Prague and masses celebrated in that city and Brandys nad Labem); KRISTFEST (a festival of seminars, workshops, and musical performances on religious themes); the annual Concert in Memory of Holocaust Victims; the annual Hussite Festival (commemorating the religious teaching of reformation leader Jan Hus); Litomysl Days of Baroque Tradition (a festival consisting of liturgical music, masses, and readings); and the festival of Orthodox music, Archaion Kallos.

According to the FJC, the MOI continued to provide security to the Jewish community and Jewish sites based on a memorandum of cooperation signed in 2016.

The country is a member of the IHRA.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In IUSTITIA reported 14 religiously motivated hate crimes during the year, 12 against Muslims and two against Jews, compared with 17 cases in 2018. In IUSTITIA did not provide details of the incidents.

In 2018, the most recent year data were available, the MOI reported 15 criminal offenses with anti-Semitic motives and eight with anti-Muslim motives, compared with 27 and three crimes, respectively, in 2017.

The FJC reported 347 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, compared with 126 in 2015 (the most recent previous year in which the FJC had collected incident reports), including 14 directed against specific persons or institutions – two physical attacks, three cases of property damage, and nine cases of harassment. The other 333 incidents included graffiti, videos, articles, and online comments. According to the FJC, the largest increase was in anti-Semitic hate speech on the internet, which accounted for 93 percent of the incidents in 2018. It stated 64 percent of incidents involved stereotypical statements about Jews, such as allegations Jews controlled the economy and government. In 29 percent of the cases, the writers blamed Jews collectively for Israeli actions.

In one of the two attacks the FJC reported in 2018, the new employer of a hotel in Prague assaulted an employee and shouted anti-Semitic insults at him. In the other attack, in Prague, a taxi driver assaulted a Jewish man wearing a yarmulke, swearing at him and calling him “Jew.” In another incident the FJC cited, a person accosted a Jewish man at a bar in Liberec, calling for the destruction of Israel and yelling, “Heil Hitler!” In a fourth incident, a guard asked a Jewish woman to remove her Star of David before entering a club in Prague.

In January the EC published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU member. According to the survey, 65 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in the Czech Republic, and 57 percent believed anti-Semitism had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 38 percent; on the internet, 33 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 36 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 33 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 44 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 32 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 30 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 30 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 28 percent.

In May the EC carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 24 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the Czech Republic, while 69 percent said it was rare; 78 percent would be comfortable with having a person of different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 97 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, 95 percent said they would be with an atheist, 90 percent with a Jew, 77 percent with a Buddhist, and 48 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 95 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 87 percent if atheist, 81 percent if Jewish, 67 percent if Buddhist, and 31 percent if Muslim.

According to the Pew Research Global Attitudes Survey released in October, 64 percent of respondents in the country expressed unfavorable opinions of Muslims, while 17 percent expressed unfavorable opinions of Jews.

In March, following the mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand, press reported Leonid Kushnarenko, then-lay chairman of the Prague Muslim community, posted a video on Facebook urging community members to arm themselves to protect their health and property and offered to assist them in doing so. Kushnarenko reportedly told the newspaper Denik N that he made his appeal because of “Islamophobic sentiments” in the country. On March 24, the Czech Muslim Communities Center announced on Facebook it had revoked Kushnarenko’s membership in the organization because of his statement and acts, which it said harmed the interests of the Muslim community in the country.

The MOI reported there were 11 private “white power” concerts during the year, where participants expressed anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi views. The ministry estimated approximately 50 to 100 persons attended each concert.

Supreme State Prosecutor Pavel Zeman stated at a conference on Hate Crime on the Internet in October that internet hate speech against Muslims and Jews had increased. He added that online hate speech against these and other groups must be addressed before it grew into physical attacks.

In January the Prague Regional Court convicted 71-year-old Jaromir Balda of terrorism and sentenced him to four years in prison for causing two trains to derail near Mlada Boleslav in 2017. In April the Prague Higher Court rejected his appeal of the verdict. The man had felled trees to block the railway line and said he tried to make it appear Islamists were responsible in order to raise the public’s concerns about Muslim immigration.

In August the Supreme Court upheld the guilty verdict of well-known anti-Semitic blogger Adam Bartos on charges of incitement to hatred and denying the Holocaust on the internet, in public speeches, and books. He was sentenced to a two-year suspended sentence in 2018.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, in June vandals damaged the Valediction Memorial to Jewish children. The memorial commemorates those who escaped the Holocaust at Prague’s mail railway station.

The Times of Israel reported a Jewish cemetery was vandalized in the northeast district of Osoblaha in July, where unidentified individuals smashed at least one headstone and etched “obscene” drawings on several others.

According to press reports in November, the mayor’s office in Prague and the Jewish community reached agreement on the return of Jewish gravestones the Communist government had taken from a 19th century Jewish cemetery in the 1980s and converted into cobblestones it laid down in various areas of the capital, notably in Wenceslas Square and Na Prikope Street. The Jewish community said it would place the gravestone fragments in the Old Jewish Cemetery in the city’s Zizkov District.

The government-funded Endowment Fund for Holocaust Victims, established by the FJC, contributed four million crowns ($180,000) to 14 institutions providing health and social care to approximately 500 Holocaust survivors.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy representatives continued to engage government officials from the MOC’s Department of Churches on issues including property restitution to religious groups, religious tolerance, and the Prostejov Jewish cemetery. Embassy officials also met with the MFA’s special envoy for Holocaust issues, Antonin Hradilek, regarding property restitution.

The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to meet with representatives from the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim communities to reaffirm U.S. commitment to religious tolerance and to hear their views on interfaith relations.

Egypt

Executive Summary

The constitution states “freedom of belief is absolute” and “the freedom of practicing religious rituals and establishing worship places for the followers of divine (i.e. Abrahamic) religions is a right regulated by law.” The constitution states citizens “are equal before the Law,” and criminalizes discrimination and “incitement to hatred” based upon “religion, belief, sex, origin, race…or any other reason.” The constitution also states, “Islam is the religion of the state…and the principles of Islamic sharia are the main sources of legislation.” The government officially recognizes Sunni Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, and allows only their adherents to publicly practice their religion and build houses of worship. In December the Prisons Authority carried out the death sentence of Ibrahim Ismail who was convicted in April of killing eight Christians and a policeman in 2017. In May the Supreme Court of Military Appeals upheld 17 of 36 death sentences that an Alexandria military court issued for church bombings between 2016 and 2017 in Cairo, Alexandria, and Tanta. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. In May the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced two defendants to death, two to life imprisonment, and six others to prisons terms ranging from three to six years for killing 11 persons in December 2017, in an attack on a Coptic church and Christian-owned shop in a suburb south of Cairo. On February 9, authorities arrested Muslim students at Al-Azhar for posting video footage mocking Christian religious practices. Under a 2016 law issued to legalize unlicensed churches and facilitate the construction of new churches, the government reported having issued 814 licenses to existing but previously unlicensed churches and related support buildings, bringing the cumulative total to 1412 of 5,415 applications for licensure. In April the NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) condemned the involvement of the security services in the closure of the Anba Karas Church and called for the reopening of churches closed since the implementation of the 2016 church construction law. Local authorities continued to periodically rely on customary reconciliation sessions instead of the official judicial system to resolve sectarian disputes. In April security officials closed a church in the Upper Egyptian village of Nagib in response to threats of an attack by Muslim villagers. In November Christians in the Upper Egyptian village of Hgara were directed to rebuild their church three kilometers (1.9 miles) outside the village following a customary reconciliation session related to a dispute with the local Muslim population. According to an international NGO, there were no Shia congregational halls (husseiniyahs) or houses of worship in the country. The Ministry of Awqaf (Islamic Endowments) continued to issue required certifications for Sunni imams and to register and license all mosques. On February 4, Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayyeb and Pope Francis signed the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together during their visit to Abu Dhabi.

On January 3, ISIS released a video statement threatening “bloody attacks during the upcoming (Orthodox) Christmas celebrations,” and to “take revenge on Egypt’s Christians.” The statement included a threat to the life of Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II. According to press reports, unidentified men suspected to be members of ISIS abducted a Christian based on his religious affiliation at a checkpoint near Al-Arish in Northern Sinai on January 17. His fate was unknown at year’s end. In January a religious sheikh at a mosque alerted security at the Church of the Virgin Mary in Nasr City, Cairo, to possible explosives in the vicinity of the church, where police later discovered an improvised explosive device (IED). One police officer died and two others were injured as they attempted to defuse the bomb. Esshad, a website that records sectarian attacks, documented a 29 percent reduction in intercommunal violence between 2018 and 2019. According to human rights groups and religious communities, discrimination in private sector hiring continued, including in professional sports. Of the 540 players in the top-tier professional soccer clubs, only one was Christian. Some religious leaders and media personalities continued to employ discriminatory language against Christians.

U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, Ambassador, and former Charge d’Affaires, as well as visiting senior-level delegations from Washington and embassy representatives and officials of the former consulate general in Alexandria met with government officials to underscore the importance of religious freedom and equal protection of all citizens before the law. In meetings with high-level officials at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Education, Justice, Awqaf, and Interior, embassy officers emphasized the U.S. commitment to religious freedom and raised a number of key issues, including attacks on Christians, recognition of Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the rights of Shia Muslims to perform religious rituals publicly, and the discrimination and religious freedom abuses resulting from official religious designations on national identity and other official documents.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 101.8 million (midyear 2019 estimate). Most experts and media sources state that approximately 90 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim and approximately 10 percent is Christian (estimates range from 5 to 15 percent). Approximately 90 percent of Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, according to Christian leaders.

Other Christian communities together constitute less than 2 percent of the population and include Anglican/Episcopalian and other Protestant denominations, Armenian Apostolic, Catholic (Armenian, Chaldean, Melkite, Maronite, Latin, and Syrian), and Orthodox (Greek and Syrian) Churches. The Protestant community includes Apostolic Grace, Apostolic, Assemblies of God, Baptists, Brethren, Christian Model Church (Al-Mithaal Al-Masihi), Church of Christ, Faith (Al-Eyman), Gospel Missionary (Al-Kiraaza bil Ingil), Grace (An-Ni’ma), Independent Apostolic, Message Church of Holland (Ar-Risaala), Open Brethren, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Revival of Holiness (Nahdat al-Qadaasa), and Seventh-day Adventist. Jehovah’s Witnesses account for 1,000-1,500 persons, according to media estimates, and there are also an estimated 150 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), the vast majority of whom are expatriates. Christians reside throughout the country, although the percentage of Christians is higher in Upper Egypt and in some sections of Cairo and Alexandria, according to religious and civil society groups.

Scholars estimate that Shia Muslims comprise approximately 1 percent of the population. Baha’i representatives estimate the size of the community to be between 1,000 and 2,000. There are very small numbers of Dawoodi Bohra Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, and expatriate members of various groups.

According to a local Jewish nongovernmental organization (NGO), there are six to 10 Jews. There are no reliable estimates of the number of atheists.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution specifies Islam as the state religion and the principles of sharia as the main source of legislation. The constitution states that “freedom of belief is absolute” and, “the freedom of practicing religious rituals and establishing worship places for the followers of Abrahamic religions is a right regulated by law.” The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and makes “incitement to hate” a crime. It describes freedom of belief as absolute. The constitution limits the freedom to practice religious rituals and establish places of worship to adherents of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. The constitution prohibits the exercise of political activity or the formation of political parties on the basis of religion.

The constitution states that Al-Azhar is “the main authority in theology and Islamic affairs” and is responsible for spreading Islam, Islamic doctrine, and the Arabic language in the country and throughout the world. The grand imam is elected by Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars and is officially appointed by the president for a life term. The president does not have the authority to dismiss him. While the constitution declares Al-Azhar an independent institution, its budgetary allocation from the government, which is required by the constitution to provide “sufficient funding for it to achieve its purposes,” was almost 16 billion Egyptian pounds ($1 billion).

According to the law, capital sentences must be referred to the grand mufti, the country’s highest Islamic legal official, for consultation before they can be carried out. The mufti’s decision in these cases is consultative and nonbinding on the court that handed down the death sentence.

The constitution also stipulates the canonical laws of Jews and Christians form the basis of legislation governing their respective personal status, religious affairs, and selection of spiritual leaders. Individuals are subject to different sets of personal status laws (regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc.), depending upon their official religious designation. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) issues national identity cards that include official religious designations. Designations are limited to Muslim, Christian, or Jewish citizens. Since a 2009 court order, Baha’is are identified by a dash. The minister of interior has the authority to issue executive regulations determining what data should be provided on the card.

Neither the constitution nor the civil or penal codes prohibit apostasy from Islam, nor efforts to proselytize. The law states individuals may change their religion; however, the government recognizes conversion to Islam but not from Islam to any other religion. In a 2008 ruling on a lawsuit against the government for not recognizing a Muslim’s conversion to Christianity, the Administrative Court ruled in favor of the government, stating its duty to “protect public order from the crime of apostasy from Islam.” The government recognizes conversion from Islam for individuals who were not born Muslim but later converted to Islam, according to an MOI decree pursuant to a court order. Reverting to Christianity requires presentation of a document from the receiving church, an identity card, and fingerprints. After a determination is made that the intent of the change – which often also entails a name change – is not to evade prosecution for a crime committed under the Muslim name, a new identity document should be issued with the Christian name and religious designation. In those cases in which Muslims not born Muslim convert from Islam, their minor children, and in some cases adult children who were minors when their parents converted, remain classified as Muslims. When these children reach the age of 18, they have the option of converting to Christianity and having that reflected on their identity cards.

Consistent with sharia, the law stipulates Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men. Non-Muslim men who wish to marry Muslim women must convert to Islam. Christian and Jewish women need not convert to marry Muslim men. A married non-Muslim woman who converts to Islam must divorce her husband if he is not Muslim and is unwilling to convert. A woman in this situation can continue to live with her husband until she has a legal need to prove her marriage, at which time the marriage may be considered void. If a married man is discovered to have left Islam, his marriage to a woman whose official religious designation is Muslim is dissolved. Children from any unrecognized marriage are considered illegitimate.

A divorced mother is entitled to custody of her son until the age of 10 and her daughter until age 12, unless one parent is Muslim and the other is not, in which case the Muslim parent is awarded custody.

The law generally follows sharia in matters of inheritance. In 2017, however, an appellate court ruled applying sharia to non-Muslims violated the section of the constitution stating the rules of the Christians and Jewish communities govern in personal status matters.

According to the penal code, using religion to promote extremist thought with the aim of inciting strife, demeaning or denigrating Islam, Christianity, or Judaism, and harming national unity carries penalties ranging from six months’ to five years’ imprisonment.

There are four entities currently authorized to issue fatwas (religious rulings binding on Muslims): the Al-Azhar Council of Senior Scholars, the Al-Azhar Islamic Research Center, the Dar Al Iftaa (House of Religious Edicts), and the Ministry of Awqaf’s General Fatwa Directorate. Previously part of the Ministry of Justice, Dar Al Iftaa has been an independent organization since 2007.

Islamic, Christian, and Jewish denominations may request official recognition from the government, which gives a denomination the right to be governed by its canonical laws, practice religious rituals, establish houses of worship, and import religious literature. To obtain official recognition, a religious group must submit a request to MOI’s Religious Affairs Department. The department then determines whether the group poses a threat to national unity or social peace. As part of this determination, the department consults leading religious institutions, including the Coptic Orthodox Church and Al-Azhar. The president then reviews and decides on the registration application.

The law does not recognize the Baha’i Faith or its religious laws and bans Baha’i institutions and community activities. Although the government lists “Christian” on the identity cards of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a presidential decree bans all Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities. The law does not stipulate any penalties for banned religious groups or their members who engage in religious practices, but these groups are barred from rights granted to recognized groups, such as having their own houses of worship or other property, holding bank accounts, or importing religious literature.

The government appoints and monitors imams, who lead prayers in licensed mosques and pays their salaries. According to the law, penalties for preaching or giving religious lessons without a license from the Ministry of Awqaf or Al-Azhar include a prison term of up to one year and/or a fine of up to 50,000 pounds ($3,100). The penalty doubles for repeat offenders. Ministry of Awqaf inspectors also have judicial authority to arrest imams violating this law. A ministry decree prevents unlicensed imams from preaching in any mosque, prohibits holding Friday prayers in mosques smaller than 80 square meters (860 square feet), bans unlicensed mosques from holding Friday prayer services (other prayer services are permitted), and pays bonuses to imams who deliver Friday sermons consistent with Ministry of Awqaf guidelines. Any imam who does not follow the guidelines loses the bonus and may be subject to disciplinary measures, including losing his preaching license. The ministry also issues prewritten sermons as an obligatory guide for imams to draw from, and ministry personnel monitor Friday sermons in major mosques. Imams are subject to disciplinary action, including dismissal, for ignoring the ministry’s guidelines.

The prime minister has the authority to stop the circulation of books that “denigrate religions.” Ministries may obtain court orders to ban or confiscate books and works of art. The cabinet may ban works it deems offensive to public morals, detrimental to religion, or likely to cause a breach of the peace. The Islamic Research Center of Al-Azhar has the legal authority to censor and confiscate any publications dealing with the Quran and the authoritative Islamic traditions (hadith), and to confiscate publications, tapes, speeches, and artistic materials deemed inconsistent with Islamic law.

A 2016 law delegates the power to issue legal permits and to authorize church construction or renovation to governors of the country’s 27 governorates rather than the president. The governor is required to respond within four months of receipt of the application for legalization; any refusal must include a written justification. The law does not provide for review or appeal of a refusal, nor does it specify recourse if a governor does not respond within the required timeframe. The law also includes provisions to legalize existing unlicensed churches. It stipulates that while a request to license an existing building for use as a church is pending, the use of the building to conduct church services and rites may not be prevented. Under the law, the size of new churches depends on a government determination of the “number and need” of Christians in the area. Construction of new churches must meet stringent land registration procedures and building codes and is subject to greater government scrutiny than that applied to the construction of new mosques.

Under a separate law governing the construction of mosques, the Ministry of Awqaf approves permits to build mosques. A 2001 cabinet decree includes a list of 10 provisions requiring that new mosques built after that date must, among other conditions, be a minimum distance of 500 meters (1600 feet) from the nearest other mosque, have a ground surface of at least 175 square meters (1900 square feet), and be built only in areas where “the existing mosques do not accommodate the number of residents in the area.” The law does not require Ministry of Awqaf approval for mosque renovations.

In public schools, Muslim students are required to take courses on “principles of Islam,” and Christian students are required to take courses on “principles of Christianity” in all grades. Determinations of religious identity are based on official designations, not personal or parental decisions. Students who are neither Muslim nor Christian must choose one or the other course; they may not opt out or change from one to the other. A common set of textbooks for these two courses is mandated for both public and private schools, including Christian-owned schools. Al-Azhar maintains a separate school system that serves approximately two million students from elementary through secondary school, using its own curriculum.

The penal code criminalizes discrimination based on religion and defines it as including “any action, or lack of action, that leads to discrimination between people or against a sect due to…religion or belief.” The law stipulates imprisonment and/or a fine of no less than 30,000 pounds ($1,900) and no more than 50,000 pounds ($3,100) as penalties for discrimination. If the perpetrator is a public servant, the law states that the imprisonment should be no less than three months, and the fine no less than 50,000 pounds ($3,100) and no more than 100,000 pounds ($6,300)

Customary reconciliation is a form of dispute resolution that predates modern judicial and legal systems. Customary reconciliation sessions rely on the accumulation of a set of customary rules to address conflicts between individuals, families, households, or workers and employees of certain professions. Parties to disputes agree upon a resolution that typically contains stipulations to pay an agreed-upon amount of money for breaching the terms of the agreement.

Al-Azhar and the Coptic Orthodox Church formed the Family House (Beit Al-A’ila) in 2011 to address sectarian disputes through communal reconciliation. With Family House branches throughout the country, Al-Azhar, the Coptic Orthodox Church, and other Christian denominations convene opposing parties to a sectarian dispute with the goal of restoring communal peace through dialogue. The Family House, however, is not uniformly active. Sources say in some areas, such as Assiut, the Family House is quite active, while in others, such as Cairo, it has become inactive.

The government recognizes only the marriages of Christians, Jews, and Muslims with documentation from a cleric. Since the state does not recognize Baha’i marriage, married Baha’is are denied the legal rights of married couples of other religious beliefs, including those pertaining to inheritance, divorce, and sponsoring a foreign spouse’s permanent residence. Baha’is, in practice, file individual demands for recognition of marriages in civil court.

In matters of family law, when spouses are members of the same religious denomination, courts apply that denomination’s canonical laws. In cases where one spouse is Muslim and the other a member of a different religion, both are Christians but members of different denominations, or the individuals are not clearly a part of a religious group, the courts apply sharia.

Sharia provisions forbidding adoption apply to all citizens. The Ministry of Social Solidarity, however, manages a program entitled “Alternative Family,” which recognizes permanent legal guardianship if certain requirements are met.

The quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights, whose members are appointed by parliament, is charged with strengthening protections, raising awareness, and ensuring the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom. It also is charged with monitoring enforcement and application of international agreements pertaining to human rights. The council’s mandate includes investigating reports of violations of religious freedom.

According to the constitution, “No political activity may be exercised or political parties formed on the basis of religion, or discrimination based on sex, origin, sect, or geographic location, nor may any activity be practiced that is hostile to democracy, secretive, or which possesses a military or quasi-military nature.”

The constitution mandates the state eliminate all forms of discrimination through an independent commission to be established by parliament. However, by year’s end, parliament still had not yet established such a commission.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) but declared in a reservation that it became a party considering that the provisions of the covenant do not conflict with sharia.

Government Practices

In December the Prisons Authority carried out the death sentence of Ibrahim Ismail, who was convicted in April of killing eight Christians and a policeman in December 2017.

In May the Supreme Court of Military Appeals upheld 17 of 36 death sentences that an Alexandria military court issued for the bombings of Coptic churches between 2016 and 2017 in Cairo, Alexandria, and Tanta, resulting in the deaths of more than 80 persons. The court commuted the sentences of 19 other defendants to life imprisonment, eight to 15 years, and another to 10 years. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. International human rights organizations expressed concern about these mass convictions and said the proceedings did not meet international fair trial standards.

In May the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced two defendants to death, two to life imprisonment, and six others to prison terms ranging from three to six years for killing 11 persons in December 2017 in an attack on a Coptic church and Christian-owned shop in Helwan, a suburb south of Cairo.

On July 1, the Court of Cassation upheld a death sentence issued against a suspect convicted of killing two Copts, terrorizing the Christian community of Shamiya village in Assiut, and imposing taxes on the village in 2013-14.

On March 30, a Cairo court sentenced 30 men to prison terms of 10 years to life for planning a suicide bombing of a church in Alexandria as well as other charges, including the bombing of a liquor store in Damietta. Eighteen defendants received life terms, eight received 15 years in prison, and four received 10 years. Ten of those convicted remained at large, and the court sentenced them in absentia. Authorities said the defendants had embraced ISIS ideology.

On December 11, a group of UN special rapporteurs publicly called on the government to end the detention and ill treatment of Ramy Kamel Saied Salid, who worked to defend the rights of the country’s Coptic Christian minority. According to a December press release issued by the UN Human Rights Council, as well as NGO and media sources, authorities arrested, questioned, and tortured Kamel on November 4 and November 23. They charged him with joining a banned group and spreading false news. His arrest coincided with his application for a Swiss visa to speak at a Geneva UN forum on November 28 and 29, where, in the past, he discussed issues relating to the Coptic community. According to the statement, police broke into Kamel’s home on November 23 and confiscated personal documents, a laptop, camera, and mobile phone before taking him to an unknown location.

On February 7, Christian activists circulated a video depicting a group of Al-Azhar students mocking Christian religious practices. Al-Azhar University referred the students to a disciplinary board at the university and in a statement said Al-Azhar strongly condemned such actions. On February 9, authorities arrested the students for “inciting sectarian strife” and subsequently released them on bail on February 27. At year’s end the case was still pending.

In January atheist blogger Sherif Gaber launched a crowdfunding page called “Help Me Escape Egypt” to purchase another nationality so he could leave the country. Authorities banned Gaber from travel abroad in 2018 and accused him of insulting Islam and sharia, disrupting communal peace, and other charges stemming from a series of videos he posted on YouTube. On September 16, Gaber posted on his Facebook page that he was sentenced to three years in prison for contempt of religions and disturbing the public peace.

Efforts to combat atheism sometimes received official support, including from multiple members of parliament, although in late 2018 President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi stated individuals have the “right to worship God” as they see fit or “even worship nothing.” On March 22, Al-Azhar announced the formation of a “Bayan” (Declaration) Unit in its Center for Electronic Fatwa that would focus on “counter(ing) atheism” and preventing youth from “falling into disbelief.”

The government prosecuted some perpetrators of crimes targeting Christians and instances of sectarian violence. Authorities transferred to a court in Beni Suef for prosecution the 2016 case against the attackers of Souad Thabet, a Christian who was paraded naked through her village of Karm in Minya in response to rumors that her son had an affair with the wife of a Muslim business partner. Authorities charged four individuals with attacking Thabet and another 25 with attacking Thabet’s home and six other homes owned by Christians. In June, after the court in Beni Suef referred the case to the Minya Criminal Court, the Minya court postponed hearing the case, which was still pending at year’s end. On February 17, the Ain Shams Misdemeanors Court sentenced a man who had stormed a church and attacked security officers in November 2018 to three years’ imprisonment.

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, authorities interrogated several of their members due to their status as a “banned group” during the year. In February security officials twice “violently interrogated” a Jehovah’s Witness in Upper Egypt, threatening, blindfolding, and beating him and confiscating his cell phone and personal identification. In April, October, and November, police officials in Cairo summoned individual Jehovah’s Witnesses to their office for questioning. In April officials summoned a Jehovah’s Witness in Minya for interrogation. In September security officials allowed more than 200 Jehovah’s Witnesses to hold a religious meeting in a private home.

There were multiple reports of the government closing unlicensed churches following protests and sometimes failing to extend procedural safeguards or rights of due process to members of minority faiths, particularly in Upper Egypt. On January 7, following a Mass celebrating Coptic Christmas, a crowd of Muslims protested the presence of the unlicensed Mar Girgis Church in the village of Manshiyet Zaafarana in Minya in Upper Egypt. On January 11, a crowd reportedly gathered again and chanted anti-Christian slogans until police and security forces intervened to disperse the crowd and closed the church. The Coptic Diocese of Minya subsequently released a video and statement that indicated security forces aided Muslim residents seeking to close the church. The Wall Street Journal quoted the Coptic Diocese of Minya, “Every time, the extremists are able to impose their demands.”

In February press reported local Christians had conducted three funerals of church congregants in the streets of Kom el-Raheb due to their continued denial of access to the church, which authorities closed in 2018. In July press reported Copts from Kom el-Raheb stormed into the closed church and staged a sit-in protesting the church’s continued closure. According to press reports, unknown persons burned down three Christian-owned properties following the sit-in. According to press reports, the church and individual church members blamed local government authorities and security forces for siding with anti-Christian “hard-liners.”

On April 12, a mob protesting the unlicensed expansion of the Anba Karas Church in the village of Nagaa el-Ghafir in Sohag Governorate attacked the church with rocks and wounded two Christians. Security forces intervened to stop the attack and ordered the church closed. In April EIPR condemned the involvement of the security services in the closure of the church and called for the reopening of churches closed since the implementation of the 2016 church construction law. EIPR reported there had been 32 sectarian incidents between 2016 and April 2019 and stated security forces were responsible for the closure of 22 unlicensed churches, with up to four closed during the year.

According to official statistics, the government approved 814 applications to license churches and related buildings during the year, and, since September 2017, approved 1,412 of the 5,415 pending applications to license of churches and related buildings. The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) quoted Coptic Orthodox Bishop Makarios of Minya as saying his diocese had approximately 150 villages and neighborhoods in need of a church or other religious buildings.

As it did in previous years, the government in September closed the room containing the tomb of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Al-Hussein, located inside Al-Hussein Mosque in Old Cairo, during the three-day Shia commemoration of Ashura. Although in previous years the government explained the closure was due to construction, reports in media stated the Ministry of Al-Awqaf circulated internal correspondence affirming the ministry would not allow any “sectarian practices,” and any attempts of sectarian “parades,” especially around the mosques of the Prophet’s family, would be confronted.

According to Minority Rights Group International (MRGI), an international NGO, there continued to be no husseiniyahs in the country and Shia Muslims remained unable to establish public places of worship. MRGI reported in January, “The state has failed to respect the right of the Shia to practice their religious rituals” and that security services often subjected Shia citizens traveling on religious pilgrimages to interrogations, sometimes including torture. According to MRGI, Shia risked accusations of blasphemy for publicly voicing their religious opinions, praying in public, or owning books promoting Shia thought. Shia Muslims said they were excluded from service in the armed services and security and intelligence services.

In July the Ministry of Awqaf announced a 12-day closure of the Imam Al-Hussein Mosque in Cairo for maintenance. Community members said the actual reason for the closure was a call from Sufi groups to gather in the mosque square in response to an Al-Dostour newspaper article critical of Imam Hussein, entitled “Hussein Unjust,” that Sufi adherents deemed insulting to religion.

There were reports of government actions targeting the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government designated as a terrorist organization, and individuals associated with the group. The government in 2013 banned the Brotherhood’s political party, the Freedom and Justice Party. In an October 7 press conference, Minister of Education Tarek Shawki announced the government was dismissing 1,070 public school teachers because of “extremist ideas.” A former senior official in the Ministry of Education (MOE) told the press the Muslim Brotherhood was targeting primary school students to continue to propagate its ideology.

According to June press reports, a mob attacked the homes of a Christian and his two relatives in the village of Ashnin in Upper Egypt. The mob forced its way into the homes and destroyed furniture and appliances before being dispersed by local police. Following an investigation, police arrested three Christians but none of the attackers. After a customary reconciliation session, the Christians were released and charges were dropped. According to the NGO International Christian Concern, on April 30, a customary reconciliation meeting was held in the Upper Egypt village of Nagib after threats of a potential mob attack by Muslim villagers led security officials to close the village’s church. The NGO also stated that a November customary reconciliation session in Hgara village, located in Upper Egypt, resulted in local Christians being told that they must rebuild their church three kilometers (1.9 miles) outside the village.

While the Coptic Orthodox Church does not bar participation in government-sponsored customary reconciliation sessions, according to its spokesman, reconciliation sessions should not be used in lieu of application of the law and should be restricted to “clearing the air and making amends” following sectarian disputes or violence. While at least one Coptic Orthodox diocese in Upper Egypt refused to participate in reconciliation sessions due to criticism that they frequently were substitutes for criminal proceedings to address attacks on Christians and their churches, Orthodox Church leaders took part in two customary reconciliation sessions in other dioceses, according to EIPR. Although other Christian denominations continued to participate in customary reconciliation sessions, human rights groups and many Christian community representatives said the practice constituted an encroachment on the principles of nondiscrimination and citizenship and pressured Christians to retract their statements and deny facts, leading to the dropping of formal criminal charges.

On January 25, MRGI released a report, Justice Denied, Promises Broken: The Situation of Egypt’s Minorities Since 2014, which stated, “A key factor in the prevalence of sectarian attacks against Christian communities is the continued practice of ‘reconciliation sessions’ between communities, often with the active encouragement of police and officials. This reliance on informal justice approaches that are usually weighted heavily in favor of the Muslim majority is further entrenched by the failure of security forces and the formal judiciary to discharge their responsibilities to prevent and punish targeted attacks on Christians…The dominance of this partial system of informal justice is accompanied by the failure of the formal justice system to protect Christian and other minority victims.”

As it has in previous years prior to Ramadan, the Ministry of Awqaf in April announced restrictions on the practice of reclusion (itikaaf), a Sunni Muslim religious ritual requiring adherents to spend 10 days of prayer in mosques during Ramadan. As in previous years, authorization required an application to the Ministry of Awqaf, registration of national identification cards, a residence in the same neighborhood of the requested mosque, and personal knowledge of the applicant by the mosque administrator.

In May the Ministry of Awqaf ordered imams limit the length of Ramadan night prayers (tarawih) to 10 minutes, and banned mention of political topics, the government, or political figures in prayers. At the start of Ramadan in May, Minister of Awqaf Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa announced the ministry had decided to close zawiyas (small prayer rooms used as mosques) during Ramadan and to restrict the use of loudspeakers.

In April the Ministry of Awqaf announced its intention to permanently close unauthorized mosques. There was no coordinated implementation of a policy of closures during the year.

The government did not prevent Baha’is, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Shia Muslims from worshiping privately in small numbers, according to community representatives. The government, however, continued to refuse their requests for public religious gatherings.

The government continued to ban the importation and sale of Baha’i and Jehovah’s Witnesses literature and to authorize customs officials to confiscate their personally owned religious materials. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, on March 23, the High Administrative Court rejected an appeal by the Witnesses to overturn a 1985 law that prevents their members from registering property ownership and marriages. The court ruled the beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses contradict the public order and morals in the country.

In August the Ministry of Awqaf gave Yasser Borhami, the deputy head of the Salafist Call, the umbrella organization of the country’s Salafi movements, approval to deliver sermons during Friday prayers at an Alexandria mosque. Borhami had previously stated Muslims should not send holiday greetings to Christians or watch soccer games and had described Christianity as polytheism, said churches should not be allowed in the country, and Muslim taxi and bus drivers should not transport Christian clergy. Critics said Borhami’s past comments reflected hostility towards Christians and non-Salafi Muslims; they condemned the ministry’s decision allowing him to return to preaching.

On August 29, the Anti-Defamation League published a report, Anti-Semitic Show Does Not Belong on Egyptian State Television, detailing how a program, Blue Line, which aired on the government-run Channel Two, propagated a broad range of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. The claims included Holocaust denial, Jewish control of U.S. banking, media, and government, and blood libel.

The UN Human Rights Council began its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the country’s commitments under the ICCPR in November. Previous UPRs took place in 2010 and 2014. In submissions for the UPR, NGOs stated discrimination and sectarian violence against Copts persisted at the local level, often with inadequate intervention from security services to prevent it; many religious minorities lived in fear of societal persecution; Christians still faced discrimination in education and workplaces, and the law on the Construction and Reparation of Churches placed many restrictions on Christians attempting to restore or build new churches, while defining them as a “sect,” contrary to their right to equal citizenship. In its submission, the government stated, “certain practical steps have been taken to combat intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination, and incitement to violence on the basis of religion or belief.” The government cited several initiatives that it had undertaken in this regard, including the circulation of pamphlets and brochures, changes to the educational system, new classes, and employing the authority and expertise of Al-Azhar and other Islamic institutions to promote tolerance, moderation, and a culture of dialogue.

The minister of immigration and expatriate affairs was the only Christian in the cabinet. In 2018, as part of a nationwide governors’ reshuffle, President al-Sisi appointed Christian governors to the Damietta and Dakahliya governorates, the first such appointments since April 2011, when the government suspended the appointment of a Copt to Qena in Upper Egypt following protests. The new governor of Damietta was the country’s first-ever female Christian governor.

Christians remained underrepresented in the military and security services. Christians admitted at the entry level of government institutions were rarely promoted to the upper ranks, according to sources.

No Christians served as presidents of the country’s 25 public universities. The government barred non-Muslims from employment in public university training programs for Arabic language teachers, stating as its reason that the curriculum involved study of the Quran.

The government generally permitted foreign religious workers to enter the country. Sources continued to report, however, that some religious workers were denied visas or refused entry upon arrival without explanation.

The MOE continued to develop a new curriculum that included increased coverage of respect for human rights and religious tolerance. In the fall, second grade students began instruction using revised textbooks under the new curriculum after it was introduced in first grade and kindergarten in 2018.

The president established a Supreme Committee for Confronting Sectarian Incidents in 2018, tasked with devising a strategy to prevent such incidents, addressing them as they occur, and applying the rule of law. The committee, headed by the president’s advisor for security and counter terrorism affairs, is composed of members from the Military Operations Authority, the Military and General Intelligence Services, the National Security Sector (NSS), and the Administrative Oversight Agency. TIMEP said the committee did not include representatives of the judiciary, legislature, human rights groups, or of any minority communities. According to press, however, the committee is entitled to invite ministers, officials, and religious leaders to its meetings when considering topics relevant to them. The committee held its inaugural meeting on January 16 to look into a January 11 attack by a crowd of approximately 1,000 Muslim villagers on Coptic villagers of Manshiyet Zaafarana in Minya. Coptic parliamentarian Emad Gad observed the committee did not issue any statement on the incident, even though it was formed to combat sectarian violence. Since the inaugural meeting, EIPR reported the committee had not announced any subsequent meetings.

Al-Azhar continued to host events to promote religious tolerance. On March 10, the Al-Azhar Center for Interfaith Dialogue and the Episcopal Church co-organized a conference on equal citizenship to promote interreligious tolerance and a shared sense of belonging, according to media reports. In May the Center for Interfaith Dialogue launched a new campaign entitled “God Hears Your Dialogue” to increase awareness among youth of the importance and necessity of dialogue to promote peaceful coexistence. In September Al-Azhar and the Ministry of Awqaf participated in the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

In a January 7 statement, the Al-Azhar Curricula Development Committee announced its introduction of new primary, secondary, and university textbooks that promote religious tolerance in the 11,000 schools under its purview. The statement read that the new texts would focus on unity between Muslims and Christians and would stress the concept of citizenship without distinction on the basis of religious belief.

Al-Azhar continued tracking and countering online statements by ISIS and other extremist groups through the Al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism. The observatory’s staff grew to approximately 100 employees, who monitored and offered counterarguments to religious statements on jihadi websites. The center’s website and social media employed several languages to reach foreign audiences, including English, Arabic, Urdu, Swahili, Chinese, and Farsi. Al-Azhar, through the Al-Azhar International Academy, also began offering courses on a wide range of subjects related to Islam to imams and preachers in 20 countries. Prominent members of parliament strongly criticized Al-Azhar for failing to rapidly institute the president’s directive to launch a renewal of religious discourse as a means to combat extremism, and for exercising excessive independence from the government. An EIPR analyst reported that President al-Sisi insisted Al-Azhar exert greater efforts to combat extremist ideas. Another EIPR analyst said Al-Azhar’s overseas programs were part of “Al-Azhar’s vision of itself as the guardian of Islam around the world and as a partner – rather than an affiliated institution – to the Egyptian state.”

On February 4, Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayyeb and Pope Francis signed the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together during their visit to Abu Dhabi. The document condemned practices “detrimental to human life and freedom,” and pledged cooperation to combat extremism and promote peace.

In June President al-Sisi delivered a speech during a ceremony in Cairo for Laylat al-Qadr (the 27th day of Ramadan that commemorates the first revelation of the Quran) in which he said, “When we wish our Christian brothers a happy feast and (congratulate them) on building new churches, we represent our religion.” President al-Sisi added that the country’s main goal was to preserve the essence of religion, to raise religious awareness, and combat extremist threats among youth.

Dar al-Iftaa and Al-Azhar issued several fatwas permitting and encouraging Muslims to congratulate Christians on their holidays. At the January 7 inauguration of the Cathedral of the Nativity, the largest church in the region, and the Al-Fattah Al-Aleem Mosque in the New Administrative Capital, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar said Islam obliged Muslims to safeguard houses of worship for Muslims, Christians, and Jews. President al-Sisi also attended the opening of the newly built mosque and the cathedral, where for the fifth consecutive year he celebrated Christmas services with Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros.

In February the Jerusalem Post reported President al-Sisi met with a visiting delegation of private U.S. citizens and told them the government would welcome a resurgence of the Jewish community in the country and that it would support such a resurgence with the construction of synagogues and help with related services. According to the report, the president also promised to address concerns about the ancient Jewish Bassatine Cemetery, which had fallen into disrepair. Following the meeting, the government facilitated a brief trash cleanup effort of the cemetery involving work crews from multiple municipalities; however, NGO representatives said the government did not contribute to the rehabilitation of the cemetery.

The Ministry of Antiquities (MOA) engaged in a multimillion dollar effort to restore the Eliyahu HaNevi synagogue, one of two remaining in the greater Alexandria area. Authorities stated progress at the synagogue underscored the government’s commitment to preserve the country’s Jewish heritage and very small remaining community, and that this was a reflection of a broader policy of stressing the government’s commitment to safeguarding religious diversity and freedom.

On February 7, the Ministry of Awqaf announced it would prepare a “unique and distinctive architectural style” for all new mosques in the country. The ministry said it would conduct a design competition to decide on details and that only mosques designed in accordance with the new guidance would be granted construction permits in the future.

In July the state-run University of Alexandria and state-run University of Damanhour announced the establishment of centers of Coptic studies, in collaboration with the Coptic Orthodox Church. The institutes will include courses in the study of Coptic language, literature, history, and art.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On January 3, ISIS released a video statement threatening “bloody attacks during the upcoming (Orthodox) Christmas celebrations,” and to “take revenge on Egypt’s Christians.” The statement included a threat on the life of Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II. According to press reports, unidentified men suspected to be members of ISIS abducted a Christian at a checkpoint near Al-Arish in northern Sinai on January 17 based on his religious affiliation. The men had been checking the identification of motorists and abducted the man after learning he was Christian. On January 25, ISIS released a statement that read, “the soldiers of the Islamic State in Sinai set up an ambush to target the apostates.” According to media reports, the man had still not been located at the end of the year and his fate was unknown.

On January 5, a sheikh at a neighboring mosque alerted security at the Church of the Virgin Mary in Nasr City to possible explosives in the vicinity of the church, where police discovered an IED. One police officer died and two others were injured when the IED exploded while it was being defused. While there were no immediate claims of responsibility, in December the NSS arrested three students of Al Azhar University and accused them of planting the explosives. The investigation continued through year’s end.

Esshad, a website that records sectarian attacks, documented a 29 percent reduction in intercommunal violence between 2018 and 2019.

Discrimination in private sector hiring continued, including in professional sports, according to human rights groups and religious communities. According to a Coptic Christian advocacy group, of the 540 players in the top-tier professional soccer clubs, only one was Christian.

In May EIPR called on authorities to provide followers of unrecognized religions the right to obtain identity cards, marriage certificates, and private burials and to sue in accordance with their own personal status laws.

Some religious leaders and media personalities continued to employ discriminatory language against Christians. In January Salafi cleric Wagdi Ghoneim posted a video in which he criticized Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayyeb for participating in the opening ceremony of the cathedral in the New Administrative Capital. Ghoneim said Islam considers Copts infidels, and that those who accept the Christian religion or assist them in practicing it are nonbelievers.

Reports of societal anti-Semitism continued. Journalists and academics made statements on state-owned television endorsing conspiracy theories about Jewish domination of world media and the economy. In May Egyptian-born Canadian actor Mena Massoud received heavy criticism in the press and on various social media platforms for his interview with a prominent Israeli online news site. In August commentators and local anti-Zionist organizations strongly criticized a theatre performance on the Holocaust performed by university students and accused members of the cast of glorifying Zionism and insulting Muslims.

On January 28, attorney and activist Samir Sabri brought suit on behalf of a group of Muslim scholars seeking to ban the movie, The Guest, for misrepresenting Islam. The Cairo Court of Urgent Cases scheduled a hearing for February 23, and then postponed it until April 6. The case remained open through year’s end.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. government officials at multiple levels, including the Secretary of State, the Ambassador, and the then-Charge d’Affaires, raised religious freedom concerns with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Awqaf, as well as with members of parliament, governors, and representatives of Islamic institutions, church communities, religious minority groups, and civil society groups. In their meetings with government officials, embassy officers emphasized the U.S. commitment to religious freedom and raised a number of key issues, including attacks on Christians, recognition of Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the rights of Shia Muslims to perform religious rituals publicly, and the discrimination and religious freedom abuses resulting from official religious designations on national identity and other official documents.

Throughout the year, embassy officers met with senior officials in the offices of the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, and bishops and senior pastors of Protestant churches. Issues raised included cases in which the government failed to hold the perpetrators of sectarian violence accountable and failed to protect victims of sectarian attacks; prosecuted individuals for religious defamation; and enabled religious discrimination by means of official religious designations, including on national identity cards. They also discussed progress on religious freedom issues, such as issuance of permits for, and new construction of, churches, political support for Christian and Jewish communities, and the restoration of Jewish religious sites. The then-Charge visited Alexandria’s Eliyahu HaNevi Synagogue in October and met with MOA officials to discuss the ministry’s ongoing efforts to restore the synagogue, part of a public effort by the government to preserve the legacy of the Jewish community and to support religious diversity.

U.S. officials met with human rights activists and religious and community leaders to discuss contemporary incidents of sectarian conflict and gather information to raise in government engagements. Embassy representatives also met with leading religious figures, including the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the Grand Mufti of Dar Al-Iftaa, leading Christian clergy, and representatives of the Jewish, Baha’i, and Shia communities. The embassy also promoted religious freedom on social media during the year, including two posts on the 2018 International Religious Freedom Report that reached 20,000 persons and five posts on the 2019 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom that reached 65,000 readers.

Estonia

Executive Summary

The constitution declares there is no state church and protects the freedom of individuals to practice their religion. It prohibits the incitement of religious hatred, violence, or discrimination. The law establishes registration of religious associations and religious societies and regulates their activities. Unregistered religious associations are free to conduct religious activities but are not eligible for tax benefits. Prime Minister Juri Ratas condemned the public harassment of the country’s chief rabbi, Shmuel Kot, stating discrimination based on religion, nationality, origin, or any other reason was unacceptable. The government continued to provide funds to the Council of Churches for ecumenical activities. Media reported Jewish leaders expressed concern in April when the prime minister formed a coalition government that included the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE). According to media, some EKRE members of parliament (MPs) had made anti-Semitic statements prior to joining government, including praising Nazi Germany. Media reported that on August 1, EKRE member of the European Parliament Jaak Madison stated on his Facebook page that it was “time for the Final Solution” regarding refugees in Europe. According to media, on March 16, a man shouted anti-Semitic remarks at the country’s chief rabbi in public, including “Jews to the oven” and “Heil Hitler.” The prime minister condemned the incident, and a court sentenced the man to eight days in prison. According to the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry (NCSEJ), on July 27, three MPs attended the annual commemoration of the World War II (WWII) battle of Tannenberg Line in the town of Sinimae, a battle in which the Estonian Waffen SS fought under the leadership of German Nazi forces against the Soviets. On January 28, the government held an annual memorial event on Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Rahumae Jewish Cemetery in Tallinn. In September government officials participated in an international conference and memorial service commemorating the 75th anniversary of the massacre of Jews at Klooga concentration camp.

The Police and Border Guard Board reported that on June 23, unidentified individuals knocked over five gravestones at the Rahumae Jewish Cemetery in Tallinn and spray-painted a swastika nearby. Police opened a criminal investigation, which continued at year’s end. In 2018, the most recent year for which data was available, police registered no hate crime cases (as defined by law) involving religion, compared with no cases in 2017 and six cases in 2016. In September a European Commission study found that 17 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country. In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey indicating 86 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in the country.

The Charge d’Affaires and embassy staff continued to support dialogue on religious freedom, anti-Semitism, and Holocaust education in meetings with government officials, religious leaders, civil society, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues engaged the government on Holocaust history, education, and Jewish cultural property and provenance research (property restitution) related to the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Now (JUST) Act. The embassy used social media to promote religious freedom, including a Facebook post celebrating International Religious Freedom Day.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.2 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census (the most recent data available), 29 percent of the population is religiously affiliated, 54 percent does not identify with any religion, and 17 percent does not state an affiliation. According to current data from the Council of Churches, 13.8 percent of the population belongs to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, while 13.1 percent belongs to the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (EOCMP), and 2.3 percent belongs to the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church. The Union of Free Evangelical and Baptist Churches of Estonia and the Roman Catholic Church in Estonia together comprise 1 percent. Other Christian groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Russian Old Believers, collectively constitute 1.1 percent of the population. According to the 2011 census, there are small Jewish and Muslim communities of 2,500 members and 1,500 members, respectively. Most religious adherents among the Russian-speaking population belong to the EOCMP and reside mainly in the capital or the northeastern part of the country. According to 2011 census data, most of the country’s community of Russian Old Believers lives along the west bank of Lake Peipsi in the eastern part of the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares there is no state church and stipulates freedom for individuals to belong to any religious group and practice any religion, both alone and in community with others, in public or in private, unless doing so is “detrimental to public order, health, or morals.” The constitution also prohibits incitement of religious hatred, violence, or discrimination. According to the penal code, an act inciting hatred is a crime if the act results in danger to the life, health, or property of a person. The law also states violations are punishable by fines or up to three years in prison. The constitution recognizes the right to refuse military service for religious reasons but requires conscientious objectors to perform alternative service for the same amount of time required for military service as provided by law.

The registration office of the Tartu County Court registers all religious associations and religious societies. To register, a religious association must have at least 12 members, and its management board must submit a notarized or digitally signed application, the minutes of its constitutive meeting, and a copy of its statutes. The law treats registered religious associations as nonprofit entities entitled to some tax benefits if they apply for them, such as a value-added tax exemption. There are more than 550 religious associations registered with the government.

The law does not prohibit activities by unregistered religious associations. Unregistered religious associations, however, may not act as legal persons. Unlike registered religious associations, unregistered associations are not eligible for tax benefits.

Religious societies are registered according to the law governing nonprofit associations and are entitled to the same tax benefits as religious associations. To register as an NGO, a religious society must have a founding contract and statutes approved by its founders, who may be physical or legal persons. The minimum number of founders is two. The society must submit its registration application either electronically or on paper to the Tartu County Court registry office.

The law requires the commanding officer of each military unit to provide its members the opportunity to practice their religion. Prison directors must also provide the opportunity for inmates to practice their religious beliefs. The state funds police and border guard, military, and prison chaplains, who may belong to any registered religious denomination and must guarantee religious services for individuals of all faiths.

Optional basic religious instruction is available in public and private schools and is funded by the state. All schools must provide religious studies at the primary and secondary levels if students request these studies. The courses offer a general introduction to different faiths. Religious studies instructors may be lay teachers. There are also private religious schools. All students, regardless of their religious affiliation or nonaffiliation, may attend religious schools. Attendance at religious services at religious schools is voluntary. According to the director of a major private religious school, the majority of students attending the school were not associated with the school’s religious affiliation.

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

Government Practices

According to the government’s NGO register, five religious associations were registered during the year, including three Lutheran and two Buddhist groups.

In January the government allocated 6.75 million euros ($7.58 million) to the Evangelical Lutheran Church and 1.15 million euros ($1.29 million) to the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church as compensation for the damage to Church properties during WWII and the subsequent Soviet occupation.

In September the government pledged 844,000 euros ($948,000) to renovate Alexander’s Cathedral of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Narva, which is located in the eastern part of the country near the border with Russia.

As in 2018, the government allocated 596,000 euros ($670,000) to the Estonian Council of Churches. The council, which comprises 10 Christian churches – including the Lutheran Church and both Orthodox churches – continued to serve as an organization joining the country’s largest Christian communities. The government continued to fund ecumenical activities, including ecclesiastical programs broadcast on the Estonian Broadcasting Company, youth work by churches, activities promoting interreligious dialogue, and religious publishing.

According to media, in March a man reportedly under the influence of drugs verbally abused the country’s chief rabbi. The man shouted anti-Semitic remarks, including, “Heil Hitler” and “Jews to the oven.” The prime minister condemned the incident, stating discrimination based on religion, nationality, origin, or any other reason was totally unacceptable. A court found the man guilty of harassment and sentenced him to eight days in prison.

In April Prime Minister Ratas formed a new coalition government that included EKRE. Some members of the party had made anti-Semitic statements prior to joining government, including praising Nazi Germany. Media quoted MP Ruuben Kaalep, former leader of EKRE’s youth wing Blue Awakening, as saying during the year that “Hitler was a rather good commander in the context of WWII.” According to media, in the lead-up to the coalition government being formed, leaders of the Jewish community expressed concern about including EKRE. Media reported that in August EKRE member of the European Parliament Madison stated on his Facebook page it was “time for the Final Solution” regarding refugees in Europe. Madison used the term in German, which was associated with the Nazi campaign to exterminate European Jews during WWII.

According to the NCSEJ, on July 27, three MPs attended the annual commemoration of the WWII battle of Tannenberg Line in the town of Sinimae, a battle in which the Estonian Waffen SS fought under the leadership of German Nazi forces against the Soviets.

On January 28, the government held its annual memorial event for Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Rahumae Jewish Cemetery in Tallinn. Schools also participated in commemorative activities throughout the country. The Education and Research Ministry, in cooperation with the Jewish Community of Estonia, International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), Estonian Memory Institute, and Museum of Occupation, organized an essay writing competition for children on topics related to the Holocaust.

On September 18, the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory held an international conference to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the September 19, 1944, massacre of approximately 2,000 Jews at Klooga concentration camp and to study and disseminate information about the Holocaust history and preservation of memory. Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu opened the conference and Cecilia Stockholm Banke, head of the Danish delegation to the IHRA, delivered the keynote address. On September 19, Minister of Population Riina Solman and other government officials attended a commemorative event at the camp site, at which the country’s chief rabbi read a memorial prayer. The minister stated, “It is our duty to commemorate the victims, stand up for historical truth, and pass on knowledge from the past to future generations so that ideologies against humanity can never prevail.”

The government is a member of IHRA.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In 2018, the most recent year for which data was available, police registered no hate crime cases, as defined by law, the same as in 2017.

In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 86 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in the country, and 60 percent believed it had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who felt that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 9 percent; on the internet, 12 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 8 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 7 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 9 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 5 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 7 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 6 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 7 percent.

According to the Police and Border Guard Board, on June 23, unidentified individuals knocked over five gravestones at the Rahumae Jewish Cemetery in Tallinn and spray-painted a swastika on the large stones nearby. Police opened a criminal investigation, which continued at year’s end.

According to many religious and other civil society leaders, there was societal support for religious freedom and tolerance in the country, including a biannual interreligious event, which last occurred in 2018.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

On June 6-7, embassy officials and the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues discussed the state of religious freedom and tolerance in the country with officials from the internal, social, cultural, and foreign affairs ministries and engaged the government on the importance of promoting religious tolerance, including Holocaust history, education, and Jewish cultural property and provenance (property restitution) research related to the JUST Act.

Embassy officials met with members of the Jewish community, leaders of religious associations, representatives of the Council of Churches, and NGOs to discuss religious tolerance.

The embassy made use of social media to promote religious freedom, including a Facebook post celebrating International Religious Freedom Day.

Finland

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination “without an acceptable reason” and provides for the right to profess and practice a religion and to decline to be a member of a religious community. The law prohibits breaching the sanctity of religion, which includes blasphemy, offending that which a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies. In March the Supreme Court allowed the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), the largest neo-Nazi group in the country, to appeal its countrywide ban. The group remained banned while it made its appeal. The Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) instructed the Finnish Association of Museums to prepare a formal study of the state of Holocaust-era art provenance research in its collections. Parliament repealed the military service exemption which had applied only to Jehovah’s Witnesses. A Finns Party politician publicly compared Muslim asylum seekers to invasive species. Jehovah’s Witnesses said the government continued to refuse most applications from Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses seeking asylum for religious persecution.

Police reported 155 hate crimes involving members of religious groups in 2018, compared with 235 such incidents in the previous year, but did not specify how many were motivated solely by religion. The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office received 35 complaints of religious discrimination in 2018, compared with 55 in the previous year. The NRM continued to post anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic statements online and demonstrated with the anti-immigrant group Soldiers of Odin. There were several demonstrations by neo-Nazi or nativist groups. In November, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht (the 1938 pogrom against Jews in Germany), a group handed out flyers and waved flags bearing symbols resembling the Nazi swastika at a demonstration in Helsinki, and anti-Semitic stickers were posted around the city. Muslim groups reported a shortage of funds needed to establish houses of worship to match their growing population. A report by the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) said hate crimes and intolerant speech in public discourse, principally against Muslims and asylum seekers (many of whom belong to religious minorities), had increased in recent years. The report also cited frequent use of anti-Semitic rhetoric on the internet and hate speech by extremist groups, especially neo-Nazis. Vandals targeted Jewish property, including the Israeli embassy and a Shia mosque in Helsinki.

U.S. embassy staff met with government ministries to discuss government support for religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, the provenance of Holocaust-era art, and the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses seeking asylum. Embassy staff discussed with the Jewish and Muslim communities their concerns about the law restricting animal slaughter, government discouragement of male circumcision, and a rise in religiously motivated harassment. They also discussed the state of religious freedom with these communities, other religious minorities, and interfaith networks.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.7 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to Finnish government statistics from December 2018, which count only registered members of registered congregations, approximately 69.8 percent of the population belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELC) and 1.1 percent to the Finnish Orthodox Church, while 0.3 percent (approximately 16,000 individuals) officially belong to Islamic congregations, and 26.3 percent do not identify as belonging to any religious group. The census combines the other minority religious communities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jews, and members of the Free Church of Finland, which together account for 1.7 percent of the population.

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution bars discrimination based on religion “without an acceptable reason.” It stipulates freedom of religion and conscience, including the right to profess and practice a religion, to express one’s convictions, and to be a member or decline to be a member of a religious community. It states no one is under the obligation to participate in the practice of a religion. The law criminalizes the “breach of the sanctity of religion,” which includes “blaspheming against God,” publicly defaming or desecrating to offend something a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies. Violators are subject to fines or imprisonment of up to six months. Authorities have rarely applied the law, most recently in 2009. The constitution cites the ELC, the only religious group it mentions, stating that “provisions on the organization and administration [of the ELC] are laid down in the Church Act.”

The law prohibits religious discrimination and prescribes a nondiscrimination ombudsman responsible for supervising compliance with the law and investigating individual cases of discrimination and having the power to issue fines in noncriminal cases. The ombudsman advocates on behalf of victims, offers counseling and promotes conciliation, and lobbies for legislation, among other duties and authorities. The ombudsman may also refer cases to the National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal (NDET), which also enforces fines issued by the ombudsman, or assist plaintiffs seeking compensation in court. Individuals alleging discrimination may alternatively pursue legal action through the NDET, which may issue binding decisions that may be appealed to the courts, or through the district court system. Litigants may appeal the decisions of the NDET and the district courts to the higher Administrative Court. Neither the ombudsman nor the NDET has the authority to investigate individual cases of religious discrimination involving employment. Such cases fall under the purview of the Occupational Safety and Health Authority.

Individuals and groups may exist, associate, and practice their religion without registering with the government. To be eligible to apply for government funds, however, religious groups must register with the Patent and Registration Office as a religious community. To register as a religious community, a group must have at least 20 members, the public practice of religion as its purpose, and a set of rules to guide its activities. A registered religious community is a legal entity that may employ persons, purchase property, and make legal claims. A religious group may also acquire legal status by registering as an association with a nonprofit purpose that is not contrary to law or proper behavior. Registered religious groups and nonprofit associations are generally exempt from taxes. According to the MEC, there are approximately 130 registered religious communities, most of which have multiple congregations. Persons may belong to more than one religious community.

All citizens who belong to either the ELC or Finnish Orthodox Church pay a church tax, collected together with their income tax payments. Congregations collectively decide the church tax amount, now set at between 1 to 2 percent of a member’s income. Those who do not want to pay the tax must terminate their ELC or Orthodox congregation membership. Members may terminate their membership by contacting the official congregation or the local government registration office, either electronically or in person. Local parishes have fiscal autonomy to decide how to use funding received from taxes levied on their members.

Registered religious communities other than the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church are eligible to apply for state funds in lieu of the church tax. In addition to receiving the church tax, the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church may also apply for state funds. The law states registered religious communities that meet the statutory requirements, including ELC and Orthodox congregations, may apply to receive an annual subsidy from the government budget in proportion to the religious community’s percentage of the population.

The law requires the ELC to maintain public cemeteries using its general allocation from state funds and church tax and to account for monies used for this purpose. Other religious communities and nonreligious foundations may maintain their own cemeteries. All registered religious communities may own and manage property and hire staff, including appointing clergy. The law authorizes the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church to register births, marriages, and deaths for their members in collaboration with the government Population Register Center. State registrars do this for other persons.

Parents may determine their child’s religious affiliation if the child is younger than 12 years of age. The parents of a child between the ages of 12 and 17 must pursue specific administrative procedures with their religious community and the local population registration officials to change or terminate religious affiliation.

All public schools provide religious teaching in accordance with students’ religion. All students must take courses either in ethics or in religious studies, with the choice left up to the student. Schools must provide religious instruction in religions other than the Lutheran faith if there is a minimum of three pupils representing that faith in the municipal region, the religious community in question is registered, and the students’ families belong to the religious community. Students who do not belong to a religious group or belong to a religious group for which special instruction is not available may study ethics. Students aged 18 or older may choose to study either the religious courses pertaining to their religion or ethics. If a student belongs to more than one religious community, the parents decide in which religious education course the student participates. The national and municipal governments fund private, including religiously based, schools. These schools do not charge tuition and do not practice selective admission based on students’ religion.

Religious education focuses on familiarizing students with their own religion, other religions, and general instruction in ethics. Teachers of religion must have state-mandated training for religious instruction. The state appoints them, and they are not required to belong to any religious community. The National Board of Education provides a series of textbooks about Orthodox and Lutheran Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, as well as a textbook on secular ethics.

The government allows conscientious objectors to choose alternative civilian service instead of compulsory military service. In February parliament repealed the exemption from conscription for Jehovah’s Witnesses, meaning that members of the organization need to perform military or alternative civilian service or face imprisonment. Conscientious objectors who refuse both military and alternative civilian service may be sentenced to prison terms of up to 173 days, one-half of the 347 days of alternative civilian service. Regular military service ranges between 165 and 347 days.

The law requires that animals be stunned prior to slaughter or be stunned and killed simultaneously in cases of religious practice.

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

Government Practices

In March the Supreme Court granted the NRM the right to appeal to the Supreme Court the 2018 Turku Court of Appeals ruling which upheld the 2017 nationwide ban of the organization for distributing anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim materials and engaging in hate speech. The NRM continued to demonstrate in public despite the Supreme Court’s order that it refrain from all activities while the appeal remained pending. In May the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) opened a criminal investigation into NRM members for allegedly violating the ban on activities by publishing anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim articles on their website.

In August the National Police Board, which supervises police operations across the country, stated it had received multiple questions from members of parliament (MPs) suggesting the redirection of resources from the investigation of hate speech and hate crimes would be beneficial. Among the critics was Finns Party leader Jussi Halla-aho, who said during the Finns Party’s summer summit in August that police personnel were needed for “real criminal investigations” and not to “stalk people on social media.”

At year’s end, parliament had not voted on an amendment to the Church Act, which governs the practices of the ELC. Parliament took up the bill in September 2018 after the General Synod of the ELC approved it but did not enact the bill during that year. The amended Church Act has the stated intent of clarifying and facilitating administration, enhancing church autonomy, and facilitating internal decision making in the ELC. The amended act would devolve back to the Church certain responsibilities that previously required parliamentary approval.

In June the MEC instructed the Finnish Association of Museums to prepare a formal study of the state of Holocaust-era art provenance research in their collections. According to the MEC, the move was intended to address the lack of Holocaust-era art provenance research in order to better meet the requirements for the implementation of the Terezin Declaration. At year’s end, the study was ongoing, and only the Finnish National Gallery had publicly listed works of art with significant provenance gaps acquired during 1939-1945. Holocaust-era art provenance research is also scheduled as a topic at the country’s National Art Museum Conference to be held in 2020.

In February an independent investigation by the National Archives concluded “it was very likely” Finnish volunteers in the Waffen SS participated in killing Jews, other civilians, and prisoners of war during World War II. State Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office Paula Lehtomaki said it was necessary “to investigate the questions that emerge and conduct complementary research on difficult historical events…. We share the responsibility for ensuring that such atrocities will never be repeated.” The prime minister’s office funded the investigation in 2018 in response to a request from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

In September Mikko Karna, a Center Party MP, advocated legislation prohibiting nonmedical male circumcision during parliamentary talks on the criminalization of female circumcision. Karna cited guidelines published by the Finnish Medical Association, which discouraged the procedure. He argued that all cases of cosmetic or religious male circumcision should be criminalized, citing medical research showing the percentage of routine procedures that unintentionally inflict serious harm on patients.

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (MSAH) guidelines discouraged circumcision of males and continued to withhold public health-care funding for such procedures. In its guidelines, which were recommendations rather than requirements per prior Supreme Court rulings, the ministry stated only licensed physicians should perform nonmedical circumcision of boys, a child’s guardians should be informed of the risks and irreversibility of the procedure, and it should not be carried out on boys old enough to understand the procedure without their consent. Members of the Muslim and Jewish communities continued to express disagreement with the guidelines. The ombudsman for children in the Ministry of Justice did not renew her 2018 request to the MSAH asking it to establish legally binding regulations on nonmedical circumcision.

After the government of Prime Minister Juha Sipila resigned in March, parliament dismissed without a vote a proposed animal welfare law it had been debating since 2018. The bill would have required prior stunning of animals before slaughter in all cases, eliminating the existing exemption allowing simultaneous stunning and killing in cases of religious slaughter. By year’s end, the new parliament had not taken the bill up again. Jewish community leaders also criticized the restrictions in the existing law, which they said hindered their community’s ability to slaughter animals in a religiously approved manner and caused them to import kosher meat at higher prices.

NGOs working with migrants, including the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre and Amnesty, continued to raise concerns about the ability of religious minorities housed in migrant reception centers to worship without harassment by other migrants held within the same center.

While the government did not release detailed reports on asylum applicants categorized by religion, immigration officials and representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses stated the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Russia applying for asylum on the grounds of religious persecution remained high. Jehovah’s Witness representatives said the government denied most of the asylum claims, stating that only Church officials and not regular members were under threat of persecution in Russia. Immigration officials said membership in the Church did not in and of itself guarantee asylum.

According to a senior military officer, the military maintained a zero-tolerance policy regarding hate speech and hate crimes, including religiously motivated incidents. Unit commanders initiated investigations of reported incidents. If the commander judged the infraction to be minor, he or she administered a formal reprimand or other punishment. For more serious offenses, the commander reported the investigation up the chain of command, and military authorities might refer the case to civilian courts. The officer also said that the military accommodated, per regulation, religious dietary needs and fasting requirements, and afforded religious leave and prayer time to all personnel.

Police reported 63 cases of refusal to perform compulsory military or civilian service, but very few of these cases involved Jehovah’s Witnesses according to representatives of the Jehovah’s Witness organization. Police did not indicate how many refusals were religiously motivated.

In September Ombudsman for Nondiscrimination Kirsi Pimia recommended public swimming pools permit Muslim women to wear burkinis. Pimia said there were cases of burkini-wearing women being turned away from public swimming pools. She added that banning burkinis could amount to discrimination based on religion and gender.

In August Finns Party leader Halla-aho stated during a parliamentary group meeting the party did not intend to let authorities press charges against Finns Party MP Juha Maenpaa for ethnic agitation or disturbance of religious peace. During a June session of parliament, Maenpaa equated asylum seekers from Muslim majority countries with alien or invasive species. In August police started a preliminary investigation into Maenpaa’s remarks. In September Center Party Speaker of Parliament Matti Vanhanen stated it was inappropriate for an MP to comment on a legal case in advance if there were a possibility parliament would judge the case. According to the constitution, if the prosecutor sought to prosecute Maenpaa, a five-sixths majority of parliament would have to agree to revoke his parliamentary immunity.

In August media reported a recently elected MP, Hussein al-Taee of the Social Democratic Party, had in 2014 and possibly as late as 2016, made anti-Semitic comments online, including comparing Israel to ISIS. According to The Jerusalem Post newspaper, parliament reversed its decision to suspend al-Taee after he apologized for his remarks. The newspaper quoted an official with the Simon Wiesenthal Center as stating al-Taee was “obviously an anti-Semite” and wondering how he could be a member in good standing of any social democratic party. By year’s end, neither the Social Democratic Party nor parliament had taken any disciplinary action against al-Taee.

The government allocated 114 million euros ($128.09 million) to the ELC and 2.54 million euros ($2.85 million) to the Finnish Orthodox Church. The MEC allotted a total of 524,000 euros ($589,000) to all other registered religious organizations. All the allocations were unchanged from 2018. The MEC additionally made a one-time grant to the Jewish Community of Helsinki of 300,000 euros ($337,000) for security of the Helsinki Synagogue and community center.

The MEC awarded a total of 80,000 euros ($89,900) to promote interfaith dialogue, the same amount as in 2018. The same two organizations as in the previous year split the funding: the National Forum for Cooperation of Religions (CORE Forum), which is composed of representatives from the largest religious denominations, and Fokus, an interfaith and intercultural organization.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

A CORE Forum survey published in March of hate crimes between 2014 and 2018 reported 18 percent of incidents were religiously motivated. The most common targets of these crimes were members of the Jewish and Muslim communities.

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

Despite the ban against it, the NRM continued to operate a website and make statements promoting discrimination or violence against Jews and Muslims and participated in demonstrations, according to press reports. The website contained articles denying the Holocaust, stating that Jewish leaders treat “white people as Muslim terrorists,” and labeling Muslim women and children of ISIS fighters as even more dangerous than their husbands and fathers. According to authorities, the NRM also established a closer relationship with the nativist Soldiers of Odin, and members of both groups often participated in each other’s demonstrations. Superintendent of the National Police Board Timo Kilpelainen told the media the increased cooperation could be due to the ongoing judicial process surrounding NRM’s ban. At the start of the judicial process, the Soldiers of Odin had offered their support to the NRM. According to media reports, the NRM also created two additional associations, Finnish Aid and Unity of the People, so its members could become integrated with those groups should the ban become permanent.

On November 9, a self-styled national socialist group called Towards Freedom! organized a demonstration in Helsinki. According to Tommi Kotonen, a Jyvaskyla University researcher, NRM activists were likely behind the group. The demonstration coincided with the anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany in 1938. Protesters at the demonstration handed out fliers and waved flags bearing symbols resembling the Nazi swastika. According to a report on the website of national broadcaster Yle, police were investigating whether NRM had violated its ban by operating under the Towards Freedom! name. During the evening, according to the same report, unknown individuals placed yellow Star of David stickers with the word “Jude” (“Jew”) at sites around the city, including near a synagogue and the Israeli embassy.

According to media reports, in August the anti-immigrant Nationalist Alliance organized a memorial march in Turku, which included participation by the NRM, to commemorate the victims of a 2017 stabbing by a Moroccan asylum seeker. Approximately 250 persons joined the march. Finns Party MP Vilhelm Junnila spoke at the event, calling on the city to commemorate the victims by illuminating the Kirjastosilta Bridge in the colors of the national flag every August 18. Approximately 500 persons participated in a counterdemonstration titled “Turku Without Nazis.”

Muslim groups, such as the Islamic Congregation of Finland, continued to seek adequate houses of worship to match their growing population, but said they were hindered by insufficient funds to purchase property, given that most Muslims did not belong to congregations registered with the government. Except for a handful of purpose-built mosques, most mosques were in converted commercial spaces. In August Yle reported the Mikkeli Islamic Cultural Association, an unregistered group with approximately 30 members, was in the process of establishing a mosque in the town of Mikkeli, but authorities prohibited it from using the building it selected until the town issued a different building permit and the group had made required fire safety improvements. The building was under renovation at year’s end.

The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office reported receiving 35 complaints of religious discrimination in 2018 – 4 percent of total discrimination complaints – compared with 55 complaints in 2017. In one instance the report cited, a district court fined a shop owner, ruling the owner had discriminated against woman wearing a niqab by refusing her service.

In September ECRI published a report on racism and intolerance in the country that stated hate crimes had increased in recent years, especially against Muslims and refugees (many of whom are Muslim). It added that intolerant speech in public discourse was increasing and principally directed against the Muslim community and asylum seekers (many of whom belong to religious minorities). It stated some members of the Finns Party made anti-Muslim statements in public. According to the report, anti-Semitic rhetoric on the internet was “commonplace” and certain extremist groups, especially neo-Nazis such as the national branch of the NRM, “engage[d] in the systematic use of hate speech.” It also stated Nazi swastikas had become more visible in public spaces. The report called on the government to set up a comprehensive data collection system for hate crimes and hate speech.

In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 29 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Finland, while 67 percent said it was rare; 75 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 86 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 81 percent said they would be with an atheist, 82 percent with a Jew, 80 percent with a Buddhist, and 76 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 90 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 83 percent if atheist, 81 percent if Jewish, 77 percent if Buddhist, and 66 percent if Muslim.

In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 76 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in Finland, and 49 percent believed it had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 19 percent; on the internet, 25 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 12 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 15 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 13 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 12 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 9 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 12 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 14 percent.

The website Magneettimedia continued to post anti-Semitic content. In August it published an article stating that “not Islamic but Zionist terrorism” was behind the 2017 Turku “terrorist attack,” and that, “Israel and its associated Zionists have set their sights on the confrontation between the Christian world and the Islamic world.” Major companies and consumer brands in the country continued to boycott the chain of department stores owned by the former owner of Magneettimedia, Juha Karkkainen, due to his anti-Semitic views; no new companies or brands announced they would join the boycott.

Yle and other media reported that in March unknown persons spray-painted anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim expletives on the outside wall of a Shia mosque, one of the largest in the country, in the eastern Helsinki district of Mellunmaki on two consecutive mornings. The chair of the Resalat Islamic Society said such vandalism occurred sporadically and that the websites of the society were sometimes hacked. He added that staff at the society had received death threats. Helsinki police were investigating the case at year’s end.

According to the Israeli embassy, in July security camera footage showed an individual kicking in the embassy’s reinforced glass front door and gesturing at the Israeli flag in a derogatory manner, including with Nazi salutes. The entrance of the building housing the embassy also was defaced with stickers glorifying Adolf Hitler. The Israeli Ambassador characterized the incident as part of an escalation of acts of vandalism targeting Jewish property over a period of more than one year. Prior incidents included anti-Semitic graffiti targeting both the embassy and the Jewish community center in Helsinki. The Israeli Ambassador expressed frustration over the lack of an effective police or government response to the attacks.

In May a man approached Petri Sarvamaa, a European Parliament MP campaigning for reelection, on the street, called him a derogatory slur for a Jewish person, and threatened him.

Representatives of religious groups attended ceremonies hosted in their counterparts’ houses of worship. Finn Church Aid (FCA), associated with the ELC, again hosted an interreligious iftar, bringing together representatives from the major religious denominations in the capital region, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and municipal governments.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy staff met with officials from the Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Foreign Affairs to discuss religious intolerance, the promotion of interfaith dialogue, the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses in asylum adjudication, and regulations covering kosher slaughter of animals. The embassy encouraged government officials to take steps to ensure that, pursuant to the Terezin Declaration, Holocaust survivors and their heirs received just compensation for assets seized by Nazi Germany, including by improving art provenance research in museums in the country.

Embassy staff met with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clergy and lay activists from these communities, the Finnish Ecumenical Council, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other minority religious groups to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country. Embassy staff and members of the Jewish and Muslim communities discussed these communities’ shared concerns about the impact of the government guidelines discouraging male circumcision, religiously motivated crimes, proposed legislation that would prohibit forms of religious animal slaughter, and continued issues with establishing a sufficient number of mosques for the Muslim population. Embassy staff also discussed anti-Muslim discrimination with representatives from different Muslim congregations and met regularly with NGOs such as Core Forum and FCA. Embassy staff discussed with Jehovah’s Witness community representatives changes to the military service exemption and the high rate of denial of asylum applications for religious persecution by Jehovah’s Witnesses from Russia.

The embassy observed the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Violence Based on Religion or Belief through a Twitter message, and retweeting the Secretary of State’s press statement, “International Commitment to Protect Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.” The embassy also recognized the work of interfaith organizations in promoting religious tolerance by hosting an iftar and hosting a CORE Forum board meeting at the embassy. A senior embassy official delivered remarks promoting interfaith cooperation at both events.

Embassy staff met with prominent activists in the country’s Uighur community to discuss, among other topics, China’s harassment of Uighur activists within Finland and elsewhere.

Georgia

Executive Summary

The constitution recognizes equality for all regardless of religion, subject to considerations of public safety or health or the rights of others, and it stipulates the independence of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) from the state. The constitution recognizes the “outstanding role” of the GOC in the history of the country. It prohibits persecution based on religion. Laws and policies continue to grant the GOC unique privileges. On June 27, a court convicted and sentenced two men to 15 years in prison for the 2018 killing of a human rights activist who had Jewish and Yezidi roots, but ruled it was not a hate crime. The government approved the registration application of one religious group while rejecting six others. Parliament held hearings with civil society and religious groups about legislation to comply with a court order to amend the law granting the GOC exclusive tax and property privileges, but failed to take action. Some religious groups advocated legislation that would address a broader range of religious issues, while others expressed concerns about the potential impact of such a law on smaller groups. Some Muslim community leaders said the government continued to influence and favor the state-funded religious group All Muslims of All Georgia (AMAG). Religious groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and others said Muslim communities faced government resistance to issuing construction permits for places of worship. The Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) and some Muslim groups reported difficulties in obtaining government recognition of their ownership claims of religious properties. NGOs cited concerns that bias in public schools favored GOC religious teachings.

According to religious leaders, de facto authorities in the Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which remained outside the administrative control of the central government, continued to restrict or prohibit the activities of some religious groups. De facto South Ossetian authorities permitted GOC religious services but said they were illegal, and NGOs reported Russian guards impeded access of residents to some churches and cemeteries. De facto Abkhaz authorities prohibited GOC clergy from entering the occupied territory. De facto authorities in both occupied territories continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to a U.S NGO, de facto authorities in South Ossetia pressured Orthodox churches to merge with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).

The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MOIA) investigated 44 cases involving crimes reported as religiously motivated, notably including 10 cases of unlawful interference with the performance of religious rites, 10 cases of persecution, and eight cases of damage or destruction of property. The Public Defender’s Office (PDO) received 19 complaints of religiously based crimes or discrimination as of year’s end, 10 of which involved violence. This equaled the 19 total complaints in 2018. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 20 incidents against the group or its members, including 11 involving violence. The PDO and religious minorities continued to state there was a widespread societal perception that religious minorities posed a threat to the GOC and the country’s values. Unknown individuals twice vandalized a chapel used by Armenian Apostolic and Catholic parishes in Akhalkalaki, breaking icons and damaging portraits. The NGO Media Development Foundation (MDF) documented 55 instances of religiously intolerant remarks in national media, compared with 148 in 2018. Some religious figures in Abkhazia reportedly continued to advocate the establishment of an autocephalous Orthodox Church in the territory or a merger with the ROC. Both the GOC and ROC formally recognized Orthodox churches in Abkhazia and South Ossetia as belonging to the GOC, but the ROC did not always respect this in practice.

U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with senior government officials, including the leadership of the State Agency for Religious Affairs (SARI), the public defender, the prime minister’s adviser on human rights, and officials at various ministries, to encourage dialogue and tolerance between the government and minority religious groups. The Charge d’Affaires met with GOC Patriarch Ilia II and other senior GOC leaders to stress the importance of the GOC in promoting religious diversity and tolerance. The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met with minority religious groups throughout the country, and the embassy and its regional information offices sponsored events in Tbilisi and elsewhere in the country to encourage religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 4.9 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2014 census, GOC members constitute 83.4 percent of the population, followed by Muslims at 10.7 percent and members of the AAC at 2.9 percent. The remaining 3 percent includes Roman Catholics, Yezidis, Greek Orthodox, Jews, growing numbers of “nontraditional” religious groups such as Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, and the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, and individuals who profess no religious preference.

Ethnicity, religious affiliation, and region of residence are strongly connected. Most ethnic Georgians affiliate with the GOC. A small number of mostly ethnic Russians are members of several Orthodox groups not affiliated with the GOC, including the ROC, Molokani, Staroveriy (Old Believers), and Dukhoboriy (Spirit Wrestlers). Ethnic Azerbaijanis are predominantly Shia Muslims and form the majority of the population in the southeastern region of Kvemo-Kartli. Other Muslim groups include ethnic Georgian Muslims in Adjara and Chechen Kists in the northeast, both of which are predominantly Sunni. Ethnic Georgian Sunni Muslims are also present in the south-central region of Samtskhe-Javakheti. Ethnic Armenians belong primarily to the AAC and constitute the majority of the population in Samtskhe-Javakheti.

Reliable information from the Russian-occupied regions in Georgia continued to be difficult to obtain. According to a census conducted in 2016 by the de facto Abkhaz authorities, there were 243,000 residents of Russian-occupied Abkhazia. A survey conducted in 2003 by the de facto government listed 60 percent of respondents as Christian, 16 percent Muslim, 8 percent atheists or nonbelievers, 8 percent followers of the pre-Christian Abkhazian religion, and 1 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, or adherents of other religions. The remaining 7 percent listed no preference.

According to a 2015 census conducted by the de facto South Ossetian authorities, there were 53,000 residents of Russian-occupied South Ossetia. The majority of the population practices Orthodox Christianity; other minority groups include followers of Islam and the Right Faith, a revival of the pre-Christian ethnic Ossetian religion.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of belief and religion, subject to considerations of public safety and the health and rights of others, and equality for all regardless of religion. It prohibits persecution based on religion and prohibits compelling anyone to express his or her opinion about religion. It also prohibits political parties that incite religious strife. The law provides for freedom of religious belief, denomination, and conscience, including the right to choose and change religious affiliation.

The constitution recognizes the GOC’s special role in the country’s history but stipulates the GOC shall be independent from the state and that relations between the GOC and the state shall be governed by a constitutional agreement (concordat). The concordat grants rights not given to other religious groups, including legal immunity for the GOC patriarch, exemption of GOC clergy from military service (though by law, clergy from all religious groups are exempted), and a consultative role in government, especially in education. The concordat states some of its provisions require additional legislation before they may be implemented, including the GOC’s right to a consultative role in state education policies.

A religious group may register with the National Agency of the Public Registry (NAPR) as a Legal Entity of Public Law (LEPL) or as a nonprofit organization, both of which offer benefits, including legal recognition, tax exemptions for donations and other “religious activities,” and the right to own property and open bank accounts. The civil code defines the activities and rights of denominations registered for LEPL status. Unregistered religious groups may conduct religious activities but do not receive the legal status or benefits conferred on registered groups.

To register as a LEPL, the law specifies that a religious group must have a historical link with the country or be recognized as a religion “by the legislation of the member states of the Council of Europe.” A religious group must also submit to the NAPR information regarding its objectives and procedures and a list of its founders and members of its governing body. Groups registering as nonprofit religious organizations do not have to demonstrate historic ties to the country or recognition by Council of Europe members but must submit to the NAPR similar information on their objectives, governing procedures, and names of founders and members of their governing body.

The law grants the GOC exceptions from several requirements applicable to other religious groups, including payment of taxes on the construction, restoration, and maintenance of religious buildings and the payment of taxes on property. It exempts the GOC Patriarchate, but not other religious groups, from taxes on “profit from the sale of crosses, candles, icons, books and calendars used…for religious purposes.” In addition, the law states that only the GOC, and no other religious organization, may acquire nonagricultural state property through a direct sale by the government. Should other religious groups wish to acquire this type of property, they must participate in public tenders. Only the GOC has the right to acquire agricultural state property free of charge; all others must pay a fee.

The criminal code prohibits interference with worship services, persecution of a person based on religious faith or belief, and interference with the establishment of a religious organization, although the code does not define “establishment.” Interference with the establishment of a religious organization is punishable by fine, correctional work (community service) for up to one year, or imprisonment for up to two years. Violations committed by public officials are considered abuses of power and are punishable by larger fines or longer terms of imprisonment if committed by force of arms or by insulting the dignity of a victim, although the law does not define “insult” and does not specify an amount or time limit for punishment under those circumstances. In cases of religious persecution, the perpetrator may face imprisonment for up to three years, depending on the use or threat of violence, his or her official position, and damages caused. In cases of unlawful interference with the right to perform religious rituals involving the use or threat of violence, offenders may face imprisonment for up to two years; in cases where the offender holds an official position, offenders may face up to five years in prison.

Although the law states public schools may not be used for religious indoctrination, proselytizing, or forcible assimilation, the concordat accords the GOC the right to teach religious studies in public educational institutions, pending additional legislation, and authorizes the state to pay for GOC religious schools. The law states students may pursue religious study and practice religious rituals in schools “of their own accord,” but only after school hours. Outside instructors, including clergy of any denomination, may only attend or direct students’ religious education or activities if students invite them to do so; school administration and teachers may not be involved in this process. The law includes no specific regulations for private religious schools. Private schools must follow the national curriculum, though they are free to add subjects if they wish.

By law, the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), which is separate from the MOIA, prosecutes human rights violations involving religious intolerance, while the PDO serves as the country’s human rights ombudsman and monitors complaints of restrictions on religious freedom. The PDO’s Tolerance Center carries out educational activities and monitors and analyzes cases of religious and ethnic discrimination. It also coordinates the PDO’s Council of Religions and Ethnic Minorities, which has a mandate to protect religious freedom; facilitate a constructive multilateral dialogue between various religious groups; promote a tolerant, fair and peaceful environment for religious groups; and engage religious minorities in the process of civic integration.

The MOIA’s Department of Human Rights is responsible for assessing whether crimes are motivated by religious hatred and for monitoring the quality of investigations into hate crimes.

SARI distributes government compensation to the GOC, and Islamic, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and AAC religious organizations registered as LEPLs for “the material and moral damages inflicted upon them during the Soviet period.” SARI’s mandate is to promote and ensure peaceful coexistence based on principles of equality and tolerance. Its stated responsibilities include researching the existing religious situation and reporting to the government, preparing recommendations and draft legal acts for government consideration, and serving as a consultative body and intermediary for the government in disputes arising between religious associations. SARI may issue nonbinding recommendations to relevant state institutions on approval of applications for the construction of religious buildings, determination of their locations, and transfer of such properties to religious organizations.

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

Government Practices

On June 27, a court sentenced two men to 15 years each in prison for the 2018 stabbing to death of 25-year-old human rights activist Vitali Safarov, who had Jewish and Yezidi roots. The court ruled, however, the killing was not a hate crime of “racial, religious, national, or ethnic intolerance,” stating hate was not the only or decisive motive in the killing. International observers and local NGOs disagreed, saying the attackers engaged in further aggression and cried out racist epithets after Safarov told them he was Jewish. According to witness testimony and materials NGOs found on the internet, including Nazi symbols and calls to violence on personal Facebook pages, the men belonged to neo-Nazi groups and held ultranationalist ideas. The Center for Participation and Development, where Vitali Safarov worked, and the Human Rights Center, both NGOs, said they supported the prosecutor’s November 16 decision to file an appeal for the court to establish hate as a motive in the crime.

The NGO Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) again stated the MOIA was generally correctly applying the appropriate articles of the criminal code and the quality of investigations of crimes motivated by religious hatred continued to improve.

The NAPR registered one new religious organization as an LEPL during the year: the Georgian Christian Evangelical Protestant and Lutheran Church – Bible Care. It rejected the registration applications of six other groups on the grounds that they either did not demonstrate historic ties to Georgia or were not recognized as a religion by Council of Europe countries. The NAPR declined registration to the Georgian Christian Evangelical Protestant and Lutheran Church – Bible Care for People; Georgian Christian Evangelical Protestant and Lutheran Church – Bible Care Visit the Prisoner; Georgian Christian Evangelical Protestant and Lutheran Church for Bible Care; Georgian Christian Evangelical Protestant and Lutheran Church – Bible Support; Church for All Nations – Georgia; and Georgian Christian Religious Organization Gideon.

Most prisons continued to have GOC chapels but no areas for nondenominational worship. According to SARI and Catholic, AAC, Baptist, Muslim, and Jewish groups, prisons could provide religious counseling services if requested by members of the military or prisoners.

Parliament held several hearings during the year with civil society, government officials, and religious representatives on changes to the law granting the GOC tax and property privileges not available to other religious groups. The Constitutional Court ruled in 2018 that the GOC’s exclusive privileges were unconstitutional and mandated legislative change that would either abolish the privileges or grant them to all religious organizations no later than December 31, 2018. Parliament did not meet the deadline nor amend the law by year’s end. SARI and some religious representatives, including members of the Jewish community and the Armenian Apostolic Church, favored drafting a new and broader “law on religion” to define which groups would be eligible for these and other benefits and to address issues pertaining to the registration and legal status of religious groups and the teaching of religion in public schools. Many civil society representatives and other religious groups, including some members of the Muslim community, the Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Baptist Church, however, were opposed, arguing that such legislation would allow the government to discriminate against smaller religious communities and increase the government’s leverage over them. They advocated instead making benefits available to all religious groups or to none.

NGOs and some Muslim community leaders stated the government continued to influence the state-funded AMAG, including by influencing the selection of the AMAG religious leader and the selective transfer of land to AMAG. The groups said AMAG was a “Soviet-style” organization that served as a tool of the state to monitor and control religious groups. Following the December 25 election of a new AMAG leader, several staff members left the organization, stating the State Security Service had unduly interfered with the process. A number of Muslim groups also were critical of AMAG for insisting it represented all Muslim communities in the country within one organization.

At year’s end, the Tbilisi City Court did not rule on the AAC’s January 2018 appeal of the NAPR’s decision to register as GOC property a church of which the AAC claimed ownership since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The AAC continued to petition SARI for restitution of five churches in Tbilisi and one in Akhaltsikhe, all of which the GOC also claimed and authorities registered as state property. At year’s end, SARI had not responded to any of the AAC’s 57 petitions, 20 of which it filed in 2015 and 37 in 2018, for ownership or right-of-usage status. The AAC reported it operated all 57 churches in the country but did not own any of them. SARI said the issue was a lack of evidence provided by the AAC itself, but said it was in communication with the AAC and expressed willingness to cooperate in the future.

According to the PDO’s Tolerance Center, non-GOC religious organizations continued to face government resistance when attempting to obtain construction permits for houses of worship, as was the case with a mosque in Batumi. The center continued to attribute the resistance to what it termed a general societal bias in favor of the GOC. According to TDI, although the law provides for equal treatment for applicants seeking construction permits, municipalities often discriminated against representatives of religious minority groups. TDI also cited what it described as the “problematic role” of SARI in the process, which “without a legitimate purpose and legal basis” interfered with the authority of local self-governance.

Muslim community members continued to state there was a lack of transparency in government decisions on mosques and their construction. The Muslim community continued to dispute the government’s ownership of mosques in Kvemo Kartli, Adigeni, and Adjara. The government owned the land as a legacy from the Soviet period, and in some cases said the existing mosques were former GOC houses of worship or were erected in their place.

On September 30, the Batumi City Court ruled Batumi City Hall had discriminated against the New Mosque Construction Fund (an entity representing members of the Batumi Muslim community seeking to establish a new mosque) by denying the permits necessary to build a new mosque on land the fund owned. The court ordered the mayor’s office to reconsider its decision. The Muslim community said it needed a second mosque in the city because the only mosque currently operating there was too small to accommodate the local population. The mayor’s office argued in court that the plot of land was located in a high-density residential zone and was therefore not suitable for a religious building. According to media, there were already several churches in the same area. The NGOs Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) and TDI brought the case to court on behalf of the fund. They criticized the court decision for not requiring the mayor’s office to issue the permit. The mayor outlined several conditions for allowing the construction, including that the fund retract its appeal to the courts and give the land acquired for the mosque to AMAG, which would later apply for the necessary permits. On December 4, Batumi City Hall appealed the Batumi City Court’s September 30 decision, leading the New Mosque Construction Fund to submit its own appeal seeking the court obligate the city to issue the construction permit rather than simply “reconsider.” At year’s end, the appeals were ongoing. According to a report by the TDI, Muslims in Batumi told the international religious freedom NGO Forum 18 that AMAG backed the state in its refusal to grant the permits for the second mosque, while the Georgian Muslim Union, which did not receive state funds, supported the plans for a second mosque.

Parallel to the mosque permit issue, the construction fund appealed Batumi City Hall’s decision to impose a fine of 3,000 lari ($1,000) for the construction of a temporary wooden structure built on the fund’s land. The appeal was ongoing at year’s end.

Construction continued on property surrounding the main building of a new mosque AMAG built in late 2018 in the village of Mokhe in Samtskhe-Javakheti. The community was already conducting prayers at the mosque. A local Muslim donated the land for the new mosque to AMAG after a SARI commission transferred the original, disputed building the local Muslim community had planned to use as a mosque to the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation in 2018. At the time, SARI told reporters that the commission’s decision and AMAG’s subsequent steps to build the mosque on the new plot were acceptable to the local Muslim community. EMC, however, said that the commission’s decision was not representative of local Muslims because no trustees of the local community were represented on the commission. They reported at the time that some local Muslims refused to pray at the new mosque and instead prayed temporarily outside the property of the old mosque. EMC appealed to the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of some local Muslims, stating that the state had violated their rights to equality and freedom of religion, among others. The Human Rights Committee had not responded to the appeal as of year’s end.

The government continued to pay subsidies for the restoration of religious properties it considered national cultural heritage sites. The National Agency for Cultural Heritage, housed within the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport, allocated 2.3 million lari ($801,000) during the year for the restoration of religious monuments, a decrease of approximately 200,000 lari ($69,700) from 2018.

There was no movement on a 2018 EMC appeal to the Supreme Court of a lower court ruling that the MOIA did not discriminate against Muslims by failing to prevent vandalism against an Islamic boarding school. The boarding school had not opened by year’s end. According to a 2018 TDI report, religious education in public schools persisted, although the law provided for religious neutrality and nondiscrimination. TDI continued to report cases of religious discrimination in schools, including incidents involving the promotion of GOC theology during general courses on religion, GOC prayers conducted in classrooms, and the display of icons and other religious symbols in schools, despite the law’s prohibition of proselytizing. The GOC did not offer any formal religious studies classes in public institutions. Although the GOC had the right to do so under the concordat, the government did not define the requisite legal structures for direct GOC involvement in public institutions. Nevertheless, NGOs and non-GOC organizations, such as EMC, reported GOC clergy often visited classes during the regular school day, sometimes at the initiative of teachers or school administrators, despite the law restricting such visits to after hours.

In October EMC called upon the Ministry of Education’s General Inspection Department, responsible for dealing with complaints of inappropriate teacher behavior, to “ensure the … protection of religious neutrality” in education after a video surfaced of GOC clergy meeting with professors and teachers emphasizing the importance of Christianity in Adjara, a majority ethnic-Georgian, Muslim region. After the meeting, one high school principal declared that educational professionals had a “duty to convert [students] to their ancient faith.” By year’s end, authorities did not respond to EMC’s complaint.

The government paid compensation to five religious groups for “material and moral damages” they sustained during the Soviet period. It distributed the same amounts as in 2018: 25 million lari ($8.7 million) to the GOC; 2.75 million lari ($958,000) to the Muslim community, represented by the AMAG; 550,000 lari ($192,000) to the Catholic Church; 800,000 lari ($279,000) to the AAC; and 400,000 lari ($139,000) to the Jewish community. SARI’s position was that the payments were of “partial and of symbolic character,” and that the government continued to take into account levels of damage and “present day negative conditions” of religious groups in determining compensation. NGOs continued to criticize the exclusion of other religious groups in the legislation designating the five groups eligible to receive compensation and to question the criteria the government used to select them.

Media reported that on May 8, by a vote of 96-0, parliament approved a change to the labor code making May 12 a holiday marking the country’s consecration to the Virgin Mary and allocating 890,000 lari ($310,000) to celebrate it. May 12 was already a public holiday marking St. Andrew’s Day. Sopho Kiladze, head of parliament’s human rights committee, told Maestro Television, “It is important for Georgia to be officially declared as the domain of the Virgin Mary.” Beka Mindiashvili, head of the PDO’s Tolerance Center and a former GOC theologian, denounced the measure.

The MOI Department of Human Rights, in cooperation with the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, conducted 10 training programs on discrimination and hate crimes during the year, and commissioned research on the victims’ attitudes toward investigations of the crimes against them, with a focus on religious minorities, among others.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The MOIA investigated 44 cases involving crimes reported as religiously motivated, including 10 cases of unlawful interference with the performance of religious rites, 10 cases of persecution, and eight cases of damage or destruction of property. The PGO reported criminal prosecutions were launched against 14 individuals for crimes motivated by religious intolerance. Six of these individuals were convicted on the charge. By comparison, in 2018 the ministry investigated 23 incidents reported as religiously motivated crimes.

At year’s end, the PDO reported it received 19 complaints of discrimination or hate crimes based on religion during the year, equal to 19 received in 2018. Ten incidents – of which eight targeted the Jehovah’s Witnesses – involved violence, compared with six in the previous year. The remaining nine cases concerned complaints that authorities refused to register religious organizations, as well as of discrimination in the workplace, harassment, and the “lack of involvement of religious minorities in cultural life.” At year’s end, the PDO was examining whether religious discrimination was involved when a Muslim religious organization faced difficulties importing religious literature for dissemination. The Customs Department of the Revenue Service allowed the import, saying there had been a technical issue, only after the organization raised the issue. The PDO stated cases from previous years remained largely unresolved, partly because of a lack of urgency and resources from the government.

At year’s end, the Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 20 religiously motivated incidents to the government, compared to 19 in 2018. Of the 20, 11 involved physical violence, five vandalism or other damage against Kingdom Halls, and four interference with religious services or damage of other property or literature. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that prosecutors investigated eight of these cases and convicted an individual in one. According to the PDO, the PGO continued to decline to classify crimes targeting Jehovah’s Witnesses as religiously motivated, despite repeated PDO requests that it do so. In 2018 the Council of Europe reported that after LGBTI persons, Jehovah’s Witnesses were the most likely group in the country to face discrimination.

In one case in February, an individual verbally insulted, then attacked, a Jehovah’s Witness who had just left a religious service at a Kingdom Hall in Tbilisi. Patrol officers arrived on the scene and were able to restrain the attacker; the victim sought medical treatment for injuries to his eye and lip. Officials charged the attacker with “purposeful, less grave damage to health,” and, at year’s end, the case was ongoing. In another incident in April, a Jehovah’s Witness was verbally insulted and attacked by a Tbilisi resident after approaching the resident’s apartment to proselytize. The investigation into this case was ongoing and authorities did not press any charges at year’s end.

Authorities reported no arrests or other progress in open investigations of incidents from past years against Jehovah’s Witnesses or their property. Representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses legal department said communication with the MOIA had improved compared with previous years, and they commended the Department of Human Rights within the ministry for increased responsiveness to their concern that crimes against members of the community should be treated as religiously motivated, even though the PGO declined to prosecute them as such.

In January the Supreme Court upheld the 2018 conviction of a man the Tbilisi City Court found guilty of harassing two female Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 2016 the man kicked and insulted the two women and tore their clothes while they were sharing Bible verses in Alexandre’s Garden in Tbilisi. Although the court upheld the guilty verdict, it reduced the man’s fine from the original 2,000 ($700) to 500 lari ($170).

Representatives of the PDO’s Tolerance Center and minority religious groups continued to report what they termed a widespread societal belief that minority religious groups posed a threat to the GOC and to the country’s cultural values. A 2018 Council of Europe study reported 36 percent of citizens believed diversity affected the country adversely and was detrimental to its culture and traditions.

Minority religious communities, including Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, and Protestants, continued to report resistance from local communities to their establishing places of worship and religious schools. A Muslim boarding school in Kobuleti, near Batumi, remained closed after city officials ignored a 2018 ruling by the Batumi City Court ordering them to provide the school with sewage and water connections. On April 4 and again on November 4, unknown persons broke into a chapel used by Armenian Apostolic and Catholic parishes in Akhalkalaki and vandalized the premises, breaking icons, and damaging portraits. Authorities were investigating both incidents at year’s end.

MDF documented 55 instances of religiously intolerant statements on television, online, and in printed media by media representatives, political parties, clergy, public organizations, and others, compared to 148 such incidents in 2018. The instances included a January statement by GOC clergyman David Isakadze in which he criticized a 2016 joint declaration from Russian Patriarch Kirill and Catholic Pope Francis. Isakadze said, “Catholicism is the greatest deviation and heresy from Church dogmas.” Separately, the online publication “Georgia in the World” published in October a statement by Vazha Otarashvili, political secretary of the Alliance of Patriots party, in which he said, “They will build numerous mosques so quietly, so treacherously, that people will not understand that this is the Islamization of Adjara.”

The ROC and the GOC both formally recognized the Orthodox churches in Abkhazia, as well as in South Ossetia, as belonging to the GOC; however, de facto authorities continued to restrict access to GOC clergy. According to media reports from online news outlets like Netgazeti and Resonance Daily, as well as experts on the region, some religious figures in Abkhazia continued to support turning the region’s Orthodox churches into an autocephalous Abkhaz Orthodox Church, others wished to subordinate them to the ROC, and still others wished to subordinate them to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met regularly with officials from the government, including SARI, the prime minister’s adviser on human rights and gender equality, and the president’s adviser on national minorities, to encourage dialogue between the government and minority religious groups. They also continued to meet with the PDO and officials in its Tolerance Center to discuss discrimination against religious groups and stress the importance of interfaith dialogue.

Several embassy information offices sponsored outreach activities for religious minority communities. The Batumi office hosted a workshop for young Muslim girls to foster discussion of religious freedom, antidiscrimination, and human rights. The program also provided instruction on debunking fake news and propaganda centered on religious narratives. Additionally, the Batumi office supported members of the Young Muslim’s Union in community outreach projects meant to promote inclusion. The Akhaltsikhe office engaged with the ethnic Armenian community, which mostly belongs to the AAC, including by hosting roundtables and debates that included members of the AAC, GOC, and Roman Catholic Church. The office also sponsored a project that in part brought together government, civil society, and the local population to discuss religious pluralism and foster open dialogue. The Rustavi office was active with the largely Shia Muslim Azerbaijani community and hosted a quiz program on U.S. history that brought multifaith communities, including members of the AAC and GOC, together to encourage integration and social inclusion.

In June the embassy sponsored a performance of traditional Georgian and American sacred music by a U.S. chorale at the Gelati Monastery in Kutaisi. In welcoming remarks, embassy representatives at the performance highlighted the importance of religious pluralism. The embassy awarded a small grant to the Georgian Strategic Analysis Center to support a project on increasing understanding of democracy, including respect for religious pluralism, within the GOC. In October the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and a Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs met with members of the GOC’s leadership council, the Holy Synod, who were visiting the United States to mark the tenth anniversary of the GOC’s North American Eparchy. The officials recognized the country’s history of religious tolerance and encouraged the GOC to continue to promote interfaith dialogue. In November the embassy announced funds for a comprehensive assessment and conservation plan to restore the Jvari Monastery, one of Georgia’s most iconic cultural sites.

Embassy staff continued to meet with NGOs concerned with religious freedom issues, including the Center for Development and Democracy, the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center, TDI, and the 21st Century Union, to discuss interfaith relations, the integration of religious minorities into society, and the promotion of religious freedom for all.

The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials visited the Pankisi Gorge, Samtskhe-Javakheti, Kvemo Kartli, and Adjara regions on several occasions to meet with local religious leaders, including from the Sunni and Shia Muslim and AAC communities. In these meetings, embassy officials advocated interfaith understanding, dialogue, and the peaceful coexistence of all religions.

The Charge d’Affaires met with GOC Patriarch Ilia II and other senior GOC members on multiple occasions. In her meetings, she stressed the importance of the Church’s role in promoting religious diversity and tolerance.

Germany

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the practice of one’s religion. The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy on registration of religious groups and other matters. Unrecognized religious groups are ineligible for tax benefits. The federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of certain Muslim groups and mosques. Authorities also monitored the Church of Scientology (COS), which reported continued government discrimination against its members. Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, for some state employees. In May federal anti-Semitism commissioner Felix Klein, responding to what he stated was the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents in the country, said he could “no longer recommend Jews wear a kippah at every time and place in Germany.” Many Jewish leaders in the community were supportive of Klein, but some prominent politicians, Jewish leaders, and national media responded negatively. Senior government leaders continued to condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. Seven additional state governments appointed anti-Semitism commissioners for the first time, bringing the total number of states with such commissioners to 13 (out of 16), in addition to the federal Jewish life and anti-Semitism commissioner. In July the government announced it would increase social welfare funding for Holocaust survivors by 44 million euros ($49.4 million) in 2020, including for the first time pension payments to Holocaust survivors’ widowed spouses.

There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents. These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism. Jews expressed security concerns after several widely publicized anti-Semitic acts, including a gunman’s attack in Halle on Yom Kippur that killed two individuals outside a synagogue. Federal crime statistics for 2018 cited 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes during the year, an overall increase of 20 percent from 2017. Sixty-nine of those crimes involved violence. The federal crime statistics attributed 89 percent of anti-Semitic crimes in 2018 to the far right; however, the federal anti-Semitism commissioner expressed concern over methodology that attributed to the far right all incidents in which the perpetrator was not identified. He stated that the country’s Jewish community experienced more open hostility from Muslims than from other groups. Demonstrations occurred expressing anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic sentiment. The Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) continued to make public statements opposing the COS.

The U.S. embassy and five consulates general assessed the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance; expressed concerns about anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-Muslim acts; and advocated for more law enforcement and other resources to prevent violent attacks on religious communities. In November the Secretary of State visited the synagogue in Halle to pay his respects and the Neue Synagogue in Berlin to commemorate the 81st anniversary of the Reichs Pogromnacht (previously known as Kristallnacht/Night of Broken Glass). Embassy representatives met with the federal anti-Semitism commissioner at the Ministry of Interior and the federal commissioner for global freedom of religion at the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development; consuls general met with state-level government representatives and anti-Semitism commissioners. The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on their concerns about religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 80.3 million (midyear 2019 estimate). Unofficial estimates based on the census and figures provided by religious groups indicate approximately 28 percent of the population is Catholic, and 26 percent belongs to the EKD – a confederation of Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist), and United (Prussian Union) Protestant regional churches. Other Protestant denominations, including the New Apostolic Church, Baptist communities, and nondenominational Christians, account for approximately 1 percent of the population. Orthodox Christians represent 1.9 percent of the population.

According to government estimates, approximately 5.3 percent of the population is Muslim, of which 75 percent is Sunni, 13 percent Alevi, and 7 percent Shia; the remainder includes Alawites (70,000), Ahmadis (35,000), and Sufis (10,000). Intelligence officials estimate there are approximately 11,300 Salafi Muslims in the country. According to the Ministry of Interior, approximately 25 percent of Muslims are recent immigrants; between 2011 and 2015, an estimated 1.2 million Muslim immigrants entered the country. Estimates of the Jewish population vary widely; the Central Council of Jews estimates it at 100,000, while other estimates place the number at approximately 200,000 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 (169,000); Hindus (100,000); Yezidis (100,000); The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) (40,000); Sikhs (10,000-15,000); and Church of Scientology (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, at hospitals, and in prisons.

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. 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 ($56.2 million). Unlawful content includes actions illegal under existing 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 Church of Scientology – as “sects,” “youth religions,” and “youth sects,” and allows the government to provide “accurate information” or warnings about them to the public. The law does not permit the government to use terms, such as “destructive,” “pseudo-religious,” or “manipulative” when referring to these groups. Several court decisions have ruled the government must remain neutral 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, which provide public services, such as religious schools and hospitals. Additionally, due to historic “state-church contracts” dating back to pre-1919 Germany, all state governments except for Bremen and Hamburg subsidize the Catholic Church and the EKD with different yearly amounts.

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

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.

According to a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court, general headscarf bans for teachers at public schools are a violation of religious freedom, but implementation is left to the states, which may determine if special circumstances apply. Bavaria, North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), and Saarland States 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. A law in Berlin bans visible signs of religious affiliation for police, lawyers, judges, law enforcement staff, and primary and secondary public school teachers. The Berlin law permits teachers at some categories of institutions, such as vocational schools, to wear headscarves. Other states have laws that restrict religious attire in certain circumstances.

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 ($67) fine.

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

All states offer religious instruction and ethics courses in public schools. Religious communities with PLC status (or 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 States also offer some religious instruction in Islam. In most of the federal states, Muslim communities or associations provide this instruction, while in Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein, the state does. In March the Bavarian cabinet decided to expand its program, which at the time reached 16,500 pupils at 350 schools. In Hamburg and Bremen, nondenominational religious instruction is offered for all students by the Protestant Church 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.

Government Practices

In February Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism Felix Klein launched a nationwide online platform for reporting anti-Semitic incidents, including those that do not rise to the level of a crime. The Research and Information Center for Anti-Semitism (RIAS), a nonprofit organization that receives some federal and state funding and that had already been managing a similar service in Berlin, is responsible for running the program.

In September, in response to several anti-Semitic attacks in Berlin, Klein called for harsher penalties for such attacks. He also recommended additional training for police and prosecutors to help them recognize and appropriately deal with anti-Semitic incidents. Klein criticized the police procedure of automatically classifying anti-Semitic incidents in which the perpetrator is unknown as right-wing extremism, a practice that resulted in 89 percent of anti-Semitic incidents being classified as right-wing. Klein said the country’s Jewish community experienced more open hostility from Muslims than from right-wing extremists.

In July the federal Interior Ministry announced the creation of a new advisory committee to combat anti-Semitism. The eight-member committee has the mandate to support Klein’s work by formulating strategies to identify fields of action against anti-Semitism and to increase the visibility of Jewish life in the country.

During the year, Berlin, Brandenburg, Thuringia, Saarland, Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and Lower Saxony States established state-level anti-Semitism commissioners, bringing the total number of states with such commissioners to 13 (out of 16). The responsibilities and functions of the position vary by state but generally include developing contacts with the Jewish community, collecting statistics on anti-Semitic incidents, and designing education and prevention programs. Klein urged all states to establish anti-Semitism commissioners because the distribution of powers in the country’s federal system provides the states with greater authority to combat anti-Semitism.

All 16 state interior ministers and Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer presented a new plan in October to combat anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism that included a stricter weapons law, an obligation to report hate speech online, increased protection for Jewish institutions, fast-tracking anti-Semitism cases, and hundreds of new personnel positions for the federal criminal police (BKA) and the federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC – domestic intelligence agency) for such cases. Seehofer had previously advocated similar measures without success, but the attack in Halle provided new urgency and led to additional support for his plan.

On November 29 the Bundesrat (upper house of parliament) approved a motion to amend a section in the country’s penal code that includes anti-Semitism in the list of aggravating criteria, along with “racist, xenophobic, and inhumane motives,” for judges to consider in determining the severity of sentences. The previous day, Federal Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht separately said she would support such legislation. At year’s end, the Bundestag had not yet voted on the proposed change.

In May the federal parliament passed a nonbinding resolution designating the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel as anti-Semitic. The resolution stated the government would not fund organizations that question Israel’s right to exist or actively support BDS. This resolution replaced the parliament’s January 2018 resolution to “counter” BDS.

In January Schleswig-Holstein established a new, independent “Statewide Office for Information on and Documentation of Anti-Semitism.” In March the Hesse Ministry of Education began a statewide anti-Semitism prevention project to organize workshops and training events for students and teachers. In April the Bavarian anti-Semitism commissioner established a registration office for anti-Semitic incidents, modeled after RIAS Berlin, and in November the Baden-Wuerttemberg anti-Semitism commissioner did the same.

In July Duesseldorf appointed a commissioner as part of a comprehensive plan to fight anti-Semitism, and the public prosecutor’s offices in Karlsruhe and Stuttgart added anti-Semitism officers. In July the Baden-Wuerttemberg State anti-Semitism commissioner published his first report to the state parliament, which warned of conspiracy theories targeting Jews, and detailed 87 anti-Semitic offenses in the first nine months of 2018, a 38 percent increase compared with 2017. In July the NRW State anti-Semitism commissioner presented a plan to establish a reporting office for anti-Semitic attacks. She also called for new educational programs to combat anti-Semitic attitudes and stereotypes.

According to the first annual report by Berlin Anti-Semitism Commissioner Claudia Vanoni, law enforcement authorities there initiated 386 proceedings with an anti-Semitic background during the year, 156 involving online cases. At year’s end, 169 of the overall cases were terminated because the perpetrators could not be identified, and 27 were concluded – most of which resulted in fines. Investigations in 49 cases were ongoing at the end of the year.

In May federal anti-Semitism commissioner Klein said – in response to what he stated was the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents in the county – he could “no longer recommend Jews wear a kippah at every time and place in Germany.” Many Jewish leaders in the community were supportive of Klein, but prominent politicians and national media responded negatively. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, “No one should ever have to hide their Jewish faith again – not in Germany nor anywhere else,” while government spokesperson Stefan Seibert said, “The state has to ensure the free exercise of religion is possible for everyone, and thus it’s the job of the state to ensure that anyone can move around securely with a kippah in any place in our country.” Klein then called on individuals everywhere in the country to wear a kippah in solidarity with Jews on June 1 during the annual anti-Israel al-Quds demonstration in Berlin.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the NRW State Parliament introduced a resolution in April 2018 to deny PLC status to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat community, which it asserted was working “towards the establishment of a theocratic order of rule.” Following a January hearing, all other parties in the state parliament rejected the motion in May, stating that only the State Chancellery had the authority to grant or reject PLC status. At the end of the year, the State Chancellery had yet to make a decision on the Ahmadiyya application, which was submitted in early 2018.

In April Rhineland-Palatinate signed a state agreement with the Muslim Alevite community outlining conditions for Alevi holidays and religious instruction in schools. Four Rhineland-Palatinate elementary schools offered Alevi religious instruction.

In June the Federal Labor Court ruled a physician employed in a Catholic hospital in Duesseldorf should not have been fired in 2009. He was dismissed because the hospital stated his remarriage without an annulment of a previous marriage was a violation of canon law. The press spokesman of the Archdiocese of Cologne said the country’s Catholic Church liberalized its labor law in 2015, and the dismissal would likely not take place today.

According to reports from the federal OPC and Scientology members, the federal and state OPCs in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Thuringia continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating Scientology publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution. 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. The COS said the government also discriminated against firms owned or operated by its members.

In July the UN special rapporteurs on minority issues and freedom of religion or belief wrote the government to ask for its response to allegations of “continued use of discriminatory (sect filters) against Scientologists in government grants and employment.” In its response in September, the government cited a 1995 ruling by the Federal Labor Court that stated the COS did not qualify as a religious community under German law, COS goals were geared toward commercial activities, and the COS had “aspirations opposing the free democratic constitutional system,” making it ineligible for government grants and contracts. According to the government, the COS therefore was not eligible for religious protections and use of the sect filters was not a violation of human rights. Also in September, the COS asked the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to “investigate” the practice of sect filters in the country and to “assist in promoting a real dialogue” between the COS and the government on the issue.

In May, responding to a parliamentary inquiry, the NRW State OPC disclosed it was monitoring 109 mosques for extremist activities. Based on the monitoring, authorities identified 156 individuals as “relevant persons” and 260 as “potentially dangerous.” Of these, 127 of the “relevant” and 110 of the “potentially dangerous” were considered capable of action because they were present in the country and not in detention.

Federal and state OPCs continued to monitor numerous Muslim groups, including the terrorist groups ISIS, Hezbollah, and Hamas, as well as groups such as Turkish Hezbollah (TH), Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama’at, Millatu Ibrahim, the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH), the Muslim Brotherhood, Milli Gorus, and various Salafist movements. The director of NRW’s OPC stated in June that the Muslim Brotherhood was recruiting members among the refugee community and represented a “greater threat to democracy” than the Salafists.

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

At a May 14 conference, entitled “European Network: Combating Anti-Semitism through Education,” hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated Germany would prioritize the fight against anti-Semitism when it assumes the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2020.

In June unknown perpetrators desecrated 50 copies of the Quran at Bremen’s Rama Mosque by throwing them into toilets. Bremen Mayor Carsten Sieling said the Bremen Senate was “thoroughly appalled” by the “disgusting crime,” and the Senate stood firmly with Bremen’s Muslim citizens. Local politicians attended Islamic Friday prayers to show their solidarity.

In September the Higher Administrative Court agreed to hear the city of Oer-Erkenschwick’s appeal of the 2018 decision by an Administrative Court in NRW State banning a local mosque’s outdoor amplification of the call to prayer. The case was still pending at the end of the year.

In March the Bavarian Constitutional Court upheld the state’s ban on judges and prosecutors wearing headscarves, kippahs, or crosses but found the display of crosses in courtrooms to be acceptable.

In June the Rhineland-Palatinate Superior Administrative Court overturned the city of Koblenz’s ban on burkinis, an all-encompassing swimsuit worn by some Muslim women. The court ruled the ban violated the constitution’s call for equal treatment of all persons. In July the Federal Administrative Court ruled Sikhs were not exempt from the requirement to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle, even though helmets do not fit over their turbans.

In October the Higher Administration Court in Muenster denied state compensation to two headscarf-wearing Muslim teachers who claimed professional disadvantages because of their religious beliefs. The court determined it could not be demonstrated that the state refused to offer them employment due to religious reasons.

In March the EKD-sponsored charity Diakonie appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court to reverse a 2018 ruling by the Federal Labor Court that prevented Diakonie from denying employment to a social worker because she was not a member of a Christian church. The case was pending at the end of the year.

In January the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled German authorities at the local level did not violate a Christian family’s human rights when they placed the family’s children in foster care for three weeks in 2013. The family from Darmstadt had argued German authorities were in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights when they refused to allow them to homeschool their four children through a Christian distance-learning program. The ECHR ruled authorities were justified in removing the children from their home, and it was reasonable to assume the parents were endangering their children by not sending them to school because the children were isolated and had no contact with anyone outside the family.

In May Federal Minister for Migration, Refugees, and Integration Annette Widmann-Mauz called on the government to examine whether it could legally institute a ban on headscarves for children in schools. The president of the German Teachers’ Association supported a headscarf ban, calling them “hostile to integration.”

In January the state government of Baden-Wuerttemberg established a Sunni Muslim educational foundation to serve as a mediator between the state and various Islamic associations. This action followed the 2018 announcement that the Baden-Wuerttemberg State government planned to reorganize Islamic religious education in public schools. Two of the larger Muslim organizations – the Turkish-Islamic Union DITIB (connected to the Turkish government’s religious affairs ministry) and the Islamic Religious Community Baden-Wuerttemberg – refused to participate, saying they considered the arrangement unconstitutional.

In September an administrative court in Hesse State ruled state-run Islamic studies lessons in schools would be constitutional under national law. The case was in response to the state’s decision to phase out cooperation with DITIB because of its ties to the Turkish government and move to a purely state-run program.

Officials in Hesse continued to investigate a possible neo-Nazi network in Frankfurt’s police force, first discovered in December 2018. At year’s end, six police officers had been dismissed from duty as a result of the scandal. Overall, 38 officers were under investigation.

In September the Saarland State Education Ministry announced it would extend its cooperation with several Islamic associations that provide Islamic religious education in four public schools through at least 2023. The ministry also announced plans to expand the program to additional schools.

In February the Rhineland-Palatinate State youth welfare office revoked the operating license of the Al-Nur Kindergarten in Mainz – the state’s only Muslim day care center – due to its alleged promotion of Salafism and connections with extremist groups, citing the Muslim Brotherhood as an example. Al-Nur was told to cease operations by March 31, and that the city of Mainz would stop funding the facility. The Mainz Administrative Court upheld the decision, as did the Koblenz Higher Administrative Court on appeal.

In May Berlin Humboldt University, a public university, announced the initial cohort of students at its institute for Islamic theology would not be eligible to become religion teachers because the lack of Islamic religion classes at Berlin’s middle and high schools would prevent them from completing the internship required to become a teacher. These students, however, still could become imams or work in other religious capacities. The Islamic theology institute was established in the fall of 2018 to train future imams and religion teachers.

In April experts estimated NRW lacked more than 2,000 teachers for Islamic religious education. Only two universities in NRW offered courses to obtain the required teaching permit, and just 251 teachers in NRW had such a permit. There are more than 400,000 Muslim students in NRW, but only approximately 20,000 of them have received Islamic religious education.

In July the NRW state government opened a coordination office for Muslim engagement to reorganize its relations with a broad range of Muslim organizations and civil society groups. DITIB was included among the organizations, even though NRW previously ceased all cooperation with DITIB, stating it would reinstate relations only if DITIB took steps to reduce the Turkish government’s influence over its activities. At the end of the year, the state government had yet to resume any further cooperation with DITIB beyond the new coordination office.

In July the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference) and the government announced an increase of 44 million euros ($49.4 million) in government funding for social welfare services for Holocaust survivors, raising the yearly contribution from 480 million euros ($539.3 million) in 2019 to 524 million euros ($588.8 million) in 2020. For the first time, pension payments will be extended to Holocaust survivors’ widowed spouses, and these payments are to be applied retroactively.

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 ($14.6 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

According to the Humanistic Union, an independent civil liberties organization, total state government contributions during the year to the Catholic Church and the EKD totaled approximately 548.7 million euros ($616.5 million). The union said it calculated its estimate based on budgets of the 16 states.

In May the Wuppertal Regional Court fined seven men from 300 to 1,800 euros ($340-$2000) each for wearing yellow vests marked “Sharia Police” and patrolling the streets in 2014 to counter “non-Muslim” behavior. They were charged with wearing uniforms as expressions of a common political opinion. A regional court acquitted the men in 2016, but the Federal Constitutional Court reversed the acquittal in 2018. The defendants appealed to the Constitutional Court in June, and the case was pending at the end of the year.

In April media reported on a police cadet in NRW State who was fired because of his close contacts with Salafists and his extremist views. The police headquarters in Bielefeld refused to offer the Muslim man tenure as a police detective at the end of his three-year training.

The government continued the German Islam Conference dialogue with Muslims in the country, which began in 2006. The dialogue’s 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.

The states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg held conferences for law enforcement officials in August and September, respectively, to discuss methods to better prevent and police anti-Semitism. The events were largely aimed at awareness-raising. In both states, more than 150 members of the security services, state and local governments, and the Jewish community gathered for the events.

In August media reported local authorities would not allow a Brazilian Pentecostal congregation to purchase the former Protestant church building it had been renting in Berlin since 2016 as the headquarters for the denomination’s branches in Germany and Austria. District Mayor Stephan von Dassel vowed to continue blocking the sale to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), whose message he described as “People should donate a lot of money to the church, then their problems will just go away.” Von Dassel was also quoted in the media, stating, “The UCKG enriches neither our neighborhood nor its surroundings.” The most recent deed of sale specified the church could be resold only with the approval of city administrators.

In September the city of Dortmund and the national jury for the award rescinded the awarding of the Nelly Sachs Prize, one of the country’s most renowned literary prizes, to author Kamila Shamsie due to her membership in the BDS movement. Also in September, the Aachen Art Association announced it would rescind the prize it awarded to artist Walid Raad due to his support for the BDS movement, but it reversed that decision in October after determining he had not engaged in any anti-Semitic behavior. The mayor of Aachen responded to the reversal by withdrawing the city from the award ceremony and criticized Raad’s involvement in a “cultural boycott of Israel.”

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents, including assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism. According to Ministry of Interior federal crime statistics, there were 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes committed during 2018 (the most recent statistics available). These included 69 incidents involving violence, a 20 percent increase compared with the 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes, of which 37 were violent, reported in 2017.

On October 9, a gunman attacked the synagogue in the eastern city of Halle on Yom Kippur, where approximately 50 individuals were attending a prayer service. When the gunman failed to gain entrance to the locked building, he shot and killed two persons outside the synagogue in a snack bar. He was arrested shortly after the attack. The federal public prosecutor’s investigation of the suspect’s background and motives was ongoing at year’s end, but according to media reports he admitted to the investigating authorities he harbored far-right extremist political sympathies. Several prominent Jewish organizations called for police protection at all synagogues during services. Leading government officials, including Chancellor Merkel, Federal President Steinmeier, and Foreign Minister Maas, promised a more determined fight against anti-Semitism and far-right violent extremism.

The federal OPC’s annual report stated the number of violent right-wing anti-Semitic incidents increased from 28 in 2017 to 48 in 2018. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer stated, “We can find in almost all areas of far-right extremism hostile attitudes toward Jews … It’s a development that we must take very, very, very seriously.” According to the report, membership in right-wing extremist parties, such as the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), decreased from approximately 6,000 in 2017 to 5,500 persons in 2018.

In May the BKA presented its annual statistics, which indicated 36,062 politically motivated crimes in 2018, an 8.7 percent decrease from 2017. The BKA report covers a broader definition of “politically motivated crime” than does the MOI in its separate annual report. Notwithstanding the general downward trend, anti-Semitic crimes increased 19.6 percent. Moreover, crimes registered as being motivated by racism or xenophobia increased 22 percent, and the overall number of politically motivated crimes was the third-highest since these statistics were first reported in 2000.

The NGO RIAS, to which victims may report anti-Semitic incidents independent of filing charges with police, reported 404 anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin in the first six months of the year, compared with 579 incidents over the same period in 2018. This included 33 incidents involving violence or threatened violence (down from 47) and 46 online hate speech postings (down from 73). RIAS used categories different from official police statistics and counted anti-Semitic incidents that did not rise to the level of a criminal offense. According to RIAS, the largest motivating factor for anti-Semitic attacks was right-wing political ideology.

At a May 16 conference hosted by several German NGOs working to combat anti-Semitism, participants said anti-Semitism “is now expressed more openly in Germany” than it was two years ago. Head of the Central Council of Jews Dr. Josef Schuster described the rise in anti-Semitic incidents as “alarming,” but said the increase may be due in part to the increased options victims of anti-Semitism have for reporting incidents and crimes. Head of Berlin’s Anne Frank Center Patrick Siegele cited a study by Bielefeld University indicating Jews aged 16-29 experienced more severe anti-Semitic stereotypes compared with previous generations – a significant change in recent years. Head Manager of the Ministry of Family’s “Living Democracy” program Thomas Heppener described how the program provided funding to NGOs fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. He said the ministry failed to place appropriate emphasis on countering right-wing extremism as a main source of anti-Semitism in its 2015 round of funding and vowed to address this in its 2020 programming.

In April the federal OPC published a report titled “Anti-Semitism in Islamism,” which stated, “Anti-Semitic events with an Islamic background are not uncommon in Germany.” According to the report, while anti-Semitism was traditionally linked to the far right, it was also widespread in the social and political center of society. The report noted the arrival of more than a million Muslims in the country between 2014 and 2017 increased the significance of Islamic anti-Semitism. The report stated anti-Semitic ideas were increasingly prevalent among Muslims who were not members of Islamist organizations.

In January the Hamburg Senate reported 74 anti-Semitic crimes in 2018 – up from 44 in 2017 and 35 in 2016. The Saxony-Anhalt state minister of interior reported anti-Semitic crimes in the state rose from 54 in 2017 to 62 in 2018.

In 2018 the Ministry of Interior registered 910 incidents targeting Muslims and Muslim institutions, such as mosques or community centers, including 74 attacks involving bodily harm. This was a decrease from the 1,075 incidents in 2017. The Ministry of Interior classified 92 percent of these incidents as right-wing extremism, although this included incidents in which the perpetrators were unknown. Other recorded infractions included online hate speech against Muslims, hate mail, and aggressive behavior in the street.

The Ministry of Interior counted 121 incidents against Christians in 2018, including 11 cases involving violence, a slight decline from the 129 incidents in 2017. The Ministry of Interior classified 39 percent of these incidents as motivated by religious ideology and 35 percent as motivated by right-wing ideology.

In March the Duesseldorf Regional Court sentenced an Iraqi asylum seeker to three years and 10 months in prison for stabbing an Iranian in 2017, causing life-threatening injuries. The alleged motive was the Iranian’s conversion to Christianity, although the Iraqi denied this.

In May a 27-year-old man shouted anti-Muslim slurs at two teenagers in a tram in Bremen before stabbing one of them in the neck with a knife. The suspect confessed to the stabbing after he was arrested and was taken to a medical center for psychiatric examination.

In March the regional court found three young men guilty of arson for attacking a mosque in Lauffen-am-Neckar, Baden-Wuerttemberg in 2018 and sentenced them to between two and a half and three years in prison.

There were four reported incidents of arson in churches. During the night of May 18, unknown individuals broke a church window with stones, broke several sacred objects, and burned a statue of Jesus in the Church of the Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit in Grossholbach. On the same night, police discovered a tablecloth and church balcony were burned in St. Blasii’s Evangelical Church in Nordhausen. A fire in St. Nikolaus Catholic Church in Ankum was discovered on June 1. On July 29, a fire was set at St. Magnus Church at Schussenried Abbey in Bad Schussenried. Pictures and a wooden cross were damaged. Police began investigations of all the cases, which were pending at year’s end.

In separate incidents in Berlin in June, two young Jewish men were assaulted. A 23-year-old U.S. citizen tourist was harassed by three individuals, one of whom hit him in the face. Police were investigating the attack as an anti-Semitic crime. Days earlier, a 20-year-old man wearing a kippah was harassed and the perpetrator tried to spit on him. Both cases were under investigation at the end of the year.

In October a German with Palestinian roots was sentenced for incitement of hate, insult, coercion, bodily harm, and fare evasion following his anti-Semitic assault on a university professor visiting Bonn in July 2018. Added to an already existing sentence for robbery, the attacker was sentenced to a total of four years, six months. In March local media reported the suspension of criminal proceedings against four police detectives for allegedly using excessive force against a Jewish victim during an incident; they had originally mistaken him for the attacker. The officers faced an internal investigation, but prosecutors denied the victim’s request to provide testimony to the investigation, and the officers returned to regular duty without charges.

In June Hamburg Chief Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky and a senior member of the Jewish community were threatened by a reportedly mentally unstable man of Moroccan descent at city hall. On June 27, the Hamburg mayor and the rabbi launched a new initiative to oppose anti-Semitism and discrimination.

In June a rabbi in Duesseldorf was threatened by a passerby. In July a prominent American rabbi and community leader in Berlin was spat on and insulted while walking home from a synagogue with his son. In August another rabbi was insulted and then pushed to the ground by two unidentified suspects in Berlin. Also in August, a rabbi and his two sons were insulted and spat on while leaving a synagogue in Munich.

In June unknown perpetrators desecrated 20 gravestones and a wall with Nazi graffiti at the Jewish cemetery of Gotha, Thuringia State. Mayor Knut Kreuch led a moment of silence during the city council meeting, and investigations by local authorities were ongoing at the end of the year.

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

According to the Pew Research Global Attitudes Survey released in October, 24 percent of respondents in the country expressed unfavorable opinions of Muslims, while 6 percent expressed unfavorable opinions of Jews.

In May the European Commission (EC) carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 43 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country, while 52 percent said it was rare; 64 percent would be comfortable with having a person of different religious belief than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 87 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 79 percent said they would be with an atheist, 77 percent with a Jew, 74 percent with a Buddhist, and 68 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if a child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 85 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 73 percent if atheist, 71 percent if Jewish, 66 percent if Buddhist, and 51 percent if Muslim.

In January the EC published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU-member state. According to the survey, 66 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in the country, and 61 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 71 percent; on the internet, 67 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 62 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 64 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 63 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 64 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 48 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 50 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 43 percent.

In November the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 49 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Germany; 27 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 42 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

In July a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation found many Germans had negative perceptions of Islam. The study found respondents believed Islam’s beliefs and stance toward other religions could be harmful to democracy in the long run. Half of the interviewees perceived Islam as a threat. This sentiment was stronger in the east, where 30 percent of respondents said they did not want Muslims as neighbors, compared with 16 percent who expressed the same preference in western German states.

According to media reports, women who wore the hijab continued to face employment discrimination.

In September a research project at the University Duisburg-Essen published results from a survey of students on anti-Muslim sentiment and its causes among youth. The survey indicated young persons with no interaction with Muslims who drew their knowledge about them from social media were likely to develop stereotypical and negative views of Muslims. Students who interacted with Muslim peers were more critical of negative media reports and had lower levels of anti-Muslim sentiment.

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 previous years. There were approximately 3,000 PEGIDA marchers on October 20 for the fifth anniversary of the group’s first demonstration, but they were outnumbered by the more than 5,000 counterdemonstrators. Amid calls to curb immigration, PEGIDA supporters regularly expressed anti-Muslim sentiments during the rallies, including by carrying posters expressing opposition to women who wear religious head coverings. In May the public prosecutor’s office in Saxony State reported it had initiated 198 preliminary proceedings against speakers and supporters of PEGIDA between 2014 and 2018; the most frequent crimes were assault and battery and the display of symbols of unconstitutional organizations.

In October the Dresden City Council declared a Nazi emergency. Local politician Max Aschenbach initiated the measure in response to rising levels of right-wing extremist attitudes and actions, saying, “Politics must finally begin to ostracize that and say: No, that’s unacceptable.” The resolution called on the city and civil society organizations to strengthen a democratic culture, protect minority and human rights, and help the victims of right-wing violence.

An estimated 23 churches continued to use bells with Nazi symbols and inscriptions. One person filed a criminal complaint on February 2, accusing a Protestant church in Thuringia State of violating a ban on the use of Nazi symbols by using six bells with Nazi symbols in five churches. The individual said he repeatedly asked the church to stop using the bells but was ignored. Thuringia’s Jewish community had complained about the six Nazi bells in January. A church spokesman told the KNA news agency that regional leaders had written to churches using the bells and organized a meeting in April to discuss the issue. In May the public prosecutor’s office in Erfurt, Thuringia State, declined to investigate the state bishop or the Protestant Church of Central Germany. The man who filed the February complaint appealed the public prosecutor’s decision, and the case was pending at year’s end.

In June approximately 1,200 participants marched in the annual al-Quds Day demonstration against Israel in Berlin, fewer than the 2,000 participants in 2018. Demonstrators called for the destruction of Israel and for Jerusalem to be returned to Muslims, and some displayed illegal signs or chanted prohibited slogans in support of the banned groups Hizballah or Hamas. Approximately 1,200 individuals took part in a counterdemonstration. Berlin Interior Senator Andreas Geisel said he regretted it was legally not possible to ban the demonstration. He advocated designating Hizballah a terrorist organization, which would enable him to ban future al-Quds Day marches.

In May the Hesse State OPC issued a warning about the “radicalization potential” of the group Realitaet Islam (Reality Islam). The OPC said the group rejected the country’s liberal democratic order and was striving for a theocracy.

Eighteen right-wing extremists, including members of the NPD and the far-right Wodans Erben Germanien (Odin’s Heirs Germania) group, marched past a refugee center in Nuremberg on the evening of February 23. Police identified the marchers and recorded their march, but after police departed, the demonstrators continued with lit torches to the former Nazi parade grounds in Nuremberg, an area used by Adolf Hitler for annual rallies from 1933 to 1938. The individuals filmed themselves and later released a video on the internet. Prosecutors were considering filing charges, according to Nuremberg mayor Ulrich Maly, who said, “This is an event that should alarm all of us across Germany and especially in Nuremberg – the fact that such symbols are used at places like this.” Police admitted they had failed to assess the group’s intentions correctly and preventive measures failed to keep the groups from using the “historically burdened” site to further their propaganda.

In April a militant neo-Nazi group distributed flyers at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. The flyers called for the killing of Muslims, imams, and rabbis and for “total civil war.” The group signed its flyers as “Atomwaffen (Atomic Weapons) Division Germany,” claiming ties to the U.S.-based network of the same name.

In August several soccer fans in Frankfurt hurled anti-Semitic insults at an Israeli referee during a Europa League qualifying match. The fans were escorted out of the match and at least one was banned from the stadium in the future.

In June politicians from the AfD were not invited to speak at the biannual German Protestant Church Assembly in Dortmund. High level representatives from other main political parties were invited. The AfD’s attendance at the event in 2017 led to protests. The AfD criticized the leadership of EKD for being biased.

In July two day care centers in Leipzig announced plans to remove all pork items from their lunch menus out of consideration for two Muslim children. The country’s largest newspaper Bild reported on the change, which subsequently became a trending topic on social media. The centers received anonymous death threats, and police provided them with additional protection. The director of the centers announced in July he would put the plans on hold.

In May a bloody pig’s head, plastic bags filled with blood, right-wing extremist slogans, and swastikas were found in front of the Arrahman Mosque in Moenchengladbach. Authorities investigated, but as of the end of the year had not filed any charges. The following weekend, approximately 260 protesters took part in a right-wing demonstration initiated by a representative of the “Alliance of Hooligans against Salafists” who was also a member of the Moenchengladbach City Council. A counterrally attracted approximately 325 marchers.

In July unidentified persons left excrement covered with pages torn from a Quran in the prayer room, as well as a torn and soiled Quran, in the mosque of the DITIB community in Minden, NRW State. Before the incident, the prayer room had been freely accessible to the public, but was since kept closed. A police investigation was ongoing at the end of the year.

In July the DITIB mosque in Duisburg, NRW State, received a bomb threat by email signed by the violent right-wing extremist network Combat 18. The mosque was evacuated and searched, but no explosives were found. In September the mosque received a second bomb threat. A police investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

In July the DITIB Central Mosque in Cologne received a bomb threat by email signed by “Volksfront,” which authorities believed to be an extreme right-wing organization that originated in the United States. The mosque complex, the largest in the country, was evacuated and searched, but no explosives were found. At year’s end, authorities continued to investigate.

In March Diakonie and a local organization of Muslims in Duesseldorf launched a joint project to introduce Islamic customs to preschool children as a contribution to early childhood education. As part of the program, a Protestant pastor and an imam would visit the day care center together to promote religious tolerance. Before the first event in April, Diakonie received threats and hate mail, including allegations the imam might hold radical views. The imam rejected the charge, and both Diakonie and the local Jewish community supported him. The preschool program was held as planned.

In May the Duisburg-based association “Jungs e.V.,” a group of young Muslims engaged in combatting anti-Semitism, received the inaugural Mevluede Genc Medal from the NRW state government. The state established the award in 2018 to recognize special services towards promoting tolerance, reconciliation between cultures, and the peaceful coexistence of religions.

 

In April the association Sekten-Info (Sect Info) NRW, a counseling service providing information about new religious and ideological communities, publicly warned against the Korean Shinchonji Bible movement, whose adherents were reportedly using psychological pressure and social isolation to recruit new members, especially near the university in Essen. The movement counted approximately 200 active members in the greater Ruhr region.

Volkswagen announced in June it would fund an ADL office in Berlin because of the rise of extremism, especially anti-Semitism, in Europe. At year’s end, the office had not yet opened, but ADL recognized Volkswagen for its “generous gift.”

In August, according to media reports, the Yezidi community inaugurated its first temple and cemetery in the country, in Augsburg.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. embassy and the five consulates continued to engage closely with authorities at all levels of government regarding responses to incidents of religious intolerance. The Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly met with Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism Klein and the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Federal Commissioner for Global Freedom of Religion Markus Gruebel. The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate officials met regularly with a wide variety of federal and state parliamentarians to discuss religious freedom issues. Consulate officials in Frankfurt met with the commissioners for anti-Semitism in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hessen, and Rhineland-Palatinate to express concern about anti-Semitism and discuss ways of ensuring anti-Semitic incidents were correctly recorded. Consulate officials in Duesseldorf met with the commissioner for anti-Semitism in NRW State to discuss cooperation possibilities.

In November the Secretary of State visited Halle Synagogue to pay his respects following a Yom Kippur 2019 attack on the community, and the Neue Synagogue in Berlin to commemorate the 81st anniversary of the Reichs Pogromnacht (previously known as Kristallnacht/Night of Broken Glass) attacks committed by the Nazi regime against Jewish institutions in 1938. At Halle, the Secretary said, “The world must work together against this threat and this vicious attack against religious freedom, and in particular, religious freedom of the Jewish people.”

In October the. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism visited Frankfurt, Berlin, Halle, and Munich and met with a wide range of government officials, advocates, and representatives of the Jewish community to discuss how best to combat anti-Semitism. In Frankfurt he met law enforcement officials from four states, including 30 high-ranking officials from state-level Interior and Justice Ministries, including police officers, state prosecutors, judges, and state anti-Semitism commissioners. In Halle the special envoy visited the synagogue a gunman had attempted to attack earlier in the month. In Munich he attended the International Meeting of Special Envoys & Coordinators Combating Anti-Semitism organized by the World Jewish Congress. The Ambassador hosted an event for the special envoy in Berlin, which was attended by law enforcement officials, politicians, Jewish NGOs, and other representatives of the Jewish community.

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

The Ambassador met frequently with NGOs and Jewish leaders to discuss how to combat rising anti-Semitism. In March he hosted a roundtable in Frankfurt with local community leaders, government officials, and civil society members engaged in the fight against anti-Semitism. The discussion centered on youth engagement strategies and effective educational programs, accurately recording and quantifying the rise of anti-Semitic incidents, and the need for stricter laws to deter anti-Semitic incidents.

In April the Ambassador attended a memorial service on the 74th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In May the Ambassador took issue with federal Anti-Semitism Commissioner Klein’s public statement that Jews should be wary of wearing kippahs at all times and in all places because of rising anti-Semitism in the country, writing on Twitter, “Wear your kippa. Wear your friend’s kippa. Borrow a kippa and wear it for our Jewish neighbors.” The Ambassador also spoke at a counterdemonstration to Berlin’s annual al-Quds Day march in June, where he countered the anti-Semitic messaging of the event and called for the ban of Hezbollah in the country. In September he hosted a dinner in honor of the Middle East Peace Forum, during which participants discussed how to combat the BDS movement.

In March the Ambassador met with two members of the Kurdish community to discuss secular Islam, anti-Semitism, and extremism. He met with representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community in July to discuss the difficulties Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses encountered trying to obtain asylum in the country and the increased harassment they faced.

In January, as part of the embassy’s broader engagement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a high-level embassy official held a roundtable with the director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and representatives from NGOs and the government engaged in promoting religious tolerance and combating anti-Semitism. The discussion focused on Holocaust education, integration, and religious freedom. A senior embassy official also met with her Israeli counterpart in September to discuss ways to counter anti-Semitism in the country.

The embassy and consulates worked closely with Jewish communities, especially in eastern Germany, to provide small grants in support of programs promoting religious tolerance to leading NGOs countering violent extremism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia.

In May Embassy Berlin and Consulate Duesseldorf staff visited the Alevitische Gemeinde Deutschland e.V. (Alevi Community Germany) and the VIKZ Verband der Islamischen Kulturzentren (Association of Islamic Cultural Centers) to discuss issues of concern to those religious communities. They also met with the managing director of the Jewish Synagogue Community Cologne and with a Muslim contact to discuss religious freedom.

In August staff from the embassy and the consulate in Duesseldorf met with the chief administrator of the Jewish Community in Duesseldorf and with staff of SABRA, a Duesseldorf-based NGO for antidiscrimination engagement and counseling against racism and anti-Semitism. The discussion focused on the experience of the Jewish community in Duesseldorf and on countering anti-Semitism.

In October officers from the consulate general in Frankfurt met with police and justice ministry officials from Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, Saarland, and Baden-Wuerttemberg States on combating anti-Semitism. Many of the participants commended the event for offering a neutral space to discuss best practices and challenges and requested the consulate to host it on a regular basis.

In November embassy officials met with the imam of a mosque that included a prayer space not segregated by gender and open to LGBTI worshippers. They discussed possibilities for future cooperation and support.

The embassy sponsored a 10-day visitor program for a group of 16 youth leaders from the Berlin-based Kreuzberg Initiative Against Anti-Semitism to travel to Washington, D.C., Birmingham, and Dallas in February-March. The program focused on countering intolerance through the lens of effective anti-Semitism programs. The Ambassador attended the briefing and debriefing sessions at the embassy.

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 the Ambassador and other senior embassy officials on this issue. For example, following the October attack on the synagogue in Halle, the embassy published a statement condemning it as an attack on religious freedom and tolerance on its social media accounts. The postings received high levels of engagement.

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 June 11, the parliament passed legislation amending the penal code to remove laws criminalizing malicious blasphemy and religious insult. The penal code passed in June requires court witnesses to take a secular oath, thereby removing the option to choose a religious oath. In April the parliament approved eight million euros ($8.99 million) for the construction of the Holocaust Museum of Greece. In September the country’s highest administrative court, the Council of State (CoS), ruled the curricula for religious education in elementary and secondary schools violated the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and should be restructured to further differentiate Orthodox Christianity from other religions and to better develop an Orthodox Christian conscience, as mandated by the constitution. The CoS also ruled the inclusion of religious identity on student transcripts at the secondary level was unconstitutional. In June a presidential decree specified how official muftis in Thrace would administer decisions made under Islamic law, following a 2018 legislative amendment requiring notarized consent from all parties if they wished to adjudicate family matters using sharia instead of the civil courts. The same decree included organizational requirements for muftiates providing public sector services. A criminal trial continued for 69 members and supporters of the Golden Dawn (GD) political party accused of a series of violent attacks and arson, including targeting Muslim migrants. In July the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs granted a house of prayer permit to a religious community that worshipped ancient Greek gods. The government issued an additional 12 new house of prayer permits, including to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslim groups, and Pentecostals, but revoked five others on the grounds the houses of worship had ceased operation or did not comply with construction or security regulations. The Greek Orthodox Church, the Muslim minority of Thrace, Jewish communities, and the Roman Catholic Church continued to receive some government benefits not available to other religious communities. Some members of Thrace’s Muslim minority continued to oppose the government’s appointment of muftis, stating the community should elect them. The government continued to fund Holocaust education programs. In February the government adopted the working definition of anti-Semitism in accordance with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and in November, Greece became the first country to adopt the alliance’s working definition of Holocaust denial and distortion.

Vandalism of religious properties, including Holocaust memorials, a Muslim cemetery in Alexandroupolis, and Greek Orthodox churches, continued. On January 24, a previously unknown organization, the Iconoclastic Sect, claimed responsibility for a December 2018 explosion outside a Greek Orthodox church. Unknown vandals desecrated a monument marking the site of a former Jewish cemetery on the campus of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki. Archbishop Ieronymos of the Greek Orthodox Church and government officials, including the then mayor of Thessaloniki, Yannis Boutaris, denounced the attack. On April 10, individuals vandalized two metal memorial plaques at the Thessaloniki port dedicated to persons who perished during the Holocaust. In September the country’s first crematorium began operations, implementing a 2006 law permitting the cremation of remains.

The U.S. Ambassador, visiting U.S. government officials, and other embassy and consulate representatives met with officials of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, including the minister and the secretary general for religious affairs, and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and governors. They discussed the ability of minority religious communities to establish houses of worship and government initiatives affecting both the Muslim minority in Thrace and Muslim immigrants. In meetings with government officials and religious leaders, including the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, U.S. government officials expressed concern about anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric and attacks on Orthodox churches. On May 7- 8, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited Mount Athos and met with the governor of the peninsula, representatives of the governing Holy Community, an abbot, and monks from three monasteries, emphasizing U.S. support for religious freedom. He and his advisors also held meetings with the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, the secretary general for religious affairs, the three official muftis in Thrace, advocates of the religious rights of ethnic Turks, representatives of Pomaks and of Alevites, the Jewish community in Thessaloniki, and members of the Evangelical Church.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.8 million (midyear 2019 estimate), with 81 to 90 percent identifying as Greek Orthodox, 4 to 15 percent atheist, and 2 percent Muslim.

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

According to data provided by other religious communities, their members combined constitute 3 to 5 percent of the population. These include Old Calendarist Orthodox, 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 2500, and Assyrians less than 1,000. The Armenian Orthodox Archbishop, interviewed in 2018, estimated there are 100,000Armenian Orthodox

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 constitution prohibits worship that “disturbs public order or offends moral principles.” It allows prosecutors to seize publications that “offend Christianity” or other “known religions.” 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. On June 11, the parliament passed legislation that amended the penal code by abolishing articles criminalizing malicious blasphemy and religious insult. 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 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 automatically 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 is considered a “known religion” and thereby acquires legal protection, including a tax exemption for property used for religious purposes. 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 planning approvals, a 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 permit requires at least five signatory members of the group. The leaders of a religious group applying for a house of prayer permit must be Greek citizens, European Union 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 place of worship.

A religious group possessing status as a religious legal entity may transfer property and administer houses of prayer and 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 remains exempt from taxation, as well as from municipal fees, for groups classified as religious legal entities or “known religions.”

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 maintain mosques and social and charitable organizations (awqaaf). 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 official muftis in Thrace must request notarized consent from all parties wishing to adjudicate a family matter based on sharia. 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 to designate a person responsible for carrying out funeral preferences.

The law allows halal and kosher slaughtering of animals in slaughterhouses but not in private residences or public areas.

Home schooling of children is 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, in accordance with the official school curriculum. Religious instruction in primary and secondary schools is included in the curriculum. School textbooks focus mainly on Greek Orthodox teachings; however, they also include basic information on some other “known religions.” Students may be exempted from religious instruction upon request if their parents state in writing that the students are not Greek Orthodox believers. Exempted students have a free hour, but no alternative class is offered.

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. On January 29, the parliament amended legislation regarding Catholic teachers who serve in public schools and become bishops in the Catholic Church. Upon teachers’ requests, the law grants them exemption from teaching and administrative duties to undertake responsibilities related to Catholic teaching and the lifelong training of Catholic teachers, which allows them to keep a salary, which bishops do not receive.

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, which totaled 128 in 2018-2019. Bilingual schools operate in Greek and Turkish, and their number may vary according to the number of registered students, with a minimum of five students per school. There are two Islamic religious schools in Thrace. Muslim students in Thrace wishing to study the Quran may attend after-hours religious classes in mosques.

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. 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 nine-month mandatory minimum military service for men. Conscientious objectors must serve 15 months of alternative service in state hospitals or municipal and public services. On May 3, parliament amended legislation regarding conscientious objectors.

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 ($5,600-$22,500). 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 towards groups of individuals.

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. Witnesses in trials must also take oaths before testifying in court. The new penal code that took effect July 1 requires witnesses in courts to take only a secular oath. Previously, witnesses could choose a religious or secular oath.

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

Government Practices

On May 7, the parliament passed legislation defining as “religious community archives” all the archival material filed or processed at the muftiates of Thrace; the Central Board of the Jewish Communities in Greece; the organizations for the management of awqaaf land property on the islands of Rhodes and in Kos; the private awqaaf of Rhodes; religious and ecclesiastical legal entities; and known religions and licensed houses of worship. The law also provides that archives be preserved in good condition, be accessible to the public, and be catalogued under the national directory for archives of the state archives authority. The law includes similar provisions for the archives of the Church of Greece, the Church of Crete, the dioceses of the Dodecanese Islands, the Patriarchal Exarchate of Patmos, Mount Athos, monasteries, parish churches, and Orthodox Church foundations.

The criminal trial of 69 GD party members and supporters, including 18 of its former members of parliament, continued through the end of the year. The charges related to a string of attacks, including on Muslim migrants and Greeks, and included murder, conspiracy, weapons possession, and membership in a criminal organization.

On September 17, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs announced it would comply with a recommendation by the Data Protection Authority and stop indicating religion and nationality in school records. Following an appeal by the Hellenic League for Human Rights and the Atheist Union, the authority ruled that references to religion and nationality in school records were unconstitutional, unlawful, and contrary to the provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights. The authority also ruled that requiring written declarations that students who were not Christian Orthodox be exempted from attending religious class was unlawful. According to the authority, a written declaration by students (or their parents, in the case of minors) requesting exemption on the grounds of religious conscience was sufficient. On October 31, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favor of five Greek plaintiffs who had appealed ministerial decisions requiring written declarations that they were not Christian Orthodox. According to the ECHR, such requirements placed an undue burden on parents to disclose information that implied that they and their children held, or did not hold, a specific religious belief. The court ruled the requirement for such declarations could discourage exemption requests, especially from families residing on small islands where the risk of stigmatization was higher. The judgment found the requirement to be a violation of the right to education, and cited freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. On September 25, the CoS ruled the inscription of religion on school transcripts at the secondary level of education was unconstitutional. According to the CoS, “Freedom of religious conscience entails, inter alia, the right of persons not to disclose, whether directly or indirectly, their religion or religious beliefs. No state authority or body is allowed to seek a person’s religious belief and, even more, enforce its disclosure.”

On September 20, the plenary session of the CoS ruled the curricula for religious education in primary and secondary schools must be restructured because they were unconstitutional and violated the European Convention on Human Rights. The constitution requires the state to develop a religious conscience in students, and it was not doing so, the CoS ruled. Because non-Orthodox Christian students may request and be granted an exemption from religious classes, the CoS ruled that the teaching of religion, as currently implemented, must focus on the Orthodox Christian students who take the classes. The current curricula did not provide a holistic approach to the tradition and ethics of Orthodox Christianity and clearly differentiate it from other religions, and ultimately did not serve the needs of Orthodox Christian students, the CoS ruled. The ruling also reiterated that if a “sufficient” number of students were excused from the religious classes, the state would be obliged to hold a different class for them during that time slot.

The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Athens and an Old Calendarist group applied to the courts seeking recognition as religious legal entities. Their applications were pending at year’s end.

On July 31, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs announced it would close five primary minority schools, citing low student attendance. From 2011-2019, 50 minority schools in Thrace closed according to government data.

Religious groups lacking religious-entity status and no house of prayer permits, including Scientologists and ISKCON, continued to function as registered, nonprofit civil law organizations. The government did not legally recognize weddings conducted by members of those religious groups, whose only option was a civil marriage.

On July 3, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs granted for the first time a house of prayer permit, in Athens, to a religious community that worships ancient Greek gods. The government also approved an additional 12 permits for houses of prayer, including nine for Jehovah’s Witnesses (in Attica Region and in the cities of Serres, Trikala, Aegio, and on Paros Island), one for Pentecostals, and two for Sunni Muslim groups in the municipality of Aspropyrgos and in the district of Metaxourgio, in greater Athens. The government revoked permits of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Athens and in Thessaloniki because the churches ceased operations. The government also revoked the permit of a Jehovah’s Witness house of prayer in Thessaloniki on the grounds the facility did not meet fire protection requirements. It also revoked a permit of an Old Calendarist group on the grounds its facility did not conform with construction regulations, as well as one permit of an evangelical Christian group on the island of Zakynthos because the group had changed its official name. There were no pending applications at year’s end. The government approved the construction of three Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Halls and one structure for the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church. On December 10, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs licensed three mosques on the islands of Kos and Rhodes that had been operating as places of worship prior to 1955 but lacked construction permit documents, according to media reports. The lack of permits had resulted in several bureaucratic issues regarding licensing, operation, and restoration requirements.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report some doctors in public hospitals did not understand or respect their refusal to receive blood transfusions.

The government continued to provide direct support to the Greek Orthodox Church, including funding for religious leaders’ salaries, estimated at 200 million euros ($224.7 million) annually; the religious and vocational training of clergy; and religious instruction in schools. Greek Orthodox officials stated the government provided this direct support in accordance with a series of legal agreements with past governments and as compensation for religious property previously expropriated by the state, a statement that government officials acknowledged. The government also provided direct support to the muftiates in Thrace, including salaries for the three official muftis and for teachers contracted to teach the optional class of Islamic religion in local public schools.

Some 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 the Muslim minority. The government continued to state that government appointment was appropriate because the muftis retained judicial powers and because the constitution does not permit the election of judges. On June 11, a presidential decree determined how official muftis in Thrace would administer decisions made under Islamic law in the wake of a 2018 legislative amendment requiring notarized consent of all parties if they wished to adjudicate family matters using sharia instead of the civil courts. The same decree also included provisions on how the muftiates would operate in terms of internal organization, staffing, and transparency. During the year, all three muftiates in Thrace continued to be led by temporary, acting muftis appointed under the latter procedure.

Some members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to object to the government appointment of members entrusted to oversee endowments, real estate, and charitable funds of the awqaaf, stating the Muslim minority in Thrace should elect these members. Muslim leaders continued to criticize the lack of Islamic cemeteries outside Thrace, stating this obliged Muslims to transport their dead to Thrace for Islamic burials. They also continued to state that municipal cemetery regulations requiring exhumation of bodies after three years because of a shortage of space contravened Islamic religious law. At least three sites, on Lesvos Island, in Schisto, and near the land border with Turkey in Evros, continued to be used unofficially for the burial of Muslim migrants and asylum seekers.

The government completed the construction and landscaping of a government-funded mosque in Athens in June. According to government sources, however, time-consuming requirements for hiring new personnel prevented the mosque from opening by year’s end. On May 20, a presidential decree determined the bylaws of the managing committee of the mosque made it a public organization under private law. The bylaws addressed internal administration, personnel, budget, procurement, and contracts. On April 2, the mosque’s managing committee unanimously recommended the appointment of Moroccan-born, naturalized Greek citizen Zaki Mohammed as its imam.

In the absence of an official mosque in Athens, central and local government authorities continued to provide space free of charge to groups whose members requested places of worship during Ramadan and for other religious occasions.

On March 13, media reported that the Ministry of Environment issued a decree determining the location and use of space for the establishment of a municipally managed crematorium in Eleonas, Athens.

The government continued to fund Catholic religious training and teachers’ salaries in state schools on the islands of Syros and Tinos, trips for non-Jewish students to Holocaust remembrance events and Auschwitz, and Holocaust education training for teachers. Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, 120 students participated in a government-funded educational trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The government also supported and organized initiatives promoting religious tolerance. In a February 12 statement, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS) hailed the adoption on February 11 by the General Secretariat for Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Education of a working definition of anti-Semitism, in accordance with the IHRA. On November 8, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis affirmed this position. During the same period, the country became the first to adopt the IHRA’s working definition of Holocaust denial and distortion.

On October 10, KIS issued a statement denouncing an anti-Semitic attack in Germany and welcomed the timely response by the Ministry for Citizen Protection that provided protection for the headquarters of Jewish foundations in Greece. It hailed the statement by Minister of Education and Religious Affairs Niki Kerameus condemning the incident. On April 23, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs for the first time hosted a Passover seder, organized by the Jewish community of Athens. In addition to 350 Jewish participants and the ministry’s leadership, Archimandrite Dionysios represented the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece at the event. On February 28 and March 1, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized an international conference on religious and ecclesiastical diplomacy in the 21st century that brought together religious leaders of various faiths, as well as academics and government officials. Participants from Orthodox churches, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Armenians, Coptic Christians, Assyrians, and Syrian Orthodox Christians all discussed ways they could cooperate.

On May 3, a large delegation including then parliament speaker Nikos Voutsis, President of Jewish Communities of Greece David Saltiel, and other members of parliament participated in the 31st annual “March of the Living” at the site of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. The march highlighted the history of Greek Jews in the Holocaust; Voutsis marked the occasion by presenting artifacts from the new permanent Greek exhibit in the Auschwitz museum. The exhibit, entitled “Remember Me, as I Remember You,” was funded by parliament and organized through cooperation with the Jewish Museum of Greece.

On February 27, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized a conference in conjunction with the country’s leadership of the International Tracing Service that focused on the work of the International Documentation Center on Nazi Persecution. The ministry also hosted an exhibition, “Stolen Memory,” which featured the efforts of victims of Nazi atrocities to trace their relatives and recover personal items stored at the Arolsen Archives.

On February 28, then deputy foreign minister Markos Bolaris addressed the fifth National Peace Symposium, organized in Athens by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Greece. Bolaris highlighted the importance of cross-cultural efforts to promote peace.

Some religious groups and human rights organizations continued to label as discriminatory the discrepancy between the length of mandatory alternative service for conscientious objectors (15 months) and the length of mandatory minimum military service (nine months).

On several occasions, government officials publicly denounced the vandalism of several Holocaust memorials and Jewish sites around the country.

On July 13, the Minister for Agricultural Development and Food, Makis Voridis, defended himself against accusations he had expressed anti-Semitic views in the past. Voridis said he “denounced any action, omission, or tolerance of any action by a third party that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi.” On July 16, KIS issued a statement that it “takes into consideration and values the explanations” provided by the minister and that it hoped to see him undertake concrete initiatives to demonstrate his sincerity and to combat intolerance and anti-Semitism. On July 22, Voridis visited the Jewish Museum of Greece to signal the government’s support in highlighting the history and longstanding presence of Jews in the country.

On April 24, the parliament passed legislation to grant eight million euros ($8.99 million) for the construction of the Holocaust Museum of Greece.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Statistics by the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) for 2018, the most recent year available, showed 74 cases in which immigrants or refugees were targeted for their religion, among other grounds, compared with 34 cases in 2017, a development it attributed to global political polarization, among other factors. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as solely or primarily based on religious identity. The RVRN recorded nine incidents in which the targets were sacred or symbolic for the Jewish community: six incidents of desecration of Holocaust memorials in Athens and Thessaloniki, two involving the desecration of the Jewish cemeteries in Nikaia and Trikala, and one incident of vandalism of the synagogue in Volos.

In its 2018 report, the RVRN included information communicated to the network by police regarding incidents reported to law enforcement authorities that potentially involved racist motives. Based on this information, police received 28 reports of racist violence based on religion – as many as in the previous year. Police reported, without providing details on specific cases, that approximately 40 percent were hate-speech related cases, without any physical violence. Hate-crime-related data provided to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe by police in 2018 showed eight cases of anti-Semitism, six cases of bias against Muslims, six against Christians, and three against other religious groups.

On January 25, media reported that a court held a trial in absentia for an Old Calendarist, excommunicated monk (“Father Kleomenis”), who had attacked and vandalized the Holocaust Monument in Larissa in July 2017. The court sentenced him to an 18-month suspended prison sentence and a 7,500 euro fine ($8,400). Police spotted and arrested him on November 17.

On April 18, a misdemeanor appeals court in Thessaloniki sentenced a medical doctor to a suspended 14-month jail term for displaying an anti-Semitic sign in 2014 at his municipal practice that read, “Jews Are Not Welcome Here” in German.

On January 19, a previously unknown group called the Iconoclastic Sect claimed responsibility in a post on a Spanish website for a December 2018 explosion outside the Greek Orthodox Church of Agios Dionysios, in central Athens. The group stated on the website that its objective was to cause the “greatest possible damage to a priest and/or to the herd of the faithful.”

Vandalism of Holocaust monuments and memorials continued in the city of Thessaloniki. On January 25, unknown individuals damaged a monument on the campus of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki marking the site of the former Jewish cemetery. On January 28, Archbishop Ieronymos of the Greek Orthodox Church denounced the attack, identifying “the desecration and vandalism of synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, and Holocaust memorials” as “hideous acts that brutally offend our history, culture, nation, and faith.” Government officials, including then mayor of Thessaloniki Yannis Boutaris, denounced the incident and held a silent protest at the site.

Incidents targeting places of religious importance by such means as vandalism, burglaries, and the placement of explosive devices increased by 6 percent in 2018 from the previous year, according to the annual report released on December 19 by the Ministry of Education’s Department of Religious Freedom and Interfaith Relations, Secretariat General for Religions. In total, 591 incidents were recorded, 569 of which targeted Christian sites, 20 Jewish sites (an increase of 81 percent, compared with 2017), three Jehovah’s Witnesses sites, and two Islamic sites. On April 10, perpetrators vandalized two memorial plaques at the port of Thessaloniki dedicated to victims of the Holocaust. Throughout the year, media and police recorded numerous incidents of vandalism targeting Greek Orthodox premises and chapels. For example, on March 3 media reported that unknown individuals vandalized a church on the island of Chios, also removing ecclesiastical objects. On August 26, the anarchist group Nucleus of Anarchist Witches vandalized a chapel in the district of Sepolia, western Athens, using graffiti to desecrate five religious icons displayed in the shrine. On May 28, unknown perpetrators desecrated the Muslim cemetery in Alexandroupolis in the Thrace region, spray-painting graffiti, nationalist slogans, and the GD emblem, and scattering flyers that proclaimed, “Greece belongs to the Greeks.” On May 29, GD leader Nikos Michaloliakos denounced these acts and denied his party’s involvement. On May 30, the then secretary general for transparency and human rights referred the case to the public prosecutor. No arrests were reported for any of these 2019 incidents.

In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU-member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 50 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Greece, while 49 percent said it was rare; 66 percent would be comfortable with having a person of different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 99 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 82 percent said they would be with an atheist, 82 percent with a Jew, 78 percent with a Buddhist, and 73 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 99 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 67 percent if atheist, 63 percent if Jewish, 56 percent if Buddhist, and 48 percent if Muslim.

The direct and indirect linking of Jews to conspiracy theories with regard to the country’s sovereignty continued; individuals mostly expressed these views on social media. On September 7, several local media reported that Jews do not suffer from cancer because they control chemotherapy medication bound for non-Jewish persons around the world and use for themselves “biological methods” to address cancer, such as body, mind, and soul detoxification, and healthy nutrition.

In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU-member state. According to the survey, 68 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in Greece, and 52 percent believed it has stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 36 percent; on the internet, 32 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 31 percent; expression of hostility or threats targeting Jews in public places, 30 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 33 percent; physical attacks on Jews, 31 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 29 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 30 percent; and anti-Semitism in media, 28 percent.

According to the Pew Research Global Attitudes Survey released in October, 57 percent of respondents in the country expressed unfavorable opinions of Muslims, while 38 percent expressed unfavorable opinions of Jews.

On May 13, KIS expressed concern about political cartoons and images in media that exploited political controversies by using Jewish symbols and comparisons to the Holocaust, or by equating Jews with Nazis. KIS issued a statement criticizing journalist Kostas Vaxevanis for using in a political commentary a cartoon that displayed the “Arbeit macht Frei” (“Work sets you free”) sign at the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Vaxevanis said he was arguing against statements by then-opposition leader Mitsotakis supporting a seven-day work week, paraphrasing the entrance sign as “12 hours of labor set you free.”

On March 26, media reported a private citizen in Chania, Crete, filed a complaint with the Supreme Court prosecutor accusing the author of the book Redemption, Dimitris Alikakos, of religious insult and spreading inaccuracies. In his book, Alikakos said the Holy Fire, which is lit every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem on Holy Saturday before Easter, was not the result of a miracle, as per Orthodox Christian tradition. There were no reports of action taken by the Supreme Court prosecutor.

On September 30, the country’s first crematorium, located in Ritsona and privately owned, began operations. Prior to the facility’s establishment, cremation was not an option for residents, many of whom had to travel to neighboring countries for the procedure. Efforts by some local governments to establish municipally owned crematories continued throughout the year.

There was no public decision on the 2018 judicial complaint filed by the NGO Greece Helsinki Monitor against local governments, Orthodox priests, and some media for propagating the custom of the “burning of Judas” during Orthodox Easter celebrations.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, visiting officials, and embassy and consulate representatives discussed religious freedom with officials and representatives of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, including the minister and the secretary general for religious affairs, and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, such as Deputy Minister Markos Bolaris, Special Secretary for Religious and Cultural Diplomacy Eftsathios Lianos Liantis, and Civil Governors for Mount Athos Kostis Dimtsas and Athanasios Martinos. They discussed the ability of minority religious communities to exercise their rights to religious freedom, government initiatives affecting both the Muslim minority in Thrace and Muslim immigrants, progress regarding the opening of the first public mosque in Athens, the enforcement of counter-proselytism legislation by law enforcement, keeping the independence of churches and religions from foreign malign influence, and government initiatives promoting interreligious dialogue. U.S. officials expressed concerns about anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric throughout the year and denounced vandalism of religious sites, including the desecration of the Islamic cemetery in Alexandroupolis. The Ambassador worked with the minister of defense to facilitate Ministry of Defense contributions to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum archives.

On May 7-8, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited Mount Athos and met with the governor, representatives of the governing Holy Community, an abbot, and monks from three of the monasteries. The Ambassador and his advisors met with Archbishop Ieronymos, Secretary General for Religious Affairs Kalantzis, the three official muftis in Thrace, advocates of the religious rights of ethnic Turks, representatives of Pomaks and of Alevites, the Jewish community in Thessaloniki, and members of the Evangelical Church.

Embassy officials, including the Ambassador and the Consul General, met with religious leaders, including the archbishop and other representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church, as well as members of the Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Baha’i, and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities, to promote interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and diversity. Through these meetings, the embassy monitored the ability of minority religious groups to practice freely their religion and the extent of societal discrimination against both indigenous religious minorities and newly arrived minority religious group migrants.

The Ambassador met with representatives of the Eastern Orthodox Church, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop Ieronymos, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, Archbishop of America Elpidophoros, and the Metropolitan of Karpenisi. The Ambassador discussed with Greek Orthodox leaders the importance of religious tolerance and dialogue. The Ambassador also met with representatives from the Athens and Thessaloniki Jewish communities.

On October 17-18, the Consul General in Thessaloniki visited the monastic peninsula of Mount Athos and met with the governing Holy Community, abbots, and monks from two monasteries. The Consul General also met with the Metropolitans of Thessaloniki, Langadas, Xanthi, Komotini, and Alexandroupoli, with David Saltiel, president of the Greek Jewish community, with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Greece, as well as with academics and theologians, to discuss the status of religious freedom in the northern part of the country and concerns of religious communities. The Consul General attended events organized by the Thessaloniki Jewish Community to honor the memory of Holocaust victims and promote tolerance, including a January 28 silent protest denouncing vandalism of Jewish sites at the former Jewish cemetery on the Aristotle University campus. He met with government officials, including then mayor of Thessaloniki Yannis Boutaris, in February.

Italy

Executive Summary

The constitution protects freedom of religion and the right of religious communities to establish their own institutions. The constitution specifies the state and the Roman Catholic Church are independent, with their relations governed by treaties, including a concordat granting the Church a number of specific privileges and benefits, and financial support. Twelve other religious groups have accords granting many of the same benefits in exchange for a degree of government monitoring. Religious groups must register to request an accord. On July 30, the government signed an accord with the Church of England; at year’s end, it was awaiting parliamentary approval. Unregistered religious groups operate freely but are not eligible for the same benefits as groups with accords; however, they may apply separately for benefits. In October the senate approved a proposal from Senator for Life and Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre to establish an extraordinary committee to fight intolerance, anti-Semitism, and hate crimes; 98 center-right senators abstained in the vote. In November the Milan prefect granted Segre a police escort after she received threatening anti-Semitic messages, and a prosecutor opened an investigation. The Muslim community, which does not have an accord, continued to experience difficulties in acquiring permission from local governments to construct mosques or to continue operating existing ones. According to a weekly newspaper, Panorama, there were 1,200 unofficial Muslim places of worship. Politicians from several political parties, including leader of the League (Lega) Party Matteo Salvini, who served as deputy prime minister and minister of interior from June 2018 until September 2019, again made statements critical of Islam and against the construction of new mosques. In March the Union of Islamic Communities of Italy (UCOII) President Yassine Lafram told the general assembly in Bologna that Islamic communities were not able to open “dignified” places of worship and said it was “inconceivable” that Muslims had to worship in “basements.”

There were reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents, including harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism. The Anti-Semitism Observatory of the Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center Foundation (CDEC), a nongovernmental organization (NGO), identified 251 anti-Semitic reported incidents during the year, compared with 181 in 2018 and 130 in 2017. Of those incidents, 172 involved hate speech on social media or the internet. The press reported examples of anti-Semitic graffiti and posters, including depictions of swastikas on walls, anti-Semitic stereotypes, and praise of neo-Nazi groups in cities such as Rome, Milan, and Pisa. While there is no official government data from institutions or public agencies on anti-Muslim incidents, local and European NGOs reported physical and verbal attacks against Muslims, especially involving hate speech, on social media, and in the press. The NGO Vox Diritti reported 22,523 tweets containing negative messages targeting Muslims between March-May, compared with 26,783 from March-May 2018. On March 21, a woman forcibly removed a Muslim woman’s hijab on a public bus in Turin and taunted her, according to press reports.

Representatives from the U.S. embassy and consulates general met with national and local government officials to encourage respect for religious freedom and equal treatment for all faiths. They also discussed the efforts to integrate new migrants, many of whom were Muslim, Orthodox, or Hindu, and second-generation Muslims. Embassy, consulate, and Department of State representatives met with religious leaders and civil society representatives to promote interfaith dialogue and awareness, social inclusion of immigrants, the empowerment of faith groups through social media, and the mobilization of youth leaders among faith groups. The embassy and consulates continued to use their social media platforms to acknowledge major Christian, Muslim, and Jewish holidays as well as to amplify initiatives that promote religious freedom and interfaith dialogue at the local level. Embassy officials met with the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) and Rome Jewish community leaders to discuss how to support their efforts to counter anti-Semitism among self-defined far-right groups and civil society.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 62.3 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to a 2019 survey by Doxa, an independent Italian research center, approximately 67 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic. According to government officials, religious groups together accounting for less than 10 percent of the population include other Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Baha’is, Buddhists, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the Union of Pentecostal Churches (UCP), and Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, an Indian spiritual movement. Non-Catholic Christian groups account for approximately 16 percent of the population and include Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Assemblies of God, the Methodist and Waldensian Churches, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), and several smaller Protestant groups. According to the national branch of the Church of Jesus Christ, there are approximately 26,000 adherents in the country. According to national newspaper La Repubblica, most followers are in Lombardy, Sicily, and Lazio Regions. The UCEI estimates the Jewish population numbers 28,000. According to the legal counsel of the Italian Federation of Progressive Judaism (FIEP), FIEP has approximately 600 members, and includes both Jews who are registered and unregistered in the local communities. The country’s progressive Jews are organized into four congregations in Rome, Florence, and Milan and represented by the Italian Federation of Progressive Judaism, part of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Doxa reports 15 percent of the population are nonbelievers or have no religious affiliation.

According to the UCOII, approximately 2.5 million Muslims – approximately 4 percent of the population – live in the country. According to the Ministry of interior (MOI) and the national agency for statistics, the Muslim population is composed of native-born citizens, immigrants, and resident foreigners, but most of its growth comes from large numbers of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, the majority of whom live in the north. Moroccan and Albanian-origin Muslims make up the largest established groups, while Tunisia and Pakistan are increasingly important sources of seaborne migrant arrivals. The MOI reports Muslims are overwhelmingly Sunni.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

By law, insulting any divinity is blasphemy, a crime punishable by a fine ranging from 51 to 309 euros ($57-$350).

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

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

An accord grants clergy automatic access to state hospitals, prisons, and military barracks; allows for civil registry of religious marriages; facilitates special religious practices regarding funerals; and exempts students from school attendance on religious holidays. Any religious group without an accord may request these benefits from the MOI on a case-by-case basis. An accord also allows a religious group to receive funds collected by the state through a voluntary 0.8 percent of personal income tax set-aside on taxpayer returns. Taxpayers may specify to which eligible religious group they would like to direct these funds.

National law does not restrict religious face coverings, but some local authorities impose restrictions. Regional laws in Liguria and Veneto prohibit the use of burqas and niqabs in public buildings and institutions, including hospitals.

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

Schools are divided into “state-owned” and “state-equivalent” categories. The “state equivalent” school includes public (municipality, provinces, regions or other public institutions owned) or private, of which the private ones may be religiously affiliated. All state-equivalent schools receive government funding, if they meet criteria and standards published every year by the Ministry of Education. The funding is released through the regional offices for education.

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

All missionaries and other foreign religious workers from countries that are not European Union members or signatories to the Schengen Agreement must apply for special religious activity visas before arriving in the country. An applicant must attach an invitation letter from his or her religious group to the application.

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

Government Practices

Although the government generally does not enforce offenses of blasphemy, local leaders called for enforcement of the law as part of a larger effort for measures to promote “civility.” In July the city council in the small northern town of Saonara enacted a local law prohibiting 75 types of “uncivil” behaviors, including blasphemy “against any faith or religion” and using foul language in public. Those found guilty of blasphemy face a fine up to 400 euros ($450).

According to leaders of the Rome Islamic Cultural Center, the government again did not make significant progress on an accord despite ongoing dialogue with Muslim religious communities. On May 4, Catholic daily newspaper Avvenire reported sociologist Maurizio Ambrosini of Milan University commenting on the lack of an agreement between the government and the country’s Muslim communities, stating, “In several cities Muslims cannot access legal and proper places of worship and meet in semi-clandestine temporary venues difficult to monitor.” The MOI continued to only legally recognize as a religious entity the Cultural Islamic Center of Italy, in charge of the Great Mosque of Rome. The government recognized other Muslim groups only as nonprofit organizations.

On July 30, the government signed an accord with the Church of England that at year’s end was awaiting parliamentary approval.

On July 31, the Council of Ministers legally recognized the following religious entities: ISKCON, UCP, the Baha’i Community of Italy, and Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha. The Office of the President approved the recognitions on August 8. Legal recognition by the government is one of the steps required before formally applying for an accord.

On October 30, the senate approved a proposal from Senator for Life and Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre to establish an extraordinary committee to fight intolerance, anti-Semitism, and hate crimes; however, 98 center-right senators abstained in the vote. Segre, who was expelled from school for her religion in 1938 and sent to Auschwitz in 1943, stated, “There is a mounting wave of racism and intolerance that should be stopped in all possible ways.” Lega leader Salvini urged the far right to abstain on the vote stating, “We are against racism, violence, hate, and anti-Semitism, but we don’t want somebody on the left to stigmatize as racism something that for us is belief and right: [the principle of] Italian first.” In November the Milan prefect granted Segre a police escort after she received a wave of threats and anti-Semitic hate speech on social media, including statements of Holocaust denial. An Italian prosecutor opened an investigation of the threats.

According to press reports, on November 28, police detained 19 suspects linked to a group seeking to build a new Nazi party in the country. Media reported some members of the group, which calls itself the “Partito Nazional Socialista Italiano dei Lavoratori” (Italian National Socialist Workers’ Party), had weapons, access to explosives, and conducted recruitment activities on social media. The group frequently engaged in hate speech against Jews and center-left politicians, including Laura Boldrini and Emanuele Fiano, the latter a prominent Jewish MP of the Democratic Party (Partito Democratico, or PD). Prosecutors in Caltanissetta, Sicily, led the countrywide investigation of the network through the end of the year.

In June a Palermo principal of a public school reported its art teacher, Gino Giannetti, to national authorities for Holocaust denial under a 2016 anti-Semitism law. Giannetti reportedly told his students concentration camps contained “swimming pools for Jews’ amusement” and said he doubted the veracity of Holocaust accounts. A female student reported receiving anti-Semitic Facebook messages from Giannetti. In a June 29 Facebook post Giannetti denied being an anti-Semite, saying he had exposed students to factual accounts of the Holocaust in class.

According to the FIEO’s legal counsel, because relations between the government and the country’s Jews are governed by an accord between the state and UCEI, the UCEI defined the terms of Jewish identity and practice in the country. The counsel said the growth of progressive Judaism in the country had encountered resistance from the largely orthodox-Jewish UCEI. For example, progressive Jewish rabbis were not recognized by the UCEI and were therefore ineligible for Italian visas and residence permits, and they could not perform marriages having civil validity.

Regional governments and Muslim religious authorities recognized five mosques, one each in Colle Val d’Elsa in Tuscany, Milan, Rome, and two in Emilia-Romagna Region, in Ravenna and Forli, respectively. In addition, there were many sites recognized as places of worship by local governments but not considered full-fledged mosques by Muslim authorities because they lacked minarets or other key architectural features.

There were 800-1,200 unofficial, informal places of worship for Muslims, known colloquially as “garage” mosques. According to the press, authorities allowed most of these unofficial sites to operate, but they did not officially recognize them as places of worship.

According to media reports, Muslims continued to encounter difficulties acquiring permission from local governments to construct mosques. Local officials, who were entitled to introduce rules on planning applicable to places of worship, continued to cite lack of zoning plans allowing for the establishment of places of worship on specific sites as a reason for denying construction permits.

On May 19, under a legal provision entitling national and local governments to purchase certain types of facilities as “cultural assets,” the Lombardy regional administration and its governor announced plans and allocated funds to buy a chapel building from a Muslim association that planned to convert it into a mosque, according to the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera. The Association of Muslims of Bergamo, Lombardy Region, bought the chapel at auction in October 2018 from the main public hospital in Bergamo owned by regional authorities. The building had initially been assigned to a Christian Orthodox group as a place of worship but was not being used as such when it was sold. After the Association of Muslims of Bergamo bought the former chapel, the governor, a member of the League Party, required the association to sell it back under a law allowing public authorities to buy assets deemed to be of cultural significance. Later, the governor said he would allow the Christian Orthodox community to use the church building because it would not require any structural changes.

In April police in Rome closed the Masjeed-e-Rome Mosque and cultural center in Topignattara, a neighborhood with a sizable Bangladeshi Muslim community, citing administrative and criminal violations. On May 6, the president of the local association for Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Indian Muslims Dhuumcatu, Siddique Nure Alam, said the city did not provide the mosque due warning to address violations raised in the closure order, as the city had done in the past.

In April the Como City Council refused a local Turkish association use of public space for Ramadan iftars. Vice Mayor Alessandra Locatelli, a member of the League Party, said in a statement, “[Islam] does not respect the fundamental rights of our society and culture,” and that “men and women are not equal” in the Islamic faith.

In June the Lombardy Regional Administrative Court ordered the closing of an unlicensed mosque and cultural center in a former workshop located in the courtyard of an apartment building in Milan, rejecting a petition submitted by the Sri Lanka Muslim community that would allow the area to be used as a place of worship. The cultural center opened in 2015 without a regular permit to use the workshop as a place of worship. The court ruled that changing the use of a property would require a permit issued by the city administration.

In September the Court of Cassation in Milan upheld a six-month prison sentence and 9,000 euro ($10,100) fine against a representative of the Bangladesh Cultural and Welfare Association, who was charged with violating city regulations by contracting a construction company to convert a storage site into a place of worship without prior approval. By law, no appeal was possible. This was the first time the court considered it as a criminal matter; in previous cases this type of violation generally incurred administrative penalties.

The Islamic association in Pisa appealed to the Tuscany regional administrative tribunal a September 10 decision of the city council to amend the zoning plan preventing the association from building a mosque on a piece of land it had bought. In July the Pisa Islamic Association had organized a sit-in in the town square after the Pisa City Council blocked the construction of the mosque and debated the possibility of turning the planned site into a parking area. City officials stated the lot was not large enough for the planned building. Imam Mohammad Khalil said the city council had always been hostile to the mosque and noted the city government had not met with the association since August 2018.

On December 5, the Constitutional Court ruled that two provisions of a law adopted by the Lombardy Regional Council in 2015 were unconstitutional because “… freedom of religion includes the freedom of worship, authorities cannot obstruct the establishment of religious sites.” The two measures the court considered unconstitutional required a specific procedure for obtaining authorization to establish all places of worship regardless of their impact on the sites and the discretionary authority of local authorities to adopt a zoning plan that would reflect their decisions to permit or prohibit the establishment of new places of worship. The president of the House of Islamic Culture of Milan, Benaissa Bounegab, characterized the ruling as “a step toward normality,” while the president of the National Evangelical Conference, Riccardo Tocco, noted that based on regional law, 27 places of worship had been closed down; however, the decision opened up negotiations for a new policy with the local authorities. In October 2018, the Regional Administrative Court of Lombardy had accepted an appeal by the Muslim community of Varese of a denial of a permit to build a mosque in Sesto Calende, requesting the Constitutional Court re-examine the constitutionality of the 2015 regional law.

According to Catholic daily newspaper Avvenire, on December 5, the Council of State (the highest administrative court) upheld the March 2018 ruling of the Regional Administrative Court of Lombardy annulling the 2017 decision of the city council of Sesto San Giovanni, near Milan. The ruling blocked the construction of an Islamic cultural center and mosque on the grounds the center did not comply with all the requirements agreed to by the city council and the Muslim community. The president of the local Islamic cultural center, Gueddouda Boubakeur, said, “The ruling guarantees the right to worship that is a basic need, not a luxury.” In April 2018 local authorities had appealed the regional court’s ruling to the Regional Administrative Court.

On October 11, the Milan City Council approved a zoning plan authorizing two Buddhist temples, seven evangelical Christian and Baptist churches, three Orthodox churches, four Islamic places of worship (a designation determined by Islamic authorities in the country), and seven Catholic churches. Only places of worship authorized in the zoning plan have legal status; Milan has 25 Islamic places of worship and approximately 100 evangelical Protestant churches. Muslim leader and member of the municipal council Sumaya Abdel Qader called the decision “a historic step, even if not fully satisfactory, for the rights to worship of all minorities.” She noted that the center-right opposition in the municipal council had requested additional requirements that only applied to Muslim communities, but its proposal was rejected as inconsistent with the regional law on zoning.

Muslim associations said in Lombardy dedicated areas for Muslim burials in cemeteries were insufficient to meet the needs of the communities.

In February the League Party, other center-right parties, and the Five Star Movement (M5S) members of the Lombardy Regional Council approved an amendment that negated a provision of the 2009 funerary law compelling private associations to allow burials in their allocated spaces in public cemeteries regardless of sex or religion. League Party member Andrea Monti sponsored the bill and said the law would stop “predominantly Muslim ghettoization” of cemeteries. Muslim leaders said the law likely would limit cemetery space for Islamic burials.

On July 4, the council of the Commune of San Donato Milanese, a Milan suburb, reserved 25 spaces for Islamic burials in the Monticello public cemetery. Muslim leaders stated this was an insufficient number of spots for the Muslim community.

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

Politicians from several parties, including League, Brothers of Italy (FdI), and Casa Pound, a far-right political association established in 2003 and named after the anti-Semitic poet Ezra Pound, again made statements critical of Islam. In March OCOII President Lafram wrote to then deputy prime minister and interior minister Salvini, leader of the League Party, requesting increased protection of mosques following the March 15 terrorist attacks on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. According to press reports, Salvini publicly condemned the New Zealand attacks as “odious,” but also stated, “The only extremism that merits attention is the Islamic kind.” Lafram also told the general assembly in Bologna that Islamic communities were not able to open “dignified” places of worship and said it was “inconceivable” that Muslims had to worship in “basements.”

On January 21, M5S Senator Elio Lanutti referenced the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and an online anti-Semitic article in a tweet that said, “Even today [the Rothschild family] controls the banking system.” PD party leader Nicola Zingaretti condemned the statement on Twitter and PD Senate Vice President Ettore Rosato requested M5S to expel Lanutti. In a Facebook post, M5S party leader and then deputy prime minister Luigi di Maio wrote, “On behalf of the M5S I distance myself from the comments made by Senator Lanutti.” President of the Jewish Community Ruth Dureghello reported Lanutti to the Rome Public Prosecutor’s office, which opened an investigation in February.

Brothers of Italy party leader Giorgia Meloni criticized a U.S. Jewish philanthropist for his contributions to European election campaigns. In a March 24 tweet, she called him a “usurer,” a term with anti-Semitic connotations in Italian.

In April a Muslim woman, Nasry Assiya, ran as M5S candidate for Montoro City Council. Media reported Brothers of Italy Senator Antonio Iannone said her candidacy was an endorsement of “cultural expressions distant from our West” such as sharia, child marriage, and polygamy. Online comments protested her wearing a veil in official campaign photographs.

In May then Ministry of the Interior undersecretary Nicola Molteni stated he opposed the Lombardy Regional Court’s decision to permit prayer in a space owned by Asslam, an Islamic Cultural Association in Cantu, Lombardy Region. Molteni cited an MOI April 30 directive that warned mass migration and Islamic cultural centers were potential vectors for extremism, citing this concern as justification for his opposition to allowing prayer space. Molteni also made statements calling for the suspension of all mosque construction until the government approved an accord with Muslim leaders.

On April 9, the Council of the State, the country’s highest administrative court, upheld the city of Genoa’s order to remove a billboard erected by the Union of Atheists, Agnostics, and Rationalists protesting laws allowing doctors to refuse to conduct medical procedures for reasons of religion or conscience. The city said the billboard violated religious liberty and personal expression.

In June the Islamic Cultural Center of Bologna held the first Muslim summer camp in the country. According to the press, League Counselor of the Commune Umberto Bosco said the camp was the start of “auto-ghettozation,” and political party Italian Force (Forza Italia) parliamentarian Galeazzo Bignami stated, “Wake up Bologna, before it’s too late.” The presidents of two Christian associations, Christian Associations of Italian Workers and Christian Action, made public statements supporting the camp.

On October 6, the New Force Party (Forza Nuova), commonly identified as far right, held a protest in Bologna against a local decree granting a Muslim association the right to use a piece of land for 99 years on which it had already established an Islamic cultural center. Protestors carried banners reading, “Christian Bologna, never Muslim” and “No Mosque.”

Amnesty International reported 79 tweets from the country’s political party leaders during the April 15-May 24 European parliamentary election campaign were anti-Islamic, representing 0.9 percent of the tweets.

On January 24, Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Sergio Mattarella hosted a ceremony to commemorate the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp and stressed the need to remain vigilant, stating, “The evils of Auschwitz and the Shoah can come back as a lethal virus.” He concluded, “We should monitor and fight all forms of racism.”

On October 30, parliament approved the establishment of a parliamentary committee to investigate intolerance, racism, and anti-Semitism proposed by Italian-Jewish Holocaust survivor and Senator for Life Liliana Segre, modeled on the Council of Europe’s No Hate Parliamentary Alliance that would replace the now-suspended Jo Cox Commission.

In November Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi held a contest among high school students to rename two streets originally named after two 1930s fascist-era scientists who promoted anti-Semitic race laws. The streets were renamed in honor of scientists from the same era who were Jewish or who opposed fascism.

In November the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan announced it would establish a project to monitor anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other types of hate speech based on religious and cultural affiliations. According to the university, the project will be partially funded by the National Office Against Racial Discrimination and will work with CDEC and the Italian Young Muslim Association to identify and analyze trends in hate speech. While the CDEC previously primarily focused on trends in anti-Semitism and online hate speech targeting Jews, this project will be the first independent research center to track and report on trends in hate speech against Muslims and anti-Muslim sentiment.

In May the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that affirmed the rights of patients to grant power of attorney to an agent who will uphold the patient’s decision to refuse a blood transfusion, in accordance with the position advocated by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On June 23, Badar Eddine Mennani became the first Muslim national police officer (carabiniere) which media said was a sign of increased government openness to diversity.

The city of Rome continued to foster collaboration among the Jewish community, Waldensian Evangelical Church, Islamic Cultural Center of Italy, and Italian Buddhist Union to promote better knowledge of different faiths, primarily among students. Rome officials and leaders of these religious groups signed an agreement on interfaith cooperation in 2001. During the year, religious leaders organized several cultural events and presentations in public schools to increase awareness of religious diversity.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The CDEC recorded 251 incidents of anti-Semitism over the year, compared with 181 in 2018. Reports of anti-Semitic incidents published on CDEC’s website included discrimination, verbal harassment, particularly at soccer matches and other sporting events, online hate speech, and derogatory graffiti. Internet and social media hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of anti-Semitic incidents, according to CDEC, which continued to operate an anti-Semitism hotline for victims of, and witnesses to, anti-Semitic incidents.

On March 21, a woman forcibly removed a Muslim woman’s hijab on a public bus in Turin and taunted her, according to press reports. Seeing the Muslim woman was uncomfortable sitting near a dog on the bus, the woman also reportedly said, “You’re afraid of a dog but not to blow yourself up.” Other passengers reportedly voiced their support for the Muslim woman, chanting, “We [are all] Italy.”

On September 20, the Bangladeshi community organized a demonstration to protest racism and anti-Muslim sentiment in Naples following an incident in August in which attackers threw stones at two Bangladeshi street vendors. Demonstrators told media they wanted more protection and said they felt unsafe in Naples and throughout the country.

According to NGO Italian Observatory on Human Rights, 76 percent of tweets (15,196) sent in the country about Jews during the European parliamentary election campaign were negative. The NGO Vox Diritti reported 15,196 tweets containing anti-Semitic messages between March and May compared with 26,783 in the same period of 2018. Many anti-Semitic tweets came from Rome, Milan, and Turin. The NGO said spikes in tweet traffic correlated with national media stories involving Jews, including the harassment of journalist Gad Lerner at a New Force rally in Prato March 23 (700 tweets), and Georgia Meloni’s “usurer” tweet March 27 (approximately 500 tweets). The largest spike (approximately 3,150 tweets) occurred on April 16, the day media reported a Ferrara public middle school student threatened to “reopen Auschwitz” to a Jewish classmate student. The principal told a local newspaper he would review the incident with teachers. Jewish Community of Ferrara President Andrea Persano told the Association of Italian Journalists anti-Semitism was on the rise. The same organization said 74 percent of all tweets (22,532) regarding Muslims were negative during the same period, a 6.9 percent increase from 2018. Most anti-Muslim tweets originated in Turin, Bologna, Milan, and Venice.

According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, 76 percent of Italians supported some restrictions or a total ban on female Muslim religious clothing, including the hijab. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey on “Being a Christian in Western Europe,” 53 percent of respondents in the country agreed with the statement that Islam is “fundamentally incompatible with [Italy’s] culture and values.” Sixty-three percent of practicing Christians in the country concurred.

According to a 2018 survey from the National Statistics Agency of Italy, 18 percent of second-generation Muslims (20 percent of men and 18 percent of women) experienced faith-based workplace discrimination. Of immigrants arriving in the country before 12 years of age, Muslim respondents stated they experienced religious discrimination more frequently than other kinds of discrimination (20 percent) compared with the Christian Orthodox (16 percent) and Catholic (14 percent) faiths. Twenty-nine percent of respondents belonging to other Christian denominations and Jews reported they most frequently experienced societal discrimination for not being Catholic.

In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU-member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 48 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Italy, while 47 percent said it was rare; 81 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 92 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 91 percent said they would be with an atheist, 86 percent with a Jew, 83 percent with a Buddhist, and 79 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 90 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 91 percent if atheist, 82 percent if Jewish, 77 percent if Buddhist, and 66 percent if Muslim.

In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 58 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in Italy, and 38 percent believed it had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 61 percent; on the internet, 59 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 60 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 61 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 59 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 60 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 58 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 50 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 53 percent.

In November the Anti-Defamation League released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 51 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Italy; 31 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 45 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

The press reported examples of anti-Semitic graffiti and posters, including depictions of swastikas on walls, anti-Semitic stereotypes, and praise of neo-Nazi groups in Rome, Milan, Pisa and other cities.

On May 30, media reported unknown individuals in Rome’s former Jewish ghetto defaced a stolperstein or “stumbling block,” an engraved brass plaque placed on a cobblestone in front of the original place of residence of Holocaust victims. Unidentified individuals defaced the plaque with a sticker in German that said, “A murderer always returns to the scene of the crime.” Jewish community leaders said a police surveillance camera protecting the site was disabled before the incident.

On August 12 and 21, members of animal activist groups Animal Front and Animal Revolution protested outside a halal butcher shop during Eid al-Adha in the town of Robecca sul Navaglio in Lombardy. Media reported protesters called Muslims “assassins” and encouraged Muslims to “sacrifice their kids” instead of animals. Photographs from the demonstration showed banners reading “bloodthirsty Muslims.”

On January 14, in Rome, the Church of Jesus Christ inaugurated its first temple and cultural center in the country.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

In May the embassy and consulate general in Milan hosted iftars that included representatives from Muslim communities, government officials, and youth leaders promoting interfaith dialogue.

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

The Consulate General in Milan awarded a grant to a Muslim youth group in Turin to support a three-day workshop to foster greater community dialogue among persons of different religions and respect for religious diversity. The event was hosted in an Islamic cultural center located in one of the city’s most religiously diverse neighborhoods and included youth trainers from the Muslim and Catholic communities.

The embassy and consulates continued to use their social media platforms to acknowledge major Christian, Muslim, and Jewish holidays as well as amplify initiatives that promote religious freedom and interfaith dialogue at the local level. They also retweeted Department of State statements and tweets on the International Religious Freedom Act and related topics.

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

The Ambassador attended a November 21 ceremony led by Rome Mayor Raggi of the M5S to change the names of two Rome streets named after fascist-era scientists who signed the “Race Manifesto” of 1938 that became the basis of Mussolini’s Race Laws. Also present were the UCEI chair, the president of Rome’s Jewish community, and the Israeli ambassador.

Kosovo

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion, subject to limitations to ensure public order, health, and safety or to protect the rights of others. The law does not provide a means for religious groups to acquire legal status. The Kosovo Assembly (parliament) did not consider draft legislation that would have allowed religious groups to acquire legal status and conduct business in their name. While religious groups stated they generally had collaborative relationships with local governments, the Kosovo Protestant Evangelical Church (KPEC) said municipal governments did not treat religious organizations equally on property issues, including in the granting of building permits and allocation of burial space in public cemeteries. KPEC and others also stated the Kosovo Islamic Community (BIK) held contracts to run many municipal cemeteries and discriminated against minority religious groups in the allocation of burial plots and provision of services. Representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) said the government violated some of the Church’s property rights stipulated by the Law on Special Protective Zones (SPZ), such as refusal to implement a three-year-old court decision to recognize SOC ownership of certain parcels of land around Visoki Decani Monastery and continuing road construction that threatened to extend into the SPZ. According to the SOC, no municipal officials were held accountable for this refusal. BIK reported two instances of employment related discrimination against practicing Muslims. Some BIK officials stated the level of anti-Muslim sentiment in media increased and said it could harm employment opportunities for devout Muslims.

National police reported 61 religiously motivated incidents, most targeting religious sites, including cemeteries, in the first nine months of the year. Many incidents were linked to ethnicity as well as religion. On January 6, Kosovo-Albanians threatened an SOC priest in front of his church in Novo Brdo/Novoberde. On July 13 and December 16, unknown persons vandalized the Orthodox cemetery in Lipjan/Lipljan. The national and municipal governments condemned the incidents immediately and called for law enforcement action to apprehend the perpetrators. In Gjakova/Djakovica, on January 6, Kosovo-Albanians protested in front of the local Serbian Orthodox church against what they called the visit of “criminals disguised as pilgrims,” forcing displaced Serbs to cancel their Orthodox Christmas annual pilgrimage to the church for security reasons.

U.S. embassy officials continued to encourage government enforcement of mechanisms to protect religious sites and implementation of judicial decisions pertaining to the SOC, as well as resolution of SOC property disputes. The Ambassador and other embassy representatives met with religious leaders to discuss their concerns and encouraged them to foster religious tolerance and improve interfaith dialogue. In November the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom met with representatives of all major faith communities and, in a gathering with youth from religious and secularist groups, called for greater religious freedom and pluralism.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.9 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the most recent official census in 2011, 95.6 percent of the population is Muslim, 2.2 percent Roman Catholic, and 1.4 percent Serbian Orthodox, with Protestants, Jews, and persons not answering or responding “other” or “none,” together constituting less than 1 percent. According to the SOC and international observers, a boycott of the 2011 census by ethnic Serbs and general population registration irregularities resulted in a significant undercounting of SOC members. Other religious communities, including Tarikat Muslims and Protestants, also contested the registration data, stating they distrusted the census methodology and believed it resulted in undercounts of their community members.

According to BIK, most Muslims belong to the Hanafi Sunni school, although some are part of the Sufi Tarikat community. There is also a small Sufi Bektashi religious community; no official estimate exists for the number of its adherents. Kosovo-Albanians, whose language is Albanian, represent the majority in 28 of the country’s 38 municipalities, and Kosovo-Serbs, whose language is Serbian, make up the majority in the remaining 10. Most SOC members reside in the 10 Serb-majority municipalities. The largest Catholic communities are in Gjakove/Djakovica, Janjeve/Janjevo, Kline/Klina, Pristina, and Prizren. Evangelical Protestant populations are located throughout the country, concentrated in Pristina and Gjakove/Djakovica. There are small Jewish communities in Prizren and Pristina.

The majority of Kosovo-Albanians are Muslim, although some are Christian (Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant); almost all Kosovo-Serbs belong to the SOC. The majority of ethnic Ashkali, Bosniaks, Egyptians, Gorani, Roma, and Turks are also Muslim, while most ethnic Montenegrins and some Roma are Christian Orthodox, and nearly all ethnic Croats are Catholic.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion for all residents, including the right to change, express, or not express religious belief; practice or abstain from practicing religion; and join or refuse to join a religious community. These rights are subject to limitations for reasons of public safety and order or for the protection of the health or rights of others. The constitution provides for the separation of religious communities from public institutions, including the right of religious groups to regulate independently their own organizations, activities, and ceremonies, and the right to establish religious schools and charities. It provides for equal rights for all religious communities, stipulates the country is secular and neutral regarding religion, declares the state shall ensure the protection and preservation of the country’s religious heritage, and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The constitution states the law may limit freedom of expression to prevent violent and hostile provocations on racial, national, ethnic, or religious grounds. It allows courts to ban organizations or activities that encourage racial, national, ethnic, or religious hatred.

The constitution provides for the Ombudsperson’s Institution, which is responsible for monitoring religious freedom, among other human rights, and recommending actions to correct violations. It stipulates the state shall take all necessary measures to protect individuals who may be subject to threats, hostility, discrimination, or violence because of their religious identity.

The law does not require registration of religious groups, but also does not provide a legal mechanism or specific guidance for religious groups to obtain legal status through registration or other means. Without legal status, religious groups may not own property, open bank accounts, employ staff, access the courts as an entity, although individual churches or individual members may, or perform other administrative tasks in their own name. Local communities often recognize religious groups’ possession of buildings; however, the law generally does not protect these buildings as property of a religious community, but rather as the private property of citizens. SOC property is an exception: the SPZ Law acknowledges and protects the integrity of SOC property ownership and stewardship over designated areas.

The law stipulates there is no official religion, but it lists the five “traditional” religious communities that receive extra protections and benefits, including reduced taxes. The law stipulates freedom of religious or nonreligious practices, the right to establish humanitarian/charity organizations, acceptance of voluntary financial contributions from individuals and institutions, and upholding national and international communication for religious purposes.

The law provides safeguards for sites of religious and cultural significance and prohibits or restricts nearby activities that could damage the surrounding historical, cultural, or natural environment. According to the law, the Implementation and Monitoring Council (IMC) arbitrates disputes between the government and the SOC concerning SPZs and other matters related to protecting the SOC’s religious and cultural heritage. The IMC is a special body originating from the 2007 Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement (also known as the Ahtisaari Plan) and established by law. The IMC members included the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning as co-chair (now consolidated under the Infrastructure Ministry’s purview); the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sport (MCYS); the SOC; the Special Representative of the European Union (as co-chair); and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Municipalities are legally responsible for upkeep and maintenance of all public cemeteries, including those designated for specific religious communities.

According to the law, “Public educational institutions shall refrain from teaching religion or other activities that propagate a specific religion.” This law is unenforceable in schools operated under Serbian government-run parallel structures, over which the government has no control.

A Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MOE) administrative circular with the force of law on the code of conduct and disciplinary measures for students of secondary high schools bans students from wearing religious “uniforms” on elementary and secondary school premises.

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

Government Practices

During the year, the parliament did not consider amendments to the Law on Religious Freedom permitting religious groups to acquire legal status, conduct business and acquire real and personal property in their name, open bank accounts, and gain import tax benefits. The amendments would also clarify the identity and status of some religious groups, such as the Bektashi community, which requested recognition as a distinct Islamic community. The amendments passed a first reading at the assembly in 2017, and the assembly reviewed them in 2018 but never voted on them. To restart consideration of the legislation, the government would need to restart the process by resubmitting it to the assembly. Absent enactment of the legislation, all religious communities said they continued to operate bank accounts registered to individuals instead of communities. In addition, communities such KPEC said they continued to be taxed as for-profit businesses.

According to BIK, there were no cases of Muslim students or teachers being denied access to schools as a result of the government decree prohibiting religious attire on school property. While the MOE’s administrative circular refers only to secondary school attendees, Muslim community leaders reported discrimination in hiring of Muslim applicants to the Kosovo Security Forces (KSF), including one against a Muslim woman, and discrimination against teachers/lecturers and school management applicants for those wearing religious attire.

MOE officials met with a BIK representative to discuss the prohibition of religious attire in July, but the ban remained in place at year’s end. Candidates from multiple parties running for office in the October parliamentary elections also criticized the ban. BIK provided an example of KSF denying a female applicant permission to wear the hijab in uniform.

Most municipalities had annual agreements with BIK to arrange burial ceremonies of citizens. Some religious or ethnic communities, including the Protestant community and Muslims from the Roma community, said this arrangement sometimes violated their religious rights, as they faced intimidation or were prevented from conducting burial ceremonies according to their own customs. Some municipalities, such as Gjilan/Gnjilane, attempted to divide municipal cemeteries into sections and allocate each section to a different religious community. In these cases, some non-BIK-affiliated religious groups, such as Protestants and Roma Muslims, said BIK discriminated against them, conditioning burial of their community members on payment of annual membership fees, as well as fees for participation of an imam and performance of Islamic religious rites. Pristina’s Catholic and Orthodox Christian and Jewish communities continued to use separate public cemeteries.

The SOC stated that although the law requires consultation on activities occurring within SPZs, the government did not observe or enforce this requirement in Novoberde/Novo Brdo; the SOC said it was not notified of government-led restoration works, a government-sponsored celebration of the “Artana (Novo Brdo) days” festival in SPZ Novo Brdo/Novoberde fortress, or a Catholic Mass held at a religious site claimed by the SOC.

With the government’s assent, the OSCE supervised the implementation of legislation on protection of SPZs around Serbian Orthodox religious and heritage sites.

BIK leadership reported a group of Mitrovica citizens lobbied for reconstruction of a mosque in Mitrovica /Mitrovice North that Federal Republic of Yugoslavia forces destroyed in 1999, but opposition from local Serbs continued to stymie reconstruction plans.

Plans for a Grand Mosque in Pristina remain stalled because the 2018 building permit expired and developers waited for permit renewal. Some local imams reported there was no demand for such a large mosque in the downtown area, while government officials raised concerns about disruption to buildings, traffic, and parking.

At year’s end, Pristina Municipality and the Jewish community continued to disagree on a suitable location for a synagogue, for which the municipality issued a construction permit in 2016. The Jewish community refused the plot of land on the outskirts of the city that the municipal government offered, while the government rejected the community’s request for a location near downtown Pristina.

MCYS earmarked 50,000 euros ($56,200) toward reconstruction of the Jewish Community center in Prizren; however, the project was on hold until the Jewish community raised the remainder of the needed funds.

Decan/Decani municipal officials continued to refuse to implement a 2016 Constitutional Court decision upholding the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling recognizing the SOC’s Visoki Decani Monastery’s ownership of approximately 24 hectares (59 acres) of land. Mayor of Decan/Decani Bashkim Ramosaj and the local assembly continued during the year to state the court’s ruling was “unacceptable.” Central government officials took no action to enforce the court decision. NATO Kosovo Force troops continued to provide security at the Decani monastery.

The Decan/Decani municipal government, with support from central authorities, continued its effort to construct a major transit road near Visoki Decani Monastery. After previously abandoning work on the road within the SPZ, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the municipality continued building it from both sides adjacent to the SPZ; the monastery said it interpreted this as a move to force SOC acceptance of road construction through the SPZ, despite both a legislative ban on such activities and an IMC opinion that the road would violate the law.

On February 26, an appellate court ruled in favor of Catholic Church ownership of more than 7,500 square meters (80,000 square feet) of land adjacent to Mother Theresa Cathedral, overturning the Pristina Municipality’s land claim.

According to BIK, the central government continued to provide some funding for Islamic education in the BIK madrassah in Pristina and its branches in Prizren and Gjilan/Gnjilane. KPEC and public university officials said they believed this funding was discriminatory because the government did not provide funding for religious education to any other religious group.

The Water Regulatory Agency continued to waive water utility fees for religious buildings belonging to the five “traditional” religious communities. Other religious groups paid the water fees.

According to KPEC, customs officials rescinded a fine it levied on KPEC in 2017 for misuse of duty-free imports for religious organizations, on the grounds that the legal status of that inquiry was not fully resolved. A 2017 OSCE legal opinion cited contradictions in the law surrounding the sale of goods for charitable purposes.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

National police reported 61 religiously motivated incidents in the first nine months of the year, most of which targeted Orthodox and Muslim religious sites and involved theft or property damage, such as cemetery desecration, compared with 86 cases of a similar nature in 2018. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was sometimes difficult to categorize incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

On January 6, according to the SOC, a group of Kosovo-Albanians verbally abused SOC priest Bojan Jevtic, by calling him a “Chetnik” and threatened to slaughter him in front of his church in Novoberde/Novo Brdo Municipality. According to Jevtic, after he filed a complaint, the police did not follow-up.

On January 6, a group of Kosovo-Albanians, including families of missing persons, protested against the announced annual Orthodox Christmas visit of Serb Orthodox pilgrims to the local SOC church in Gjakove/Djakovica. The pilgrims were informed about the announced protests and canceled their visit due to security concerns. The protest ended after protesters placed a list of alleged Serb war criminals at the church’s door, stating they were against “criminals disguised as pilgrims.”

The SOC said media reporting contributed to a climate of interethnic and interreligious intolerance during the year. The SOC also complained about the public statements of NGO “Decan/Decani Historians” against Hieromonk of Decani Monastery Father Sava Janjic and Bishop of Raska-Prizren Teodosije Sibalic.

BIK said the frequency of anti-Muslim media reports and statements on social networks increased, and secularists used media and social networks to portray practicing Muslims negatively. One newspaper columnist referred to pro-Erdogan Muslims as “troglodytes,” “trash,” and “the Taliban.”

BIK reported one case of a woman denied an employment contract in the private sector. BIK said “devoted” Muslim women rarely reported cases of religious-based discrimination.

In July vandals destroyed 20 tombstones at an SOC cemetery in Lipjan/Lipljan Municipality, and several tombstones were demolished at an SOC cemetery in Ferizaj/Urosevac Municipality in September. SOC representatives again said they believed incidents targeting SOC sites were driven more by ethnicity than religion.

In September unknown vandals broke a plaque in the cemetery section designated by Gjilan/Gnjilane Municipality for the evangelical Protestant community; the SOC claimed ownership of the assigned parcel and rejected the municipality’s designation.

In March ethnic Croats reported the destruction of religious symbols in the Catholic church in Janjevo Village. A police investigation of the incident was ongoing at year’s end.

Religious group leaders continued to meet occasionally for interfaith discussions on property rights, legislative priorities, and local community issues. The OSCE continued to coordinate some activities among religious groups, including meetings with central and local authorities, to discuss issues such as permits to construct religious buildings. The OSCE also included representatives of all major religious communities in municipal community safety councils, which met to discuss security issues.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officials urged central and local government officials, including the prime minister, to respect the law and SPZs, particularly in the case of the planned road near Visoki Decani Monastery. Embassy officials advocated with all levels of government for implementation of the 2016 Constitutional Court decision ordering the return of land to Visoki Decani Monastery, urging the government and the judiciary to hold local officials accountable. The Ambassador and other embassy officials discussed property issues of other religious groups with government officials and urged them to respect religious freedom and pluralism and increase their communication with religious groups. Embassy officials urged the customs office on multiple occasions to delay issuing citations to KPEC on charges of misusing duty-free imports, pending clarification of the Customs Code and the law covering customs exemptions for religious organizations.

Embassy officials met frequently with religious leaders to promote religious freedom and tolerance and improve interfaith communication. They met with BIK imams and members of the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Pristina to discuss efforts to promote tolerance and discussed proposed amendments to the Law on Religious Freedom. They also spoke in mosques as invited speakers before Friday prayers about the importance of religious pluralism. Embassy personnel often posted messages on social media in support of religious freedom, such as marking the International Day of Religious Freedom in October and promoting the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July.

In November the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom met with representatives of all major faith communities, urging them toward mutual respect and support for religious pluralism, as well as advocating creation of an interfaith council. In conjunction with the visit, embassy officials organized a youth event with emerging leaders nominated by different religious communities and secularist organizations.

Latvia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides every person the right to “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” and specifies the separation of church and state. By law, eight “traditional” religious groups (seven Christian groups and Jews) receive rights and privileges other groups do not. In addition, six new religious groups registered during the year. Draft legislation to provide restitution to Jewish Holocaust victims in accordance with the 2009 Terezin Declaration was withdrawn after a procedural defeat in parliament in June. On March 16, approximately 250 persons, including 10-15 veterans of the Nazi Waffen-SS and four members of the National Alliance (NA) party, participated in the annual march for Latvian Legionnaires who fought as conscripts of the Waffen-SS against the Soviet Union in World War II (WWII). An estimated 1,100 people were in the total crowd of supporters, protesters, media, observers and passersby, according to police, one third less than recent years. In its Freedom of the World 2019 report, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Freedom House said support for the event continued to decline. Various groups, including the Latvian Anti-Nazi Committee, again condemned the march.

A European Commission (EC) survey published in September showed that 12 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country, while 67 percent said it was rare. A Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism published in January showed that 14 percent of respondents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in the country, and 7 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. Jewish and Muslim groups again cited instances of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate speech on the internet.

The U.S. embassy repeatedly engaged with government officials, including representatives from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Office of the Ombudsman, and parliamentarians on the importance of religious tolerance, restoring expropriated property to the Jewish community by passing a restitution bill satisfying Latvia’s commitments under the Terezin Declaration, and Holocaust education. Embassy officials also engaged with the NGOs MARTA and Safe House, as well as representatives of various religious groups, including the Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Latvian Orthodox Christian churches, the Jewish community, and the Islamic community, on the role they could play in promoting religious tolerance and acceptance in the country. The embassy funded a cultural project highlighting the experiences of a Latvian Jew during the Holocaust.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.9 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the Annual Report of Religious Organizations and their Activities published by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), based on 2018 data (the most recent available), the largest religious groups are Lutheran (36 percent), Roman Catholic (17 percent), and Latvian Orthodox Christian (9 percent), the latter predominantly native Russian speakers. Thirty-five percent of the population is unaffiliated with any religious group. The Latvian Orthodox Church is a self-governing Eastern Orthodox Church under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Central Statistical Bureau reports there are 4,567 persons who identify as Jewish, and the Council of Jewish Communities believes there are between 6,000 and 8,000 persons with Jewish heritage. The Muslim community reports approximately 1,000 Muslims, while the MOJ’s report of religious organizations lists 134 Muslim community members in 15 congregations. There is a small Ahmadi Muslim community. Other religious groups, which together constitute less than 5 percent of the population, include Baptists, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Old Believers, evangelical Christians, Methodists, Calvinists, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states everyone has the right to “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” and “the church shall be separate from the state.” It allows restrictions on the expression of religious beliefs to protect public safety, welfare, morals, the democratic structure of the state, and others’ rights. The law gives eight “traditional” religious groups – Lutherans, Catholics, Latvian Orthodox Christians, Old Believers, Baptists, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Jews – some rights and privileges not given to other religious groups, including the right to teach religion courses in public schools and the right to officiate at marriages without obtaining a civil marriage license from the MOJ. These eight groups are also the only religious groups represented on the government’s Ecclesiastical Council, an advisory body established by law and chaired by the prime minister that meets on an ad hoc basis to comment and provide recommendations on religious issues. These recommendations do not carry the force of law.

Separate laws define relations between the state and each of these eight groups. The rights and activities of other religious groups are covered by a law on religious organizations.

Although the government does not require religious groups to register, the law accords registered religious groups a number of rights and privileges, including legal status to own property and conduct financial transactions, eligibility to apply for funds for religious building restoration, and tax deductions for donors. Registration also allows religious groups to perform religious activities in hospitals, prisons, and military units and to hold services in public places, such as parks or public squares, with the agreement of the local government. The law accords the same rights and privileges to the eight traditional religious groups, which it treats as already registered.

Unregistered groups do not possess legal status and may not own property in the name of the group, although individual members may hold property. Unregistered groups may not conduct financial transactions or receive tax-free donations. They may not perform religious activities in hospitals, prisons, or military units, and generally may not hold worship services in public places without special permission. The law stipulates fines ranging from 40 to 200 euros ($45-$220) if an unregistered group carries out any of these activities.

By law, to register as a congregation, a religious group must have at least 20 members age 18 or older. Individuals with temporary residency status, such as asylum seekers and foreign diplomatic staff, may count as members for the purpose of registration only during the authorized period of their residency permits. To apply, religious groups must submit charters explaining their objectives and activities; a list of all group members (full name, identification number, and signature); the names of the persons who will represent the religious organization; minutes of the meeting founding the group; confirmation that members voted on and approved the statutes; and a list of members of the audit committee (full name, identification number, and title). The audit committee is responsible for preparing financial reports on the group and ensuring it adheres to its statutes. The MOJ determines whether to register a religious group as a congregation. The ministry may deny an application if it deems registration would threaten human rights, the democratic structure of the state, public safety, welfare, or morals. Groups denied registration may appeal the decision in court.

Ten or more congregations – totaling at least 200 members – of the same faith or denomination, each with permanent registration status, may form a religious association or church. Groups with religious association status, or status as a private society or foundation, may establish theological schools and monasteries. The law does not permit simultaneous registration of more than one religious association of a single faith or denomination, or of more than one religious group with the same or similar name. For example, the law prevents any association other than the Latvian Orthodox Church from registering with the word “orthodox” in its name. Other Orthodox groups, such as Old Believers, are registered as separate religious associations.

According to the law, all traditional and registered religious organizations are required to submit an annual report to the MOJ by March 1 regarding their activities and goals. They must also provide other data, including congregation size, number of clergy, number of weddings and other ceremonies performed, and details of group governance and financial status.

The law criminalizes hate speech and the incitement of hatred on the basis of religious affiliation but requires legal proof, determined at trial, of substantial harm for conviction. Penalties range from community service to up to 10 years of imprisonment. Committing a crime for religious reasons may also be considered an aggravating factor at trial.

The government funds required religion and ethics classes in public schools in first through third grade. The school must receive the approval of the parents of at least 10 students in order to hold religion classes in any of the eight traditional groups; if such approval is not obtained or if they prefer not to enroll in religion classes, students take courses on general ethics. The Center for Educational Content at the Ministry of Education must review the content of the classes to verify they do not violate freedom of conscience. Starting in fourth grade, religious subjects are incorporated into elective ethics and social science classes. If there is demand, schools are permitted to teach classes on the history of religion. Students at state-supported national minority schools may attend classes on a voluntary basis on the religion “characteristic of the national minority.” Other nontraditional religious groups without their own state-supported minority schools may provide religious education only in private schools. Religion courses in public schools range from doctrinal instruction by church-approved government-certified instructors, usually at the lower grades, to nondenominational Christian teachings or overviews of major world religions by certified teachers who are proposed by a religious group, and approved by the Ministry of Education, usually at higher grades.

The law establishes an independent Ombudsman’s Office for Human Rights. Its mandate includes helping to resolve cases of religious discrimination through collaboration with authorities. While it does not have enforcement powers, it may issue recommendations to specific authorities. Parliament appoints the ombudsman.

The law stipulates foreign missionaries may be issued a residency permit, hold meetings, and proselytize only if a registered domestic religious group invites them to conduct such activities. Visa regulations require foreign religious workers to present letters of invitation, typically from a religious organization, and either an ordination certificate or evidence of religious education that corresponds to a local bachelor’s degree in theology. Religious workers from European Union (EU) or Schengen countries do not require visas.

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

Government Practices

The MOJ approved the applications of six religious groups that applied to register for the first time: the Orthodox Congregation of St. Nicholas the Miracle-worker in Rezekne, the Hindu Bhakti Marga Latvian Congregation, the Latvian Orthodox Autonomous Church, the Orthodox Church of Riga Apostles St. Peter and Paul, the Orthodox Church of St. Alexander Nevsky in Daugavpils, and the Riga International Baptist Church “Grace” of the Latvian Baptist Insurance Union.

In June the parliament debated a Holocaust-era property restitution bill that would have established an approximately 40 million euro fund ($44.9 million, funded over 10 years) for the Jewish community in accordance with the 2009 Terezin Declaration. The bill also called for measures to provide assistance, redress, and remembrance for victims of Nazi persecution. The bill was withdrawn after a procedural defeat. According to news reports and the head of the Development/FOR parliamentary faction Daniels Pavluts, a combination of political infighting, a difficult fiscal environment, the historical complexity of the original thefts, and inertia from previous restitution attempts prevented the bill’s passage. Misunderstandings about details of the bill – which provided fiscal transparency and government control, had protections to prevent the funds benefiting only a few individuals, and supported projects and events linked to common Latvian-Jewish historical and cultural heritage – added to the difficulty. Conferees at the Terezin Declaration Conference in December said local Jewish community leaders, and the legislation’s sponsors in parliament, planned to reintroduce Holocaust property restitution legislation in 2020 following a public education and advocacy campaign.

According to a 2018 (the latest available) report on Latvia by the NGO National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry (NCSEJ), the government made progress in recognizing Jewish issues and commemorating the Holocaust, adding that problems remained with regard to property restitution and vandalism of Jewish sites.

Authorities continued to monitor Muslim community activities according to the annual report of the security police. Muslim community members, including community leader Zufars Zainullins, said in December they did not feel pressured or singled out due to their faith.

The new prayer center of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Latvia (ICCL) remained closed since 2016 due to what the Riga City Construction Board said was a failure to meet city fire and safety requirements in the center’s old building. Muslim leader Zainullins said lack of ICCL leadership also slowed the project, rather than government pressure. Muslim students at universities continue to have access to campus religious facilities such as prayer rooms and Riga Stradins University’s Muslim student society (Ibn Sina).

Former president Raimonds Vejonis and other senior government officials, including Speaker of the Parliament Inara Murniece, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins, and Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, attended or spoke at Holocaust memorial events, including International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Latvian Holocaust Memorial Day, and the Rumbula Forest Massacre Memorial. In July, at a commemoration of the 1941 burning of the Great Choral Synagogue with victims inside, Murniece stated, “The victims of the Holocaust should be kept in eternal commemoration by teaching about what happened to the young generation.” She added that “Latvia, as a democratic, legal, socially responsible, and national state, is based on human dignity and freedom, recognizes and protects fundamental human rights, and respects minorities.” In his speech at the same event, former president Vejonis stated, “Much has been done to heal the wartime wounds, but there also remain those (Holocaust survivors) whose healing will take time and mutual understanding.”

In September, as part of a speech commemorating a WWII battle against the Soviet army, Defense Minister Artis Pabriks praised the Latvian side, which at the time was under Nazi operational control. When the Simon Wiesenthal Center later protested those comments, the defense ministry edited the headline of the issued press release but kept the content unchanged. In November Pabriks spoke at the Rumbula Forest Holocaust memorial event, where he condemned the actions of Latvian citizens who participated in crimes committed by Nazi Germany against the Jewish people. He apologized to the Jews that Latvia had failed to protect them at the time, because Latvia had been occupied.

In June the government granted refugee status to a woman who said she had fled Russia after she and her family had been persecuted for being Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On March 16, the annual march commemorating Latvian Legionnaires who fought in the grenadier divisions of the Waffen SS against the Soviet Red Army in WWII took place in Riga. As in recent years, an estimated 250 persons participated in the event, with police estimating the total crowd of supporters, protesters, media, observers and passersby numbering approximately 1,000, one third less than recent years. Ten to fifteen SS veterans and four members of parliament from the NA party participated. International media reported a large police presence and a small number of counterprotesters at the event. The organizers, the Daugava Hawks group, called the day a “commemoration of Latvian soldiers who were involved in World War II battles between superpowers and fought for their country” rather than as a glorification of Nazism. In a statement issued the same day, the MFA noted “March 16 is not an official remembrance day,” but an event organized by individuals “on their own private initiative to pay respects to fallen soldiers.” The statement added that “senior officials and members of the government do not participate” in this commemoration. Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins publicly discouraged cabinet officials from participating. As in previous years, the march drew strong condemnations from various groups, including the Latvian Anti-Nazi Committee. The Latvian Russian Union’s Miroslavs Mitrofanovs said the march was where “people gather together to glorify neo-fascist ideology”.

On November 30, approximately 500 persons lit thousands of candles at the Freedom Monument in Riga in memory of the approximately 30,000 Jews killed in the Rumbula Forest by the Nazis in 1941. A separate Rumbula Forest memorial service was well attended, including by members of the NA party.

In November and December, media reported multiple instances of NA Secretary-General Raivis Zeltits supporting extremist organizations. While initial reports outlined texts and meetings with a supremacist website and 2015 meetings with the founder of a British neo-Nazi organization “National Action,” subsequent articles illustrated ongoing ties with and support to the Ukrainian ultranationalist Azov movement. Zeltits said he accepted that his views were ultranationalist but refuted claims of any racist or anti-Semitic beliefs. An NA representative stated Zeltits’ actions did not reflect NA’s ideology. Subsequent social media posts by prominent NA members, however, defended engagement with Azov.

In May the European Commission (EC) carried out a study in each EU-member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 12 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Latvia, while 67 percent said it was rare; 70 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 85 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, 79 percent with an atheist, 78 percent with a Jew, 70 percent with a Buddhist, and 63 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their adult child were in a “love relationship” with a member of a different religious group, 85 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 73 percent if atheist, 66 percent if Jewish, 53 percent if Buddhist, and 42 percent if Muslim.

In January the EC published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU-member state. According to the survey, 14 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in Latvia, and 7 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 18 percent; on the internet, 19 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 13 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 11 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 20 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 10 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 11 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 11 percent; and anti-Semitism in media, 10 percent.

Neither survey categorized results by religious groups to assess if Jews and Muslims perceived these issues differently from the Christian majority.

Riga Jewish Community Executive Director Gita Umanovska said anti-Semitic hate speech on the internet was mostly in the form of posts on social media and comments in news articles, although none were reported to police. For example, one online commenter wrote, “We need to clean up our public administration from Jews,” Another wrote, “As if we would need to choose the poorest (the worst) people, we would need to choose Jews” (directed at newly elected President Egils Levits, of Jewish heritage). Another poster wrote: “The Jew is one of the greatest evils in any case.”

As in previous years, Muslim community leader Zainullins said Muslims generally did not feel suppressed or discriminated against; however, some anti-Muslim hate speech appeared on social media and the internet, mostly in individual posts and comments in news articles. For example, one site had the comment, “We must get them out of our politics and definitely keep them out of our country as much as possible. We TOTALLY need to shut down all mosques. The devil resides in them.”

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers engaged in regular discussions with government officials, including at the MFA, MOJ, Office of the Ombudsman, and with members of parliament, on the importance of restoring expropriated property to the Jewish community, religious tolerance, and Holocaust education. Embassy officials also met with Foreign Minister Rinkevics, other MFA officials, and members of all the political parties represented in parliament specifically to encourage passage of the restitution bill, an important step to meet the country’s obligation under the Terezin Declaration.

Embassy staff met with leaders of the Lutheran Church, Roman Catholic Church, Latvian Orthodox Christian Church, Jewish community, and the Muslim community to discuss their concerns about religious tolerance and acceptance in the country. They also met with the NGO MARTA, which worked with immigrant women, including those who might be at risk of victimization as a result of their religious beliefs. Embassy staff also engaged representatives of the NGO Safe House, which assists with transition support and education for immigrants and refugees, many of whom are of minority faiths.

The embassy funded a project with the Zanis Lipke Memorial Museum to support an upcoming exhibit by a Latvian-born Jewish American artist, focusing on his experience surviving the Holocaust in Latvia and later his life in a Latvian enclave of New York City.

Lebanon

Executive Summary

The constitution states there shall be “absolute freedom of conscience” and guarantees the free exercise of religious rites for all religious groups provided they do not disturb the public order. The constitution also states there shall be a “just and equitable balance” in the apportionment of cabinet and high-level civil service positions among the major religious groups, a provision amended by the Taif Agreement, which ended the country’s civil war and mandated proportional representation between Christians and Muslims in parliament, the cabinet, and other senior government positions. Media reported on June 21 that the Hadath municipality prohibited Christian residents from renting or selling property to Muslims. According to Human Rights Watch, some municipal governments in largely Christian cities have, since 2016, forcibly evicted mostly Muslim Syrian refugees and expelled them from localities. The Internal Security Forces (ISF) summoned a senior member of the Jewish Community Council for interrogation concerning the identities of visitors to synagogues and cemeteries during the summer months. Authorities banned a Brazilian metal band, Sepultura, from entering the country after its members were accused of being “devil worshippers,” according to concert organizers. Organizers also said the band was denied entry due to cultural perceptions that metal music is “satanic” and “anti-religion.” Some members of unregistered religious groups, such as Baha’is and nonrecognized Protestant faiths, continued to list themselves as belonging to recognized religious groups to ensure their marriage and other personal status documents remained legally valid. While then minister of interior Raya al-Hassan and several other political figures vocalized support for optional civil marriage, at least 30 applications for interreligious civil marriage remained pending following the government’s continuation of the halt on their registration in the face of criticism, particularly by religious leaders.

Hizballah, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, continued to exercise control over some territory, particularly the southern suburbs of Beirut and southern areas of the country, both of which are predominantly Shia Muslim.

Organizers of the Byblos International Festival canceled a planned August 9 concert by internationally known indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila, citing the need “to avoid bloodshed.” Political and religious figures, as well as many private citizens, criticized the band for a four-year-old post on Facebook of a controversial image that transposed the face of pop diva Madonna onto an image of the Virgin Mary. The Maronite Eparchy of Byblos accused the group of “offend[ing] religious and human values and insult[ing] Christian beliefs,” while figures ranging from members of parliament (MPs) to private citizens threatened violence. In a December incident, during months of political protests reportedly driven by the country’s economic and political problems, hundreds of Shia protesters demonstrated in Beirut after a video produced by a Sunni individual appeared on social media insulting Shia political and religious figures. A prominent Sunni imam said the posting did not represent the views of the Sunni community. The author of the video later apologized for posting it. The Jewish Community Council reported acts of vandalism, including dumping of trash and rubble, at Jewish cemeteries in Beirut and Sidon. Muslim and Christian community leaders said relationships among individual members of different religious groups continued to be amicable. On July 30, an interreligious spiritual summit convened in Beirut at the House of Druze Communities; senior religious leaders from the Muslim, Christian, and Druze communities attended the event.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officers engaged government officials to encourage tolerance, dialogue, and mutual respect among religious communities and to highlight the importance of combating violent religious extremism. The Ambassador met on March 7 with a group of religious leaders in Tripoli to discuss relations among the different communities. Embassy public outreach and assistance programs continued to emphasize tolerance for all religious groups, including through interfaith exchange programs.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.8 million (midyear 2019 estimate). The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other organizations estimate the total population includes 4.5 million citizens and an estimated 1.3 million refugees fleeing the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the vast majority of whom are Syrian, as well as a Palestinian refugee population present in the country for nearly 70 years.

Statistics Lebanon, an independent firm, estimates 67.6 percent of the citizen population is Muslim (31.9 percent Sunni, 31 percent Shia, and small percentages of Alawites and Ismailis). Statistics Lebanon estimates 32.4 percent of the population is Christian. Maronite Catholics are the largest Christian group, followed by Greek Orthodox. Other Christian groups include Greek Catholics (Melkites), Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholics, Assyrians, Chaldean Catholics, Copts, Protestants (including Presbyterians, Baptists, and Seventh-Day Adventists), Roman (Latin) Catholics, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).

According to Statistics Lebanon, 4.52 percent of the population is Druze, concentrated in the rural, mountainous areas east and south of Beirut. There are also small numbers of Jews, Baha’is, Buddhists, and Hindus. The Jewish Community Council, which represents the country’s Jewish community, estimates 70 Jews reside in the country.

UNHCR estimates there are 1.3 million refugees from Syria in the country, mainly Sunni Muslims, but also Shia Muslims, Christians, and Druze. United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) estimates there are between 250,000 and 280,000 Palestinians living in the country as UN-registered refugees in 12 camps and surrounding areas. They are mostly the descendants of refugees who entered the country in the 1940s and 1950s and are mostly Sunni Muslims but also include Christians.

UNHCR states there are approximately 14,000 UNHCR-registered Iraqi refugees in the country. Refugees and foreign migrants from Iraq include mostly Sunni Kurds, Sunni and Shia Muslims, and Chaldeans. There were also Coptic Christians from Egypt and Sudan. According to the secretary-general of the Syriac League, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that advocates for Syriac Christians in the country, approximately 10,000 Iraqi Christians of all denominations and 3,000 to 4,000 Coptic Christians reside in the country. According to the same NGO, the majority of Iraqi Christian refugees are not registered with UNHCR and so are not included in their count.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states there shall be “absolute freedom of conscience” and declares the state will respect all religious groups and denominations, as well as the personal status and religious interests of persons of every religious group. The constitution guarantees free exercise of religious rites, provided they do not disturb the public order, and declares the equality of rights and duties for all citizens without discrimination or preference.

By law, an individual is free to convert to a different religion if a local senior official of the religious group the person wishes to join approves the change. The newly joined religious group issues a document confirming the convert’s new religion, allowing the convert to register her or his new religion with the Ministry of Interior’s (MOI’s) Personal Status Directorate. The new religion is included thereafter on government-issued civil registration documents.

Citizens have the right to remove the customary notation of their religion from government-issued civil registration documents or change how it is listed. Changing the documents does not require approval of religious officials.

The penal code stipulates a maximum prison term of one year for anyone convicted of “blaspheming God publicly.” It does not provide a definition of what this entails.

The penal code criminalizes defamation and contempt for religion and stipulates a maximum prison term of three years for either of these offenses.

By law, religious groups may apply to the government for official recognition. To do so, a religious group must submit a statement of its doctrine and moral principles to the cabinet, which evaluates whether the group’s principles are in accord with the government’s perception of popular values and the constitution. Alternatively, a nonrecognized religious group may apply for recognition by seeking affiliation with another recognized religious group. In doing so, the nonrecognized group does not gain recognition as a separate group but becomes an affiliate of the group through which it applies. This process has the same requirements as applying for recognition directly with the government.

There are 18 officially recognized religious groups. According to the government, these include five Muslim groups (Shia, Sunni, Druze, Alawite, and Ismaili), 12 Christian groups (Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Assyrian, Chaldean, Copt, evangelical Protestant, and Roman Catholic), and Jews. Groups the government does not recognize include Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, several Protestant groups, and the Church of Jesus Christ.

Official recognition of a religious group allows baptisms and marriages performed by the group to receive government recognition, which also conveys other benefits, such as tax-exempt status and the right to apply the religious group’s codes to personal status matters. By law, the government permits recognized religious groups to administer their own rules on family and personal status issues, including marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Shia, Sunni, recognized Christian, and Druze groups have state-appointed, government-subsidized clerical courts to administer family and personal status law. While the religious courts and religious laws are legally bound to comply with the provisions of the constitution, the Court of Cassation, the highest civil court in the judicial system, has very limited oversight of religious court proceedings and decisions.

There are no formalized procedures for civil marriage or divorce. The government recognizes civil marriage ceremonies performed outside the country irrespective of the religious affiliation of each partner in the marriage. While some Christian and Muslim religious authorities will perform interreligious marriages, clerics, priests, or religious courts often require the nonbelonging partner to pledge to raise his or her children in the religion of the partner and/or to relinquish certain rights, such as inheritance or custody claims, in the case of divorce.

Nonrecognized religious groups may own property, assemble for worship, and perform religious rites freely. They may not perform legally recognized marriage or divorce proceedings and they have no standing to determine inheritance issues. Given agreements in the country’s confessional system that designate percentages of senior government positions, and in some cases specific positions, for the recognized religious confessions, members of nonrecognized groups have no opportunity to occupy certain government positions, including cabinet, parliamentary, secretary-general, and director general positions.

The government requires Protestant churches to register with the Evangelical Synod, a self-governing advisory group overseeing religious matters for Protestant congregations and representing those churches to the government.

The law allows censorship of religious publications under a number of conditions, including if the government deems the material incites sectarian discord or threatens national security.

According to the constitution, recognized religious communities may operate their own schools, provided they follow the general rules issued for public schools, which stipulate schools must not incite sectarian discord or threaten national security. The government permits but does not require religious education in public schools. Both Christian and Muslim local religious representatives sometimes host educational sessions in public schools.

The constitution states “sectarian groups” shall be represented in a “just and equitable balance” in the cabinet and high-level civil service positions, which includes the ministry ranks of secretary-general and director general. It also states these posts shall be distributed proportionately among the major religious groups. This distribution of positions among religious groups is based on the unwritten 1943 National Pact, which used religious affiliation data from the 1932 census (the last conducted in the country.) According to the pact, the president shall be a Maronite Christian, the speaker of parliament shall be a Shia Muslim, and the prime minister shall be a Sunni Muslim. This proportional distribution also applies to high-level positions in the civil service, the judiciary, military and security institutions, and public agencies at both the national and local levels of government. Parliament is elected on the basis of “equality between Christians and Muslims,” and cabinet positions must be allocated on the same basis. Druze and sometimes Alawites are included in this allocation with the Muslim communities.

The constitution also states there is no legitimacy for any authorities that contradict the “pact of communal existence,” thereby giving force of law to the unwritten 1943 National Pact, although that agreement is neither an official component of the constitution nor a formally binding agreement.

The Taif Agreement, which ended the country’s 15-year civil war in 1989, also mandates elections based on the principle of proportional representation between Muslims and Christians in parliament, but resetting the Christian and Muslim allocation at 50 percent each. The agreement also amended powers of the Maronite Christian presidency and Sunni Muslim prime minister, reducing constitutional powers of the president and increasing those of the prime minister, while also subjecting the designation of the prime minister to binding consultations with parliament and the designations of all ministers to a parliamentary vote of confidence.

In addition, the Taif Agreement endorses the constitutional provision of appointing most senior government officials according to religious affiliation, including senior positions within the military and other security forces. Customarily, a Christian heads the army, while the directors general of the ISF and the Directorate of General Security (DGS) are Sunni and Shia, respectively. Several other top positions in the security services are customarily designated for particular confessions as well. While specific positions are designated by custom rather than law, deviating from custom is rare and any change or accommodation generally must be mutually agreed by the confessions concerned.

The Taif Agreement mandates a cabinet with seats allocated equally between Christians and Muslims (which includes Druze and sometimes Alawites)

The Taif Agreement’s stipulations on equality of representation among members of different confessions do not apply to citizens who do not list a religious affiliation on their national registration, and thus they cannot hold a seat designated for a specific confession.

By law, the synod of each Christian group elects its patriarchs; the Sunni and Shia electoral bodies elect their respective senior clerics; and the Druze community elects its sheikh al-aql, its most senior religious leader. The government’s Council of Ministers must endorse the nomination of Sunni and Shia muftis, as well as the sheikh al-aql, and pay their salaries. The government also appoints and pays the salaries of Muslim and Druze clerical judges. By law, the government does not endorse Christian patriarchs and does not pay the salaries of Christian clergy and officials of Christian groups.

The government issues foreign religious workers a one-month visa; to stay longer a worker must complete a residency application during the month. Religious workers also must sign a “commitment of responsibility” form before receiving a visa, which subjects the worker to legal prosecution and immediate deportation for any activity involving religious or other criticism directed against the state or any other country, except Israel. If the government finds an individual engaging in religious activity while on a tourist visa, the government may determine a violation of the visa category has occurred and deport the individual.

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

Government Practices

On June 21, there were media reports that the Hadath municipality, on the outskirts of Beirut’s southern suburbs, prohibited Christians from renting or selling property to Muslims, and local residents and politicians raised concerns of discrimination based on religion. Head of the municipality George Aoun defended his decision and said the ban was instituted in 2010, has been enforced since then, and was intended to preserve the composition of each village or town. He added the decision encouraged coexistence. Aoun said that before the civil war, Hadath was purely Christian but that since then, so many Muslims had moved to the community that they made up 60 percent of its residents. Then minister of interior Raya al-Hassan said she considered this ban to be unconstitutional and promoted sectarian division.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) continued to report that, since 2016, some municipal governments in largely Christian cities forcibly evicted mostly Muslim Syrian refugees from their homes and expelled them to other locations in the country. The HRW report stated religious affiliation was among several reasons for the evictions. Most of those interviewed by HRW said their eviction were due, in part, to their religious identity. According to UNHCR, the municipalities identified as being involved in forcibly evicting and expelling Syrian refugees were predominantly Christian. While many of those interviewed by NGOs continued to state that their eviction was due in part to their religious identities, monthly community tension reports prepared jointly by the UN Development Program (UNDP) and UNHCR along with NGO and implementing partners using population survey data from UNDP did not identify religious discrimination as the key driver of tension between refugees and host communities. NGOs and international organizations, including UNDP, UNHCR, and other UN agencies, also reported that perceptions of competition for jobs, resources, and land were the predominant factors driving refugee evictions, along with security concerns and the country’s history with Syria.

According to the ISF and the Jewish Community Council, the ISF Information Branch summoned senior Jewish Community Council member Semaria Bihar on September 18 for questioning concerning the number of visitors to Beirut’s synagogues and cemeteries over the summer months. Authorities released Bihar the same day but kept his phone overnight.

The government continued to enforce laws against defamation and contempt for religion. For the fourth year in a row, however, there was no judicial action on the lawsuit filed in 2015 by MP Ziad Aswad of the Free Patriotic Movement against “You Stink” activist Assad Thebian, who was accused of “defamation and contempt of religion” for comments he made about Christianity.

On October 31, press reported DGS censored a caricature of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei published in the French weekly Courrier International. DGS covered the caricature with a sticker before allowing the publication to enter Lebanon. DGS reviewed all films and plays, and there were complaints by civil society activists that DGS’s decision-making process lacked transparency and that the opinions of religious institutions and political groups influenced it.

On April 19, a promoter of rock concerts in the country issued a press release stating authorities banned a Brazilian metal band, Sepultura, from entering the country after members of the band were accused of being “devil worshippers.” Organizers, who were only informed of the ban and not allowed to see the government’s official ban order circulated within the government, provided a media statement saying the band was denied entry due to cultural perceptions that metal music is “satanic” and “anti-religion.”

According to local NGOs, some members of unregistered religious groups, such as Baha’is and members of nonrecognized Protestant faiths, continued to list themselves as belonging to recognized religious groups in government records to ensure their marriage and other personal status documents remained legally valid. Many Baha’is said they chose to list themselves as Shia Muslims in order to effectively manage civil matters officially administered by Shia institutions, while members of the Church of Jesus Christ said they registered as evangelical Protestant.

The government again failed to take action to approve a request from the Jewish community to change its official name to the Jewish Community Council from the Israeli Communal Council (the group’s officially recognized name). Additionally, the Jewish community faced difficulty importing material for religious rites; customs agents were reportedly wary of allowing imports of any origin containing Hebrew script given a national ban on trade of Israeli goods.

Non-Maronite Christian groups reiterated criticisms made following May 2018 parliamentary elections that the government had made little progress toward the Taif Agreement’s goal of eliminating political sectarianism in favor of “expertise and competence.” Members of these groups, which include Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholics, and Chaldeans, among others, said the fact that the government allotted them only one of the 64 Christian seats in parliament, constituted government discrimination. The Syriac League continued to call for more representation for non-Maronite and non-Greek Orthodox Christians in cabinet positions, parliament, and high-level civil service positions, typically held by members of the larger Christian religious groups. During protests that sprang up across the country beginning on October 17, some of the protesters, religious figures and politicians began calling for an electoral law that was not based on religious affiliation.

Similarly, some women’s rights advocates among protesters highlighted the absence of a civil code governing issues of personal status and objected to the country’s reliance on gender-discriminatory family codes adjudicated solely by religious courts.

Members of all confessions may serve in the military, intelligence, and security services. While most confessions had members serving in these capacities, some groups did not do so, usually because of their small number of adherents in the country. Members of the largest recognized confessions dominated the ranks of senior positions.

During Ramadan, the prime minister designated an official delegation, including a medical team that accompanied pilgrims going on Hajj to assist them in administrative and medical matters.

During the July 16-18 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, then foreign Minister Gebran Bassil praised the country’s confessional system as a stronghold of religious freedom, saying “no minority feels unsafe or threatened by the majority, and no confession fears violation of rights.” He said his presence at the ministerial was a “manifestation of his deepest conviction and the attachment of his country to religious freedom, to protect minorities, and to preserve diversity in the Middle East.”

Speaking on the issue of civil marriage, then minister of interior Raya al-Hassan stated during a February 15 television interview that she “will try to open the door to a serious and deep dialogue on this issue with all religious and other authorities … until civil marriage is recognized.” Al-Hassan’s remarks elicited support from some political figures including Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the predominantly Druze Progressive Socialist Party. Her remarks drew strong opposition from religious figures. According to NGO representatives, civil society figures cautiously engaged both Christian and Muslim leaders throughout the year to assuage fears that civil marriage would pose a threat to religious leaders’ ability to administer their own confessional affairs. During the year, the MOI took no action on the 30 or more cases of civil marriage that awaited registration with the ministry since 2013.

On December 15, Beirut Governor Ziad Chehib, with the permission of the Beirut Municipality and Department of Antiquities, ordered the removal of a sculpture in downtown Beirut because of the statue’s resemblance to the Star of David, the symbol of Judaism. Created by a British artist and installed in 2018, the sculpture was formed of three large metal squares interlocked to form a cube shape, and from above appeared as the Star of David. The gallery that organized the installation said the piece had nothing to do with Israel, but it was nonetheless removed to “avoid any clashes.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On July 30, organizers of the Byblos International Festival canceled a planned August 9 concert by internationally recognized indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila, citing the need “to avoid bloodshed.” Mashrou’ Leila publicly supported LGBTQ rights and regularly sang about subjects such as sectarianism and corruption. Political and religious figures, as well as many private citizens, strongly criticized the band for a four-year-old post on Facebook of a controversial image that transposed the face of pop diva Madonna onto an image of the Virgin Mary. The Maronite Eparchy of Byblos accused the group of “offend[ing] religious and human values and insult[ing] Christian beliefs,” while figures ranging from MPs to private citizens threatened violence. Following a six-hour interrogation by security officials, band members met with religious authorities in an attempt to resolve the issue, and the band removed the contested image from social media. Local and international human rights activists, as well as many members of the public, characterized criticisms of the band as an assault on freedom of speech and artistic creativity, calling on the public to play the group’s music in protest.

In December, during months of protests driven by the country’s economic and political problems, hundreds of Shia protesters in one incident demonstrated in Beirut, throwing rocks and fireworks at police and soldiers, after a video appeared on social media insulting Shia political and religious figures, including the speaker of the parliament and the leader of Hizballah. Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd. The video showed a Sunni individual from the northern city of Tripoli, Samer al-Saydawi, cursing Shia, their leaders, and their religious figures. A prominent Sunni imam criticized the posting and said it did not represent the views of the Sunni community. Saydawi, who lived abroad at year’s end, later released a second video, apologizing for his previous message.

On May 16, the country’s top political and religious leaders, as well as foreign dignitaries and representatives, attended the state funeral of Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir. Sunni Grand Mufti Abdel Latif Deryan described Sfeir as “a role model for moderation, openness, wisdom, dialogue, love, and coexistence between Muslims and Christians.”

On January 15, Rabbi Alex Goldberg met with Tripoli Mufti Malek Chaar. Mufti Chaar issued a statement afterwards saying the meeting resulted from an appointment request made by the Association of Dialogue for Reconciliation and Life. Mufti Chaar received a foreign delegation from 12 countries comprising 27 persons from different religions.

Following issuance of a permit to the Jewish Community Council to restore the Sidon cemetery in 2018 after acts of vandalism, the council did not begin any restoration during the year. The council’s 2011 lawsuit against individuals who constructed buildings in the Jewish cemetery in Tripoli continued, pending additional court-ordered analysis of the site, and was unresolved by year’s end. Once again, the Jewish Community Council reported acts of vandalism, including dumping of trash and rubble, at Jewish cemeteries in Beirut and Sidon. Despite the council submitting a formal complaint to the municipality of Beirut, no substantial progress was made regarding preventing construction debris and other garbage from being dumped in the Beirut Jewish cemetery.

Religious leaders stated relationships among individual members of different religious groups remained amicable, demonstrated by continued participation by Christian and Muslim religious leaders in interfaith dialogues. On July 30, an interreligious spiritual summit sponsored by Sheikh al-Aql Naim Hassan convened in Beirut at the House of Druze Communities. Senior religious leaders from the Muslim, Christian, and Druze communities attended. The religious leaders gathered at the summit in an attempt to restore calm following an increase in intra-Druze tensions. Summit participants issued a joint communique stating national unity represented an indispensable guarantee to build a better future for the country, and coexistence among the different components of the population must be preserved from any threat connected to the resurgence of sectarian impulses and conflicts.

At year’s end, approximately 70 percent of students attended private schools, which despite many having ties to confessional groups, often were open to children of other religious groups as well.

Local pluralism and religious freedom NGO Adyan Foundation initiated a project funded by the government of Denmark, titled “Women, Religions and Human Rights in Lebanon.” The project’s stated long-term objective was to end discrimination against women through reforms that would amend the country’s laws by altering or ending the role played by religious communities and their courts over personal status issues.

A November report published by Arab Barometer, an international research consortium, showed personal piety in the country declined dramatically in the past decade: only 24 percent of the population described themselves as religious compared with 44 percent in 2010. In addition, those attending religious services weekly dropped by 21 percentage points from 2007 to 2018; the country’s population also experienced a 28 percentage point drop in those reading or listening to religious texts. Despite these reported changes, intolerance toward members of other religions rose: 20 percent of those polled stated they would not like neighbors of a different religious group, an increase of 16 percentage points since 2010. Support for religion in the public sphere increased, with Shia and Druze being somewhat more likely than Christians to favor incorporating religion into politics; however, 71 percent said religious leaders should not influence voters, a 20-point decline since 2010.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to engage government officials on the need to encourage tolerance, dialogue, and mutual respect among religious groups.

The Ambassador and other embassy officers frequently met with individual politicians representing different religious groups to discuss their views, including on relations with other religious groups, and to promote religious tolerance.

The Ambassador met on multiple occasions with the leadership of the Sunni, Shia, Druze, and Christian communities to promote interfaith dialogue and urge them to take steps to counter violent extremism. Embassy officers often met with civil society representatives to convey similar messages.

The Ambassador met on March 7 with a group of religious leaders in Tripoli, including the Mufti of Tripoli Sheikh Dr. Malek Chaar, Greek Orthodox Bishop of Tripoli Afram Keryakos, and Maronite Bishop of Tripoli Georges Abou Jaoude, to discuss relationships among the different communities. The group praised U.S. assistance in the region and highlighted the positive impact that their close working relationship had on relationships among the different religious communities in Tripoli.

In March embassy officials met with Chaldean Bishop Michel Kassarji to explore opportunities for enhanced engagement and to identify steps to improve the eparchy’s communication and cooperation in provision of assistance from international agencies, including UNHCR. This was a continuation of 2018 meetings among Iraqi Christian refugees, Chaldean Church officials, and UNHCR, which stemmed from complaints of religious-based discrimination in the provision of services to refugees that were assessed by the U.S. Agency for International Development as unfounded. In May following embassy outreach to minority refugee communities, the World Food Program (WFP) added a significant number of beneficiaries to its U.S.-funded food program. More than 2,300 Iraqi and other non-Syrian refugee households comprising approximately 8,900 refugees (primarily religious minorities) began receiving $27 per month through a card that could be used to purchase food at WFP-approved grocery stores.

The embassy continued for the ninth consecutive year to fund and manage a scholarship program at the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese American University that brings together religiously and geographically diverse students to increase their understanding of religious diversity. Each scholarship includes full tuition, up to one year of intensive English courses, housing or transportation expenses, a monthly stipend, books, medical insurance, and a laptop. Nearly 140 religiously diverse students from 70 high schools, including 20 percent from UNRWA schools, participated during the year. Students from a variety of religious backgrounds also collaborated to develop and lead community service projects serving geographically and religiously diverse communities across the country as part of a project that directly served more than 4,000 high school students since 2007.

For the ninth consecutive year, the embassy selected five students between the ages of 18 and 25 to participate in a five-week visitor exchange program at Temple University, where they learned about religious pluralism in the United States, visited places of worship, and participated in related cultural activities.

Liechtenstein

Executive Summary

The constitution stipulates everyone is free to choose his or her faith. It makes the state responsible for “protecting the religious…interests of the People” and establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion. It stipulates other religions may practice their faith within the bounds of morality and public order. There are criminal penalties for public incitement to hatred towards a religious group, religious discrimination, or “debasement” of any religion. The state-subsidized, nonprofit Liechtenstein Institute said Muslims remained unable to obtain local authorities’ permission to establish their own cemetery or build a mosque, and the Islamic Community of Liechtenstein was unable to establish a prayer room. On January 27, government officials held public film screenings and discussions on the Holocaust, and Minister for Home Affairs, Education, and Environment Dominique Hasler spoke on the importance of remembering and raising awareness of the Holocaust.

There was one Muslim prayer room in the country belonging to the Turkish Association. Religious groups in every municipality continued to open their chapels to other denominations and faiths upon request.

The U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, which is responsible for diplomatic relations with the country, continued to encourage the promotion of religious freedom in discussions with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), focusing primarily on access to religious education, particularly by Muslims, and the establishment of religious infrastructure, such as a mosque or Muslim burial sites. Embassy staff discussed religious freedom issues, such as the extent of societal discrimination and the difficulties Muslims encountered in establishing religious infrastructure, with the Liechtenstein Friends of Yad Vashem, Liechtenstein Institute, and the Liechtenstein Human Rights Association.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 39,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2015 census, religious group membership is as follows: 73.4 percent Roman Catholic, 6.3 percent Protestant Reformed, 5.9 percent Muslim, 1.2 percent Lutheran, 1.3 percent Christian Orthodox, 1.8 percent other religious groups, 7 percent no religious affiliation, and 3.3 percent unspecified.

According to the Liechtenstein Institute, the majority of Muslims are Sunni, predominantly immigrants and descendants of immigrants from Turkey, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia. The Jewish community consists of approximately 30 individuals. Immigrants, who comprise approximately one-third of the country’s population, come mainly from Switzerland and Austria and belong predominantly to the same religious groups as native-born citizens.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states that all persons shall have the freedom to choose their faith and the state shall be responsible for ‘‘protecting the religious…interests of the People.” The constitution specifies Roman Catholicism is the state religion, which “shall enjoy full protection from the state.” The constitution stipulates other religions may practice their beliefs and hold religious services “within the bounds of morality and public order.”

Municipalities provide the Catholic Church with certain unique benefits that vary by municipality, including financial support and state maintenance of buildings and grounds owned by the Church.

There is no law requiring the registration of religious groups. Religious groups other than the Catholic Church may organize themselves as private associations, which enables registration in the commercial registry, and must do so to receive government funding for such activities as providing religious education in schools or executing projects to promote social integration of religious minorities, such as offering language courses for foreigners. To register in the commercial registry, the association must submit an official letter of application to the Office for Justice, including the organization’s name, purpose, board members, and head office location, as well as a memorandum of association based on local law, a trademark certification, and a copy of the organization’s statutes.

All religious groups are exempt from certain taxes. The government has not indicated how it determines whether groups not registered in the commercial registry are religious groups entitled to the tax exemptions.

The law prohibits the slaughter of animals without anesthetization, making the kosher and halal slaughter illegal. Importation of such meat is legal.

The criminal code prohibits any form of public incitement to hatred or discrimination against, or disparagement of, any religion or its adherents by spoken, written, visual, or electronic means. The criminal code also prohibits the denial, trivialization, and justification of genocide and other crimes against humanity by spoken, written, visual, or electronic means. Penalties may include a prison sentence of up to two years. The criminal code prohibits refusing service to a person or group of persons based on religious affiliation as well as membership in any association that aims to promote discrimination against a person or persons based on religious affiliation.

The law requires the inclusion of religious education in the primary and secondary public school curriculum. Catholic or Protestant Reformed religious education is compulsory in all primary schools. Parents may request exemptions for their children, without providing a reason, from the Office of Education. Children exempted from religious education or who are neither Catholic nor Protestant must attend a class called “Ethics and Religions.” The law also grants the Office of Education the right to organize and finance Islamic education as an elective in public primary schools. Catholic, Protestant Reformed, and Muslim groups provide the teachers for religious instruction, and the Office of Education pays for some or all of their salaries. The Catholic Church determines the Catholic curriculum, with minimal supervision from municipalities. Other religious groups registered as associations may provide teachers for optional religious classes if there is a demand for them and may apply for partial funding of the teachers’ salaries from the government’s integration budget.

At the secondary school level, parents and students may choose between a Catholic religious education course, which the government finances and the Catholic religious community organizes, and a general course in religion and culture taught from a sociological perspective.

To receive residency permits, foreign religious workers must have completed theological studies, command a basic level of German, belong to a “nationally known” religious group (the law does not define “nationally known”), and be sponsored by a resident clergy member of the same religious group.

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

Government Practices

In August the Liechtenstein Institute said Muslims had still not been able to obtain permission from local authorities to establish an Islamic cemetery or build a mosque in the country. All religious groups, including Muslims, were allowed to bury their dead in cemeteries owned by municipalities. According to the institute, municipalities did not categorically oppose mosques, but there was little political will among citizens to address the issue.

The institute also stated the Islamic Community of Liechtenstein remained unable to establish a prayer room in the country. The institute reiterated that Muslims faced difficulties in finding suitable rental space for use as prayer room spaces due to societal skepticism and wariness towards Islam, a wariness which it said was also reflected in the reluctance of municipalities to issue a permit for an Islamic cemetery.

During the 2018-19 school year ending in July, public primary schools in six municipalities offered Islamic education twice each month to a total of 66 students between the ages of six and 12.

Public schools continued to include Holocaust education as part of their curriculum and held Holocaust discussion forums to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. In February senior high school students at the Liechtenstein Grammar School traveled to Dachau, Germany to learn about the history of the Holocaust.

In January three high schools, including the secondary school in Eschen, and the University of Liechtenstein hosted the Liechtenstein Friends of Yad Vashem’s exhibition “SHOAH. The Holocaust. How was it humanly possible?” Several schools also invited the honorary president of the Liechtenstein Friends of Yad Vashem, Evelyne Bermann, to speak with students about the Holocaust.

Funding for religious institutions continued to derive mainly from the municipalities. Municipalities provided Catholic and Protestant Reformed churches annual subsidies in proportion to membership. The MFA stated municipalities allocated funding for specific purposes, such as paying the rent for places of worship, and remained in regular contact with religious representatives regarding the funding.

According to the MFA, authorities in 2018 dropped criminal proceedings against persons suspected of violating the antidiscrimination law by spray-painting a swastika on an outdoor trash can. The MFA stated authorities concluded that, despite the implied support for Nazi ideology, painting the swastika did not amount to anti-Semitic activity.

The government immigration and passport office continued to issue residency permits to religious workers, valid for five years, instead of visas. Religious workers from Schengen member countries did not require permits or visas. The Turkish Association’s imam was not replaced after his 2018 departure – neither the government nor the Turkish Association indicated whether authorities denied a permit for a replacement or the association failed to apply for one.

On January 27, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Minister for Home Affairs, Education, and Environment Hasler hosted government officials and the public at the Takino cinema in Schaan for film screenings and discussions on moral guilt, radicalization, the maintenance of historical records, and ways of dealing with the truth about the Holocaust. Parliament President Albert Frick and Liechtenstein Police Chief Jules Hoch attended the opening, which screened the 1924 silent movie “The City Without Jews.” In her speech, Hasler stated the “darkest chapter of humanity’s history” cannot be forgotten and emphasized the need for the government to continue its efforts to raise awareness of the Holocaust.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were no mosques in the country; there was one Islamic prayer room, operated by the Turkish Association, in leased space in Triesen. The Islamic Community of Liechtenstein had a prayer room in the canton of St. Gallen in neighboring Switzerland.

According to the MFA, religious groups in every municipality continued to open their chapels to other denominations and faiths upon request, including to Orthodox and Islamic groups. For example, the Catholic Church of Schaan continued to make its church available to the Christian Orthodox community to hold an Orthodox Easter Sunday service.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy staff continued to discuss religious freedom issues, focusing primarily on access to religious education by different religious groups, particularly the Muslim community, and the establishment of religious infrastructure, such as a mosque or Muslim burial sites, with the MFA’s specialist for human rights and international law.

Embassy staff also continued to discuss the effects of laws on religious practices and the extent of societal discrimination with the Liechtenstein Friends of Yad Vashem, the Liechtenstein Institute, and the government-supported Liechtenstein Human Rights Association, a consortium of nongovernmental organizations.

Lithuania

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, freedom of religious practice, and state recognition of religious organizations, provided they do not contradict the constitution or the law. The government extends special benefits to nine traditional religious groups and more limited benefits to four recognized religious groups. Religious groups must register with the government to gain legal status. Parliament did not approve the recognition application by the indigenous religious group Romuva, despite a favorable recommendation by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), and again did not consider the recognition application from the United Methodist Church, pending since 2001. The MOJ did not provide a recommendation to parliament for the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ recognition application, pending since 2017. In October a court dismissed an appeal by a Jehovah’s Witness who, as a conscientious objector, refused any form of service under military authority. In March a local court dismissed a case against the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania brought by a U.S. citizen who sued the center for concluding that Jonas Noreika, an anti-Soviet partisan leader, did not participate in the mass killing of Jews in the country during World War II (WWII). In December the center issued a report stating that Noreika was actually an anti-Nazi resistance fighter who worked to save Jews from the ghetto; academics, Jewish groups, and NGOs criticized this report as factually unsupported (it cited a single source from the 1980s) and misleading. In July the Vilnius mayor removed a plaque honoring Noreika, but it was reinstalled subsequently without permission by the nationalist NGO Pro Patria. The government continued with plans to begin the conversion of a Soviet-era sports arena, which was built on top of a Jewish cemetery, into a conference center. A Lithuanian Jew residing in Israel petitioned to stop construction on the grounds that it would disturb human remains. On December 2, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Ambassador-at-Large for Jewish Issues Dainius Junevicius and Member of Parliament and chairman of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania (International Commission) Emanuelis Zingeris attended a regional conference in Vilnius commemorating the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Terezin Declaration. On December 10, the MFA organized a session on the importance of religious freedom and belief during the country’s second annual human rights forum. Experts participating in the session included an MOJ official.

There were six recorded anti-Semitic acts of vandalism between September and November, including one on October 6 in Vilnius involving an unknown person spray-painting a swastika on the side of a building and leaving an apparent makeshift explosive near the entrance of that building. On November 13, three teenagers spray-painted the words “Heil Hitler” on a Kaunas synagogue’s information board. On November 17, three teenagers broke the windows of a mosque in Kaunas. In March some participants at a nationalist march in Vilnius of approximately 1,000 persons wore fascist symbols and carried banners of Lithuanian partisans who critics said were Nazi collaborators. Some participants at another nationalist march of 300 persons in February carried a banner with a picture of a WWII-era anti-Semite, Kazys Skirpa. Anonymous anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim internet postings in response to articles about Jewish or Muslim issues were common, but observers said media portals generally removed them when these postings were brought to their attention.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officers met with government officials, including Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, ministers and vice ministers at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Culture, and the speaker and members of parliament (MPs). They also met with the International Commission and the head of the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) to discuss ways to combat intolerance and anti-Semitism and to resolve compensation for Jewish private property seized during the Nazi and Soviet eras. In September the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues released a statement on social media encouraging Lithuanians to review objectively the actions of historical anti-Soviet resistance fighters whose actions directly led to the persecution and mass killing of persons during the Holocaust. On October 27, the Charge d’Affaires attended the opening of a Holocaust education seminar for teachers and delivered remarks emphasizing the responsibility of teachers in educating youth about the country’s role in the Holocaust. On October 29, the Charge attended the unveiling of a memorial stone commemorating the individuals killed during the Holocaust in the forest near Zarasai on August 26, 1941. On December 2, the Charge and other embassy officers attended a regional conference in Vilnius commemorating the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Terezin Declaration.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.8 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census, of the 90 percent of the population that responded to the question about religious affiliation, 86 percent are Roman Catholic, and 7 percent do not identify with any religious group. Religious groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Russian Orthodox, Old Believers, Lutherans, Reformed Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims, Greek Catholics, Karaite Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Full Gospel Word of Faith Movement, Pentecostals/Charismatics, Old Baltic faith communities, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, and members of the New Apostolic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In the 2011 census, approximately 5,100 persons identified as followers of Romuva, a religion practiced in the country since before the introduction of Christianity. According to the census, the Jewish population is predominately concentrated in larger cities and is estimated at 3,050. The population of Karaite Jews, who traditionally live in Trakai and in the greater Vilnius region, is estimated at 250. The Sunni Muslim population numbers approximately 2,800, the majority of whom are Tatars, a community living primarily in Vilnius and Kaunas. The Muslim community also includes recent converts, migrants, refugees, and temporary workers from the Middle East and Africa, most of whom are Sunni Muslim.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates there is no state religion and provides for the right of individuals to choose freely any religion or belief, to profess their religion and perform religious practices, individually or with others, in private or in public, and to practice and teach their beliefs. It states no one may compel another person (or be compelled) to choose or profess any religion or belief. The constitution allows limits on the freedom to profess and spread religious beliefs when necessary to protect health, safety, public order, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. It restricts freedom of expression if it incites religious hatred, violence, or discrimination. It stipulates religious belief may not serve as justification for failing to comply with laws.

Under the constitution, the government may temporarily restrict freedom of expression of religious belief during a period of martial law or a state of emergency.

The constitution acknowledges the freedom of parents or guardians to oversee the religious and moral education of their children without interference and stipulates public education shall be secular, although schools may provide religious instruction at the request of parents. The constitution grants recognition to traditional religious groups and provides for recognition of other religious groups if their teachings and practices do not conflict with law or public morals. It states the status of religious groups shall be established by agreement or law and recognized religious groups shall be free to carry out their activities as long as they are not in conflict with the constitution or laws.

The law requires the police to take preemptive measures against illegal activities, giving special attention to maintaining order on specific historical dates and certain religious or cultural holidays.

The law defines religious groups as (1) religious communities, (2) religious associations, which comprise at least two religious communities under common leadership, and (3) religious centers, which are higher governing bodies of religious associations.

The law recognizes as “traditional” those religious groups able to trace back their presence in the country at least 300 years. The law lists nine “traditional” religious groups: Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Russian Orthodox, Old Believer, Jewish, Sunni Muslim, and Karaite Jewish. “Traditional” religious groups may perform marriages that are state recognized, establish joint private/public schools, provide religious instruction in public schools, and receive annual government subsidies. Their highest-ranking leaders are eligible to apply for diplomatic passports, and they may provide chaplains for the military, social care institutions, hospitals, and prisons. The state provides social security and healthcare insurance contributions for clergy, religious workers, and members of monastic orders of the traditional religious groups. Traditional religious groups are also not required to pay social and health insurance taxes for clergy and most other religious workers and members of monastic orders.

Other religious groups and associations may apply to the MOJ for state recognition if they have legal entity status, meaning they have been officially registered in the country for at least 25 years. Parliament votes whether to grant state recognition status upon recommendation from the MOJ. The Evangelical Baptist Union of Lithuania, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Pentecostal Evangelical Belief Christian Union, and New Apostolic Church of Lithuania are the only state-recognized “nontraditional” religious groups registered in this manner.

Recognition entitles “nontraditional” religious groups to perform marriages that will be recognized by the state, similar to marriages officiated by traditional religious groups, and to provide religious instruction in public schools. Recognition also grants “nontraditional” religious groups eligibility for annual subsidies from the state budget and for certain social security and healthcare contributions by the state.

The MOJ handles official registration of religious communities, associations, and centers. Groups wishing to register must submit an application and supporting documentation to the MOJ, including bylaws describing their religious teachings and governance, minutes of the founding meeting, and a list of the founders, at least 15 of whom must be citizens. Upon approval of its application, a religious community, association, or center may register as a legal entity with the State Enterprise Center of Registers. Registration is voluntary for religious communities, associations, and centers affiliated with traditional religious groups and mandatory for nontraditional communities wishing to receive legal status.

Registration of “traditional” religious communities, associations, and centers is free of charge, while “nontraditional” communities pay a fee of 32 euros ($36). Traditional communities also have a simpler registration procedure and need to submit only an application, decisions of their governing body on the appointment of their leader, and their headquarters address. The MOJ may refuse to register a religious group if full data are not included in the application, the activities of the group violate human rights or public order, or a group with the same name has already registered. According to the Center of Registers, there are 1,121 traditional and 197 nontraditional religious communities, associations, and centers that are officially registered legal entities.

For all religious groups, official registration is a prerequisite for opening a bank account, owning property, and acting in a legal or official capacity as a community. The law allows all registered religious groups to own property for use as prayer houses, homes, and other functions, and permits construction of facilities necessary for religious activities. All registered groups are eligible for public funds from municipalities for cultural and social projects.

The country has compulsory military service for males between the ages of 19 and 26 and up to the age of 38 for those with higher education. The country has approximately 3,500 conscripts each year. Military service is for nine months. Clergy from registered groups are exempt from compulsory military service. In the event of a military conflict, clergy would be called to serve as chaplains. The Constitutional Court recognizes the right to conscientious objection on any grounds. The law provides an alternative to military service in civilian institutions unless the military deems it necessary to perform an alternative service in a national defense institution.

Unregistered communities have no legal status, but the constitution allows them to conduct worship services and seek new members.

The Interministerial Commission to Coordinate Activities of Governmental Institutions that Deal with Issues of Religious, Esoteric, and Spiritual Groups coordinates investigations of religious groups if there is a concern a group’s actions may be inconsistent with what the commission perceives to be “principles that stress respect for human freedom of expression and freedom of religion.”

The Journalist Ethics Inspectorate, a government-sponsored organization whose head is appointed by parliament, investigates complaints involving the violation of regulatory laws governing the provision of information to the public, including print media and the internet. These laws include prohibition of the publication of material that fuels religious hatred. The inspectorate may levy administrative fines on newspapers or refer cases to the Office of the General Prosecutor.

The Soviet Union nationalized all religious buildings on June 19, 1948, some of which continued to serve religious communities. On March 21, 1995, the national government passed a law on the restitution of religious property permitting registered religious communities to apply to the appropriate ministry or municipality for restitution or for compensation of religious property they owned before June 19, 1948. The deadline to apply for restitution of religious property was in 1997. The government continues to review cases from registered religious groups filed by the 1997 deadline but is not accepting any new claims. Religious groups may appeal ministry or municipality decisions in court. Unregistered religious groups could not apply for restitution.

In 2011 the national government adopted a law permitting registered religious groups to register previously nationalized religious property that was not officially registered under their name but which they owned before 1948 and continued to use during the Soviet period. The deadline for registered religious groups to register this property was in 2014. The government continues to review cases from registered religious groups filed by the 2014 deadline but is not accepting any new claims. Religious groups may appeal the MOJ’s decisions in court.

For individuals, the country’s private property restitution laws provided a mechanism through which the country’s citizens who had received citizenship before the restitution deadline (December 31, 2001) and resided in the country had the right to submit a claim for private property restitution. The laws excluded those who either lacked citizenship or regained it after 2001.

For Jewish-owned communal property nationalized under totalitarian regimes, a compensation fund was established in 2011 to support Jewish educational, religious, scientific, cultural, and healthcare projects with public benefits. Pursuant to the law, the government is committed to disbursing a total of 36 million euros ($40.45 million) over the decade ending March 1, 2023. Funds go to the Good Will Foundation, a public institution governed by national and international Jewish leaders.

The country has no law for the restitution of heirless private property.

The government allocates funds to traditional religious communities for refurbishing houses of prayer, restoring old cemeteries, and preserving cultural heritage sites. Each traditional religious group receives 3,075 euros ($3,500) every year as a base fund plus an additional amount that is calibrated according to the number of adherents in each community.

The constitution and other laws permit and fund religious instruction in public schools for traditional and state-recognized religious groups. Most religious instructors are regular state-employed teachers, but some are priests, seminarians, or monks. Parents must choose either religious instruction or secular ethics classes for their children but may not opt out of both offerings. Schools decide which of the traditional or state-recognized nontraditional religious groups will be represented in their curricula based on requests from parents of children up to the age 14, after which students present the requests themselves.

There are 30 private schools established by religious communities, 26 Catholic and four Jewish. Students of different religious groups may attend these schools. All accredited private schools (religious and nonreligious) receive funding from municipalities and the Ministry of Education and Science through a voucher system based on the number of pupils. Each private school receives 1,099 euros ($1,200) per student. Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, national minority schools, which include schools established by the Jewish community, receive 20 percent more – 1,318.80 euros ($1,500) – per student than other private schools. The per-student stipend covers only the program costs of school operation. Private school operators generally bear responsibility for covering capital outlays; however, per an agreement the government signed with the Holy See, the Ministry of Education and Science funds both the capital and operating costs of private Catholic schools.

The criminal code prohibits incitement of hatred and discrimination based on religion and stipulates fines or up to two years in prison for violations. The code penalizes interference with religious ceremonies of recognized religious groups, with community service, fines, or detention for up to 90 days. The law does not address interference with or incitement of hatred against unrecognized religious groups.

The Office of the Equal Opportunities (OEO) ombudsperson investigates complaints of discrimination, including those based on religion, directed against state institutions, educational institutions, employers, and product and service sellers and producers. Parliament appoints the ombudsperson for a period of five years. The office conducts independent investigations, publishes surveys and independent reports on discrimination, and provides conclusions and recommendations on any discrimination-related issues. The office also makes proposals to state and municipal institutions and government agencies concerning the improvement of legal acts and priorities of the implementation of equal rights policy. The OEO ombudsperson does not levy monetary penalties.

The parliamentary ombudsperson often works with the OEO ombudsperson but is a separate entity. The parliamentary ombudsperson examines the conduct of state authorities in serving the population. The law governing the parliamentary ombudsperson specifically includes religious discrimination within its purview. The OEO and parliamentary ombudsperson may investigate complaints, recommend changes in the law or draft legislation to parliamentary committees and ministries, and recommend cases to the Prosecutor General’s Office for pretrial investigation.

The criminal code prohibits public display of Soviet and Nazi symbols or national anthems. Violators are subject to fines of 144-289 euros ($160-$320).

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

Government Practices

In March a local court dismissed a case against the state-funded Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania, brought by a U.S. citizen who lost relatives in Holocaust-era killings attributed to Jonas Noreika, a Soviet-era partisan and Nazi collaborator who signed documents establishing a Jewish ghetto and confiscating Jewish property in Siauliai during WWII. The U.S. citizen sued the center for concluding that Noreika did not participate in the mass killing of Jews in Lithuania during the war. In December the center issued a report stating Noreika was an anti-Nazi resistance fighter who actively worked to rescue Jews during the Holocaust, based solely on the 1986 testimony of a Jesuit priest in a U.S. district court. The LJC and a number of prominent academics rejected this claim because it was based on a single witness whom they stated was of dubious credibility.

On July 27, Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius removed a plaque honoring Noreika based on historical evidence that concluded Noreika was a Nazi collaborator. On July 30, President Gitanas Nauseda called for a moratorium on the removal of WWII-era monuments and proposed an initiative to provide municipalities with criteria to evaluate historic property.

In July the Vilnius City Council voted to rename a street, Skirpa Alley, previously named in honor of Kazys Skirpa, the leader of the Lithuanian Activist Front, a WWII anti-Soviet resistance group that was also found to have cooperated with the Nazis in the roundup of Lithuanian Jews. According to media reports, because of Skirpa’s anti-Semitism, the street was renamed Trispalves Aleja. On August 7, media reported that approximately 300 individuals gathered in central Vilnius to protest the city’s decision to rename Skirpa Alley. Attendees also protested the removal of the Noreika plaque.

On September 5, the nationalist NGO Pro Patria reinstalled the Noreika plaque without permission from the Vilnius municipality. Mayor Simasius told media the municipality would not remove the plaque again. On September 6, Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told media that glorifying figures like Noreika would harm the country’s international image.

On June 27, parliament voted 46 (31 opposed and 15 abstentions) to 40 against granting Romuva state-recognized religious association status, despite their receiving a positive recommendation from the MOJ in 2018. According to the Romuva, a member of the Conference of Lithuanian Bishops sent a letter to MPs advising them against granting state recognition to Romuva. The letter, which was subsequently made public, asserted that state recognition of Romuva as a religion would “unduly mislead Lithuanian citizens and discriminate against all other religious communities.” Some MPs told media the Romuva did not present a counterargument to the claims raised in the letter, and other MPs said they viewed Romuva as a cultural organization rather than a religious institution. The law stipulates that Romuva must wait 10 years before reapplying for recognition. Sources stated that the rejection of Romuva led other religious organizations to hesitate before advocating for their applications.

The MOJ was still reviewing the Jehovah’s Witnesses 2017 application for state-recognized religious association status at year’s end. The MOJ says it was conducting research to verify the application dates before recommending the group to parliament.

An application for religious association status by the United Methodist Church of Lithuania, which the MOJ submitted to parliament with a favorable recommendation in 2001, remained pending. According to the MOJ, it was incumbent on the United Methodist Church to advocate for its application in parliament, but the group had not done so. United Methodist Church minister Remigijus Matulaitis said an application rejection would devastate the morale of the Methodist community, and thus the group decided to wait until after parliamentary elections in 2020 to consider advocating for the proposal in parliament.

In April Yousef Yizhak, a Lithuanian Jew residing in Israel, petitioned a Lithuanian court to prevent the renovation of the Vilnius Sports Palace, located on the site of the Snipiskes Jewish Cemetery, stating the renovation into a conference center “would…disturb the human remains surrounding the Sports Palace, and [the remains] that the Soviets mixed into the Sports Palace’s building materials.” The government said the claim would not affect renovation plans until the court made a final decision, expected in 2020 or 2021. The LJC concurred with the government’s decision to continue with the renovations in the meantime. In April the government approved plans to create a permanent exhibition in the conference center devoted to the history of the Snipiskes Jewish Cemetery. On September 23, members of the Vilnius Jewish Community, one of 33 regional branches of the LJC, and visiting rabbis from abroad gathered in front of the Sports Palace with signs urging the government, “to stop these disgraceful plans for construction and allow the dead to rest.”

The government again disbursed 3.62 million euros ($4.07 million) to the Good Will Foundation, in accordance with its agreement with that institution.

The government said it was open to discussions with the LJC, World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), and American Jewish Committee to find a mechanism to compensate the country’s Jewish citizens whose personal property was confiscated during the Nazi and Soviet eras.

The government provided 1.2 million euros ($1.35 million) to traditional religious groups to reconstruct religious buildings and to support other religious community activities. Of this total, it granted one million euros ($1.12 million) to the Roman Catholic Church (some of which was to assist with preparations for the visit of Pope Francis in September) and 61,100 euros ($68,700) to the Russian Orthodox community. The remaining 139,000 euros ($156,000) was divided among the Old Believer, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Sunni Muslim, Karaite and other Jewish, and Greek Catholic communities. These levels were all identical to the previous year’s funding.

The OEO ombudsperson received five complaints of discrimination based on religion. The OEO decided that three of these complaints fell outside its jurisdiction; the OEO considers only complaints based on protected categories such as ethnicity, religion, or gender. The fourth complaint was regarding the process to obtain a temporary residence permit. The fifth complaint was related to employment discrimination. The ombudsperson ruled that neither case constituted religious discrimination.

On September 19, the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman reported Muslim detainees at the Pabrade Foreigners’ Registration Center, a detention center for migrants and asylum seekers, complained about the lack of halal food options and poor sanitary conditions.

The government and civil society organizations continued to work together to promote Holocaust education and tolerance in schools. On January 27, the International Commission for the Evaluation of Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania (the International Commission) held an annual conference entitled “Stories of Jewish Kids” in honor of International Remembrance Day of Holocaust Victims. Students from schools across the country prepared theatrical performances and retold the stories of child victims of the Holocaust.

On July 24, the government approved the 2020 schedule of commemoration events in honor of Vilna Gaon, a prominent 18th century rabbi. In 2018 parliament unanimously dedicated 2020 to Gaon’s legacy and to the history of Lithuanian Jews. Vice Chancellor Deividas Matulionis told media these events would raise public awareness of the country’s “rich history, which is inseparable from the history of Lithuania’s Jews.” The government coordinated with the LJC and cultural institutions to schedule public lectures and design exhibitions to highlight the contributions of Lithuanian Jews and the country’s role in the Holocaust.

On September 23, the International Commission coordinated a student march to massacre sites around the country entitled “Memory Road.” The program included 165 schools traveling to more than 35 different Holocaust sites.

In October the International Commission cosponsored a Holocaust education teacher training with Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The Kaunas Ninth Fort Museum coordinated a seminar for teachers entitled “Pages of Jewish History” and provided teachers with materials to use during classroom instruction. On October 27, the International Commission and the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum in partnership with the Olga Lengyel Institute sponsored a week-long Holocaust education seminar for teachers. The program included presentations, discussions, group work, videos, visits to Holocaust sites, and survivors’ testimonies.

On June 16, Mayor of Birzai Vytas Jareckas, the LJC, and foreign dignitaries attended the unveiling of a memorial stone. Attendees walked the historic path from the train station through the forest to a mass killing site. In opening remarks, Jareckas said, “This event taking place in Birzai will be an opportunity to remember and honor former residents of our country.” Government officials continued to participate in ceremonies to commemorate the Holocaust.

In July government and nongovernmental bodies organized events to mark the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Kaunas and Siauliai ghettos. On July 14, Mayor of Kaunas Visvaldas Matijosaitis, MPs, the Catholic Archbishop of Kaunas, the LJC, and foreign dignitaries attended commemoration events in Kaunas. On July 15, Mayor of Siauliai Arturas Visockas, MPs, the LJC, and foreign dignitaries attended two commemoration events in Siauliai. In opening remarks, Visockas recounted the stories of Jews from Siauliai who died during the Holocaust and emphasized the importance of remembering Jewish contributions to the development of the city.

On July 19, the Jurbarkas municipality, with support from the Good Will Foundation and foreign donors, erected a Holocaust memorial to commemorate the lives of Jews who lived in Jurbarkas. According to a press statement by Mayor of Jurbarkas Skirmantas Mockevicius, the memorial “is a wonderful creation, commemorating the city’s history and people who lived here as well as Jurbarkas residents who saved Jews during the war.”

President Nauseda’s address on September 20 during a state ceremony to honor families that helped save Jewish lives during the Holocaust condemned intolerance and any attempts to intimidate Jewish citizens.

On September 23, the anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto, Speaker of Parliament Viktoras Pranckietis, Minister of Culture Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, Vice Chancellor Matulionis, Mayor of Vilnius Simasius, MPs, foreign dignitaries, the LJC, and Lithuanian Jewish organizations from Israel and Poland attended a Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at the Paneriai Memorial. Pranckietis in his remarks said, “Let this heavy, cruel, and inhumane burden of responsibility teach Lithuanians how to proceed today.” Also on September 23, in his remarks given near the site of the former Vilnius ghetto, Prime Minister Skvernelis stated, “Every effort must be taken to stamp out any manifestations of incitement to ethnic hatred or anti-Semitism in the modern, democratic state of Lithuania.”

On October 4, Mayor of Sakiai Edgaras Pilypaitis with the support of Rami Reznik, an Israeli with Lithuanian Jewish heritage, dedicated a memorial stone to mark the entrance of a previously unmarked Jewish cemetery in Pilviskiai. Mayor Pilypaitis and Reznik restored the old cemetery. Members from the municipality, the LJC, and Lithuanian Jews from Israel attended the commemoration event. In October Mayor of Zarasai Nikolajus Gusevas and the LJC unveiled a Holocaust memorial to commemorate the lives of Zarasai’s Jews lost during the Holocaust.

On December 2, MFA Ambassador-at-Large for Jewish Issues Dainius Junevicius and MP and chairman of the International Commission Emanuelis Zingeris attended a regional conference in Vilnius commemorating the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Terezin Declaration. The Good Will Foundation, in cooperation with WJRO and the International Commission, organized the conference. Experts from the United States, Israel, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Hungary, Moldova, and the Czech Republic shared best practices for restituting Holocaust-era assets.

On December 10, the MFA organized a session on the importance of religious freedom and belief during the country’s second annual human rights forum. Experts included MOJ official Donatas Glodenis; Vytautas Magnus University sociologist and Religious Studies Professor Milda Alisauskiene; a priestess from the Romuva religious community, Migle Valaitiene; and the director of Italy’s Center for Studies on New Religions, Massimo Introvigne. Forum participants discussed the Catholic Church’s intervention in parliament’s decision not to approve the application for recognition submitted by the Romuva community, despite a favorable recommendation by the MOJ. Professor Alisauskiene said parliament had only approved recognition applications from Christian organizations, and minority religions such as Romuva experienced discrimination as a result.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 15 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Lithuania, while 73 percent said it was rare; 60 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 95 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 80 percent said they would be with an atheist, 79 percent with a Jew, 67 percent with a Buddhist, and 62 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 93 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 68 percent if atheist, 65 percent if Jewish, 50 percent if Buddhist, and 35 percent if Muslim.

In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 75 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in Lithuania, and 63 percent believed it had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 19 percent; on the internet, 21 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 23 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 15 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 30 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 17 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 13 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 15 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 15 percent.

On November 13, three teenagers spray-painted the words “Heil Hitler” on the Kaunas synagogue’s information board. Police said they suspected the same teenagers broke the windows of a mosque in Kaunas on November 17. Police launched a pretrial investigation into both acts of vandalism on November 25 and detained an 18-year-old suspect on November 28. The Kaunas municipality removed the graffiti from the information board.

On October 6, media reported that a swastika and a homemade bomb were left outside of a building in Vilnius. Police removed the apparent bomb and launched an investigation.

On February 16, nationalists held a march in Vilnius to commemorate the anniversary of the restoration of the country’s independence, similar to previous years. The march attracted approximately 1,000 participants, an increase from 300 in the previous year, which some NGOs attributed to better organization and publicity. Some of the participants held torches and carried national Lithuanian flags. The march included a banner with a picture of, and a quote by, WWII-era anti-Semite Kazys Skirpa. Nationalists also organized a march in Vilnius on March 11, the country’s official Restoration of Independence Day, involving approximately 1,000 persons, similar to the previous year. According to media, some of the participants displayed fascist or neo-Nazi symbols, such as a skull-and-crossbones flag, and carried a banner with the images of Lithuanian partisans who were Nazi collaborators, such as Kazys Skirpa and Jonas Noreika.

Anonymous anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim comments on the internet were common, for example, on Lithuanian media portal Delfi. Examples of anti-Semitism in this forum included statements that Jews who collaborated with the KGB should be condemned by the LJC for “serving in the repressive Soviet structures and participating or otherwise contributing to the genocide of the Lithuanian nation.” Anti-Muslim examples included equating Muslim refugees entering the country with “a swarm of insects” and urging the government and citizens “to chase those [Muslim] refugees from Lithuania.” Media portals generally removed such comments promptly after becoming aware of them.

In the wake of the Noreika controversy, LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky reported to media the LJC had received threatening calls and letters, and on August 6, she temporarily closed the local synagogue and the Jewish community’s headquarters. In response, Prime Minister Skvernelis condemned all examples of ethnic hatred and called on law enforcement to guarantee the security for every citizen and every community living in the country. Kukliansky reopened the synagogue and community center shortly thereafter.

On September 15, media reported an unidentified person created a large soil swastika near the LJC headquarters. The swastika appeared during the Festival of the Nations, an annual festival displaying the country’s national minority cultures. Prime Minister Skvernelis in a press release denounced it as an act of vandalism and warned that such activities tarnished the country’s image internationally. Foreign Minister Linkevicius condemned the act as “deplorable” and called for police to investigate. On September 16, police launched an investigation; no results were available at year’s end.

In October three more anti-Semitic acts of vandalism took place around the country. On October 5, media reported that an unknown person painted a swastika on a statue of Chaim Frenkel, a 19th century Jewish industrialist, in Siauliai. The Siauliai municipality removed the swastika. The following day, someone spray-painted a swastika on a street in Vilnius. On October 12, a group vandalized a mural representing Jewish cultural life in Vilnius with a swastika. The Vilnius municipality removed all of the swastikas.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The embassy continued to maintain regular dialogue with senior government officials on the importance of religious freedom. The Ambassador and other embassy representatives met with Prime Minister Skvernelis, Speaker of Parliament Pranckietis, presidential advisors, a vice chancellor, mayors, ministers and vice ministers of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Culture, and Education, and MPs and continued to engage them on ways to promote tolerance and integration of religious minorities, including Muslim refugees, into society and combat anti-Semitism. Embassy representatives urged the government to address the remaining issues regarding compensation for Jewish private property seized during the Nazi and Soviet eras. Embassy officials also discussed Holocaust education, remembrance, and property restitution at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government offices and with MPs.

The Ambassador and embassy representatives met regularly with the Jewish community to discuss issues of concern, including property restitution, preservation and restoration of heritage sites, combating intolerance, and Holocaust remembrance.

On February 25, the Ambassador met with Minister of Culture Kvietkauskas to discuss embassy programs related to Holocaust education and preservation of Jewish cultural sites.

On March 7, the Ambassador spoke with Vice Chancellor Matulionis about the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act and the embassy’s outreach to government and nongovernmental agencies to discuss property restitution issues and Holocaust education. The Ambassador also spoke about the issues covered in the JUST report with Minister of Education, Science, and Sports Algirdas Monkevicius on March 18.

On May 9, the Ambassador accompanied an American Jewish Committee representative and LJC Chairwoman Kukliansky to meetings with Foreign Minister Linkevicius and Vice Chancellor Matulionis to discuss the removal of the Noreika plaque, the renovations of the Snipiskes Sports Palace, and private property restitution.

In June embassy officers attended the unveiling of the memorial stone in Birzai. On June 21, an embassy officer attended the unveiling of the YIVO plaque in Vilnius. On June 28, the Ambassador spoke with Foreign Minister Linkevicius about the importance of increasing societal tolerance for religious minorities, government visibility at annual Holocaust remembrance events, and support for Holocaust education and preserving Jewish cultural heritage sites.

On July 10, the Ambassador and Prime Minister Skvernelis discussed the necessity of government support for the Jewish community and continued cooperation and open discussions over the renovation of the Snipiskes Sports Palace. On July 14, a senior embassy official participated in a ceremony honoring the 75th Holocaust Memorial Day in Kaunas. The next day, embassy officials delivered remarks at the 75th Holocaust Memorial Day event in Siauliai, commenting on the importance of remembrance and Holocaust education. In July the embassy provided financial support for an expedition to discover a lost Jewish shtetl located beneath a lake. In his remarks at a July 16 reception announcing the results of the expedition, a senior embassy official highlighted the archaeological team’s contributions to the discovery and preservation of Jewish cultural heritage sites in the country.

In September the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues released a series of tweets in response to the Noreika controversy encouraging Lithuanians to objectively review the actions of historical figures. The envoy advocated against honoring those whose actions directly led to the persecution and killing of Jews during the Holocaust. On September 23, the Charge d’Affaires participated in a ceremony at the Paneriai memorial in honor of Holocaust Memorial Day.

On October 27, the Charge attended the opening of a week-long Holocaust education seminar for teachers and delivered remarks emphasizing the role of teachers in educating the youth about the country’s role in the Holocaust. On October 29, the Charge travelled to Zarasai to attend the unveiling of a memorial stone commemorating the individuals killed in the forest on August 26, 1941. In his remarks, the Charge acknowledged the government’s efforts to preserve Jewish history and cultural heritage and to raise awareness of the country’s role in the Holocaust. On December 2, the Charge and other embassy officers attended the regional conference commemorating the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Terezin Declaration.

Moldova

Executive Summary

The constitution protects the right of individuals to practice their religion and states religious groups are autonomous. The law cites the “exceptional importance” of Orthodox Christianity. According to minority religious groups and civil society leaders, authorities continued to provide preferential treatment to the Moldovan Orthodox Church (MOC). On several occasions, President Igor Dodon expressed his support for Orthodox Christianity. Minority religious groups said MOC priests lobbied local officials, frequently successfully, to deny minority religious groups permission to carry out public activities or build houses of worship. Minority religious groups reported favorable resolution of some longstanding legal cases when authorities issued permits allowing these groups to build or register houses of worship. The government developed and introduced into the school curriculum an optional high school course on the Holocaust based on recommendations of the Elie Wiesel International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust report. Contrary to what it announced in 2018, the government did not establish a national Holocaust museum or Jewish historical or cultural center or complete renovations of the Jewish cemetery in Chisinau. It did, however, commence those renovations. In January the cabinet issued a proclamation on “Condemning Anti-Semitism and Promotion of Tolerance,” and approved for official use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.

In the separatist Transnistria Region, minority religious groups continued to report the de facto authorities discriminated against or restricted their activities. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the de facto authorities denied the group’s attempts to reregister as a religious organization, continued to conscript young male Jehovah’s Witnesses or force them to engage in defense related civilian service contrary to their beliefs, and restricted the distribution of their religious literature. The Salvation Army stated the authorities closely surveilled their members and denied them permission to register a corps in Tiraspol. In contrast with previous years, the Muslim community reported the de facto authorities granted permission for the construction of a mosque and a Muslim educational and cultural center. Tiraspol municipal authorities offered a plot of land for the mosque but later rescinded the lot provision and did not offer an alternative location. Three Jehovah’s Witnesses’ complaints to the UN Human Rights Committee of discriminatory acts in Tiraspol involving the de facto authorities and the Russian Federation remained pending at year’s end.

Several minority religious groups said some MOC priests harassed their leaders or members. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported incidents of verbal intimidation against their members, and the Islamic League stated Muslims, especially women, experienced harassment in schools, employment discrimination, and media and societal bias. The Jewish Community of Moldova (JCM) reported anti-Semitic rhetoric on the internet, in reference to which one Jewish leader said he had not “seen such poisonous language in years.” On August 25, the Jewish community in Chisinau reopened the Wooden Synagogue after buying the property back from the state, bringing the number of synagogues in the country to six. The JCM also selected a contractor for the reconstruction of another synagogue and a yeshiva in Chisinau and received donations worth $500,000 to begin reconstruction work. The JCM reported several cases of vandalism against Jewish gravestones and monuments during the year.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials urged government and parliament to move forward with initiatives to establish a Jewish heritage museum and develop a national school curriculum on the study of the Holocaust. The Ambassador discussed progress on the government’s implementation of recommendations of the final report of the Elie Wiesel International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust at a roundtable organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom met with religious leaders during a visit in May. The Ambassador discussed religious freedom and treatment of the Muslim community in the country during a tour of the mosque in Chisinau. Embassy officials discussed respect for religious freedom and ways to enhance interfaith cooperation with representatives of various religious groups throughout the year.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 3.4 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2014 census, which does not include Transnistria, the predominant religion is Orthodox Christianity, with 90 percent of the population belonging to one of two Orthodox Christian groups. Of Orthodox adherents, approximately 90 percent belong to the MOC, which is subordinate to the Russian Orthodox Church, and the remaining 10 percent belong to the Bessarabian Orthodox Church (BOC), which falls under the Romanian Orthodox Church. Nearly 7 percent of the population did not identify a religious affiliation. The largest non-Orthodox religious groups, accounting for 15,000 to 30,000 adherents each, are Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Pentecostals. Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Seventh-day Adventists, evangelical Christians, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Muslims, Jews, and atheists.

Smaller religious groups include Baha’is, Molokans, Messianic Jews, Presbyterians, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Salvation Army, the Evangelical Christian Church, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), other Christians, Falun Gong, and the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.

In the separatist Transnistria region, the de facto authorities estimate 80 percent of the population belongs to the MOC. Other religious groups in the region include Catholics, followers of Old Rite Russian Orthodoxy, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, evangelical and charismatic Christians, Jews, Lutherans, Muslims, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates the state shall recognize and guarantee all citizens the right to preserve, develop, and express their religious identity. It provides for equal treatment for all citizens regardless of religion, and guarantees freedom of conscience, manifested in “a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect,” and of religious worship. It stipulates religious groups are independent from the state and free to organize and operate according to their own statutes. The constitution prohibits all religious groups, in their mutual relationships, from using, expressing, or inciting hatred or enmity. The constitution stipulates the state shall support religious worship, including facilitating religious assistance in the army, hospitals, penitentiaries, nursing homes, and orphanages.

The law states every person has the right to belong or not belong to a religion, to have or not have individual beliefs, to change religion or beliefs, and to practice religion or beliefs independently or as a group, in public or in private, through teaching, religious practices, or rituals. According to the law, religious freedom may be restricted only if necessary to ensure public order and security, to protect public health and morality, or to protect a person’s rights and freedoms. The law also prohibits discrimination based on religious affiliation.

The law stipulates that the state recognizes the “exceptional importance and fundamental role” of Orthodox Christianity and particularly the MOC, in the life, history, and culture of the country.

The law does not require religious groups to register, and members of unregistered groups may worship freely. However, only registered religious groups possess status as legal entities, allowing them to build houses of worship, own land in cemeteries or other property, publish or import religious literature, open bank accounts, or employ staff. Registration also exempts registered religious groups from land taxes and property taxes and allows them to establish associations and foundations. The law permits local, registered religious groups to change their denominational affiliation or dissolve themselves.

The law allows individuals to redirect 2 percent of their income tax to nongovernment organizations (NGOs) or religious groups. Religious groups wanting to benefit from the provisions must: be officially registered and active for a minimum of one year before applying for the income tax benefit; register with the government’s Public Services Agency (PSA); use the amounts received only for social, moral, cultural, and/or charitable activities and certain administrative costs; and present reports on the use of the funds. The law exempts religious organizations from registration fees and from paying tax on the income received as donations under the 2 percent law.

Under the law, a religious group wishing to register must present to the PSA a declaration including its exact name, fundamental principles of belief, organizational structure, scope of activities, financing sources, and rights and obligations of membership. The law also requires a group to show it has at least 100 founding members. A religious group must present proof of having access to premises where it can conduct its religious activities, but it does not need to own this property. The PSA is required by law to register a religious group within 15 days if the registration request is made according to law. The applicant may request an extension if the government determines the documentation submitted is insufficient.

Under the law, the Ministry of Justice has the right to request a suspension of the registered status of a religious group if it “carries out activities that harm the constitution or laws” or “affects state security, public order, [or] the life and security of the people.” The law also provides for suspension or revocation of a religious group’s registration in case of violation of international agreements or for political activity.

The law bans religious entities from engaging in political activity and prohibits “abusive proselytism,” defined as the action of changing religious beliefs through coercion.

The constitution provides for freedom of religious education and stipulates the state educational system should be secular. According to the law, religion classes in state educational institutions are optional. Students may submit a written request to the school’s administration to enroll in a religion class. Religion classes are offered in grades one through nine. The religious curriculum offers two types of courses: one for Orthodox denominations and Roman Catholics; and the second for evangelical Christians and Seventh-day Adventists. The religious curriculum for Orthodox and Catholic groups derives from instructional manuals developed by the Ministry of Education with input from the MOC and includes teaching guidelines developed with the support of the BOC. Regular teachers and MOC and BOC priests teach these optional courses, which focus on Orthodox Christianity. Regular teachers and representatives of the Evangelical Christian Church teach the second course, which is based on translated religious manuals and literature from Romania, the United States, and Germany.

The law mandates immunization of all children before they may enroll in kindergarten. It does not provide an exception for religious reasons.

The Anti-Discrimination Council, established by law, is an independent institution charged with reviewing complaints of discrimination, including discrimination of a religious character or based on religious affiliation. Parliament chooses members through a competitive process, appointing them to five-year terms. The council does not have sanctioning powers; however, it may determine if an act of discrimination took place, offer advice on how to remedy the situation, and send requests to prosecutors to initiate criminal proceedings. It may also suggest pertinent legislative amendments or participate in working groups authoring legislative initiatives.

According to the law, male citizens ages 18 to 27 have the right to choose alternative civilian service over military service if the latter runs counter to their religious beliefs. Those who choose civilian service may complete it at public institutions or enterprises specializing in areas such as social assistance, healthcare, industrial engineering, urban planning, road construction, environmental protection, agriculture or agricultural processing, town management, and fire rescue. There are no blanket exemptions for religious groups from alternative civilian service, but higher-ranking clergy, monks, and theology students are exempted from such service. Refusal to enroll in civilian service is punishable by a fine up to 32,500 lei ($1,900) or between 100 and 150 hours of community service, and those punished are still obliged to enroll in civilian service.

The law mandates restoration of rights and compensation for material damages for victims of the totalitarian regimes which controlled Moldovan territory between 1917 and 1992 and for citizens who were subject to reprisals based on political, national, religious, or social grounds. The law specifically refers to private property restoration for victims of the Soviet regime but makes no mention of Holocaust-era property confiscations. The law does not apply to communal property confiscated from religious groups.

The law defines as “extremist” and makes illegal any document or information justifying war crimes or the complete or partial annihilation of a religious or other kind of societal group, as well as any document calling for or supporting activities in pursuit of those goals.

Foreign missionaries may submit work contracts or volunteer agreements to apply for temporary residency permits and may reside and work in paid status or as unpaid volunteers. Only missionaries working with registered religious groups may apply for temporary residency permits. Foreign religious workers with these permits must register with the National Agency for the Occupation of the Workforce and the Bureau for Migration and Asylum. They must pre