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 agreements with the Sunni Muslim and Bektashi communities, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the Evangelical Brotherhood of Albania (VUSH), a Protestant umbrella organization, pertaining to recognition, 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, however, that correspondence with the State Committee on Cults included a commitment to provide financial support for evangelical Christian churches. The Orthodox Church, the Albanian Islamic Community (AIC), and the VUSH noted positively the State Committee on Cults’ engagement with them, although the VUSH expressed concern the government showed indifference towards it relative to other faith communities. The government legalized 105 buildings owned by religious groups during the year, and the status of 68 additional properties was under review. In response to a Constitutional Court ruling that some provisions of the 2015 Law on Property were unconstitutional, the Council of Ministers issued two decisions during the year designed to break an impasse in reviewing claims. The Agency for the Treatment of Property (ATP) reported it rejected 17 claims for title, which allowed the claimants to take their cases to court. 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 Orthodox Church reported problems obtaining ownership of monasteries and churches deemed cultural heritage sites by the government. As of year’s end, the Council of Ministers had not finished adopting regulations to support implementation of a 2017 law on the rights and freedoms of national minorities, including religious freedom.
The Interreligious Council, a forum for the country’s religious leaders to discuss shared concerns, held its first meeting of the year in October and voted to include the VUSH as a member. The AIC reported the Polish government presented an award on October 25 in Poland to the Interreligious Council for its efforts to encourage and preserve interfaith harmony in Albania. Separately, several religious authorities expressed concern about foreign influence and interference in Albanian religious organizations.
U.S. embassy officers again urged government officials to accelerate the religious property claims process and return to religious group’s buildings and other property confiscated from them during the communist era. The embassy sponsored the participation of the commissioner on cults to participate in an exchange program on interfaith dialogue and religious freedom. The embassy also provided technical assistance from a U.S. specialist who assisted the Ministry of Education in developing a national policy on, and drafting the outline of, a teacher’s manual for teaching about religion in public and private schools. Embassy youth education programs continued to focus on respecting religious diversity. Other embassy-sponsored programs focused on promoting women’s empowerment in religious communities and the compatibility of religious faith and democracy. The embassy also continued its work with religious communities to discourage the appeal of violent extremism related to religion among youth.
The constitution provides for freedom of individuals to manifest their religion or belief and prohibits religious discrimination. It names two co-princes – the president of France and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Urgell in Catalonia, Spain – as joint heads of state. In accordance with the constitution, the government offers the Catholic Church privileges not available to other religious groups. In July the government submitted a draft equality and nondiscrimination law, including a prohibition of religious discrimination, to parliament. A vote on the law was expected in early 2019. The government again did not respond to requests by Muslim and Jewish groups to build a cemetery. The government only issued religious work permits to Catholics, but it typically allowed non-Catholics to reside and perform religious work in the country under a different status.
The Muslim community used two prayer rooms, but there was no mosque in the country. The Catholic Church of Santa Maria del Fener in Andorra la Vella continued to lend its sanctuary twice a month to the Anglican community.
During periodic visits, the U.S. Ambassador, resident in Spain, and the Consul General and other officials from the U.S. Consulate General in Barcelona continued to meet with senior government officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Justice, and with Jewish and Muslim leaders. They discussed such issues as the lack of official status for faiths other than Catholicism and the lack of cemeteries for the Jewish and Muslim communities.
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 buffer zone, or “green line,” 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).
IN THIS SECTION: REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS | AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS (BELOW)
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 Islamic Vakf the exclusive right to regulate its internal affairs. The “government” began allowing mosques to teach summer religious education classes without its prior approval and said it would allow secondary school students to opt out of Sunni Islam classes. There were reports of detention of persons with alleged ties to the so-called “Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization (FETO).” Authorities improved access to Greek Orthodox religious sites. The “Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)” said it approved 118 of 153 total requests to hold religious services during the year. Greek Orthodox, Maronite, and Turkish-Speaking Protestant Association (TSPA) representatives continued to report police surveillance of their activities.
The TSPA said Turkish Cypriots who converted to other faiths experienced societal criticism. The TCCH reported it completed restoration of 10 religious sites. Religious leaders such as Mufti of Cyprus Atalay and Archbishop of the Church of Cyprus Chrysostomos met throughout the year and arranged visits to places of worship across the “green line.” The RTCYPP published a letter with statements from Mufti Atalay and Greek Orthodox Bishop of Neapolis Porfyrios calling on Turkish Cypriot authorities to return icons stored in the Kyrenia Castle to the Greek Orthodox community.
In March the U.S. Ambassador met with Mufti of Cyprus Atalay, who was also head of the “Religious Affairs Department,” to discuss interfaith dialogue and access to religious sites. U.S. embassy officials met with representatives at the “presidency” and “MFA” to discuss unrestricted access to religious sites. In November the Ambassador attended a Maronite celebration at St. George Church in Kormakitis/Korucam. Embassy officials continued to meet with leaders from Sunni and Alevi Muslim, Armenian and Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Roman Catholic, and Protestant communities to discuss freedom of worship, access to religious sites, and instances of religious-based discrimination.
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. According to media, in March police attempted to pressure a self-identified atheist youth to return to the AAC. On several occasions, Nikol Pashinyan, elected prime minister in May following nationwide protests, declared that state and church were separate and the government would not interfere in church matters. According to local observers, the new government suspended the process of adopting a new draft law on religious freedom of major concern to religious minorities. According to representatives of the Baha’i community, authorities detained a prominent member of the community in December 2017 and held him until July, when a court released him on bail. Some civil society and minority religious groups continued to state their concerns that the content of the History of the Armenian Church (HAC) courses taught in public schools discriminated against religious minorities and that the courses did not provide an opt-out mechanism. According to the Center for Religion and Law, an evangelical Protestant teacher in a public school in the village of Yelpin became a target of religious discrimination.
According to media analysts, following the April “velvet revolution,” individuals affiliated with or sympathetic to the ousted government used religious issues to denounce the new government. Various private media outlets and social media users stated that minority religious groups, which they referred to as “sects,” had led the revolution and that these “sects” continued to exercise influence over the new government. According to local observers, these remarks led to a dramatic decrease in objective reporting on religious issues. Religious minorities said that what they characterized as a “nationalistic climate,” especially outside the capital, had caused their members to experience societal discrimination.
The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to promote religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue during meetings with government officials. Embassy officials met with AAC leaders to engage the AAC in supporting the rights of religious minorities to practice their faiths without restrictions. In July the Ambassador hosted an event to foster interreligious dialogue, mutual respect, and cooperation, bringing together representatives of the AAC, religious and ethnic minorities, and civil society and sharing the previous Department of State report on international religious freedom. The embassy used Facebook and Twitter to send messages in support of religious tolerance. The Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly met with minority religious groups, including with evangelical Christians and other Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Yezidis, the Jewish community, Apostolic Assyrians, Pentecostals, and Baha’is, to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country.
Historical and modern constitutional and legal documents provide for freedom of religious belief and affiliation and prohibit religious discrimination. The law bans public incitement to hostile acts against religious groups. The law divides recognized religious groups into three categories; 16 groups recognized as religious societies receive the most benefits. Unrecognized groups may practice their religion privately if the practice is lawful and does not offend “common decency.” The government continued to enforce a ban on face coverings. Scientologists and the Unification Church said government-funded organizations advised the public against associating with them. The government tightened controls on ritual slaughter. Muslim and Jewish groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concerns over anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic sentiment in the Freedom Party (FPOe), the junior partner in the coalition government. Authorities dropped an investigation of an FPOe politician on anti-Semitism charges because the statute of limitations had run; he resumed his position as party chair in Lower Austria. The government collaborated with the Muslim community to combat extremism and with a Jewish NGO on Holocaust awareness training for teachers.
The Islamic Faith Community (IGGIO) reported 540 anti-Muslim incidents, a 75 percent increase over the 309 incidents it recorded in 2017. It attributed the increase in part to its documentation center’s higher public profile. More than half of the incidents occurred online; others included verbal abuse and vandalism. Courts convicted individuals of anti-Islamic rhetoric and anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi activity, generally handing down fines or sentences, some of which they suspended.
Embassy representatives regularly engaged with officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior on religious freedom, concerns of religious groups, integration of religious minorities, and measures to combat anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiment and encourage interreligious dialogue. The Ambassador met with leaders from the IGGIO, Jewish Community (IKG), Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, and Orthodox Churches to discuss their relations with the government, instances of discrimination, and interreligious dialogue; the embassy met with the youth branches of religious organizations. Embassy officials served on the advisory board of the Mauthausen Memorial Agency, which promoted Holocaust remembrance, spoke on religious freedom at public ceremonies, and supported programs to combat anti-Semitism and promote religious dialogue and tolerance.
The constitution stipulates the separation of state and religion and 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. Following a July attack on the then head of the city of Ganja Executive Committee, security forces killed five and arrested more than 60 individuals whom authorities said were part of a Shia “extremist conspiracy” involving at least some members of the Muslim Unity Movement. Local human rights groups and others stated that the government continued to physically abuse, arrest, and imprison religious activists. The government had reportedly imprisoned 68 religious activists at the end of the year, compared with 80 in 2017. Authorities detained, fined, or warned numerous individuals for holding unauthorized religious meetings. According to religious groups, the government continued to deny or delay registration to minority religious groups it considered “nontraditional,” disrupting their religious services and fining participants. Groups previously registered but which authorities required to reregister continued to face obstacles in doing so. Authorities permitted some of these groups to operate freely, but others reported difficulties in trying to practice their faith. The government continued to control the importation, distribution, and sale of religious materials. The courts fined numerous individuals for the unauthorized sale or distribution of religious materials, although some individuals had their fines revoked on appeal. The government sponsored events throughout the country to promote religious tolerance and combat what it considered religious extremism.
Local experts on religious affairs and civil society representatives stated societal tolerance continued for “traditional” minority religious groups (i.e. those historically present in the country), including Jews, Russian Orthodox, and Catholics; however, citizens often viewed with suspicion and mistrust groups that many considered “nontraditional” (i.e., those organized in recent decades).
The U.S. Charge d’Affaires and embassy officers met regularly with officials from the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations (SCWRA) and other government officials and urged the government to address longstanding issues with the registration process for religious communities and to improve its treatment of religious groups still facing difficulties fulfilling the requirements for reregistration. The Charge d’Affaires and embassy officers engaged government officials to argue against the criminal prosecution for evasion of military service of Jehovah’s Witnesses who sought alternative service as stipulated in the constitution. The Charge d’Affaires and embassy officers also continued discussions on obstacles to registration and the importation of religious materials with religious leaders and representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The Charge d’Affaires and embassy spokespersons publicly called for the government and society to uphold religious tolerance and acceptance.
The constitution grants individuals freedom to profess and practice any religious belief but prohibits religious activities directed against the sovereignty of the state, its constitutional system, and “civic harmony.” The law recognizes the “determining role” of the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC). A concordat grants the BOC rights and privileges not granted to other religious groups, although the law also acknowledges the historical importance of the “traditional” faiths of Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and evangelical Lutheranism. By law, all registered religious groups must seek permits to hold events outside of their premises, including proselytizing activities, and must obtain prior governmental approval to import and distribute religious literature. The law bans all religious activity by unregistered groups. The government continued to detain or fine individuals for proselytizing, including a Baptist couple in Lepel who were singing Christian songs and distributing Christian literature. Police also detained Jehovah’s Witnesses and a Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox priest for proselytizing in public. Minority religious groups continued to have difficulty registering. Some groups remained reluctant to apply for registration, reportedly due to fear of harassment and punishment. The government continued its surveillance of minority and unregistered religious groups. Human rights groups said that while BOC and some Roman Catholic clergy had access to prisoners of their faiths, Muslim and Protestant clergy and clergy from nontraditional faiths did not. Minority religious groups said they continued to have difficulties acquiring buildings to use as houses of worship. Roman Catholic groups reported the government denied visas and requests to extend the stay of some foreign missionaries.
Authorities convicted a number of individuals reportedly associated with neo-Nazis or skinhead movements for inciting ethnic and religious hatred against Jews and other religious minorities. On February 27, a court in the Vitsyebsk region sentenced a resident in Navapolatsk to three years in prison for posting videos on his social media featuring mass killings of Jews in the Holocaust and skinheads beating Muslims. In a similar case, authorities convicted an individual from the Baranavichy district for posting videos with anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim content and sentenced him to a year and a month in jail on April 18. Jewish community leaders continued to express concern about the BOC’s annual commemoration of a young child allegedly killed by Jews near Hrodna in 1690 as one of its saints and martyrs. Despite a government ban, anti-Semitic print and video material continued to be imported from Russia and available locally. Interdenominational Christian groups worked together on charitable projects and programs. In a televised interview in November BOC Metropolitan Pavel said Baptists were “a sect,” focused on their “missionary activities,” and called them “annoying” and accused them of spreading “propaganda and not preaching.” The head of the Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists, Leanid Mikhovich, called the Metropolitan’s remarks “unacceptable.”
In October U.S. embassy officials and a visiting U.S. delegation that included the Chair of the U.S. Commission on Protection of America’s Heritage Abroad and the Deputy Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met with officials from the Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs as well as prosecutors to discuss concerns related to preservation of Jewish heritage sites. The delegation also participated in the Foreign Ministry-sponsored international roundtable to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Minsk ghetto on October 22. Also in October the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs met with senior government officials for discussions that included religious freedom concerns. The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met with Jewish groups to discuss anti-Semitism and the preservation of Jewish religious heritage. Embassy officials also met with Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other groups, as well as with civil society activists and lawyers for religious groups, to discuss government restrictions on registration and the activities of minority religious groups.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and the law prohibits discrimination based on religious orientation. Federal law bans covering one’s face in public. Jewish and Muslim groups launched legal challenges against laws, scheduled to take effect in 2019 in Wallonia and Flanders, banning the slaughter of animals without prior stunning. The government maintained its policy of attempting to curb what it described as radical Islam. The federal government terminated Saudi Arabia’s lease on the Great Mosque in Brussels. The Brussels regional government recognized two mosques in July, increasing the number of recognized mosques in the country to 85. Most public schools continued to ban headscarves, and the government maintained its ban on wearing religious symbols in public-sector jobs.
There were reports of incidents of religiously motivated violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, and hate speech against Jews and Muslims. The Center for Equal Opportunities, Unia, preliminarily reported 101 anti-Semitic incidents (56 in 2017), and 319 incidents in 2017 (390 in 2016) against other religious groups, primarily Muslims.
U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with senior government officials in the Office of the Prime Minister and at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs to discuss anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and discrimination. Embassy officials met with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious leaders to address anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and sentiment, and to promote religious tolerance. The embassy sponsored the visit of a U.S.-based imam to discuss interfaith tolerance and cooperation in meetings with religious groups, civil society, and police. It also sponsored visits of two young Muslim leaders to the United States on programs that included a focus on religious pluralism and tolerance. Through small grants, the embassy supported programs that promoted interfaith dialogue and tolerance and raised awareness of religious minorities.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
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.” A provision in the state constitution provides for representation of the three major ethnic groups – Serbs, who predominantly belong to the SOC; Croats, who mainly belong to the Roman Catholic Church; and Bosniaks, who are predominantly Muslim – in the parliament and in government positions. Individuals not belonging to one of the three major ethnic/religious groups reported they continued to be unable to obtain government positions or seats in parliament. There were few reports of the various levels of government making progress in resolving longstanding issues pertaining to religious freedom and rights. The Islamic Community (IC) continued to express its discontent over what it said was the Presidency’s continued inaction on the anticipated agreement between the state and the IC on certain accommodations for religious adherents. Local religious groups in the minority continued to report discrimination by municipal authorities regarding the use of religious property and issuance of permits for new religious properties. In March the Sarajevo Canton Assembly annulled its 2016 decision to name an elementary school after a World War II-era Ustasha anti-Semite who glorified Hitler; at year’s end, the annulment had not been implemented, and the school still bore the name. In April seven defendants were charged for a 2015 attack on a mosque and sentenced to one and a one-half years in prison, but their sentences were suspended pending two years of probation.
Of the 209 attacks on religious officials and sites registered by the Interreligious Council (IRC) since 2010, police had identified perpetrators in 73 of the attacks, and the courts had prosecuted 23 of the cases. In an annual report issued in May on the protection of holy sites, the IRC registered 11 attacks from November 1, 2016, through December 31, 2017: seven attacks on IC members’ property, three attacks against SOC cemeteries, and one against property of the Catholic Church. 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. There were several instances of vandalism of religious buildings, including a mosque in Kiseljak (in December 2017), an SOC church in Visoko, and a Catholic church in Zenica. The IRC continued to take steps to promote interfaith dialogue, including organizing joint visits of senior religious leaders representing each of the major religious groups to sites of suffering in the past wars, supporting open-door days of religious communities, and sponsoring various projects with women believers and youth.
U.S. embassy officials met with government officials to emphasize the need to promote respect for religious diversity and to enforce equal treatment under the law, including for religious minorities. In regular meetings with religious groups, embassy officials continued to urge these groups to improve interreligious dialogue in order to contribute to the development of a peaceful and stable society. In December the Deputy Secretary of State met with leaders of the four major religious communities in BiH to discuss religious freedom and interreligious dialogue. Embassy officials continued to attend significant events in the various religious communities, including events to commemorate Eid al-Fitr, Catholic Christmas, and Orthodox Christmas, to support religious tolerance and dialogue. In December 2017, embassy officials attended a meeting in Banja Luka with the local mufti, Catholic bishop, and Orthodox bishop to discuss ways to encourage increased interreligious dialogue.
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 December after protests by all major religious groups, the National Assembly passed amendments to a 2002 religious denomination law, providing for increased government funding for the BOC and the Muslim community. A wide range of religious groups opposed earlier versions that placed restrictions on some smaller religious groups. An appellate court issued guilty verdicts in a retrial of 13 regional Muslim leaders charged with spreading Salafi Islam. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported fewer cases of assault and harassment. There were multiple successful court decisions overturning local prohibitions on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious practices. The Muslim community protested a decision in the Stara Zagora Region to change Turkish and Arabic place names to Bulgarian names, citing “racism and intolerance regarding everything Muslim.” Jewish organizations denounced attempts by government leaders to distort historical facts at Holocaust-related events, including honoring individuals complicit in deportations of Jews.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses reported physical assaults, harassment, and threats. In February the Bulgarian National Union again staged an annual march honoring Hristo Lukov, leader of a pro-Nazi organization in the 1940s. Jewish nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern about the continued increase of hate speech and other manifestations of anti-Semitism. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, some media outlets continued to misrepresent their activities. Muslims, Jews, and Jehovah’s Witnesses reported incidents of vandalism of their properties. Christian, Muslim, and Jewish groups held events to promote religious tolerance. 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.
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, and law enforcement. The ambassador protested the march to commemorate Lukov and publicly advocated tolerance and cited lessons from the Holocaust. Embassy officials met with minority religious groups, including the Jewish, Muslim, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Catholic, Protestant, Armenian, and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities, to discuss their concerns over existing and proposed restrictions on their activities. A Muslim scholar participated in a Department of State-funded exchange on religious pluralism in the United States.
In February 2014, Russian military forces invaded and occupied Crimea. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262 adopted on March 27, 2014, and entitled Territorial Integrity of Ukraine, states the Autonomous Republic of Crimea remains internationally recognized as within Ukraine’s international borders. The U.S. government does not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and considers that Crimea remains a part of Ukraine.
IN THIS SECTION: UKRAINE | CRIMEA (BELOW)
In February 2014, armed forces of the Russian Federation seized and occupied Crimea. In March 2014, Russia announced Crimea had become part of the Russian Federation. A UN General Assembly resolution declared continued international recognition of Crimea’s inclusion within Ukraine’s international borders. The U.S. government continues not to recognize the purported annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and recognizes that Crimea continues to be part of Ukraine. Occupation forces continue to impose the de facto implementation of the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory of Crimea.
In a joint 2014-2018 report for the UN Committee against Torture, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Regional Center for Human Rights, and Media Initiative for Human Rights reported religious activists were among victims of torture. According to the report, despite the health problems of Arsen Dzhepparov and Uzeir Abdullayev, detained by the FSB on suspicion of involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, occupation authorities denied medical assistance to them.
The Russian government reported there were 831 religious communities registered in Crimea, compared with 812 in 2017, a number that dropped by over 1,000 since occupation began in 2014, the last year for which Ukrainian government figures were available. According to religious activists, human rights groups, and media reports, Russian authorities in occupied Crimea continued to persecute and intimidate minority religious congregations, Jehovah’s Witnesses, UOC-KP members, and Muslim Crimean Tatars. Occupation authorities continued to subject Muslim Crimean Tatars to imprisonment and detentions, especially if the authorities purportedly suspected the individuals of involvement in the Muslim political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is legal in Ukraine.
Due to the close links between religion and ethnicity, it was sometimes difficult for human rights groups to categorize incidents as solely based on religious identity.
According to Forum 18, an international religious freedom NGO, administrative court hearings under Russian law imposed on Crimea for “missionary activity” doubled in Crimea compared to the previous year. There were 23 prosecutions for such activity, most of which ended in convictions with some type of monetary fine.
Greek Catholic leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation authorities. The UGCC said it continued to have to operate under the umbrella of the Roman Catholic Church. The UOC-KP reported continued seizures of its churches. Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate attacks on Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all.
Religious and human rights groups continued to report Russian media efforts to create suspicion and fear among certain religious groups, especially targeting Crimean Tatar Muslims, whom media repeatedly accused of links to Islamist groups designated by Russia as terrorist groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. Russian media also portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists.”
The U.S. government continued to condemn the intimidation of Christian and Muslim religious groups by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea and to call international attention to the religious abuses committed by Russian forces. U.S. government officials remained unable to visit the peninsula following its occupation by the Russian Federation. Embassy officials, however, continued to meet in other parts of Ukraine with Crimean Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders to discuss their concerns over actions taken against their congregations by the occupation authorities, and to demonstrate continued U.S. support for their right to practice their religious beliefs.
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, and are free to worship, proselytize, own property, and import religious literature. The government has written agreements with the Roman Catholic Church that provide state financial support and favorable tax and other treatment; 53 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. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international organizations reported instances of border police subjecting migrants to treatment inconsistent with their religious beliefs. The government denied these reports. The ombudsperson covering human rights reported some health institutions denied operations to Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused blood transfusions for religious reasons, despite the ombudsperson having issued a recommendation that public hospitals provide treatment in such cases. Jewish leaders said the government did not take concrete steps to restitute private or communal Jewish properties seized during the Holocaust. According to observers, the government made no significant progress on such issues during the year. Atheists and Jewish organizations said non-Catholic children were discriminated against in public schools. Senior government officials attended an annual commemoration for victims of the World War II (WWII)-era Jasenovac concentration camp. Jewish and Serb leaders, the latter largely Orthodox, boycotted the commemoration for the third year in a row, the former stating the government failed to address anti-Semitism. Leaders of the Islamic community reported overall good relations with the government.
Jewish community leaders continued to report Holocaust revisionism and public use of Ustasha (WWII pro-Nazi regime) symbols and slogans. The Council of Europe and the national ombudsperson reported an increase in religious intolerance, particularly online. The ombudsperson’s report said comments on various online portals accused Jews of undermining democracy, freedom, and financial institutions.
The U.S. embassy continued to encourage the government to restitute property seized during and after WWII, particularly from the Jewish community during the Holocaust, and advocated amendments to existing legislation that would allow for restitution and compensation claims with a revised deadline for new applications. The embassy sponsored a visit by two teachers to the United States for a Holocaust education exchange program and sponsored the visit to the United States of the director of the Jasenovac Concentration Camp Memorial Site on a leadership study program.
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 buffer zone, or “green line,” 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).
IN THIS SECTION: REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS (BELOW) | AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS
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 land Muslims have donated as a charitable endowment. Authorities closed the only functioning mosque in Paphos from October 2017 to May due to construction in the area and denied the Muslim community’s request to use the Grand Mosque as an alternative. The government granted Turkish Cypriots and foreigners in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots access to religious sites in the area it controls, including for three visits to Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque during Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Mawlid al-Nabi. On June 11, the government allowed Mufti of Cyprus Talip Atalay to attend an iftar with the Muslim community at Kato Paphos Mosque, marking the first time in more than four decades the mufti visited and prayed with the Muslim community of Paphos during Ramadan. A Jehovah’s Witnesses representative reported difficulties accessing municipal cemeteries and in distributing pamphlets in Ayia Napa. The Cyprus Humanists Association said the Ministry of Education (MOE) and public schools discriminated against atheist students, and the MOE on its website advised students to reject atheism.
The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Caritas reported instances of physical attacks and threats against Muslim students in Paphos. The Jewish community reported incidents of anti-Semitic threats and verbal harassment. Some religious minority groups reported pressure to engage in religious ceremonies of majority groups. Greek Orthodox Christians reported they sometimes faced ostracism from that community if they converted to another religion. Leaders of the main religious groups continued to meet and reaffirmed their commitment to promoting religious freedom across the island.
The U.S. Ambassador attended language classes for interfaith leaders coordinated by the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP), an initiative of the Swedish embassy that facilitates cooperation among religious leaders to advocate peace and access to and protection of religious sites and monuments. The Ambassador discussed access to religious sites and interfaith dialogue with Church of Cyprus Archbishop Chrysostomos. Embassy staff met with the government, NGOs, and religious leaders to discuss religious freedom, including access to religious sites island-wide and discrimination against minority religious groups. Embassy officials encouraged continued dialogue among religious leaders and reciprocal visits to places of religious significance on both sides of the “green line.”
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 two religious groups in June; applications of three other groups and legal appeals by two other groups of registration denials remained pending at year’s end. The High Court in Olomouc upheld a lower court conviction in absentia of Path of Guru Jara (PGJ) leader Jaroslav Dobes and another PGJ member and sentenced them to prison. The high court also reversed and remanded the lower court’s convictions on seven other counts of rape involving PGJ; reportedly, the lower court later dismissed those charges. The government stated that in the first nine months of 2017 it settled 638 claims by religious groups for property confiscated during the communist period. President Milo Zeman awarded a medal to a nursing school head for “fighting intolerant ideology” after she barred a Somali student from wearing a hijab. The opposition Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD) campaigned on an anti-Muslim platform in October elections.
The nongovernmental organization (NGO) In IUSTITIA reported 17 religiously motivated incidents – 13 against Muslims and four against Jews – compared with 34 in 2017. The government reported 27 anti-Semitic and three anti-Muslim incidents in 2017, compared with 28 and seven, respectively, in 2016. A survey by the Median polling agency found 80 percent of citizens did not want Muslims as their neighbors. The government reported an increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric online. A theater in Zlin received a letter stating Jews were unwanted immigrants who should “disappear abroad or in gas” after presenting a play on efforts to restore a Jewish cemetery in Prostejov. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) reported 18 concerts in which participants expressed anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi views.
U.S. Embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues, such as property restitution for religious groups and religious tolerance, with government officials. In June embassy officials and the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues (SEHI) discussed the welfare of Holocaust survivors and other issues of concern with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Embassy officials met with Jewish, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim religious leaders to reaffirm U.S. government support for religious freedom and tolerance.
The constitution guarantees the right of individuals to worship according to their beliefs. It establishes the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) as the national church, which has privileges not available to other religious groups. Other religious groups must register with the government to receive tax and other benefits. In August a law to ban masks and face coverings in public spaces, including burqas and niqabs, entered into force. The government added seven new individuals, including two Americans, to a “hate preachers” list during the year, banning them from entering the country. In December parliament enacted a law instituting a handshake requirement for persons becoming citizens that critics said targeted Muslims. In June a citizen-driven petition to ban circumcision for individuals younger than age 18 acquired enough signatures to be debated in parliament. The measure, strongly opposed by the Jewish and Muslim communities, was scheduled for a vote in 2019, and a majority of political parties said they would vote against it. In January the government unveiled an action plan against what it called “ghetto” communities, which critics interpreted to mean Muslims, that included mandatory religious teaching on Christmas and Easter during day care for children receiving government benefits. The immigration and integration minister made statements critical of Islam.
Police reported 142 religiously motivated crimes in 2017, 61 percent more than in 2016. There were 67 incidents, including assault and a death threat, against Muslims and 38 against Jews. Separately, the Jewish community in Copenhagen reported 30 anti-Semitic acts in that city in 2017, including aggravated harassment, threats, and hate speech. Jewish and Muslim community leaders stated most victims did not report incidents because they believed police would not follow up. The Nye Borgerlige Party adopted a platform critical of Islam.
The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly met with foreign ministry and other government representatives, including at the cabinet level, to raise Jewish and Muslim concerns over proposals to ban male circumcision and the prohibition on masks and face coverings. They also met with religious groups, including Jews, Muslims, the ELC, Buddhists, and humanists and atheists, as well as nongovernmental organizations, to discuss their concerns and stress the importance of religious tolerance and diversity.
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 provides the procedure for 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. The government continued to provide funds to the Council of Churches for ecumenical activities. On January 26, the government held an annual memorial event on Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Rahumae Jewish Cemetery in Tallinn to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.
In August unidentified individuals burned and defaced the Kalevi-Liiva Holocaust memorial with anti-Semitic graffiti. A police investigation continued at year’s end. Jewish groups expressed concern about a September 2 demonstration involving the temporary erection of a monument depicting an Estonian soldier in a World War II-era German uniform. In 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, police registered no hate crime cases involving religion, compared with six cases in 2016.
U.S. embassy officials discussed religious freedom and the importance of religious tolerance with government representatives. The embassy made use of social media to promote religious freedom, including producing a featured video to commemorate National Religious Freedom Day. The Ambassador and embassy staff continued to support dialogue on anti-Semitism and Holocaust education in meetings with government officials, religious leaders, civil society, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
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. Religious communities must register to receive government funds. In September an appeals court upheld a 2017 lower court ban of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), the largest neo-Nazi group in the country. After a court ruled that a long-standing military service exemption which applied only to Jehovah’s Witnesses violated the nondiscrimination clauses of the constitution, parliament began debating a bill to end the exemption. Some politicians again made negative remarks against Muslims in social media. The ombudsman for children in the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) advocated banning circumcision and stricter religious registration criteria.
The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office received 55 complaints of religious discrimination during the year, compared with 46 in the previous year. Police reported 235 hate crimes involving members of religious groups in 2017, 10 of which it determined were specifically motivated by the victim’s religion. After its banning, the NRM continued to publish anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim language online, as did other groups. Muslim groups continued to seek adequate houses of worship to match their growing population after plans for a “Grand Mosque” in Helsinki failed to materialize. Groups promoting interreligious dialogue expanded their capabilities during the year, with government support.
U.S. embassy staff met with various ministry officials to discuss government support for religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, religious education, and male circumcision. Embassy staff also discussed with the Jewish and Muslim communities their concerns about the law banning certain forms of animal slaughter, government guidelines discouraging male circumcision, and a rise in religiously motivated harassment. They also discussed the state of religious freedom with these communities, other religious minorities, youth groups, and interfaith networks.
The constitution and the law protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and practice religion. The president and other government officials again condemned anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and the government continued to deploy 7,000 security forces to protect sensitive sites, including religious ones. In June the government thwarted an attempted extremist plot to attack Muslims. In April authorities expelled an Algerian imam because of his radical preaching in Marseille. The government denied an Algerian Muslim woman citizenship after she refused to shake the hands of male officials. The government announced a 2018-2020 action plan to combat hatred, including anti-Semitism, and a nationwide consultation process with the Muslim community to reform the organization and funding of Islam within France. In July the interior minister announced expansion of a “precomplaint” system designed to facilitate reporting of crimes, to include anti-Semitic acts. The government continued to enforce a ban on full-face coverings in public and the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols in public schools. President Emmanuel Macron stated his intent to “fight against Salafism and extremism,” which he described as “a problem in our country.” In May the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism said the government treated Muslims as a “suspect community” through the application of counterterrorism laws and called the government closure of mosques a restriction on religious freedom.
Religiously motivated crimes and other incidents against Jews and Muslims occurred, including killings or attempted killings, beatings, threats, hate speech, discrimination, and vandalism. The government reported 1,063 anti-Christian incidents, compared with 1,038 in 2017, most of which involved vandalism or other acts against property. According to government statistics, there were 100 crimes targeting Muslims, including an attack against Muslim worshippers outside a mosque, a 17 percent decrease compared with the 121 in 2017. The government also reported an additional 51 acts against Muslim places of worship or cemeteries. There were 541 anti-Semitic crimes, consisting of physical attacks, threats, and vandalism, an increase of 74 percent compared with the 311 incidents recorded in 2017. Anti-Semitic incidents included the killing of a Holocaust survivor, an acid attack against a rabbi’s baby, and threatening letters against Jewish groups citing the killing of the Holocaust survivor. Violent anti-Semitic crimes totaled 81, compared with 97 in 2017. A student leader at the University of Paris (the Sorbonne) generated considerable debate after wearing a hijab on national television. According to a poll conducted by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) in February, 43 percent of respondents thought Islam was not compatible with the values of the republic.
The U.S. embassy, consulates general, and American Presence Posts (APPs) discussed religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in combating violent extremism, and cooperation on these issues with officials at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs and with the country’s Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights and Holocaust Issues. The Ambassador, embassy, consulate, and APP officials met regularly with religious communities and their leaders throughout the country to discuss religious freedom concerns and encourage interfaith cooperation and tolerance. The embassy sponsored projects and events to combat religious discrimination and advance tolerance. The embassy funded a visit to the United States for four nongovernmental organization (NGO) directors on an exchange program that included themes of interfaith cooperation and religious tolerance. It also sponsored the participation of three imams at a conference in Rabat focused on building interfaith relationships.
A new constitution took effect in December and provides for “absolute freedom of religion,” the separation of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) and the state, and equality for all regardless of religion. It also prohibits persecution based on religion. Previously, in March the ruling party withdrew proposed amendments to the then draft constitution that generated controversy after critics said the amendments appeared to allow the limiting of freedom of religion on national security grounds. Laws and policies continue to grant the GOC privileges not accorded to any other religious group, including legal immunity for the GOC patriarch and a consultative role in education. In July, however, the Constitutional Court declared both the tax and property privileges of the GOC unconstitutional and mandated legislative changes by December 31, although parliament missed this deadline. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report a lack of effective investigations into crimes motivated by religious hatred, but they said the quality of investigations was improving. The Public Defender’s Office (PDO) reported it received 19 cases of violence based on religious intolerance during the year, compared to five cases the previous year. Authorities registered seven new religious organizations as legal entities during the year. They suspended the application for registration of one organization due to legal issues with its application. Some NGOs and minority religious groups continued to report both national and local government resistance to minority religious groups’ construction of buildings for religious purposes. After negotiations with the local government about mosque construction in Batumi broke down, Muslim representatives continued to state government delays and opaque decision-making prevented them from building a new mosque. Some religious organizations and NGOs criticized the State Agency on Religious Issues (SARI, also known as the State Agency for Religious Affairs) for functioning opaquely, practicing favoritism toward the GOC in restitution of buildings confiscated by the state in the Soviet era, and inadequately addressing acts of religious intolerance and discrimination in favor of the GOC in public schools. The Armenian Apostolic Church petitioned SARI for ownership of 37 churches it operated.
Restrictions continued on religious activities in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which remained outside the control of the central government. According to the GOC Patriarchate, GOC clergy were unable to conduct religious services in South Ossetia or Abkhazia. De facto authorities in these occupied territories continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses, classifying the Church as an extremist organization.
During the year, there were eight reported cases of religiously motivated physical assaults on 12 Jehovah’s Witnesses. There were reports of vandalism against religious minorities, such as graffiti on Armenian churches in Adjara and an attack on a Kingdom Hall building in Gori. Representatives of minority religious groups continued to report widespread societal beliefs that minority religious groups posed a threat to the GOC and the country’s cultural values. The NGO Media Development Foundation (MDF) documented at least 140 instances of religiously intolerant remarks in national media, up from 92 the previous year.
U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with senior government officials, including SARI leadership, the prime minister’s adviser for human rights and gender equality, the president’s adviser for minority issues, and officials at various ministries to encourage dialogue between the government and minority religious groups, support government-led efforts to reform the investigative arm of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (responsible for assessing whether crimes were motivated by religious hatred), and promote religious freedom as provided in the new constitution. The Charge d’Affaires met with the GOC Patriarch several times to stress the importance of the GOC’s role in promoting religious diversity and tolerance. The Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy officials traveled throughout the country to meet with minority religious groups, and the embassy sponsored the participation of various representatives from different faiths in programs in the United States on religious freedom and interfaith issues.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the practice of one’s religion. The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy on registration of religious groups and other matters. Unrecognized religious groups are ineligible for tax benefits. The federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of certain Muslim groups. Authorities also monitored the Church of Scientology (COS), which reported continued government discrimination against its members. Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, for some state employees, particularly teachers and courtroom officials. While senior government leaders continued to condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, some members of the federal parliament and state assemblies from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party again made anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements. The federal and seven state governments appointed anti-Semitism commissioners for the first time, following a recommendation in a parliament-commissioned 2017 experts’ report to create a federal anti-Semitism commissioner in response to growing anti-Semitism. The federal anti-Semitism commissioner serves as a contact for Jewish groups and coordinates initiatives to combat anti-Semitism in the federal ministries. In July the government announced it would increase social welfare funding for Holocaust survivors by 75 million euros ($86 million) in 2019. In March Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said he did not consider Islam to be a part of the country’s culture, and that the country was characterized by Christianity. In May the Bavarian government decreed that every public building in the state must display a cross in a clearly visible location near its entrance.
There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents. These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism. Most anti-Christian incidents involved actions by Muslim migrants against migrant converts. Jews expressed security concerns after several widely publicized anti-Semitic attacks, coupled with reports of anti-Semitic bullying in schools. Final federal crime statistics cite 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes during the year, including 69 involving violence, an increase of 20 percent compared with 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes, of which 37 were violent, in 2017. The federal crime statistics attributed 93 percent of the 2017 crimes to the far right. A study covering 2007-2017 by the Technical University of Berlin found online anti-Semitism was at its highest level ever recorded. There were demonstrations expressing anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment and protests against what participants described as radical Islam. The Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) continued to make public statements opposing the COS.
The U.S. embassy and five consulates general monitored the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance and expressed concerns about anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-Muslim acts. Embassy representatives met regularly with the newly appointed federal government anti-Semitism commissioner at the Ministry of Interior. The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on their concerns about religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups.
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.” The law prohibits offenses violating “religious peace,” including blasphemy and “religious insult,” punishable by prison sentences of up to two years. Police arrested two Jehovah’s Witnesses for religious insult, releasing them the following day. At least 30 different religious communities are officially registered with the government. In August parliament passed legislation requiring all Greek Orthodox priests, imams in Thrace, and rabbis to register in the same electronic database used for other registered religious communities. The same law requires mandatory retirement for muftis at the same age as other judicial officials, authorizes the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs to fund the muftiates, and tasks the Ministry of Finance with their financial oversight. On March 20, the Council of State deemed changes introduced to religious instruction in primary and middle schools in 2016 were unconstitutional and contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In October parliament passed legislation requiring notarized consent from all parties wishing to adjudicate a family matter using sharia instead of the civil courts. A criminal trial continued for 69 members and supporters of the Golden Dawn (GD) political party accused of a string of violent attacks and arson, including on Muslim migrants. The government issued 11 new house of prayer permits: eight to Jehovah’s Witnesses, two to Muslim groups, and one to Pentecostals. The Greek Orthodox Church, Muslim minority of Thrace, Jewish communities, and Roman Catholic Church continued to receive some government benefits not available to other religious communities. Some members of the Muslim minority of Thrace continued to oppose the government’s appointment of muftis, advocating that the community elect them. The government continued to fund Holocaust education programs; on January 19, the parliamentary president announced the government would fund a museum inside the Auschwitz concentration camp commemorating Greek Jews who perished there.
Media reported continued incidents of anti-Semitic discrimination, hate speech, vandalism, and anti-Muslim assaults. Incidents of vandalism affecting religious properties, including Holocaust memorials and Greek Orthodox churches, continued. On March 6, a group of self-described anarchists placed an explosive device outside the Diocese of Neapoli and Stavroupolis, near Thessaloniki; the explosion damaged the building entrance. On December 27, a small explosive device left by self-proclaimed anarchist group “Iconoclastic Sect” detonated outside Greek Orthodox Agios Dionysios Church in central Athens. A police officer and the churchwarden sustained minor injuries. On May 4, unidentified individuals destroyed nine marble stones in the Jewish section of a historic Athens cemetery. The president of the Athens Jewish Community said the destruction was “the most severe [anti-Semitic] incident in Athens in the past 15 years.” Secretary General for Religious Affairs George Kalantzis condemned the vandalism in a statement that said, in part, “What kind of people are those who hate the dead? . . . The vandalism of the Jewish cemetery should be for us a cause, a reason to intensify even more our efforts so as the poison of anti-Semitism stays away from our society.” The Mayor of Athens, George Kaminis immediately issued a statement condemning the attack, noting, “Such events have no place in Athens, in a city free and open that is not intimidated.” The secretary general for human rights said these types of incidents “attack human dignity and harm society as a whole.” On May 13, national government and municipal officials joined the Jewish community in a silent protest against violence, intolerance, and racism. Police investigated the case but made no arrests by year’s end.
The U.S. Ambassador, visiting U.S. government officials, and other embassy and consulate representatives met with officials and representatives from the Ministry of Education, Research, and Religious Affairs, including the secretary general for religious affairs, and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including Deputy Minister Markos Bolaris and Special Secretary for Religious and Cultural Diplomacy Efstathios Lianos Liantis. They discussed the ability of minority religious communities to establish houses of worship, government initiatives affecting both the Muslim minority in Thrace and immigrants, laws against undermining religious belief through coercion or fraud, and government initiatives promoting worldwide interfaith and interreligious dialogue. U.S. government officials expressed concern about anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric, and attacks on Orthodox churches. On December 28, the Charge d’Affaires sent a letter to Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos condemning the December 27 attack on Agios Dionysios Orthodox Church. Embassy officials also engaged Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos and metropolitans, as well as members of the Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Baha’i, and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities, to promote religious tolerance and encourage interfaith dialogue. On November 29, a senior embassy official hosted representatives from a range of religious communities and government agencies to discuss legal protections related to religious freedom and challenges faced by various communities.
The Fundamental Law (constitution) provides for freedom of religion, including freedom to choose, change, or manifest religion or belief, cites “the role of Christianity” in “preserving nationhood,” and values “various religious traditions.” It prohibits religious discrimination and speech violating the dignity of any religious community and stipulates the autonomy of religious communities. In December parliament amended the law that had stripped hundreds of religious entities of their legal status. The amendment enters into force in April 2019; it establishes a four-tier system of churches and makes them eligible for donations from income tax and state funding. In May the Supreme Court ruled a 2017 government raid on the Church of Scientology (COS) headquarters was lawful; the government continued its criminal investigation of the COS. Jewish groups expressed concern that the House of Fates museum, which the government said it would open in 2019, would obscure the country’s role in the Holocaust. There were reports of senior government officials and politicians using anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic speech. Jewish groups expressed concern about praise by Prime Minister (PM) Viktor Orban and other government officials for World War II (WWII)-era anti-Semites and Hitler allies and public messaging they said could incite anti-Semitism. PM Orban reiterated “zero tolerance for anti-Semitism.”
There were reports of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents, including assaults. Muslim leaders said anti-Muslim incidents were at approximately the same level as in 2017. The Action and Protection Foundation (TEV) a nongovernmental organization (NGO), recorded 32 anti-Semitic crimes, including three assaults, compared with 37 in 2017. A business magazine’s picture of an article about a prominent Jewish leader was condemned as anti-Semitic. A Jewish news outlet poll said two-thirds of Jews believed anti-Semitism in the country was a serious problem; 48 percent reported hearing anti-Semitic remarks in the preceding year. An Ipsos Mori poll reported 51 percent of residents believed a Muslim could never be a “true Hungarian.”
U.S. embassy and visiting U.S. government officials met with the Office of the Prime Minister (PMO), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Human Capacities (MHC) to discuss religious freedom, Holocaust commemoration, and heirless property restitution, and to urge the government to amend the religion law. U.S. officials expressed concern about government officials’ anti-Muslim rhetoric and the COS investigation. Embassy officials met a range of religious groups to discuss issues affecting them.
The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and practice, as long as it is not prejudicial to good morals or public order, and protects the right to form religious associations. It names the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) as the state church, which the government provided with financial support and benefits not available to other religious groups, including treating ELC ministers as civil servants. Other religious and “life-stance” groups must register to receive state subsidies. Parliament enacted laws barring discrimination, including on the basis of religion, in the workplace and elsewhere.
The national police commissioner cited four reports of religious hate crimes during 2017, three against Islam and one against another, unnamed religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported an attack on a Kingdom Hall and a house belonging to one of its leaders during the year. Police were investigating both incidents at year’s end.
U.S. embassy officials met with representatives from the Ministries of Justice (MOJ) and Foreign Affairs (MFA), members of parliament, and the local authority responsible for registering religious groups to discuss the status and rights of religious groups, including to voice concerns about a bill, which parliament later failed to pass, to ban male circumcision. Embassy officials also maintained contact with representatives of religious groups and life-stance organizations to discuss their views on religious tolerance, interfaith dialogue, and the role of religious groups in education and refugee integration.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion. In an October 26 constitutional referendum, 65 percent of voters approved the removal of blasphemy as a punishable offense from the constitution, paving the way for it to be formally removed as a legal offense in 2019 pending legislation from parliament. Some parents of children not belonging to the denomination of a religious school, usually Catholic, could not enroll their children in oversubscribed schools. The government continued to encourage patrons to open more schools with nonreligious or multidenominational patronage. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar participated in the national Holocaust Day Memorial commemoration and in his remarks emphasized the importance of Holocaust education to prevent such horrors happening again.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to lobby for more stringent hate crime legislation, including for incidents motivated by religion, and to ensure prejudice would be taken into account as an aggravating factor in sentencing criminals.
U.S. embassy officials discussed issues of discrimination and integration of religious minorities into the community with members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Education and Skills, and the national police. Underscoring the importance of tolerance, diversity, and religious freedom, embassy officials met with religious groups and NGOs to discuss their concerns.
The constitution protects freedom of religion and the right of religious communities to establish their own institutions. The constitution specifies the state and the Catholic Church are independent, their relations governed by treaties, including a concordat granting the Church a number of privileges and benefits and financial support. Twelve other groups have accords granting most of the same benefits in exchange for a degree of government monitoring. Religious groups must register to request an accord. Unregistered religious groups operate freely but are not eligible for the same benefits as groups with accords or must apply for them separately. The government did not submit any new accords to parliament for approval despite reports it had negotiated several accords with religious groups in the previous year. The Muslim community, which did not have an accord, continued to experience difficulties in acquiring permission from local governments to construct mosques or keep them open; there were approximately 800 unofficial Muslim places of worship. Politicians from several political parties, including leader of the League (Lega) Party Matteo Salvini, who in June became deputy prime minister and minister of interior, made statements critical of Islam and against the construction of new mosques. As chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the country hosted several events promoting religious tolerance.
There were reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents, including harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism. A Jewish nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported 185 anti-Semitic incidents, most involving hate speech on social media, compared with 130 in 2017. A local Arab NGO reported a 35 percent increase in incidents against Muslims in schools, hospitals, and on public transport in 2017 compared to the previous year. In April a pig’s head was left in front of a building in Reggio Emilia Province that Muslims planned to convert into a place of worship. The press reported examples of anti-Semitic graffiti and posters in major cities and elsewhere. Jewish leaders called for greater vigilance against anti-Semitism.
Representatives from the U.S. embassy and consulates general met with national and local government officials to encourage respect for religious freedom and equal treatment for all faiths and discussed the integration of new migrants, many of whom were Muslim, Orthodox, or Hindu, and of second-generation Muslims. Embassy, consulate, and Department of State representatives met with religious leaders and civil society to promote interfaith dialogue and awareness, social inclusion of immigrants, and the empowerment of faith groups through social media and the mobilization of youth leaders among faith groups.
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 allow religious groups to register as legal entities, creating obstacles for them in conducting their affairs. In 2017 the parliament voted to consider a draft law that would allow religious groups to register as legal entities so they would be able to conduct business and legal matters with the state and private entities, but the law had not received final approval at year’s end. On March 23, a Pristina Basic Court panel acquitted Shefqet Krasniqi of a February 2017 indictment by Kosovo’s Special Prosecution (SPRK) on charges of incitement for terrorism, incitement to religious hatred, and tax evasion. While religious groups stated they generally had collaborative relationships with local governments, some groups said municipal governments did not treat religious organizations equally on property issues, including building permits. Representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) said the government violated the SOC’s property rights, including by refusing to implement court decisions in the SOC’s favor or pursuing construction in Special Protective Zones (SPZs). Decan/Decani authorities, including the mayor, continued to refuse to implement a 2016 Constitutional Court decision awarding 24 disputed hectares (59 acres) around the Visoki Decani Monastery to the SOC; government authorities did not hold any municipal officials accountable. The municipality, with central government support, began constructing a road through the SPZ around Visoki Decani Monastery in breach of a Kosovo law banning construction in SPZs. The Kosovo Islamic Community (BIK) continued to report social and employment discrimination against devout Muslims, particularly in the public sector. The government continued to work with the BIK to combat violent extremism and condemned vandalism of religious sites.
According to police reports, protestors assaulted Serbian Orthodox pilgrims and prevented church services from taking place in Gjakove/Djakovica and Istog/Istok. Religious groups met each other regularly to discuss property rights, legislative priorities, and local community issues. Religious leaders participated in numerous interfaith discussions on property rights, legislative priorities, and local community issues. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) continued to coordinate some activities among religious groups, including meetings with municipal mayors, to discuss issues such as permits to construct religious buildings. On January 6 and August 28, ethnic Albanians staged protests against planned pilgrimages in front of the local Serbian Orthodox Church in Gjakove/Djakovica. Ethnic Albanian protesters in Istok/Istog and elsewhere attacked or intimidated Serbian Orthodox pilgrims on multiple occasions. On October 21, media reported local ethnic Albanians threw rocks at two buses transporting Serb pilgrims to religious services near Istog/Istok. Police arrested five ethnic Albanians for disturbing public order and three ethnic Albanian minors for causing damage to the buses. A prosecutor later released the suspects following a decision not to file charges. The prosecutor did not provide an explanation for the decision. Police initiated a disciplinary procedure against the officers in charge of security for the religious services, suspending one lieutenant for 48 hours.
The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy representatives met frequently with government officials to urge religious tolerance and the issuance of public condemnations of incidents of violence or cases of intimidation. The Ambassador and U.S. embassy representatives also pressed for passage of legislation to allow religious institutions to obtain legal status and for the full implementation of the constitution and the law protecting religious sites. The embassy advocated regularly at all levels of government for full implementation of judicial decisions in favor of minority religious communities and encouraged the resolution of property disputes involving religious groups. The Ambassador and other embassy representatives pressed the government at the highest levels to prosecute perpetrators of violence or intimidation against the SOC, and to respect the SOC’s property rights. The embassy discouraged public officials, educational institutions, and other entities from engaging in discriminatory hiring practices against Muslims who self-define as religiously observant or other religious groups. Embassy officials regularly discussed religious tolerance with leaders of all major religious communities.
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 receive rights and privileges other groups do not. Three new religious groups registered during the year. Pursuant to a Supreme Court ruling in April, religious groups registered in the country for less than 10 years no longer had to reregister every year. The government again did not take any steps to restitute property to victims of Nazi persecution in accordance with the 2009 Terezin Declaration. Several senior politicians, including the president and prime minister, spoke against anti-Semitism during the year or participated in Holocaust memorial ceremonies.
On March 16, approximately 250 persons, including 10-15 veterans of the Nazi Waffen SS, five members of the All for Latvia Party, and a member of the National Alliance coalition, participated in the annual march for Latvian Legionnaires who fought alongside the Waffen SS against the Soviet Union in World War II (WWII). Attendance was similar to recent years. NGO Freedom House said support for the event continued to decline. Police said they detained two persons protesting the march. Various groups, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Latvian Anti-Nazi Committee, and politicians from the Latvian Russian Union, again condemned the march. Jewish and Muslim groups again cited instances of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate speech on the internet.
The U.S. embassy engaged with government officials, including representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Office of the Ombudsman, Department of Religious Affairs, and parliamentarians on the importance of restoring expropriated property to the Jewish community, religious tolerance, and Holocaust education. It also engaged with nongovernmental organization (NGO) MARTA and representatives of various religious groups, including Baptists, the Jewish community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Muslims, on the role they could play in promoting religious tolerance and acceptance in the country. The embassy funded three projects designed to address Holocaust issues.
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. Muslims said they remained unable to obtain local authorities’ permission to establish their own cemetery and the government had been unresponsive to their requests to build a proper mosque and denied a residency permit for a new imam. The government said it had neither received any requests for a mosque nor identified a successor imam. On January 30, government officials and the Liechtenstein Friends of Yad Vashem again held a public service to remember the victims of the Holocaust. President of Parliament Albert Frick spoke on the importance of rejecting anti-Semitism and honoring art produced during the Holocaust.
In contrast with previous years, there were no reports of statements hostile to religious minorities by members of groups considered to be extremist. A representative of the Muslim community said Muslim women suffered job discrimination because they wore headscarves.
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, focusing primarily on access to religious education 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, with the Liechtenstein Friends of Yad Vashem and the state-subsidized, nonprofit Liechtenstein Institute.
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 had not yet considered the recognition application by the indigenous religious group Romuva, following a favorable recommendation by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), and again did not vote on the recognition application of the United Methodist Church, pending since 2001. The government allocated funds to begin the conversion of a Soviet-era sports palace built atop a Jewish cemetery into a conference center. The Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) supported the project, but its Vilnius branch and other Jewish groups issued a statement against it and two other projects on former Jewish cemetery sites. Parliament removed the ombudsman for academic ethics amid allegations of anti-Semitism. The government again paid 3.62 million euros ($4.15 million) to the Foundation for the Disposal of Good Will Compensation for the Immovable Property of Jewish Religious Communities (Good Will Foundation) as compensation for nationalized Jewish communal property and 1.2 million euros ($1.38 million) to traditional religious groups. Senior government officials participated and spoke at Holocaust remembrance events.
Some participants at a nationalist march of 1,000 persons in March 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 World War II (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; media portals generally removed them.
U.S. embassy officials and the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues) met with government officials, including a vice chancellor, vice ministers at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Culture, members of parliament (MPs), and the head of the LJC to discuss ways to combat intolerance and anti-Semitism and to encourage resolution of remaining issues of compensation for Jewish private property seized during the Nazi and Soviet eras. Embassy officials discussed Jewish heritage preservation with local government officials. In September the Ambassador spoke on the importance of religious tolerance in remarks at the Symposium for Diplomats Who Saved Jewish Lives.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, including the right to practice it in public and manifest religious opinions, and prohibits compulsory participation in religious services or observance of religious groups’ days of rest. Parliament adopted legislation banning all forms of face coverings, including the burqa, in public buildings and on public transportation; legislation formalizing the dissolution of local Roman Catholic Church councils and the transfer of their assets to municipalities or to a fund of the Catholic Archdiocese of Luxembourg, despite continuing opposition by the councils; and an animal protection law requiring stunning before slaughter except in cases of hunting and fishing. Members of the Jewish and Muslim communities said the law requiring stunning of animals prior to slaughter conflicted with the expression of their religious beliefs.
The Council of Religious Groups that Signed an Agreement with the State (Conseil des Cultes Conventionnes – CCC), an interfaith council of six religious groups met four times during the year. The Luxembourg School of Religion and Society (LSRS), a Catholic institution of higher education and research, hosted several conferences and expositions on religious freedom.
U.S. embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues with government officials at the Ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs, and State, as well as with leaders and representatives of religious groups, including reactions to the implementation of the laws banning facial coverings and regulating animal slaughter and to the implementation of the law reorganizing the relationship between religious groups and the state. In November the Ambassador hosted an interfaith Thanksgiving lunch at which he delivered remarks supporting religious freedom and condemning anti-Semitism.
The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religious worship and prohibits religious discrimination. It establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion and mandates Catholic religious education in state schools, but allows students to opt out of the classes. In July the government postponed making a decision for six months on a Russian Orthodox application to build a new church. The government continued to expand its ethics program as an alternative to Catholic instruction in public schools and appointed an education officer specifically for ethics education.
The self-styled nationalist Maltese Patriots Movement advocated a “Christian Europe,” and opposed Islamic teaching in Catholic schools and the existence of unofficial Muslim prayer rooms. The Catholic Church offered premises for worship to a Russian Orthodox parish while it awaited a government decision on its application to build a new church.
In meetings with government officials at two ministries and with religious leaders, the U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials discussed religious tolerance and religious groups’ efforts to establish places of worship. During an iftar for members of the Muslim community and others and attended by two government ministers, the Ambassador stressed the importance of religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and its public expression and prohibits compelling participation in religious ceremonies. Roman Catholicism is the state religion and state ceremonies often include Catholic rituals. Religious groups have to apply to the government to build a public place of worship and to receive recognition, which provides certain legal rights and privileges. Optional Catholic religious instruction is available in public schools. In February the government again refused to recognize the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the group again appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, where the case was pending at year’s end. Without recognition, the group said it could not open a place of worship in the country.
The only private religious schools were Catholic. According to the government, there was insufficient demand for non-Catholic private religious schools. The government said it did not receive any requests from religious groups during the year to build places of worship.
In October representatives from the U.S. Consulate General in Marseille inquired about the government’s nonrecognition of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Consulate officials also discussed religious issues with members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim communities.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion as well as the right to change one’s religion. It specifies there is no state religion and guarantees equality and freedom for all religious communities. The law prohibits religious discrimination and hate speech. Religious groups, particularly the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), continued to say the laws governing their legal status were inadequate. The SOC said the Ministry of Interior (MOI) denied visas to its clergy based on discriminatory registration procedures. Police on occasion prevented Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC) and SOC members from engaging in religious activities at Orthodox sites at the same time, citing security concerns over potential clashes. Construction was halted for several months during the year on a new synagogue in Podgorica begun in 2017 by the Jewish community, pending the granting of necessary permits and documentation, which the Jewish community said was a bureaucratic issue rather than discrimination. The government maintained its policy of not restituting religious properties confiscated by the communist government, although it discussed a new religion law that could potentially address restitution. The prime minister said that an SOC church in a spot revered by Catholics, Muslims, and Orthodox would have to be removed because it did not have the proper permits. SOC Metropolitan Amfilohije stated, “The destruction of the church would be equal to a crime.”
The SOC and the MOC continued to dispute ownership of religious sites, and to call on the government to protect their interests.
The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials met throughout the year with government representatives to discuss relations between the government and religious groups, specifically regarding the new religion law and outreach the government reports it is conducting. The Ambassador spoke with MOC Metropolitan Mihailo about the MOC’s status and interreligious relations; the Charge d’Affaires held similar talks with Rifat Fejzic, the Islamic Community Reis (leader). In June the Ambassador hosted an iftar with representatives of different religious communities to discuss interfaith tolerance and moderation. The embassy also hosted the visit of a U.S. law enforcement specialist who discussed countering violent extremism with representatives of the Islamic Community.
The constitution and laws prohibit religious discrimination and guarantee freedom of religion and religious expression. They provide for equality before the law for all individuals regardless of religious belief. The constitution cites five religious groups by name; other religious groups may register with the government to receive benefits equivalent to those received by the five named groups. In December hate crimes were added to the criminal code, including crimes based on the religion or belief of the victim. During the year, the court in charge of registering religious entities accepted two applications and did not rule on two others. The Orthodox Archbishopric of Ohrid (OAO) remained unable to register as a religious entity. In April the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rejected the government’s appeal of the court’s November 2017 ruling that the government had violated the OAO’s rights by refusing it registration. Also in April the ECHR reached a unanimous verdict in favor of the Bektashi Community and determined the government had violated the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms by denying the community registration. As of the end of the year, both the OAO and the Bektashi Community registration applications were pending with Skopje Basic Court II. In June the government paid the last tranche of compensation to the Holocaust Fund of the Jews from Macedonia (Holocaust Fund) based on previous restitution claims. The Islamic Religious Community in Macedonia (ICM) said the government continued to show favoritism toward the Macedonian Orthodox Church-Ohrid Archbishopric (MOC-OA), and smaller religious groups continued to report unequal government treatment compared with the five constitutionally named groups. Some MOC-OA clergy protested the change of the country’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia, while ICM religious leaders supported it. In March the country marked the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Jews with a tribute at the Jewish cemetery in Bitola and a March of the Living in Skopje.
Representatives of the Bektashi Community objected to the ICM’s claims to full ownership of, and plans to renovate the Harabati Baba Teqe, the complex where the unregistered Sufi Bektashi Community of Macedonia’s headquarters are located. Additionally, the representatives reported harassment by ICM-affiliated individuals. There were several incidents of vandalism or theft of Orthodox Church property, one at the Harabati Baba Teqe, one case of fire at the Turkish Islamic cemetery in Bitola, and one incident in which a mosque was burned near Prilep.
The Ambassador and other embassy officials met with representatives from government and parliament to discuss religious freedom issues, including improved interfaith cooperation, MOC-OA autocephaly, religious freedom, and governmental respect for and equal treatment of faith groups. The Ambassador met with the justice minister to discuss the then draft legislation on hate crimes. The Ambassador also discussed these issues with the heads of the Bektashi Community and MOC-OA. Embassy officials met with representatives from a variety of minority religious groups, including the Bektashi, Jewish, and Christian minority denominations, and with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with religious freedom. The embassy supported Holocaust education efforts and sponsored civil society and government representatives on visits to the United States for programs that focused on promoting religious tolerance. The embassy also continued to fund a television documentary series featuring prominent religious leaders, academics, and citizens promoting tolerance of different ethnic, linguistic, and religious communities.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the right to choose, practice, or change one’s religion. A hate crime law punishes some expressions of disrespect for religious beliefs. The Council of Religious and Life Stance Communities (STL), an umbrella organization for religious and humanist communities, said a draft law could affect funding for 650 of 800 groups receiving state support; some religious groups expressed concerns the draft law might allow the government to impose conditions on those receiving support. The government continued to implement an action plan to combat anti-Semitism, which included a strategy that addressed anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate speech through a combination of education, engagement with civil society organizations, and increased support for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. Representatives from all registered religious communities began a review of the content of mandatory religion and ethics classes in public schools, half of whose content was devoted to Christianity. The government continued to provide exclusive benefits to the Church of Norway, including covering the salaries, benefits, and pensions of clergy and staff. The government provided financial support for interreligious dialogue, including to the Muslim Dialogue Network (MDN), to support dialogue between the Muslim community and other religious or life stance communities.
In 2017, police reported 120 religiously motivated hate crimes, a 24 percent increase from 2016. There were reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim speech on the internet. A rapper used a profanity against Jews during a concert to celebrate diversity, and a major newspaper published an anti-Semitic political cartoon. The MDN replaced the Islamic Council Norway (IRN) as the principal organization representing the Muslim community.
U.S. embassy staff met with officials from the Ministry of Culture (MOC) to discuss the draft law on religion, public financing for faith and life stance organizations, and perceptions by some religious groups of financial preferences for the Church of Norway. Embassy staff discussed with officials from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (MOJ) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) the government’s efforts to prosecute religiously based hate crimes. Embassy staff continued to meet with individuals from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), faith groups, including Muslims and Jews, and humanists to discuss religious freedom, integration of minority groups, and life as a religious person.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion. It states religion is a personal choice, and all churches and religious organizations have equal rights. A concordat with the Holy See defines relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Statutes and agreements determine relations between the government and 15 religious groups. The law prohibits public speech offensive to religious sentiment. The government registered one new religious group and decided 87 religious communal property restitution cases out of 3,240 outstanding cases. After amending the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) law to criminalize ascribing Nazi crimes to the Polish state, the government removed the criminalization provisions, while retaining civil penalties for violators. Governing party parliamentarians, other politicians, and commentators on state television made anti-Semitic statements during the year. The prime minister and the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) leader denounced anti-Semitism. The president participated in several Holocaust remembrance events. PiS parliamentarians voted down a motion to ask the prime minister to review an appeal to protect Muslims in the country.
The government investigated 328 anti-Muslim and 112 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, compared with 360 and 160 incidents, respectively, in 2016. Civil society groups said the figures were not comprehensive. Several Jewish groups expressed concern over what they called increasing anti-Semitism and threats and said they felt unsafe in the country. News media, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and Jewish groups reported an increase in anti-Semitic speech. There were incidents of vandalism at Jewish and Roman Catholic sites.
On January 27, the U.S. Secretary of State delivered remarks and laid a wreath at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument to commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The U.S. Ambassador, embassy staff, and visiting U.S. government delegations raised concerns with government officials about the IPN law and its potential impact on freedom of speech and academic research related to the Holocaust. In February the Ambassador released a video on social media expressing concerns about the amended IPN law. The Ambassador, other embassy staff, and visiting U.S. officials also discussed with government officials and Jewish groups the status of property restitution and anti-Semitism. On September 14, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom discussed religious freedom and antidiscrimination issues with government officials and religious leaders. The embassy and Consulate General in Krakow engaged with Jewish and Muslim leaders on countering anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and sponsored exchanges, roundtables, cultural events, and education grants promoting interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. The government, via the High Commission for Migration (ACM), sponsored activities to promote religious tolerance and acceptance, published religious texts, and organized education for teachers and workers interacting with persons of diverse religious backgrounds. The government granted citizenship during the year to 3,525 descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled during the Inquisition. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and other senior officials advocated religious tolerance and harmony at public events throughout the year, including during regular visits to churches, mosques, and other places of worship.
In February the European Jewish Congress reported in a newsletter that government officials, whom it did not name, characterized the country as having an almost nonexistent level of public anti-Semitism. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey cited in September, 52 percent of residents of the country believed Muslim women should be free to wear any religious clothing without restriction; 44 percent favored at least some restrictions. A series of 2015-17 Pew surveys cited in October found 70 percent of non-Muslims would be willing to accept Muslims as members of their family, and 73 percent of non-Jews would be willing to accept Jews as members of their family.
U.S. embassy representatives continued to meet regularly with the independent Commission for Religious Freedom (CLR) and ACM officials and discussed the importance of mutual respect and understanding among religious communities and the integration of immigrants, many of whom belonged to religious minority groups. The ambassador and other embassy officials met with Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Orthodox religious leaders, including from the Ismaili Imamat, Jewish Community of Lisbon, and Islamic Center of Bangladesh in Lisbon, to discuss religious tolerance and interfaith collaboration. The embassy hosted a multimedia theatrical presentation on ways to combat religious intolerance and funded the visit of a Muslim youth leader to the United States to participate in a program on religious freedom and interfaith dialogue.
The constitution prohibits restrictions on freedom of conscience and belief, as well as forcing an individual to espouse a religious belief contrary to the individual’s convictions. It stipulates all religions are independent from the state and have the freedom to organize “in accordance with their own statutes.” According to law, the state recognizes the “important role” of the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC) in the history of the country. The law specifies a three-tiered classification of religious organizations; civil associations wishing to perform religious functions may organize under a separate provision of the law. The government approved applications for two Christian associations – The “Philadelphia” Roma’s Union of Pentecostal Assemblies and God’s Union of Pentecostal Churches. There were continued reports of the slow pace of restitution of confiscated properties, especially to the Greek Catholic Church and the Jewish community. During the year, the government rejected 609 restitution claims for confiscated religious properties and approved 52; it approved no claims for the Greek Catholic Church. Minority religious groups continued to state that national and local governments gave preference to the ROC, and they reported incidents of discrimination against them. In July President Klaus Iohannis promulgated a law on countering anti-Semitism that criminalizes the promotion of anti-Semitic ideas and the establishment of anti-Semitic organizations.
Minority religious groups continued to report harassment of their congregations by ROC priests and adherents, along with the blocking of their access to cemeteries. A study on values shared by middle school and high school teachers reported that approximately one-third of teachers did not want persons belonging to a different religion as neighbors. There was a case of anti-Semitic vandalism of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s childhood home in Sighetu Marmatiei. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), local media outlets depicted largely Muslim refugees as a threat because of their religion.
In meetings with the general secretary of the government, U.S. embassy officials continued to raise concerns about the slow pace of the restitution process and the low number of properties restored to minority religious groups. Embassy officials facilitated meetings between the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) and government officials to help speed the processes of property restitution and pensions for Holocaust survivors. In meetings with President Iohannis, Prime Minister Danila, Bucharest Mayor Firea, and other officials, the embassy continued its support for the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania (Wiesel Institute) and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in its efforts to establish a museum of Jewish history. The Ambassador participated in commemorations of the Holocaust and spoke out against religious intolerance in the country.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, equal rights irrespective of religious belief, and the right to worship and profess one’s religion. The law states government officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association for violating public order or engaging in “extremist activity.” The law lists Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country’s four “traditional” religions and recognizes the special role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Authorities continued to enforce the Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling that criminalized the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist” and reportedly detained at least 47 Witnesses and put 72 under investigation. Authorities banned Jehovah’s Witnesses literature, raided homes, seized personal property and religious literature, and subjected individuals to lengthy interrogations. Authorities continued to detain, fine, and imprison members of other minority religious groups and minority religious organizations for alleged extremism, including followers of Muslim theologian Said Nursi. At least 11 of his followers were tried or jailed during the year, with four convicted of allegedly belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir, and seven more detained on the suspicion that they were members of the organization. In one case, according to the nongovernmental human rights organization (NGO) Memorial, authorities beat and verbally abused an individual allegedly from Hizb ut-Tahrir in a pretrial detention facility. Memorial stated the government held 177 political prisoners who were jailed because of their religious beliefs, the majority of whom were Muslim. Authorities convicted and fined several individuals for “public speech offensive to religious believers.” In some cases, it was difficult for minority religious organizations to obtain state registration. The government prosecuted members of many Christian denominations and others for alleged unlawful missionary activity under the amendments to antiterrorism laws passed in 2016, known as the Yarovaya Package. Police conducted raids on the private homes and places of worship of religious minorities. Religious minorities said local authorities used anti-extremism laws to add to the government’s list of banned religious texts. Local officials continued to prevent minority religious organizations from obtaining land and denied them construction permits for houses of worship. The government continued to grant privileges to the ROC not accorded to any other church or religious association, including the right to review draft legislation and greater access to public institutions. The government fined and issued deportation orders for foreign nationals engaging in religious activity, including a rabbi and two African Pentecostals.
Media, NGOs, and religious groups reported a number of attacks on individuals based on their religious identity. For example, since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling classifying the religion as “extremist,” Jehovah’s Witnesses reported beatings, arson attacks on their homes, and employment discrimination. Reports also indicated that hundreds fled the country in fear of persecution. According to the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis (SOVA Center), a local NGO, there were several reported cases of vandalism during the year targeting religious properties. These included unknown assailants knocking down crosses and desecrating Jewish cemeteries. In separate instances, arsonists attacked two Orthodox churches and set fire to a Jewish leader’s vehicle.
The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officials met with a range of government officials to express concern over the treatment of religious minorities, particularly the use of the law on extremism to restrict the activities of religious minorities, and the revocation of the registration of some minority religious organizations. Throughout the year, the Ambassador met with representatives of the ROC and minority faiths to discuss concerns about religious freedom in the country, including with leaders of the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC), the National Coalition of Supporting Eurasian Jewry, the Church of Scientology (COS), and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ). In addition, consular officers participated in many administrative hearings involving U.S. citizens accused of violating visa or other administrative requirements. Some of the U.S. citizens in these cases said the government targeted them because they were members of the Church of Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or other religious minorities. Other representatives from the embassy and Consulates General in Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok met regularly with religious leaders and representatives from multiple faiths to discuss developments related to religious legislation, government practices, and specific religious freedom cases. The embassy sponsored visits of members of different faiths from several regions of the country to the United States to engage in the topics of religious freedom and countering violent extremism. The embassy also used its social media platforms during the year to highlight religious freedom concerns.
On November 28, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State placed Russia on a Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.
The law prohibits religious discrimination, prevents restrictions on religious freedom, and includes provisions for prosecuting religious hate crimes. An agreement with the Holy See, ratified in September, confirmed Catholic religious instruction must be offered in all public schools, but the law guarantees the right of nonparticipation without penalty. Catholic symbols remained common in government buildings. In August at a Catholic-organized annual conference in Rimini, Italy, the foreign minister advocated dialogue and religious freedom while on a panel with the secretary general of the Muslim World League.
In June a local bank organized a conference on interreligious dialogue, and, in October the University of San Marino participated in an event to remember the introduction of anti-Semitic “racial laws” in Italy and San Marino in 1938.
During periodic visits, officials from the U.S. Consulate General in Florence, Italy, continued to stress the importance of religious tolerance in meetings with staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, as well as the right to change one’s religion, forbids the establishment of a state religion, guarantees equality for all religious groups, and prohibits incitement of religious hatred. Some religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the government for granting special privileges to seven religious groups it defined as “traditional” and protested difficulties in the registration process, without which religious groups lacked property rights, tax exemptions, and legal status. Four religious groups applied for registration or had applications pending during the year, and the government approved two of them, the Buddhist Religious Community Nichiren Daishonin and the LOGOS Christian Community in Serbia. In March the government appointed a chairperson to the supervisory board charged with overseeing the proper implementation of the law on Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property, enabling the board to commence work. During the year, the government restituted to religious groups 1,151.4 hectares (2,845 acres) of land and 1,618 square meters (17,416 square feet) of office and residential space confiscated since 1945.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported two incidents of physical assault and two instances of verbal death threats against their members and said prosecutors failed to respond adequately to the incidents. Protestants said persons frequently branded their religious groups as “sects,” which has a very strong negative connotation in the Serbian language. One Protestant group said its members sometimes hid their religious affiliation for fear of discrimination. Many smaller or nontraditional religious groups reported low-level public bias or discrimination against their members without citing specific examples. A Baptist group said religious documentaries critical of Protestant groups occasionally played on conservative television stations but did not cite specific examples. Anti-Semitic literature was available in some bookstores, and the Jewish community reported one incident of pro-Nazi graffiti at a public park in Belgrade.
U.S. embassy officials urged the government to continue implementing restitution of Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed Jewish property and closely monitored plans for a memorial at the World War II (WWII)-era Staro Sajmiste concentration camp site. The Ambassador met with the head of the Restitution Agency to express support for the agency’s work in restituting WWII-era Jewish heirless and unclaimed property. Embassy staff met with local and national officials in efforts to assist these restitution efforts and advocated the appointment of a chairperson to the supervisory board charged with oversight of the Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property law. Embassy officials continued to meet with representatives of a wide range of religious groups to discuss issues of religious freedom and tolerance, cooperation with the government, interaction between traditional and nontraditional religious groups, and property restitution. In May the embassy hosted an iftar that brought together representatives of the two different Islamic communities, which rarely met, to encourage the groups to work together and overcome long-standing divisions. An embassy officer visited a series of religious sites in Belgrade in January and February, spotlighting U.S. support for religious tolerance via the embassy’s social media outlets. In December the embassy hosted an interfaith discussion and networking event for 20 religious leaders and others. One speaker said it was the first occasion in almost 20 years that brought together such a wide cross-section of the religious community.
The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and affiliation and states the country is not bound to any particular faith. Religious groups faced increased registration requirements, including the need to present a petition with signatures of at least 50,000 adherents, up from 20,000 in 2017, which made it more difficult to attain official status. Some groups utilized registration procedures for civic associations in order to perform economic and public functions. Unregistered groups continued to report difficulties in ministering to their adherents and obtaining permits to build places of worship. Members of parliament, from both the government coalition and opposition parties, continued to make anti-Muslim statements. In January then Prime Minister Robert Fico stated that he rejected the creation of Muslim communities in the country. The Central Union of Jewish Communities in Slovakia (UZZNO) reported that anti-Semitic hate speech increased after then Prime Minister Fico indirectly accused a U.S. philanthropist of organizing antigovernment protests. Some members of the People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS) faced criminal prosecution for producing materials defaming minority religious beliefs and for Holocaust denial. The president, speaker of parliament, and prime minister agreed in August with political, social, and religious communities the state would adopt a “zero-tolerance approach toward extremism” and fight the spread of hatred and insults over the internet. In November parliament codified a new legal definition of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, which its sponsors said would facilitate criminal prosecution of hate crimes and hate speech.
The Muslim community continued to report anti-Muslim hate speech on social media. Muslim community members reported that a man verbally and physically assaulted an Iraqi woman wearing a headscarf in Bratislava due to her religious affiliation. Christian groups and other organizations described in media as far right continued to organize gatherings and commemorations of the World War II fascist state and to praise its leaders, although without statements formally denying the Holocaust. Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said the increased legal requirements for registration of religious groups, including Muslims, also continued to make it difficult to alter negative public attitudes that viewed unregistered small minority groups as “fringe cults.”
The Ambassador and other embassy officers discussed with government officials religious freedom and the treatment of minority religious groups, as well as measures to counter the increase in anti-Semitism and public expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment. Embassy officials also met regularly with registered and unregistered religious organizations and NGOs to discuss hate speech and the role of churches and religious groups in countering extremism and promoting tolerance. The embassy awarded a grant to an NGO to develop a curriculum to foster religious tolerance through interfaith discussions in secondary schools.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and the right of individuals to express their religious beliefs in public and private. It declares all religious communities shall enjoy equal rights and prohibits incitement of religious hatred or intolerance. Religious groups do not have to register with the government but must register to obtain status as legal entities with tax and other benefits. In September the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) and Ministry of Justice launched a project to establish the scope of Jewish heirless properties seized by the Nazis or their collaborators. Muslims asked the government to expand their access to cemeteries and to provide pork-free meals in public institutions. Muslim and Orthodox groups reported difficulties in providing services in hospitals, prisons, and the military. In April the Constitutional Court upheld a law prohibiting the slaughter of animals without prior stunning.
Muslim groups reported obstacles in accessing halal food, spiritual care, and circumcising their male children. These groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also reported anti-Muslim sentiment at public events, in news media, and online. Vice Chair of the Jewish Community of Slovenia Igor Vojtic expressed concern about what he described as a negative disposition towards Jews, especially among left-leaning citizens. Anti-Muslim hate speech was prevalent, especially online. Construction of the country’s first mosque continued after delays due to funding shortages. Muslims held services elsewhere in the interim.
U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with government officials responsible for upholding religious freedom, including the Ministry of Culture’s (MOC) Office for Religious Communities, to discuss issues such as interfaith dialogue, the prohibition of animal slaughter without prior stunning, and the status of circumcision of male children. In April the Ambassador hosted representatives of the Roman Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities to discuss issues such as legal restrictions on the ritual slaughter of animals and circumcision of boys. The embassy amplified its engagement on religious freedom issues through social media.
The constitution protects freedom of religion and states the government shall consider the religious beliefs of society and form cooperative relations with the Roman Catholic Church and other religious faiths. The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See that grants the Catholic Church additional benefits not available to three other groups with which the government has agreements: Protestants, Muslims, and Jews. Groups without agreements may register with the government and receive some benefits. Various politicians and civil society actors continued to criticize compulsory religious education, which is under the control of regional governments. The Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) 2017 annual report on religious freedom cited concerns regarding unequal treatment of religious groups, different financing of religious assistance, difficulties in opening places of worship, proselytizing, and providing spiritual services in public institutions, and the inability of the state to respond to religiously motivated incidents. Between January and September the government granted citizenship to approximately 4,000 descendants of Jews expelled in 1492. Muslims, Jews, and especially Buddhists reported problems with cemetery access. Leaders of other religious groups said the state allowed citizens to allocate part of their taxes to the Catholic Church or its charities but not other religions. The government continued outreach to Muslims to combat religious discrimination and promote integration.
There were incidents of assaults, threats, incitement to violence, other hate speech, and vandalism against Christians, Muslims and Jews. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience (OLRC) reported 142 religiously motivated incidents – including two assaults – in the first nine months of the year, 20 more than in the same period in 2017. Of the 142 cases, 65 percent were against Christians. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) documented 103 hate crimes with religious motivations in 2017, compared with 47 in 2016. The NGO Citizens’ Platform against Islamophobia reported 546 anti-Muslim incidents in 2017, of which hate speech on the internet accounted for 70 percent. The MOJ reported 43 hospitals throughout the country denied treatment to Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused blood transfusions. Christians, Muslims, and Jews reported increased hostility against them in media.
U.S. embassy and consulate officials met regularly with the MOJ’s Office of Religious Affairs, as well as with regional governments’ offices for religious affairs and with religious leaders who participated in the governmental Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation (the Foundation). Topics discussed included anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anticlerical sentiment, the failure of some regional governments to comply with legal requirements to treat religious groups equally, concerns about societal discrimination against religious minorities, access to religious education and cemeteries for religious groups, and pensions for clergy. In January the embassy hosted religious leaders for a discussion on religious freedom and equality in the country. In June the Ambassador hosted an iftar focused on strengthening government engagement with, and inclusion of, the Muslim community. In May the Consulate General in Barcelona organized an iftar where Muslim leaders and public officials discussed ways of promoting religious freedom and tolerance.
The constitution protects “the freedom to practice one’s religion alone or in the company of others” and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The government more than doubled security funding for religious organizations. Christian organizations stated the Migration Agency denied asylum to Christians fleeing religious persecution. One Christian committed suicide in September after authorities denied his asylum application. The government gave funding to 43 religious groups and facilitated revenue collection for 17 of them. The prime minister and other politicians condemned anti-Semitism and other religious intolerance. There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim remarks by members of the Sweden Democrats and other political parties, and party members proposed bills to prohibit the Muslim call to prayer, nonmedical circumcision of boys, and students and teachers from wearing the hijab in school. The Social Democratic Party, Sweden Democrats, and Left Party proposed bans on independent religious schools.
There was a report of an attack against a Christian convert seeking asylum and reports of threats, harassment, and discrimination against Jews and Muslims and attacks on their property. An Uppsala University survey released in June found 52 percent of 106 Muslim congregations responding had received threats, and 45 percent reported at least one attack against their properties in 2017; 15 percent reported more than 10 incidents. Jewish-owned houses were set on fire on two occasions in Lund.
The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy representatives continued to meet with the Ministries of Justice and Culture, parliament, the Swedish Agency for Support to Faith Communities (SST), police, and local government on religious freedom issues, welcoming government efforts to improve security for religious groups and highlighting threats to member of some religious minorities, including immigrants. Embassy officials spoke about religious tolerance with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim representatives in Malmo and Stockholm. The Department of State Senior Advisor for Combating Anti-Semitism met with government officials and Jewish and Muslim leaders in Stockholm and Malmo, calling for more efforts to protect religious groups. The embassy hosted a function at which grandchildren of a Nazi SS officer and a Holocaust survivor spoke about religious tolerance.
The constitution guarantees freedom of faith and conscience, and it and the penal code prohibit discrimination against any religion or its members. The constitution delegates regulation of the relationship between government and religious groups to the 26 cantons. Voters in St. Gallen Canton approved a referendum on new legislation barring the wearing of facial concealments in public. Basel Canton prohibited all court officials from wearing publicly visible religious symbols in court. Lausanne authorities denied a Muslim couple Swiss citizenship after they refused to shake hands with officials of the opposite sex during their citizenship interview. The Federal Court upheld a 2017 ruling by the Cantonal Parliament of Valais that invalidated a referendum that called for a ban on wearing headscarves in schools. The number of Muslim burial plots and sites increased, as did funding for education and awareness efforts aimed at improving the protection of religious minorities, notably Jews and Muslims.
The government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and Jewish and Muslim groups reported religiously motivated incidents against Jews and Muslims increased in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available. There were four physical altercations against Jews and a rise in anti-Semitic incidents by right-wing individuals and on social media. Incidents against Muslims were primarily verbal. Muslim representatives attributed an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment to the increasing politicization of Islam and negative media reporting. Two research studies reported evidence of anti-Muslim sentiment and discrimination in society and media. There was repeated vandalism of a kosher butchery in Basel, and an activist in Ticino Canton established a “Swiss Stop Islam Award,” giving a prize of 2,000 Swiss francs ($2,000) to each of the first three recipients.
U.S. embassy officials discussed religious freedom with the federal government, focusing on its projects aimed at promoting religious freedom and tolerance, and with cantonal government officials regarding cantonal recognition of minority religions, especially Islam. Embassy officials met with NGOs and civil society and with religious leaders from the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities and other religious minorities, eliciting their views on the nature and extent of religious discrimination. The embassy hosted an iftar and a Rosh Hashanah celebration that included discussions of religious tolerance and religious diversity. The embassy cohosted a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony with the chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and the embassy of Israel on January 29. Embassy staff spoke about the importance of religious freedom and tolerance at an iftar organized by an association working to strengthen religious dialogue, at a Baha’i festival, and during a visit to a Hindu temple.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the freedom of individuals to profess their religion or belief. It is a crime to engage in public speech inciting religious hatred. In June the government enacted a ban of face coverings in schools and some public spaces and expected to implement the ban in 2019. The Jewish community asked the government to focus more attention on combating anti-Semitism and to appoint an anti-Semitism coordinator. Politicians from several parties made anti-Islamic or anti-Semitic statements. There were several proposals in parliament to reduce benefits for religious groups and eliminate religion from public spaces, but no such legislation was passed.
The government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported hundreds of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, involving violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism. According to police, incidents targeting Muslims decreased by 45 percent compared with 2016 while anti-Semitic incidents declined by 15 percent over the same period. In August an Afghan man stabbed two persons, stating he had done so in response to Dutch insults to Islam. A study by two historians found most instances of anti-Semitism in recent years involved verbal or written speech, and that Dutch Moroccans and Dutch Turks, but not recent immigrants, were overrepresented among those committing anti-Semitic acts. A study by the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) found significant numbers of Muslims held a negative opinion of Dutch society.
The U.S. embassy and consulate general in Amsterdam emphasized the importance of support for refugees of all faiths, integration for newcomers, and interfaith dialogue in formal meetings and informal conversations with government officials, including at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Social Affairs, and Education and with parliamentarians and police. Embassy and consulate general representatives discussed religious freedom issues with leaders of several different faith communities and a broad range of civil society activists, and they pursued public outreach to youth to increase interfaith understanding and tolerance. The embassy also discussed religious tolerance with refugees.
The constitution defines the country as a secular state. It provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship and prohibits discrimination based on religious grounds. The Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), a state institution, governs and coordinates religious matters related to Islam; its mandate is to promote and enable the practice of Sunni Islam. The government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim minorities, especially those not recognized under the government’s interpretation of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which includes only Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. The government continued to treat Alevi Islam as a heterodox Muslim “sect” and not to recognize Alevi houses of worship (cemevis), despite a Supreme Court of Appeals ruling in November that cemevis are places of worship. The government did not recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service. Religious minorities reported bureaucratic and administrative impediments to religious freedom remained, including the prevention of governing board elections for religious foundations, which manage many activities of religious communities. The government continued to restrict efforts of minority religious groups to train their clergy, the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed, and the Diyanet announced plans to construct an Islamic educational center on the same island as the shuttered seminary. Religious minorities reported experiencing difficulties resolving land and property disputes, operating or opening houses of worship, and obtaining exemptions from mandatory religion classes in schools. The legal challenges of churches whose lands the government previously expropriated continued; some members of the churches said they still did not have access to many of their properties. The government provided security support for religious minority communities, returned some previously expropriated properties, including 56 to the Syriac community, and paid for the renovation and restoration of some registered religious properties. Following the July 2016 coup attempt, the government arrested more than 80,000 individuals with alleged ties to Muslim cleric and political figure Fethullah Gulen – whom the government blamed for the attempted putsch – including U.S. citizen and Pastor Andrew Brunson. In October a court in Izmir convicted Brunson of supporting a terrorist group but suspended his sentence, allowing him to depart the country.
Alevis expressed concern about continued anonymous threats of violence and the arrest of members of an Alevi association on charges of supporting a terrorist organization. ISIS and other actors continued to threaten Jews, Protestants, and Muslim groups in the country. Anti-Semitic discourse continued, as some progovernment news commentators published stories and political cartoons seeking to associate the 2016 attempted coup plotters and the economic difficulties of the country with the Jewish community. Anti-Semitic rhetoric, especially on social media, peaked during periods of heightened tension in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, according to social media analysis.
The Charge d’Affaires, visiting senior U.S. officials, and other embassy and consulate officials continued to engage with government officials and emphasize the importance of respect for religious diversity and equal treatment under the law. Embassy and consulate representatives and visiting U.S. government officials urged the government to lift restrictions on religious groups, make progress on property restitution, and address specific cases of religious discrimination. Embassy and consulate officials also met with a wide range of religious community leaders, including those of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christian, Protestant, Alevi, and Syriac Orthodox communities, to underscore the importance of religious freedom and interfaith tolerance and to condemn discrimination against members of any religious group.
In February 2014, Russian military forces invaded and occupied Crimea. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262 adopted on March 27, 2014, and entitled Territorial Integrity of Ukraine, states the Autonomous Republic of Crimea remains internationally recognized as within Ukraine’s international borders. The U.S. government does not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and considers that Crimea remains a part of Ukraine.
IN THIS SECTION: UKRAINE (BELOW) | CRIMEA
The constitution protects freedom of religion and provides for the separation of church and state. By law, the objective of domestic religious policy is to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship. In October the Ecumenical Patriarchate announced its intention to grant autocephaly (independence) to a new Ukrainian church after receiving a joint appeal from the government and bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP), Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), as well as several bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC-MP), affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate. In November Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew initiated steps to implement that decision. In December the UOC-KP, UAOC, and several UOC-MP representatives formed the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and elected its leader at their Establishment Council in Kyiv. Government leadership called on all parties to refrain from violence and respect the choice of those who decided to remain within the Moscow Patriarchate. According to human rights groups, documented acts of anti-Semitism declined from previous years. Some Jewish leaders continued to state their concerns about what they considered impunity for and long delays in completing investigations of acts of anti-Semitism. Religious leaders also continued to urge the government to establish a transparent legal process to address property restitution claims. In various regions of the country, minority religious groups continued to report discriminatory treatment by local authorities in land allocation for religious buildings. According to the UOC-MP, law enforcement gave far-right groups a “free hand” to pressure UOC-MP parishioners into leaving the Church, although some media reports stated the Russian government sought to spread trumped up charges of pressure on the UOC-MP.
According to media sources, religious freedom activists, the UOC-KP, Muslims, Protestant churches, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian proxy authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (regions) intensified pressure on minority religious groups. In Luhansk, proxy authorities banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization and the “Supreme Court” in Donetsk upheld a similar ban. In June proxy authorities raided and later closed the one remaining independent mosque in Donetsk. Proxy authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk adopted laws requiring all religious organizations except the UOC-MP to undergo “state religious expert evaluations” and reregister with them. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), more than 1,000 religious groups recognized under Ukrainian law had not reregistered because of stringent legal requirements under Russian legislation preventing or discouraging reregistration of many religious communities. Many religious groups refused to reregister because they did not recognize the self-proclaimed proxy authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia-led forces also continued to occupy religious buildings of minority religious groups and use them as military facilities. Crimea is reported in an appendix following the report on the rest of Ukraine.
There were continued reports of what some media and political observers characterized as far-right nationalist political groups physically assaulting and pressuring UOC-MP supporters and vandalizing UOC-MP property. In July supporters of the Svoboda Party physically assaulted the chief editor of a newspaper in Chernihiv Oblast for reportedly publishing a report about a UOC-MP-organized summer camp. In January representatives of C14, which observers describe as a far-right group, and others tore down an information board near UOC-MP churches in Kyiv. Two individuals doused the same UOC-MP church with flammable liquid, stating the act was in retaliation for the Moscow Patriarchate’s endorsement of Russian aggression against Ukraine. UOC-MP leaders stated the UOC-KP continued to seize churches belonging to the UOC-MP. The UOC-KP again stated parishioners and not the UOC-KP had initiated the transfers of affiliation. A group of local residents tried to prevent the construction of a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) facility in Bila Tserkva, Kyiv Oblast. Members of the Jewish community stated their continued concern about new construction on a site at Lviv’s Krakivskiy Market located on the grounds of an ancient Jewish cemetery. There were again reports of vandalism of Christian monuments; Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries; and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Halls. The All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) and the All-Ukrainian Council of Religious Associations (AUCRA) continued to promote interfaith dialogue and religious diversity.
The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials met with the Administration of the President, ministry officials, and members of parliament to discuss the protection of religious heritage sites, manifestations of anti-Semitism, and issues within the Orthodox Churches. In connection with the move towards autocephaly for the OCU, the Ambassador urged government and religious leaders to practice tolerance, restraint, and mutual understanding to ensure respect for all individuals’ religious freedom and preferences. The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to urge religious groups to resolve property disputes peacefully and through dialogue with government officials, in particular the dispute regarding the location of parts of the Krakivskiy Market on the site of Lviv Old Jewish Cemetery. Embassy officials continued to meet with internally displaced Muslims from Crimea to discuss their continuing inability to practice their religion freely in Crimea. In September the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited Kyiv. He met with government, religious, and community leaders to promote religious freedom, encourage interfaith dialogue, and assure leaders of U.S. support for all people to practice freely their faiths.
In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church and the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church. The law prohibits “incitement to religious hatred” as well as discrimination on the grounds of religion. The government updated the 2016 Hate Plan and committed to spending 1.5 million pounds ($1.92 million) on educational programs to challenge discriminatory beliefs. The Home Office published an independent review of the application of sharia in England and Wales that included recommendations for legislative changes to bring the treatment of Muslim religious marriages into line with those of other faiths, an awareness campaign highlighting the benefits of civil registration for religious marriages, and a proposal for the government to regulate sharia councils. The main political parties faced numerous accusations of religious bias. Religious and civil society groups, the media, and others accused Conservative Party politicians, including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, of anti-Muslim sentiment, and a number of Labour Party politicians, including leader Jeremy Corbyn, faced repeated accusations of anti-Semitism. The Scottish government launched an “Anti-Hate” campaign in an effort to erase sectarianism. The government, a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) since 1998, adopted the IHRA’s full working definition of anti-Semitism. In 2017 the London Assembly, Scottish government, and Welsh government also adopted the IHRA’s definition. During the year, the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat Parties adopted the IHRA definition, but the Green Party’s ruling body decided against it. The Scottish National Party (SNP) did not clarify whether it has adopted the definition.
The government reported similarly high numbers as the previous year in religiously motivated hate crimes and incidents in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Community Security Trust (CST), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) monitoring anti-Semitism, recorded 1,652 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, the highest it had ever recorded in a single year and an increase of 16 percent, compared with 1,414 incidents in 2017. There were multiple incidents of violence, arson, threats, and vandalism against religious groups. There were incidents of religiously motivated hate speech against Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Such incidents included the assault on and threatening of a man because of his Muslim beliefs, an assault on two female Jewish protesters outside a political event, attacks and vandalism on Sikh temples and mosques, and a postal campaign encouraging members of the public to “Punish a Muslim.” A number of interfaith initiatives were launched, including the “21 for 21” project, which attempts to identify leaders for the 21st century, seven each from the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.
U.S. embassy officials engaged with and sponsored speakers to visit religious groups. The embassy recognized October 27 as International Religious Freedom Day on its social media channels, including tweets from the embassy’s account highlighting the International Religious Freedom Act, the 2018 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, and the statement of the U.S. Secretary of State on the importance of promoting religious freedom and defending vulnerable minorities. On October 29, the Ambassador joined Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and other religious and political leaders at a memorial at a North West London Jewish center for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. The Ambassador joined other speakers in calling for unity against religious hatred.