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Qatar

Executive Summary

The constitution states Islam is the state religion and sharia shall be “a main source” of legislation.  The constitution guarantees the freedom to practice religious rites in accordance with “the maintenance of public order and morality.”  Religious groups must register with the government to acquire property, raise funds, or hold bank accounts.  Sunni and Shia Muslims and eight Christian denominations constitute the only registered religious groups in the country.  Unregistered religious groups are illegal but generally may practice their faith privately.  The Ministry of Interior (MOI) continued to allow more than 100 house churches to operate in the country.  In the wake of the severing of relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and continuing security concerns for Qatari citizens in Saudi Arabia, the government again discouraged citizens and residents from taking part in the Hajj or Umrah.  The government reviewed, censored, or banned print and social media religious material it considered objectionable.  The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported several instances in which the government promoted strident anti-Semitic preachers and stated the government-owned al-Jazeera media network continued “to be a major exporter of hateful content against the Jewish people.”  On May 21, the government submitted documents to the United Nations, following cabinet approval on March 14, to accede to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  The government formally stated in its accession documents that it would interpret the ICCPR’s Article 18, paragraph 2 (“No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”) “based on the understanding that the article does not contravene” sharia, and that it reserved the right to implement the article in accordance with its understanding of sharia.  The government also declared it would interpret several other provisions of the ICCPR in line with sharia, including Article 27 (regarding the rights of minorities “to profess and practice their own religion”), which could impinge upon freedom of religion.  New leadership within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) worked to engage with Christian leaders and reported direct contact and dialogue with the Christian Church Steering Committee (CCSC) concerning the Christian community’s desire to develop a positive relationship with the MFA and develop channels of communication for addressing concerns such as the impact of security measures.  The Ministry of Culture and Sports approved the staging of a two-day Christian musical concert in Doha that was attended by 18,000 persons.  In April the Maronite Patriarch laid the cornerstone for the first Maronite church in the Gulf region on government-owned land at the Mesaymeer Religious Complex.

Media based in the country periodically published anti-Semitic material.  Following the move of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in May, national newspapers published a number of anti-Semitic editorial cartoons.  One appeared in al-Watan on May 15, showing a pig marked with the Star of David resting on a pillow with the pattern of the U.S. flag, with its stars replaced by Stars of David.  In December the ADL criticized the Doha International Book Fair for including anti-Semitic books.  Members of the CCSC stated pamphlets containing anti-Christian and anti-Semitic content that had previously been removed from some public places such as schools and hospitals had sporadically reappeared.

In November embassy officials met with the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) to discuss means to spread tolerance and raise awareness of the rights of religious minorities.  After outreach from the U.S. embassy to the Ministry of Culture, which organized the book fair, the government reported removing the offensive content and pledging to take a more proactive approach to prohibiting anti-Semitic content in the next book fair.  The Charge d’Affaires and embassy officers continued to meet with relevant government bodies, as well as quasi-governmental religious institutions, concerning the rights of religious minorities, Sunni-Shia relations in the country, interest in international exchange programs for imams and MEIA officials, and government efforts to prevent the spread of extremist ideologies within mosques.  In November the embassy participated in the eighth roundtable discussion by the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue (DICID), which was an opportunity for Christian church leaders to meet with Muslim scholars.  In December the embassy hosted a Thanksgiving dinner with an interfaith theme.  Participants represented a wide spectrum of faiths, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population as 2.4 million (July 2018 estimate).  Citizens make up approximately 12 percent of the population, while noncitizens account for approximately 88 percent.  Most citizens are Sunni Muslims, and almost all of the remaining citizens are Shia Muslims.  Reliable figures are unavailable, but estimates based solely on the religious composition of expatriate source countries suggest Muslims, while they are the largest religious group, likely make up less than half of the total population.  .  The breakdown of the noncitizen population between Sunni, Shia, and other Muslim groups is not available.

Other religious groups in descending order of size include Hindus, almost exclusively from India and Nepal; Roman Catholics, primarily from the Philippines, Europe, and India; and Buddhists, largely from South, Southeast, and East Asia.  Smaller groups include Anglicans and Protestant denominations, Egyptian Copts, Baha’is, and Greek and other Eastern Orthodox.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Private media in the country published anti-Semitic material.  In March a cartoon in al-Arab depicted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Jewish leaders with stereotypical “Jewish features” meeting in New York and discussing the Palestinian issue.  Following the move of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in May, newspapers published anti-Semitic editorial cartoons.  One appeared in al-Watan on May 15, showing a pig marked with the Star of David resting on a pillow with the pattern of the U.S. flag, with its stars replaced by Stars of David.

Members of the Church Steering Committee stated that select pamphlets containing anti-Christian and anti-Semitic content, which had previously been removed from some public places such as schools and hospitals, had sporadically reappeared.  The members reported the government was generally receptive to removing the content when it was identified.

In October the Doha branch of Georgetown University faced backlash from Qatari social media users, including threats of violence against campus staff, following publicity surrounding an advertisement for a discussion titled “This House Believes That Major Religions Should Portray God as a Woman.”  The event was eventually cancelled by campus management, who stated that the organizers had failed to follow standard operating procedures to obtain permission to hold the event.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Charge d’Affaires and embassy officers continued to meet with relevant government bodies, including the Office of the Secretary General and Human Rights Department at the MFA, the MOI Department of Human Rights, and the MEIA, as well as quasi-governmental religious institutions such as the DICID, concerning the rights of religious minorities, Sunni-Shia relations in the country, interest in international exchange programs for imams and MEIA officials, and government efforts to prevent the spread of extremist ideologies within mosques.  In November the embassy participated in DICID’s eighth roundtable discussion, attended by Christian church leaders and Muslim scholars.  The embassy facilitated two sets of meetings between MFA officials and Christian church leaders at the Mesaymeer Religious Complex.

The embassy worked with the Ministry of Culture and Sports and other stakeholders to secure the required approvals for the November Christian musical concert featuring American performers in Doha.

Embassy officials facilitated an agreement between the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs and the CCSC to raise awareness among churchgoers about recent changes to the labor law, which affected the expatriate population, and the means to submit complaints to authorities concerned.  The ministry agreed in principle to use churches as dissemination platforms to highlight reforms and help educate congregations about future labor law developments.  The ministry subsequently held multiple meetings with clergy to discuss how to proceed with a similar outreach event in 2019.

The embassy held a Thanksgiving dinner attended by representatives from a wide spectrum of faiths in Doha, including Sunni and Shia Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, and Hindus.

In December the embassy responded to complaints from the ADL that anti-Semitic literature was displayed at the Doha International Book Fair.  Embassy officials raised these concerns with high-level officials at the Ministry of Culture and Sports.  The ministry responded by removing the offensive content and pledging to take a more proactive approach to prohibiting anti-Semitic content in the next book fair on the grounds that the books violate their exhibitor rules of conduct and the country’s laws.

Republic of Korea

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for religious freedom and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  On June 28, the Constitutional Court overturned its previous 2004 and 2011 rulings and found unconstitutional a provision of the law that calls for up to three years in prison for those who refuse to serve in the military without “justifiable” reasons, arguing that it failed to provide alternative service options for conscientious objectors.  The ruling required the government to amend the law by December 31, 2019 to provide alternative service options for conscientious objectors.  On November 1, the Supreme Court ruled “conscience or religious beliefs” a justifiable reason for refusing mandatory military service, while overturning a lower court ruling in which a Jehovah’s Witness was sentenced to 18 months in prison.  On November 30, press reported the government decided to release on parole 58 conscientious objectors who had been imprisoned prior to the Supreme Court ruling.  According to Watchtower International, a Jehovah’s Witnesses-affiliated nongovernmental organization (NGO), 57 conscientious objectors were released on parole and eight Jehovah’s Witnesses remained in prison as of December for conscientious objection to military service, down from 277 the previous year.  It also reported 938 pending such cases in the courts as of December including 89 cases in the Supreme Court and 37 cases under investigation.  The number of conscientious objectors on trial was the highest in 11 years, while the number of conscientious objectors in prison was the lowest in 11 years, according to the NGO.  In December the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) granted temporary one-year humanitarian permits to 412 of 500-plus Yemenis, most or all of whom were Muslim, who applied for asylum after entering Jeju Province on a visa-free program.  Yemenis were excluded from the visa-free program in June.

The influx of Yemeni asylum seekers to Jeju spurred protests against the country’s special visa-free entry program for Yemenis and certain other nationals.  The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) reported 21 cases alleging religious discrimination as of December.

The Ambassador and other embassy officers engaged with senior government officials, NGO representatives, and religious leaders on issues related to religious freedom, including the imprisonment of conscientious objectors.  The Ambassador met with the President of the Constitutional Court to discuss the court’s ruling on conscientious objectors and the positive effect the ruling would have on the ability of religious minorities to express their religious beliefs and act according to their faith.  The Ambassador also met with leaders of the Anglican, Baptist, Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic communities to discuss and underscore the U.S. commitment to religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 51.4 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2016 census conducted by the Korea Statistical Information Service, of the 44 percent of the population espousing a religion, 45 percent are Protestant, 35 percent Buddhist, 18 percent Roman Catholic, and 2 percent “other.”  The census counts members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church) as Protestants.  Followers of “other” religious groups, including Won Buddhism, Confucianism, Jeongsando, Cheondogyo, Daejonggyo, Daesun Jinrihoe, and Islam, together constitute less than 2 percent of the population.  According to the only rabbi in the country, there is a small Jewish population of approximately 1,000, almost all expatriates.  According to the Korean Muslim Federation, the Muslim population is estimated at 135,000, of which approximately 100,000 are migrant workers and expatriates mainly from Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states that all citizens have freedom of religion, and that there shall be no discrimination in political, economic, social, or cultural life because of religion.  Freedoms in the constitution may be restricted by law only when necessary for national security, law and order, or public welfare, and restrictions may not violate the “essential aspect” of the freedom.  The constitution states that religion and state shall be separate.

The law requires active military service for virtually all male citizens between the ages of 18 and 40, followed by reserve duty training.  The Ministry of National Defense reported that starting in October the length of compulsory military service would gradually shrink from 21-24 months to 18-22 months, depending on the branch of service.  The law currently does not allow for alternative service options for conscientious objectors, who are subject to a maximum three-year prison sentence for refusing to serve in the military.  Conscientious objectors sentenced to more than 18 months in prison are exempt from military service and reserve duty obligations and are not subject to additional sentences or fines.

Those who complete their military service obligation and subsequently become conscientious objectors are subject to fines for not participating in mandatory reserve duty exercises.  The reserve duty obligation lasts for eight years, and there are several reserve duty exercises per year.  The fines vary depending on jurisdiction but typically average 200,000 Korean won ($180) for the first conviction.  Fines increase by 100,000 to 300,000 won ($90 to $270) for each subsequent conviction.  The law puts a ceiling on fines at 2 million won ($1,800) per conviction.  Civilian courts have the option, in lieu of levying fines, to sentence individuals deemed to be habitual offenders to prison terms or suspended prison terms that range from one day to three years.

In June the Constitutional Court ruled that the government must provide alternative service options for conscientious objectors by December 31, 2019.  On November 1, the Supreme Court ruled that conscientious objection was a valid reason to refuse mandatory military service.  The rulings did not address the status of conscientious objectors already convicted and serving time in prison.  While the Constitutional Court has the authority to rule on the constitutionality of national laws, the Supreme Court decides how these laws would apply to individual cases.

According to regulation, a religious group that has property valued at over 300 million won ($269,000) may become a government recognized religious organization by making public internal regulations defining the group’s purpose and activities, meeting minutes of the group’s first gathering, and a list of executives and employees.

To obtain tax benefits, including exemption of acquisition or registration taxes when purchasing or selling property to be used for religious purposes, organizations must submit to their local government their registration as a religious and nonprofit corporate body, an application for local tax exemption, and a contract showing the acquisition or sale of property.  Individual religious leaders previously were eligible to receive tax benefits on earned yearly income.  A revision to the Income Tax Act, which took effect in January, eliminated tax exemptions on earned income for all clergy.  Education, food, transportation, and childcare expenses remain exempt from taxation for clergy.  Individual practitioners remain eligible for income tax benefits upon submitting receipts of donations made to religious organizations.

The government does not permit religious instruction in public schools.  Private schools are free to conduct religious activities.

The law provides government subsidies to historic cultural properties, including Buddhist temples, for their preservation and upkeep.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (MCST) Religious Affairs Division works with major religious groups on interfaith solidarity and interactions between religious organizations and the government.

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

Government Practices

The government continued to detain and imprison conscientious objectors to military service.  Most conscientious objectors refused military service for religious reasons, and most were sentenced to 18 months in prison.  While absolved of any military obligation after serving time in prison, conscientious objectors still had a criminal record that could affect future employment opportunities, including limitations on holding public office or working as a public servant.

On November 30, press reported that the government would release on parole 58 conscientious objectors who had been imprisoned.  Those individuals were eligible for parole because they had finished one-third of their sentence.  Watchtower International said that 57 conscientious objectors were released on parole and reported in December eight Jehovah’s Witnesses remained in prison for conscientious objection to military service.  The total number of such prisoners declined from 277 in the previous year.

As of June Watchtower International estimated that more than 19,350 conscientious objectors had been imprisoned since 1950.  The organization reported 938 cases pending in the courts, including 89 cases in the Supreme Court and 37 cases under investigation as of December.  Another 46 Jehovah’s Witnesses were under investigation for refusing to participate in reserve forces training.  The number of conscientious objectors on trial was at its highest in 11 years, while the number of conscientious objectors in prison was at its lowest in 11 years.

As of December the lower courts had issued 85 “not guilty” decisions in conscientious objection cases, in contrast to 44 in 2017, seven in 2016, and six in 2015.

On June 28, the Constitutional Court, after deliberating for nearly three years, ruled that a provision of the law on conscription was unconstitutional since it failed to provide for alternative service options for conscientious objectors.  In 2004 and again in 2011, the Constitutional Court had deemed the conscription law constitutional.  The new court ruling required the government to amend the law by December 31, 2019 to provide alternative service options for conscientious objectors.  The Ministry of National Defense began drafting a bill for conscientious objectors after the ruling.

On August 30, the Supreme Court heard several cases of conscientious objectors.  On November 1, it ruled that conscientious objection was a valid reason to refuse mandatory military service while overturning a lower-court ruling in which a Jehovah’s Witness was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

On November 22, Seoul Central District Court convicted Lee Jae-rock, the pastor of a megachurch, of raping eight women dozens of times and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.  He had told the women that he was carrying out “an order from God.”

In July police arrested Shin Ok-ju, head pastor of the Grace Road Church, as well as three other senior members, on charges of forced confinement and physical assault in conjunction with a 400-member Church-owned compound in Fiji.  Former members of the Church said they were instructed to beat each other in order to get rid of evil spirits and were not free to leave the compound.  The Church denied the accusations.  As of the end of the year, the investigation was ongoing.

Religious organizations continued to express concern that a new tax law, which went into effect in January, imposed income tax on specified benefits for religious leaders that were not actual income.  Organizations were also concerned about distinguishing taxation on religious activities from taxation on religious leaders as individuals.

Media sources reported the Seoul city government spent 200 million won ($179,000) to provide prayer rooms at popular tourist destinations in order to attract more Muslim tourists.

The MCST’s Religious Affairs Division supported various religious events, co-hosted by religious leaders, including the Korean Religious and Cultural Festival in November and North Jeolla Province’s World Religious and Cultural Festival in September.  During the year, the ministry spent a total of 5.7 billion won ($5.11 million), with 2.2 billion won ($1.97 million) for Buddhist events, 1.3 billion won ($1.17 million) for Confucian cultural activities, 872 million won ($782,000) for Cheondogyo events, 733 million won ($658,000) for Christian events, and 483 million won ($433,000) for Won Buddhist events.  According to the Korea Conference of Religions for Peace (KCRP), the MCST had little to no collaboration hosting events with the Jewish Community during the year.

Between January and May 552 Yemenis, most or all of whom were Muslim, arrived on a visa-free program to Jeju Province and then applied for asylum.  On June 1, the government enacted a ban on additional visa-free entry for Yemenis to Jeju and on travel to the mainland.  By December the MOJ granted temporary one-year humanitarian permits to 412 of the asylum-seeking Yemenis.  It rejected 56, of which 14 were dismissed because the applicants withdrew their appeals or violated immigration rules.  Two were granted asylum.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The NHRCK reported 21 cases alleging religious discrimination as of December.  The NHRCK did not provide details on cases under investigation.

Muslim groups reported some discrimination, including a general societal view associating Muslims with terrorist activities, and instances in which women wearing hijabs were denied job interviews.

An influx of Yemeni asylum seekers to Jeju Province spurred protests against the country’s special visa-free entry program for Yemenis and certain other nationals, resulting in the government excluding Yemenis from the program in June.  Some groups working with asylum seekers said local media were unfairly associating Yemenis with terrorist activities because of their religion.  A web survey of 605 Koreans conducted in November by the Lowy Institute of Australia found the strongest negative response to a question on accepting the Yemenis when the question added their religion.  Some Protestant ministers have encouraged Koreans to accept and help the refugees, and criticized “baseless Islamophobia.”

According to local media, on October 19, authorities reversed their prior decision and granted refugee status to an Iranian teenager who had converted from Islam to Catholicism while in the country.  He was supported by a large number of classmates as well as a Catholic cardinal.

Media sources reported the Korea Tourism Organization cancelled plans to build two mobile prayer rooms for use during the Winter Olympics after approximately 58,000 individuals signed an online petition stating taxpayer money should not be used for a particular religion and that Koreans should be wary of “extremist Muslims.”

In January, following reports that parents killed their daughter while attempting to force her to convert from what the parents viewed as a cult to their own Christian denomination, 120,000 citizens gathered in Seoul and elsewhere to protest against coercive conversion, reportedly conducted by some Christian pastors.  The protestors criticized the government and churches for remaining silent on the issue and demanded action.

According to a poll conducted by Korea Gallup on May 15-16 at the request of the Korean Association of Church Communications, 73.4 percent of respondents were in favor of alternatives to military service.

Prominent religious leaders regularly met under government auspices to promote religious freedom, mutual understanding, and tolerance.  Throughout the year, the KCRP hosted religious leaders from multiple faiths at religious events including seminars, exhibitions, arts and cultural performances, and interfaith exchanges to promote religious freedom, reconciliation, and coexistence.  While Islam is not one of the seven religious groups represented in the KCRP, which is comprised of the National Council of Churches of Korea, the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the Catholic Church, Won Buddhism, Confucianism, Cheondogyo, and the Association of Korean Native Religions, the KCRP hosted seminars in June on Experience of Different Religions and Special Experience of Ramadan and Iftar at the Korean Muslim Federation where approximately 60 Muslims, Catholics, and Won Buddhists attended.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officers regularly engaged the government – including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MCST, MOJ, and National Assembly members – on religious freedom and tolerance, including urging the government to provide legal provisions for conscientious objection to military service on religious grounds.  The Ambassador met with the President of the Constitutional Court to discuss the court’s ruling on conscientious objectors and the positive effect the ruling would have on the ability of religious minorities to express their religious beliefs and act according to their faith.

The Ambassador also met with leaders of the Anglican, Baptist, Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic communities to discuss religious freedom issues and underscore the U.S. commitment to religious freedom.  Other embassy officials met with members of various religious groups and NGOs, including associations representing Jehovah’s Witnesses, and indigenous religions, to discuss the state of religious tolerance and concerns about the imprisonment of conscientious objectors.

The embassy highlighted the U.S. commitment to religious freedom via social media, including by posting the Ambassador’s meeting with the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism in November to discuss human rights and social issues.

Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The constitution states that the country is secular, prohibits religious discrimination, provides for freedom of religion, bans the use of religion for political ends, and stipulates impositions on freedom of conscience stemming from “religious fanaticism” shall be punishable by law.  The government continued to grant Christians and Muslims access to public facilities for special religious events.

The Catholic and Protestant communities conducted public outreach and evangelization campaigns in stadiums and other public spaces during the year.  In support of the atmosphere of religious harmony, the Islamic Council encouraged the country’s Muslims to lead ethically sound lives and to be respectful of other religious communities in the country.  According to Muslim, Catholic, and other Christian leaders, there were no reports of religiously motivated incidents or actions directed against their respective communities.  Sources stated there were varying views on the practice and acceptance of religious syncretism.

The U.S. embassy continued to promote religious freedom and tolerance in engagements with leaders in government, the diplomatic community, and civil society groups.  The Ambassador celebrated National Religious Freedom Day by hosting an interfaith dinner with six prominent religious leaders where the Ambassador and guests discussed religious freedom, the state of interfaith cooperation, and religious syncretism.  The U.S. embassy supported multiple events with religious leaders and youth groups to discuss community engagement and countering violent extremism related to religion.  Embassy officials met separately with Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim leaders to discuss the state of religious tolerance and cooperation.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.1 million (July 2018 estimate).  A 2012 survey by the Ministry of Economy, Planning, Territorial Management, and Integration estimates 55 percent of the native-born population is Protestant (of whom approximately 33 percent belong to evangelical Christian churches), 32 percent Roman Catholic, and 2 percent Muslim.  Another 9 percent belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ on Earth through the Prophet Simon Kimbangu (Kimbanguist), the Celestial Church of Christ, Salvation Army, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  An estimated 2 percent of the population is atheist.  In significant portions of the population, traditional beliefs influence religious practices, including ancestor worship and a widespread belief in witchcraft or “Ndoki.”

Many residents not included in government statistics are foreign workers with families that come from predominantly Muslim countries, primarily in West Africa.  The country hosts more than 26,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR), although the refugees began returning to the CAR voluntarily during the year with assistance from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  According to UNHCR, more than 15 percent of the refugees from the CAR are Muslim.

There are varying estimates for the size of the Muslim community, which is predominantly Sunni.  The High Islamic Council of Congo (CSIC) states Muslims are nearly 12 percent of the population.  The government stated it planned to conduct an official census during the year, to include statistics on religious identity, but funding was not available.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states the country is secular, provides for freedom of belief, prohibits religious discrimination, and makes forced impositions on conscience based on “religious fanaticism,” such as forced conversion, punishable by law.  The constitution bans the use of religion for political ends including religiously affiliated political parties.

A decree bans individuals from wearing the full-face Islamic veil, including the niqab and the burqa, in public places.  The decree also bans Muslims from foreign countries from spending the night in mosques.

All organizations, including religious groups, must register with, and be approved by, the Ministry of Interior.  Religious group applicants must present a certification of qualifications to operate a religious establishment, a title or lease to the property where the establishment is located, the exact address where the organization will be located, bylaws, and a document that clarifies the mission and objectives of the organization.  Penalties for failure to register include fines and potential confiscation of goods, invalidation of contracts, and deportation of foreign group members.

The law prohibits religious instruction in public schools.  Private schools may provide religious instruction.  The law requires that all public and private schools respect all philosophical and religious doctrines.  The constitution protects the right to establish private schools.

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

Government Practices

As in previous years, the government granted Christians and Muslims access to public facilities for special religious events.  For example, on September 12, the country’s Muslim community celebrated Eid al-Adha in Saint-Denis at a stadium located on the grounds of the presidential residence.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

NGOs and religious leaders stated that the general population, including Muslims, continued its broad support of the 2015 ban on full-face Islamic veils, viewing the ban as a preemptive counterterrorism measure.

During the year, leaders and representatives from the Muslim community reported tensions between adherents of Sunni and Shia Islam.  According to a religious leader, the tensions were a result of philosophical differences within the Muslim community and did not result in violence.

According to various sources, there were differing views on the practice and acceptance of religious syncretism.

All religious communities conducting humanitarian, social support, or community development activities informed local authorities of their travel within the country.  According to the CSIC, the organization notified the government when it knew of Muslims traveling out of country to participate in religious education or for activities sponsored by the CSIC.  Representatives of Christian communities did not report their international travel to domestic authorities.

The Ecumenical Council, representing the Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist Churches, met at least biweekly and conducted joint community outreach on topics including peace and religious tolerance.  The Revivalist Council, representing evangelical Protestant churches, met at least twice during the year.

During the year, the Islamic Council remained active and hosted discussions on humanitarian efforts, social action, and assistance to vulnerable persons.  In January the Islamic Council conducted an awareness campaign with participation by the Ministry of Women’s Promotion on gender-based violence.  As part of the campaign, the CSIC issued a public statement against gender-based violence in the country that encouraged Muslims to lead ethically sound lives, respect the laws of the country, and respect the teachings of their religious doctrine.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. embassy raised the issue of countering religious extremism, in addition to promoting the value of religious tolerance, in its engagement with the government, the diplomatic community, religious leaders, and representatives of civil society.  The embassy used public diplomacy tools, including social media platforms, to highlight religious engagement, to counter religious extremism, and to promote religious tolerance.

U.S. embassy officials discussed religious freedom issues including interfaith relations and countering religious extremism with leaders and representatives of religious groups, including the relationship between various religious communities and their individual relationships with government organizations.

On January 18, embassy officials facilitated a discussion with more than 80 youth leaders on religious freedom in the United States that provided participants the opportunity to discuss religious and interfaith practices in Congo, promote religious freedom, and advance a counter-extremism narrative.

In celebration of National Religious Freedom Day on March 15, the Ambassador hosted an interfaith dinner for six of the country’s most prominent religious leaders.  Guests discussed the state of interfaith cooperation, religious syncretism, and the question of whether the government interfered in their work.  The Ambassador emphasized our shared commitment to religious freedom.

In October the Ambassador met with the Catholic Bishop of Kinkala to identify ways to advance peace initiatives in a post-conflict situation.  Meeting participants discussed the need for interreligious dialogue to strengthen the current peace efforts in the country.  The embassy continued its engagement with religious communities involved in interfaith dialogue and conflict reduction throughout the country.

Romania

Executive Summary

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.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 21.5 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to a 2011 government census, ROC adherents constitute 86.5 percent of the population and Roman Catholics almost 5 percent.  According to the census, there are approximately 151,000 Greek Catholics; however, Greek Catholics estimate their numbers at 488,000.  Other religious groups include Old Rite Russian Christians; Protestants, including Reformed Protestants, Pentecostals, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Evangelical Lutherans, Evangelical Augustans; Jews; Muslims; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Baha’is; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Zen Buddhists; the Family (God’s Children); the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church); the Church of Scientology; and the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.  Atheists and nonbelievers represent less than 1 percent of the population.

According to the 2011 census, Old Rite Russian Christians are mainly located in Moldavia and Dobrogea.  Most Muslims live in the southeast around Constanta.  Most Greek Catholics reside in Transylvania.  Protestants of various denominations and Roman Catholics reside primarily in Transylvania.  Orthodox and Greek Catholic ethnic Ukrainians live mostly in the north.  Orthodox ethnic Serbs are primarily in Banat.  Members of the Armenian Apostolic Church are concentrated in Moldavia and the south.  Virtually all members of the Protestant Reformed and Unitarian Churches of Transylvania are ethnic Hungarians.  More than half of the Roman Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Transylvania are composed of ethnic Hungarians.  Approximately 40 percent of the country’s Jewish population of 3,400 resides in Bucharest.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits restricting freedom of thought, opinion, conscience, or religious beliefs, as well as forcing individuals to espouse a religious belief contrary to their convictions.  It stipulates all religions are independent from the state and have the freedom to organize “in accordance with their own statutes” under terms defined by the law.  The law specifies the state’s recognition of the “important role of the Romanian Orthodox Church” as well as the role of “other churches and denominations as recognized by the national history” of the country.

The constitution states religious denominations shall be autonomous and enjoy state support, including the facilitation of religious assistance in the army, hospitals, penitentiaries, retirement homes, and orphanages.  The law forbids public authorities or private legal entities from asking individuals to specify their religion, with the exception of the census.

The provisions of the law devoted to religion stipulate a three-tier system of religious classification with “religious denominations” at the highest level, followed by “religious associations,” and “religious groups” at the most basic level.  Organizations in the top two tiers are legal entities, while religious groups are not.  Civil associations established under separate provisions of the law governing associations and foundations may also engage in religious activities and have the status of legal entities.

By law, there are 18 religious organizations recognized as “religious denominations,” all of which were in existence at the time the specific law on religion was enacted in 2006.  They include the ROC, Orthodox Serb Bishopric of Timisoara, Roman Catholic Church, Greek Catholic Church, Old Rite Russian Christian (Orthodox) Church, Reformed (Protestant) Church, Christian Evangelical Church, Romanian Evangelical Church, Evangelical Augustan Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Unitarian Church, Baptist Church, Pentecostal Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Federation of Jewish Communities, Muslim Denomination (Islam), and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

For additional organizations to obtain recognition as religious denominations, the law specifies they must demonstrate 12 years of continuous activity since the law’s passage, which could not occur before 2018.  A religious association is then eligible to apply for the status of religious denomination if it has a membership of at least 0.1 percent of the population (approximately 21,500 persons).

The law defines a religious association as an organization of at least 300 citizens who share and practice the same faith and that has attained legal status through registration with the Registry of Religious Associations in the office of the clerk of the court where the main branch of the association is located.  To register, religious associations must submit to the government their members’ personal data (e.g., names, addresses, personal identification numbers, and signatures), which the law says the government may not share with other public institutions or use in any other way.  To operate as religious associations, organizations also require approval from the National Secretariat for Religious Denominations, which is under the authority of the Office of the Prime Minister.

The law defines a religious group as a group of individuals sharing the same beliefs.  Religious groups do not have to register to practice their religion and do not need approval from the national secretariat to operate.

Civil associations engaged in religious activities function like secular associations and foundations; however, they do not receive the same benefits as religious denominations or religious associations.  Civil associations may not qualify under the numerical/administrative criteria (300 members) for recognition as religious associations or may choose not to apply for such recognition.  These associations do not require approval from the National Secretariat for Religious Denominations to operate.  Their registration falls under the provisions of law governing the establishment of foundations, associations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which require a minimum membership of three individuals.  Such civil associations are not required to submit their members’ personal data.

Religious denominations are eligible for state financial and other support.  They have the right to teach religion classes in public schools, receive government funds to build places of worship, partially pay clergy salaries with state funds, broadcast religious programming on radio and television, and apply for broadcasting licenses for their own stations.  Under the law, the amount of state funding a denomination receives is determined by the number of adherents reported in the most recent census, as well as by “the religious denomination’s actual needs.”

Religious associations do not receive government funding, but both they and religious denominations receive tax exemptions on income and buildings used for religious, educational, or other social purposes.  Religious groups do not receive either government funding or tax exemptions.

Both religious denominations and religious associations may own or rent property, publish or import religious literature, proselytize, establish and operate schools or hospitals, own cemeteries, and receive tax exemptions on income and buildings used for religious, educational, or other social purposes.  Religious groups have no legal status to engage in such activities; however, they may practice their religious beliefs, including in public.

Civil associations engaged in religious activities may engage in religious worship.  While they do not receive the same tax exemptions or other benefits granted to religious denominations and religious associations, they may receive the tax advantages and other benefits accruing to civil associations and foundations.

Legal provisions allow local authorities to fund places of worship and theological schools belonging to religious denominations, including providing funding for staff salaries and building maintenance, renovation, and conservation or construction of places of worship.  No similar provisions exist for religious associations or other associations engaged in religious activities; however, these associations may receive funding through legal provisions for civil associations and foundations.

The law entitles all types of religious organizations to bury their deceased members in cemeteries belonging to other religious organizations – with the exception of Jewish and Muslim cemeteries – in localities where they do not have cemeteries of their own and where there is no public cemetery.  Public cemeteries must have separate sections for each religious denomination if requested by the denominations operating in the locality.

The law allows clergy from recognized religious denominations to minister to military personnel.  This includes the possibility of clergy functioning within the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, Intelligence Service, Foreign Intelligence Service, Protection and Guard Service, Special Telecommunications Service, and General Directorate for Penitentiaries.  Under various other arrangements, clergy of recognized religious denominations, and in some cases religious associations, may enter hospitals, orphanages, and retirement homes to undertake religious activities.  Religious denominations and religious associations may undertake activities in penitentiaries, subject to approval by the director of the detention facility.

The law provides for the restitution of religious properties confiscated between 1940 and 1989, during World War II (WWII) and the ensuing communist regime, as long as the properties are in the possession of the state.

Under the law, if a confiscated property is used “in the public interest,” such as for a school, hospital, or museum, and is returned to its previous owner, the current occupants are allowed to stay in it for 10 years after the restitution decision and pay a capped rent.  The law does not address the general return of properties currently used as places of worship by another religious group.  Although the provisions of the law on restitution state a separate law would be adopted to address such cases, as of year’s end there was no such law.

A separate statute on the reinstatement of the Greek Catholic Church regulates the restitution of properties to the Greek Catholic Church from the ROC.  Restitution decisions are made by a joint commission representing the two Churches and based on “the will of the believers from the communities that possess these properties.”  The Greek Catholic Church may pursue court action if attempts to obtain restitution of its properties through dialogue are unsuccessful.

The law establishes a points system of compensation in cases where in-kind restitution is not possible.  Religious groups may use the points only to bid on other properties in auctions organized by the National Commission for Real Estate Compensation (NCREC).  The NCREC also validates compensation decisions of other local or central authorities, including those of the Special Restitution Commission (SRC), which decides on restitution claims filed by religious denominations and national minorities.  The law establishes a 240-day deadline by which claimants must submit additional evidence in their cases at the specific request of the entity in charge of resolving their restitution claim.  If a claimant does not meet the deadline, the administrative authority may reject the case.  The authority may extend the deadline by an additional 120 days if the claimants prove they made a concerted effort to obtain the evidence, usually in the possession of other state authorities, but were unable to do so.

The law nullifies acts of forced “donations” of Jewish property during WWII and the communist era and lowers the burden of proof for the previous owners or their heirs to obtain restitution.  The law designates the present-day Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania as the legitimate inheritor of forfeited communal Jewish property and accords priority to private claims by Holocaust survivors.  The law does not address heirless or unclaimed property left by Holocaust victims.

By law, religious education in schools is optional.  Each of the 18 legally recognized religious denominations is entitled to offer religion classes, based on its own religious teachings, in schools.  A denomination may offer classes regardless of the number of students adhering to the denomination in a school.  The law allows for exceptions where the right of students to attend religion classes cannot be implemented “for objective reasons,” without specifying what these reasons may be.

Under the law, parents of students under 18 years of age are required to request their children’s participation in religion classes, while students 18 and older may themselves ask to attend religion classes.  Although a student normally takes a school course based on the religious teachings of the denomination to which the student belongs, it is also possible for a student to take a religion course offered by his or her denomination outside the school system and bring a certificate from the denomination to receive academic credit.

Religion teachers are government employees, but each religious denomination approves the appointment and retention of the teachers of its religion classes.

The law forbids religious proselytizing in schools.  If teachers proselytize, the school management decides the punishment based on the conclusions of an internal committee.

The law states the religion of a child who has turned 14 may not be changed without the child’s consent, and from age 16 an individual has the right to choose her/his religion.

The law bans discrimination on religious grounds in all areas of public life.  It also bans religious defamation and stirring conflict on religious grounds, as well as public offenses against religious symbols.  Penalties may include fines varying from 1,000 to 100,000 lei ($250 to $24,600), depending on whether the victim is an individual or a community.

A law that went into effect in July counters anti-Semitism and criminalizes the promotion of anti-Semitic ideas and the establishment of anti-Semitic organizations.  Under this law, anti-Semitism is defined as a perception about Jews expressed in the form of anti-Jewish hatred, as well as speech and physical acts motivated by hatred against Jews that target Jews, non-Jews or their belongings, Jewish community institutions, or Jewish places of worship.  Penalties for publicly promoting anti-Semitic ideas and doctrines or manufacturing and disseminating anti-Semitic symbols range from three months’ to three years’ imprisonment and the loss of certain rights.  Penalties for establishing anti-Semitic organizations range from three to 10 years’ imprisonment and the loss of certain rights.

A law passed in 2015 prohibits the establishment of fascist, Legionnaire, racist, or xenophobic organizations, which it defines in part as groups that promote violence, religiously motivated hatred, or extremist nationalism, the latter term undefined.  Reference to anti-Semitism in the 2015 law was removed following the implementation of an anti-Semitism law in July.  Penalties for establishing such organizations range from three to 10 years’ imprisonment and the loss of certain rights.  Criminal liability is waived if the person involved in establishing such an organization informs authorities before the organization begins its activity; penalties are halved if the individual helps authorities with the criminal investigation.  Legislation also makes manufacturing, selling, distributing, owning with intent to distribute, and using racist, fascist, xenophobic, and Legionnaire symbols illegal.  Penalties range from three months’ to three years’ imprisonment.

Publicly denying the Holocaust, or contesting, approving, justifying, or minimizing it in an “obvious manner” as determined by a judge, is punishable by six months’ to three years’ imprisonment or by a fine, depending on circumstances, of up to 200,000 lei ($49,200).  Publicly promoting the cult of persons convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes may incur fines and prison terms ranging from three months to three years and from six months to five years if done online.  The same penalties apply to publicly promoting anti-Semitic, fascist, Legionnaire, racist, or xenophobic ideas, worldviews, or doctrines.

The law allows religious workers from legally recognized religious organizations to enter and remain in the country under an extended-stay visa.  Visa applicants must receive approval by the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs and submit evidence they represent religious organizations legally established in the country.  The secretariat may extend such visas for up to five years.

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

Government Practices

By year’s end, the government had approved two applications for religious association status during the year, both of which were Christian – the “Philadelphia” Roma’s Union of Pentecostal Assemblies and God’s Union of Pentecostal Churches.  As of October, 35 entities with diverse religious affiliations were registered as religious associations, up from 33 in 2017.

Baha’i leaders continued to seek options for the burial of deceased persons in accordance with their religious burial practices, including requesting the State Secretariat for Religious Denominations to help them establish a cemetery.  Baha’is continued to be registered as a religious association and not as a denomination.

Religious groups continued to state they viewed the 300-person membership requirement and the need to submit their members’ personal data for registration as a religious association as discriminatory because other types of associations required only three members and did not have to submit the personal data of their members. They also continued to criticize the three-tier classification system for religious organizations.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that in several areas of the country, some members continued to encounter opposition to their activities and threats from public authorities and ROC priests.  They said the mayor of Mogosesti village in Iasi County threatened representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in August with violence.  Following a complaint filed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the county prefect and the State Secretariat for Religious Denominations instructed the mayor to respect the law on religious freedom.  ROC priests from the village of Valea Calugareasca in Prahova County and Calugareni in Giurgiu County threatened to use physical violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives in March and October, respectively.  Following complaints submitted by the religious denomination, police fined the priests.

On November 23, the Bucharest Court of Appeal ruled as no longer valid a request filed in 2016 by Catalin Berenghi, a former candidate for mayor of Bucharest, to annul a 2015 decision to transfer land in Bucharest to the Muslim community for a mosque.  According to the court, the decision to transfer the land was no longer relevant because the Grand Mufti’s Office had notified the government it had renounced its right to use the land.

The National Authority for Property Restitution (NAPR), the government agency responsible for overseeing the restitution process, reported the SRC had approved 17 requests for the restitution of “immovable properties” (land or buildings) to religious denominations, approved compensation in 35 cases, and rejected 609 other claims during the year.  All of the claims were submissions before the 2006 deadline.  In 94 cases, the filers withdrew their claims.  According to data provided by NAPR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the number of cases NAPR reviewed decreased from 1,227 in 2017 to 1,212.

According to NAPR, religious denominations appealed 53 decisions the SRC submitted to the courts during the year.  The Roman Catholic Church made 12 appeals; the ROC made nine; the Greek Catholics made 13; the Evangelical Augustinian Church made two; and the Jewish community made 12.  Information concerning court decisions on these cases was unavailable.  In April 2015 NAPR rejected a claim submitted by Caritatea Foundation, the NGO the Federation of Jewish Communities and the WJRO established to oversee Jewish communal property claims.  The claim concerned a building and a land plot in the city of Piatra Neamt owned by the Jewish community that the city government forced the community to donate in 1953.  NAPR stated that Caritatea was not able to submit a copy of the donation agreement within the 120-day deadline.  Caritatea representatives said the foundation encountered significant delays in obtaining the document from the National Archives.  NAPR, however, did not take into consideration the delay caused by the National Archives’ response, stating the 120-day deadline to submit new documents had already passed.  Caritatea Foundation appealed NAPR’s decision in court.  In December 2015, the Bacau Court of Appeal invalidated NAPR’s original decision and ruled the SRC should issue a new favorable decision.  NAPR challenged the court ruling, arguing that the Caritatea Foundation had not filed the requested document within the 120-day deadline.

During the year, NAPR reviewed 490 claims submitted by the Greek Catholic Church but did not restore any property to the Church or grant it compensation in any cases.  Church officials reported that NAPR rejected most of their claims because the properties now belonged to the ROC and were subject to a different law, making restitution possible through a joint commission representing the two Churches and based on “the will of the believers from the communities that possess these properties.”  During the communist regime, all places of worship and parish houses were transferred to the ROC and most other properties (land and buildings) to the state.

The Greek Catholic Church continued to report court delays on restitution lawsuits.  Representatives of the Church stated there were no court decisions on Greek Catholic restitution cases during the year.

Restitution of a property in Bixad, previously restored to the Greek Catholic Church by the government and confirmed by earlier court decisions, continued to be delayed while courts considered the case anew, following a 2016 decision by the Alba Tribunal, a county-level court, allowing the Satu Mare County Council to revive its claim for ownership of the property.  At year’s end, the case was still pending.

Two cases filed in 2016 by the Greek Catholic Church with the European Court of Human Rights for restitution of churches in Bistrita and Breb remained pending.  In each case, the Church’s complaint concerned court decisions awarding Greek Catholic property to the ROC based on census data showing Greek Catholics as a minority.

Although the government did not issue regulations for implementing new property restitution legislation passed in 2016 that prioritizes cases involving Holocaust survivors, NAPR approved priority status for 160 such applications it had received.  Since the legislation passed, NAPR awarded compensation to Holocaust survivors in 28 cases, rejected the claims in two cases, and requested additional documents for 90 cases.

The SRC had approved 10 pending claims from previous years by the Jewish community as of October – nine through compensation and one through restitution in kind – and rejected 16 others.  In 54 other cases, claimants withdrew their requests.  Religious groups said it was difficult to obtain required documentation from the National Archives demonstrating proof of ownership in time to meet the 120-day deadline to submit the appeal.  Caritatea Foundation stated the SRC continued to avoid assuming responsibility for restitution, preferring to pass decisions on to the courts.  The foundation also continued to state the claims procedure was overly bureaucratic and unreasonable, in particular because the SRC often requested the submission of numerous additional documents, which sometimes were found only in government-managed archives, giving Jewish claimants little time to meet the final extended 120-day deadline for document submission.  Caritatea stated that access to government-managed archives holding the required documents for the restitution process was difficult.

According to Caritatea Foundation, the NCREC issued final approval on two decisions during the year, and 64 decisions issued before 2013 were pending final approval.  According to NAPR, a high workload and insufficient staff and resources were the reasons for the delays

The Reformed, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, and Evangelical Lutheran Churches said the government continued to reject their restitution claims on the grounds the entities registered as the former property owners were not the contemporary churches.  Church leaders said the communist regime had dismantled the former church entities while confiscating their property, meaning the former property owners no longer existed as such but the contemporary churches, as the successors to the dismantled churches, were in effect the same entities whose property the communist regime had seized.  Twelve claims submitted by the Roman Catholic Church were resolved as of year’s end.  The government granted compensation or restitution in kind in five cases and denied seven claims.  The government reviewed five claims submitted by the Reformed Church and denied two others.  During the year, the government reviewed three pending claims of the Unitarian Church.  In one case, the Unitarian Church received compensation; in another case, it received restitution in kind.  The government rejected the third claim.

On July 4, the court rejected the Roman Catholic Church’s appeal of the SRC’s 2015 rejection of its claim for restitution of the Batthyaneum Library and an astronomical institute in Alba Iulia in a preliminary ruling.

The percentage of schoolchildren opting to take religion classes remained at almost 90 percent and, according to media, NGOs, and parents’ associations, continued to be the result of manipulation and pressure by the ROC as well as the failure of school directors to offer parents alternatives to religion classes.  A ministerial order issued in February established that initial requests to take religion classes were valid for the entire study cycle or until students or their legal representatives submitted an alternate request.  A previous ministerial order mandated annual submission of requests to take religion classes.

Minority religious groups, including the Christian Evangelical Church, continued to report authorities allowed only the ROC to play an active role in the annual opening ceremonies at schools and other community events throughout the country and usually did not invite other religious groups to attend such ceremonies.  According to the Christian Evangelical Church, this happened also in cities where their followers had a significant presence such as Sibiu, Suceava, Iasi, and Piatra-Neamt.

Greek Catholic officials and believers stated that during the celebration events dedicated to the country’s centennial celebrations, some local governments had marginalized the Greek Catholic Church and attempted to minimize its role in the country’s history.  In several online petitions, Greek Catholic believers stated that the ROC and government authorities tried to revise the history of the Greek Catholic Church.  In September a group of Greek Catholic believers protested against the dedication of Iuliu Hossu’s bust by a ROC official during an event organized by the local government of Milas Village and the Bistrita Nasaud County Council, and Greek Catholics requested that the inscription on the bust mention Iuliu Hossu’s affiliation with the Greek Catholic Church.  Iuliu Hossu was a Greek-Catholic bishop who had a major role in the unification of Romania and Transylvania in 1918.  Protesters also criticized the decision by the mayor of Cosbuc Village and the Bistrita Nasaud County Council to commemorate Greek Catholic writer George Cosbuc without inviting Greek Catholic priests to attend the event and to have ROC priests dedicate the writer’s bust.

Religious groups reported military chaplains continued to be ROC priests with the exception of one Roman Catholic priest and one pastor from the Evangelical Alliance.

The government-established Wiesel Institute reported prosecution of anti-Semitic speech and Holocaust denial continued to be infrequent.  According to statistics released by the government for the entire year, the national-level Prosecutor General’s Office compiled a list of 42 unresolved cases.  Many of the cases included anti-Semitic elements.  Of those cases, the office sent one case to trial.  Following a complaint by the Wiesel Institute, in 2014 the Bucharest Sector 2 Prosecutor’s Office started the prosecution of the self-declared leader of the Legionary Movement for the public use of fascist, racist, and xenophobic symbols.  He had previously gone to the Wiesel Institute dressed in a uniform of the Legionary Movement, a Romanian fascist interwar organization, and performed the fascist salute while standing in the institute’s courtyard.  According to the Wiesel Institute, the file was still pending before the Prosecutor’s Office at year’s end.

According to the Wiesel Institute, the delay in the prosecution of cases continued due to lengthy investigations.  In February NGO Center for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism (MCA) received a notification from the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Targu Jiu Court stating the 2014 case based on a complaint from the MCA concerning a lampshade posted for sale online and advertised as being made of “Jewish skin” had been closed in May 2017.  According to forensic investigators, the lampshade was not made of human skin.  The MCA stated in November that it was unacceptable that there were no consequences for the person who posted the advertisement even if the lamp was not made of human skin.

The Wiesel Institute reported local authorities continued to name streets, organizations, schools, and libraries after persons convicted of Nazi-era war crimes or crimes against humanity and to allow the erection of statues and busts depicting persons convicted of war crimes.  By year’s end, the local government in Cluj-Napoca had not changed the name of a street named in 2017 for Radu Gyr, a commander of the Legionnaire movement and apologist for anti-Semitism, who was convicted of war crimes for “contributing to the political aims of Hitlerism and Fascism.”  The Wiesel Institute had asked city authorities to rename the street.  In April 2017, the Wiesel Institute notified the Ministry of Interior about streets, schools, and busts depicting or named after persons convicted for war crimes and requested the ministry to have county prefects take the necessary measures to stop the public worship of war criminals.  At the time, the Ministry of Interior stated they had requested each prefect to analyze each case and take the necessary measures in accordance with the law banning the public worship of war criminals.

In March Romfilatelia, a public company under the national post office, issued a commemorative stamp depicting Patriarch Miron Cristea, who led the ROC between 1925 and 1939 and was prime minister from 1938 to 1939.  As prime minister, Cristea was responsible for revising the citizenship law and stripping approximately 225,000 Jews of their citizenship.  Many of these persons subsequently died during the Holocaust.  The Wiesel Institute publicly asked Romfilatelia to withdraw the stamp, but the company did not respond to the request.

Several government officials made comments that were widely viewed by Jewish organizations as “trivializing” the Holocaust.  Agriculture Minister Petre Daea stated in July on Antena 3 news channel that the incineration of pigs in response to a swine flu outbreak was similar to what happened at Auschwitz.  In a press statement, the Wiesel Institute said Daea’s statement “was a trivializing comparison between the slaughter of pigs and the extermination of Jews during WW2.”  The minister did not retract his comment, stating in a press release, “I respect all the members of the Jewish community and I want to point out that I just wanted to present the very difficult situation that swine breeders are facing because of the African swine fever.”

On September 2, an advisor to Prime Minister Darius Valcov posted a video clip on his Facebook page depicting the German Democrat Forum, an organization of ethnic Germans in the country, as a National Socialist organization and compared the country’s president, Klaus Iohannis, to Adolf Hitler.  The ethnic German and Jewish communities, the Wiesel Institute, several NGOs, and opposition political figures condemned Valcov’s behavior, and some called for his resignation.  The president of the Jewish community issued a press statement that stated, “We cannot accept a comparison between Mr. President Klaus Werner Iohannis and one of the greatest criminals in history.  Mister Iohannis is the opposite of a person with Nazi, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic beliefs.”

The government continued to implement the recommendations of the 2004 International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania (Wiesel Commission) Report and to cooperate with the USHMM in promoting Holocaust education.  The Wiesel Institute continued to organize training sessions for history teachers, carry out educational activities for students, and inform the public about the Holocaust.

The government continued to state its commitment to cooperate with the USHMM to promote Holocaust education; however, observers said the general history curricula continued not to provide a mandatory class on the country’s Holocaust history.  The high school course “History of the Jews – The Holocaust” remained optional.

The government also facilitated USHMM access to the country’s national archives.  Archival institutions such as the Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives continued implementing cooperation agreements with the USHMM and provided the museum copies of historical records.

On December 6, the Bucharest Tribunal rescinded the Bucharest City Council’s decision to transfer a building to the Wiesel Institute for the future Museum of Jewish History and the Holocaust.  An individual challenged the council’s decision, stating that the council had not met procedural criteria and the intended museum lacked merit.  In September the Wiesel Institute had launched a public tender for the design of the new Jewish history museum’s permanent exhibition.  In 2017 the Wiesel Institute took possession of a building in central Bucharest transferred to it by the Bucharest General Council to build the museum.

Pursuant to its pledge to implement the recommendations of the Wiesel Commission report, the government again commemorated the annual National Holocaust Remembrance Day on October 9, marking the day when Romanian authorities began deporting the country’s Jews to Transnistria, with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial in Bucharest.  In his remarks, the president referred to anti-Semitism and Holocaust-era legislation, stating, “Such policies are today unconceivable for a society strongly attached to democratic principles and rule of law.  Discrimination against a minority who does not hold the same beliefs, values, religion, or origin as the majority is an approach that reminds us of the dark years of dictatorships….Many European democracies are facing extremism, populism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia and for this reason, our country will act against these toxic scourges.”

The Wiesel Institute continued to organize training courses on the history of the Holocaust for teachers, police officers, and other professionals.  In September the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a project called “The Romanian National Expert Network on Genocide Prevention and Multidisciplinary Research on Mass Graves,” aimed at bringing together prosecutors, criminal investigators, police officers, forensic experts, historians, and other professionals to promote research of mass graves and genocide prevention.  In July the president promulgated the law on countering anti-Semitism, criminalizing the promotion of anti-Semitic ideas and the establishment of anti-Semitic organizations.  ActiveWatch NGO asked the president not to promulgate the law, arguing that it does not focus on prevention, duplicates current legislation that prosecutors have never adequately enforced, and does not respect the proportionality between the restriction on free speech and the need to counter anti-Semitism.  Jewish organizations said they favored the new law.  Self-defined far-right groups criticized the law and argued there was no antisemitism in the country.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to non-Orthodox religious groups, ROC priests continued not to allow them to bury their dead in ROC or public cemeteries or otherwise continued to restrict such burials by requiring the burials take place in isolated sections of a cemetery or follow Orthodox rituals during the funeral services.  The Seventh-day Adventist Church reported two such cases in villages in Moldova and Oltenia historical regions where the ROC priests did not allow them to bury the deceased in the local cemetery, forcing them to find another cemetery.  The Christian Evangelical Church said such cases continued; however, they said local contacts would not provide the details because they feared ROC reprimands.  Non-Orthodox religious groups continued to report difficulties in obtaining land to establish cemeteries.

According to Greek Catholic leaders, the ROC, in conjunction with local authorities, continued to deny the Greek Catholic Church access to the ROC cemetery in Sapanta, which had previously belonged to the Greek Catholic Church.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church reported the Body of Expert and Licensed Accountants of Romania continued to schedule exams on Saturdays without providing the option for Seventh-day Adventist students to take the exams on another day.

A study released by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in October, based on a survey carried out among middle school and high school teachers, found that 32.4 percent of the teachers did not want persons belonging to a different religion as neighbors.  Twenty-two percent of the respondents rated Marshall Ion Antonescu’s efforts to help his country as “good to very good.”  Antonescu was the country’s leader during most of the Second World War and the primary individual responsible for implementing the Holocaust in the country.

On November 5, in the village of Tataraseni, Botosani County, 25 students from the Tataraseni public school participated together with three teachers at a wreath-laying ceremony on the bust of Antonescu located on private property.  The Elie Wiesel Institute filed a complaint before the country school inspectorate; at year’s end, the Institute had not received a response from the government.

According to UNHCR, local media outlets depicted largely Muslim refugees as a threat because of their religion.  Conspiracy theories and antagonistic speech against Muslims appeared frequently on social networks.

Material promoting anti-Semitic views and glorifying Legionnaires also appeared in media, including on the internet.  In February the Justitiarul.ro news website published an article claiming that Zionist Jews had a secret plan to colonize the country.

On August 3, an individual painted anti-Semitic and other offensive messages on the childhood home of Auschwitz survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel in Sighetu Marmatiei, including, “The Nazi kike rests in hell together with Hitler.”  The local office of the national police and the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Court of Sighetul Marmației started an investigation of the incident for the destruction of property and anti-Semitic acts.  By year’s end, authorities identified one suspect and ordered his psychiatric evaluation.  Police did not release the name of the suspect, but according to press reports, the individual, Iustin Creanga, was schizophrenic.

At year’s end, the case involving the destruction in 2017 of 10 tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in Bucharest was still pending before the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Sector 4 Bucharest Court.  According to the MCA, in April 2017, vandals destroyed the tombstones.  Police identified three juveniles allegedly responsible for the crime.  Although the vandalism took place on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the police investigation found the perpetrators had acted without a specific motive.  Jewish organizations did not publicly comment on the case.

At year’s end, an investigation regarding anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial messages painted on the external wall of a synagogue in Cluj-Napoca remained pending before the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Court of Cluj-Napoca.  In June 2017, the Jewish community in Cluj-Napoca notified police about the messages painted on a wall of the Memorial Temple of Deported Jews synagogue.

According to a Pew survey, 29 percent of respondents were willing to accept Muslims as family members, while 39 percent would accept Jews as family members.  Seventy-four percent of respondents said it was very important or somewhat important to be a Christian to be truly part of the country’s national identity.

Verbal attacks during the year holding a foreign Jewish philanthropist responsible for domestic problems had anti-Semitic connotations.  Politicians and the media ascribed negative actions to him, such as controlling an “invisible army” and paying for activities of opposition parties.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials continued to raise concerns about the slow pace of religious property restitution with the general secretary of the government and to facilitate meetings between the WJRO and the government to help speed the processes of property restitution and pensions for Holocaust survivors.

Embassy officials, representatives of the USHMM, and the Office of the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues continued discussions with government ministers and political leaders about the restitution of Jewish private and communal property, Holocaust survivor pensions, and the status of heirless property.  In meetings with President Iohannis, Prime Minister Danila, Bucharest Mayor Firea, and officials of the Ministry of Education, U.S. embassy officials expressed their support for the establishment of a Museum of Jewish History and the Holocaust.

The embassy continued to assist the USHMM’s effort to access the country’s national archives by engaging with various ministries and agencies.  U.S. officials also continued to support the Wiesel Institute in establishing a museum on the history of Romanian Jews by raising the project in meetings with key officials, mentioning it at public speaking events and through the Ambassador’s participation on the museum’s consultative committee.

The Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to hold meetings with Muslim and Jewish community leaders to discuss ways of promoting religious diversity and curbing religious discrimination.  Embassy officers also continued to meet with officials of the ROC to discuss issues of religious freedom and tolerance.

The Ambassador participated in several events commemorating the Holocaust in Bucharest, Zalau, and Sighet.  In October at a ceremony for National Holocaust Commemoration Day, the Ambassador spoke about the resurgence of intolerance in the region and laid a wreath.

The embassy used social media to emphasize respect for religious freedom by posting on its Facebook page links to remarks by the Secretary of State and information about religious freedom events organized by the Department of State.  On International Religious Freedom Day, held on October 27, the embassy posted on its Facebook page a video depicting embassy employees speaking about religious equality and respect for religious diversity.

Russia

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several regional governments have their own restrictions on missionary activity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rwanda

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws prohibit religious discrimination and provide for freedom of religion and worship.  In September the government enacted a new law requiring faith-based organizations (FBOs) to obtain legal status before beginning operations.  It also calls for legal representatives of FBOs and preachers with supervisory responsibilities eventually to hold academic degrees.  In February the government closed more than 6,000 churches, mosques, and other places of worship it deemed in violation of health and safety standards and/or noise pollution ordinances.  In March police arrested six pastors for organizing to defy the government’s order to close church buildings.  All six were released later that month.  Later in the year, the government permitted some of the places of worship to reopen after they made required infrastructure improvements.  Muslim community leaders reported effective collaboration with police and local authorities, including collaboration on programs to combat extremism.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported Roman Catholic schools, including government-subsidized schools, required all students to attend Mass regardless of personal faith.  Religious leaders reported numerous faith-based groups and associations contributed to greater understanding and tolerance by participating in interfaith meetings, organizing activities under the auspices of an interfaith religious leaders’ forum, and collaborating on community development projects.

Embassy representatives engaged the government and religious leaders on religious freedom and hosted interfaith events, including an iftar, where religious freedom and tolerance were among the key messages.  The Ambassador hosted an interfaith lunch and emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 12.2 million (July 2018).  According to the 2012 census, the population is 44 percent Catholic; 38 percent Protestant, including Anglican, Pentecostal, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, and evangelical Christian churches; 12 percent Seventh-day Adventist; 2 percent Muslim; and 0.7 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Several other small religious groups, together constituting less than 1 percent of the population, include animists, Baha’is, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a small Jewish community consisting entirely of foreigners.  Approximately 2.5 percent of the population holds no religious beliefs.  The head office of the Rwanda Muslim Community (RMC) stated Muslims could constitute as much as 10 percent of the population.  The majority of Muslims are Sunni, with a small number of Shia (200-300), according to the RMC.  While generally there are no concentrations of religious groups in certain geographic areas, a significant number of Muslims live in the Nyamirambo neighborhood of Kigali.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, worship, and public manifestation thereof even when the government declares a state of emergency.  Exercising these rights may be subject to limitations to ensure respect of others’ rights and good morals, public order, and social welfare.  The constitution bars political parties based on religious affiliation.  In September the government enacted a new penal code that stipulates religious discrimination is punishable by five to seven years in prison and fines of 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandan francs ($560 to $1,100).

On September 10, the government enacted a new law determining the organization and functioning of FBOs, which include religious groups and nongovernmental organizations associated with religious groups.  Under the new law, which replaced a 2012 law governing religious groups, any organization, umbrella organization, or ministry that intends to begin operations must obtain legal status from the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB).  According to the law, an FBO must submit the following to obtain legal status:  an application letter addressed to the RGB; notarized statutes governing its organization; the address of its head office and the names of its legal representative and his/her deputy, their duties, full address, and criminal records; a document certifying the legal representative and his/her deputy were appointed in accordance with its statutes; a brief notarized statement explaining its doctrine; a notarized declaration of the legal representatives of the organization of consent to the responsibilities assigned to them; notarized minutes of the group’s general assembly that established the organization, approved its statutes, and appointed members of its organs; a notarized document describing the organization’s annual action plan and source of funding; a document indicating the building that meets the requirements of the building code of the area of operation; a letter issued by district authorities agreeing to collaborate with the organization; a partnership document issued by an umbrella organization of the organization’s choosing; and proof of payment of a nonrefundable application fee.  The law states the RGB must either issue a certificate of legal personality within 60 days of the date of receipt of the application or, in case of denial, send a written notice explaining the reasons for the denial within 30 days of the date of receipt of the application.

Under the law, if the RGB denies the FBO’s application for legal status, the FBO may reapply when the reason for denial no longer exists.

The law further stipulates preachers with supervisory responsibilities must possess a degree in religious studies from an institution of higher learning or any other degree with a valid certificate in religious studies issued by a recognized institution.  The law also requires that an FBO’s legal representative hold a degree from an institution of higher learning.  Government officials stated these requirements were necessary to prevent unqualified ministers from putting adherents at risk or exploiting adherents for personal gain.  The law states that persons required to hold an academic degree shall have five years from the date of the law’s enactment to comply the requirement.

The government grants legal recognition only to civil marriages.

By law, new public servants must take an oath of loyalty, which includes the phrase “so help me God.”  Those who do not fulfill the requirement forfeit their position.  The law does not make accommodations for religious minorities whose faith does not permit them to comply with this requirement.

The law establishes fines of one to two million Rwandan francs ($1,100 to $2,200) and imprisonment from one to two years for any individual who obstructs the practice of religious rituals.  The law also prohibits public defamation of rituals, symbols, and cult objects.  The penalty for doing so is imprisonment for a term of not less than 15 days but less than three months and a fine of 100,000 to 200,000 Rwandan francs ($110 to $220), or only one of these penalties.

The law regulates public meetings and states that any person who demonstrates in a public place without prior authorization is subject to eight days’ to six months’ imprisonment, a fine of 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandan francs ($560 to $1,100), or both.  Penalties increase if the illegal meeting or demonstration is found to have threatened security, public order, or health.  The law states that religious sermons must be delivered in designated facilities that meet the requirements of the law and that if an FBO intends to organize a special public gathering, it must seek authorization from the competent authority.

Under the law, FBOs are prohibited from causing noise pollution.  Offenders are subject to a fine of 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandan francs ($560 to $1,100), and repeat offenders are subject to increased fines and up to one month’s imprisonment.  By law, FBOs may not use their faith, religious practices, and preaching to jeopardize national unity, peace and security, public order and health, good morals, good conduct, freedom, or the fundamental rights of others.

All students in public primary school and the first three years of secondary education must take a religion class on various religions.  The Ministry of Education establishes the curriculum.  The law does not specify either opt-out provisions or penalties for not taking part in the class.  The law allows parents to enroll their children in private religious schools.

The government subsidizes some schools affiliated with different religious groups.  A presidential order guarantees students attending any government-subsidized school the right to worship according to their beliefs during the school day, as long as their religious groups are registered in the country and the students’ worship practices do not interfere with learning and teaching activities.  The order does not stipulate any procedure for arranging special accommodations.

The law states FBOs may give their opinions on social or faith-related matters but may not engage in political activities to gain political power, organize debates to support political organizations or political candidates, register, or use any other means to support candidates for any public office.

Every foreign missionary must have a temporary resident permit and a foreign identity card.  Specific requirements to obtain the permit (valid for two years and renewable) include a signed curriculum vitae, an original police clearance from the country of prior residence, an authorization letter from the parent organization, and a fee of 100,000 Rwandan francs ($110).

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

Government Practices

Following a February meeting between government officials, including the RGB and Ministry of Local Government, and religious leaders, the government closed more than 6,000 places of worship across the country that it deemed in violation of health and safety standards and/or noise pollution ordinances.  The head of the RGB publicly stated authorities targeted churches that were conducting services in shoddy and unclean structures, which was detrimental to the health of worshippers.  Kigali local authorities reported cases of noise pollution, a lack of required permits, and a proliferation of churches operating inside tents and unsanitary facilities.  Leaders of major religious groups made statements supporting the closures, describing them as needed and timely.  Some observers, however, expressed skepticism regarding the government’s motivation for closing the churches.  A large number of the closed places of worship were evangelical Christian churches, although mosques, Catholic churches, and other Christian churches were also affected.  Some were later allowed to reopen after making the required infrastructure improvements.  The head of the RGB told the press that 14 percent of the buildings had reopened as of July.  In many cases, those congregations whose buildings remained closed opted to hold worship services in hotels, private residences, or buildings belonging to other congregations; the RGB clarified that while some places of worship had been closed, religious organizations had not been closed.  Following the church closures, police arrested six clergymen in March for organizing to defy implementation of the order.  All six were released later that month.

On February 21, the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) ordered Amazing Grace, a Christian radio station, to suspend operations for one month following a live broadcast on January 29 of a sermon by local pastor Nicolas Niyibikora in which he said women were “dangerous creatures of evil, going against God’s plans.”  Women’s groups and journalists filed complaints with the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), stating the language of the broadcast constituted discrimination and incitement to hate.  Following the station owner’s refusal to comply with RURA’s sanctions, in April RURA revoked the station’s broadcasting license.  The station’s owner filed suit against RURA and RMC for violating his right to opinion and conscience.  The case was pending at year’s end.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported in some cases they could negotiate alternatives to participating in compulsory community night patrols.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report local officials’ retaliation against members who refused to sing the national anthem in school or take an oath while holding the national flag.

Jehovah’s Witnesses students were reportedly punished and dismissed from school for not attending religious services at school or not participating in military and patriotic activities at school.

Unregistered religious groups received a significant degree of government scrutiny of their leadership, activities, and registration application until they obtained FBO registration under the law.  Small religious congregations sometimes temporarily affiliated with larger registered organizations in order to operate.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to pursue judicial remedies for civil servants and teachers dismissed for refusing to swear an oath on the flag.  Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that authorities included the names of those dismissed over the issue of oath-taking on an online list of persons considered unsuitable for public service, making it difficult for these individuals to obtain employment in the private sector as well.  Jehovah’s Witnesses leadership also reported difficulties in securing appointments with authorities to discuss a range of legal requirements imposing certain limitations on their religious practices and beliefs.

Both Christian and Islamic places of worship were affected by noise ordinance restrictions and were required to decrease the volume on their sound equipment.

Some places of worship were also required to install soundproofing materials.  In March local authorities in Kigali issued a directive prohibiting mosques from using loudspeakers to call worshippers to prayer.  Authorities reversed the ban after Muslim leaders engaged them and reached a compromise allowing for the continued use of loudspeakers at an acceptable volume.

Government officials presiding over wedding ceremonies generally required couples to take a pledge while touching the national flag, a legal requirement that Jehovah’s Witnesses rejected on religious grounds.  Jehovah’s Witnesses said the requirement made it difficult for them to marry legally because few officials were willing to perform the ceremony without the flag oath.  For some Jehovah’s Witnesses, placing their hands on a Bible on top of the flag was an acceptable alternative.  Jehovah’s Witnesses were not able to obtain a waiver and reported difficulties in getting an appointment with relevant authorities.

Muslim community leaders reported working collaboratively with the Rwanda National Police (RNP) in combating extremism and radicalization in the Muslim community.  For example, on December 2, the RNP launched a campaign to educate young Muslims about the dangers of extremism in five of the country’s 30 districts with the collaboration of Muslim leaders.  In public remarks, the RNP commissioner for counterterrorism commended the role of Muslim leaders in educating the Islamic community on “the true meaning” of their faith.  The Imam of Kigali, in turn, reiterated the community’s commitment to working with security organs to fight radicalization and promote security.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported Catholic schools, including government-subsidized schools, required all students to attend Mass regardless of their personal faith.

Religious leaders reported numerous religious groups and associations contributed to greater religious understanding and tolerance by participating in interfaith meetings and collaborating on community development projects, such as providing assistance to HIV/AIDS patients and supporting government development initiatives.  During the year, the Rwanda Religious Leaders Forum, an organization under the joint leadership of the Grand Mufti of Rwanda and Protestant, Catholic, Anglican, and evangelical Christian leaders, continued to pursue its stated aim of strengthening interfaith collaboration on education, combating gender-based violence, socioeconomic development, and unity and reconciliation.  Activities included conferences on gender equality and a public dialogue on combating child abuse and unwanted pregnancies, and promoting positive parenting.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy representatives engaged with government officials, including RGB staff responsible for FBO registration, to discuss the new FBO law and plans for its implementation.  The embassy also met with the Ministry of Education to discuss religious curriculum in schools and the RNP regarding their countering violent extremism program.  Embassy representatives consulted with FBOs to identify concerns with the new law and raised them with senior government officials.

The embassy hosted interfaith discussions focused on religious diversity and included members of different religious groups in numerous public outreach programs it conducted in Kigali and throughout the country.  In September the Ambassador hosted a lunch for representatives of the Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Muslim community, and several evangelical Christian churches.  The Ambassador emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.  In June the Ambassador hosted an iftar attended by more than 45 guests, including the Mufti of Rwanda and representatives from the government, diplomatic corps, local universities, as well as 25 members of the Muslim community.  In his remarks, the Ambassador emphasized the importance of the freedom to practice one’s faith without persecution or fear and of interfaith efforts to build peace and promote tolerance.  The Ambassador and embassy officials also engaged religious leaders through the Rwanda Religious Leaders Forum.

The embassy underscored the value of religious diversity and inclusion at key community events, including during the genocide commemoration, which featured interfaith prayers.

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  The government continued to ban the use of marijuana, including for religious activities, which affects some practitioners of the Rastafarian religion.  Civil society sources stated Rastafarians still faced some police harassment for the possession and use of marijuana, but on a legal, not religious, basis.  The Ministry of Health continued to require the immunization of children before enrolling in school, but it offered waivers for unvaccinated Rastafarian children.

According to media reports, Rastafarians continued to face some societal discrimination, particularly in seeking private sector employment.  Media also reported some businesses continued to place restrictions on dreadlocks in some instances when required by safety and hygiene regulations.

U.S. embassy officials engaged representatives of the government and civil society on religious freedom issues, including government promotion of religious diversity and tolerance, equal treatment under the law, and the required vaccination of children entering the school system.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 53,000 (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2011 census, 17 percent of the population is Anglican; 16 percent Methodist; 11 percent Pentecostal; 7 percent Church of God; 6 percent Roman Catholic; 5 percent each Baptist, Moravian, Seventh-day Adventist, and Wesleyan Holiness; 4 percent other; and 2 percent each Brethren, evangelical Christian, and Hindu.  An additional 1 percent each is Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslim, and Rastafarian; less than 1 percent, each is Baha’i, Presbyterian, and Salvation Army.  Nine percent state no religious affiliation.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion.  It prohibits discrimination based on religious belief.

The Ministry of Nevis Affairs, Labor, Social Security, and Ecclesiastical Affairs is responsible for registering religious groups.  Religious groups are not required to register, but doing so provides the government with a database of contacts through which it disseminates information on government policy for religious groups.  Registration also allows religious groups to act as charities and import religious items duty-free.

The constitution allows religious groups to establish and maintain schools at the religious community’s own expense.  Public schools offer Christian religious instruction, daily prayers, and religious assemblies; students who do not want to attend are exempt from all religious activities.  Public schools require vaccinations for children to attend school.

The government prohibits the use of marijuana, including for religious purposes.

The law does not prohibit the wearing of dreadlocks; however, businesses may restrict it for safety or hygiene reasons.  Occupational safety and health legislation requires all employees, including those with dreadlocks, to cover their hair when using dangerous equipment, handling food, or undertaking health-related activities.

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

Government Practices

Civil society and representatives of the Organization for Rastafarian Unity (ORU) stated that police sometimes stopped Rastafarians for marijuana use and possession but did not single out or harass them specifically because of their religion.

The Ministry of Health continued to require the immunization of all children before enrolling in school, but ORU sources said the government allowed waivers for unvaccinated Rastafarian children attending public schools.  Some children of the Rastafarian community were home schooled, but statistics were not available.

Prison officials allowed Rastafarian prisoners to keep their dreadlocks unless they posed health-related issues or used them to transport contraband.  The prison did not provide different diets based on prisoners’ religious dietary restrictions.

On August 21, media reported that the government met with Christian religious leaders to discuss programs to address societal issues including youth crime, gangs, and other antisocial behavior.  The same report noted the government regularly collaborated with Christian, Muslim, and Rastafarian religious leaders as part of the government’s strategy to engage social partners in policy development.

The government allowed Rastafarian groups equal access to public venues for religious celebrations.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the ORU, Rastafarians continued to face some societal discrimination, such as in the job market.  ORU representatives also said private sector employment discrimination continued to decline during the year, but they did not provide specific examples.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials engaged representatives of the government on religious freedom issues, including the importance of respect for religious diversity.  They discussed issues involving government support for tolerance and equal treatment under the law, as well as vaccination requirements for children entering the school system.

Embassy officials met with representatives from the Christian and Rastafarian communities to discuss religious freedom issues, including the importance of freedom of religious expression and discrimination based on religion.

Saint Lucia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and individuals’ right to change, manifest, and propagate the religion of their choosing.  Rastafarian community representatives reported their reluctance to use marijuana for religious purposes because marijuana use was illegal and subject to punitive fines.  Rastafarians said they continued to face discrimination in the school system because the Ministry of Education required vaccinations for all children attending school; Rastafarians continued to oppose vaccination, which they stated was part of their religious beliefs.  Government officials and Rastafarian community members said some Rastafarian families decided to vaccinate their children or to homeschool.  They also reported national insurance plans did not cover traditional doctors used by the Rastafarian community.  Rastafarians said the number of targeted searches by police and immigration officers decreased during the year.  They also reported that officials from the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government engaged in constructive dialogue and outreach with the Rastafarian community.

According to the Islamic Association, some male and female members of the Muslim community continued to experience occasional harassment when they wore head coverings and clothing that identified them as Muslim.  The Catholic Church and the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean continued to hold interfaith meetings to promote respect for religious diversity and tolerance.

U.S. embassy officials discussed respect for religious minorities with officials of the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government, which is responsible for ecclesiastical affairs.  Embassy officials also met and discussed issues related to religious freedom with leaders of the Rastafarian, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 166,000 (July 2018 estimate).  The 2010 Population and Housing Census, the latest available, reports Roman Catholics are 61.1 percent of the population; Seventh-day Adventists, 10.4 percent; Pentecostals, 8.8 percent; evangelical Christians, 7.2 percent; Baptists, 2.1 percent; and Rastafarians, 2 percent.  Other groups, together constituting less than 2 percent of the population, include Anglicans, members of the Church of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Methodists, Muslims, Hindus, and Baha’is.  Nearly 6 percent of the population claims no religious affiliation.  Unofficial estimates of the Muslim population, which is mainly Sunni, range from 150 to 400.  According to the Jewish community, there are approximately 200 Jewish residents.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states “a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of” freedom of conscience, including of thought and religion, and in the manifestation and propagation of religion or belief through practice, worship, teaching, and observance.  It protects individuals’ rights to change their religion and prohibits religious instruction without consent in schools, prisons, and military service.  A blasphemy law is not enforced.

The Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government is responsible for ecclesiastical affairs, implements the government’s policy on faith-based organizations, and meets regularly with religious groups to address their concerns.  The government requires religious groups to register with the ministry if their membership exceeds 250 individuals.  To register, groups must provide contact information, an organization’s establishment date and history, declaration of belief, number of members, location of meeting place, and income sources.  The government “incorporates” registered groups, which are eligible to receive associated benefits, while it treats unregistered groups as for-profit organizations for taxation purposes.  After the religious group registers with the ministry, it may apply for concessions, including duty-free import privileges and exemption from some labor requirements.

Ministry of Education regulations require the vaccination of all schoolchildren, regardless of religious beliefs, before they enter public or private school.  The public school curriculum includes religious studies; the Ministry of Education does not require students to participate in these classes.  The classes familiarize students with the core beliefs of world religions, rather than promoting the adoption of any particular faith.  The constitution grants religious groups the right to establish and maintain schools and provide religious instruction at their own expense.  The Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, and Anglican Churches each sponsor private schools, where they teach their respective religious beliefs to their students.  The government provides approximately 50 percent of the funding for these schools.  All students may attend private religious schools regardless of belief or nonbelief.

The government’s registration policy defines the process for missionary work and labor permits.  Immigration authorities grant work permits for individuals entering the country to conduct missionary work.  As long as an individual is law abiding, there are no restrictions on any category of foreign missionaries.

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

Government Practices

The Rastafarian community stated officials from the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government engaged in constructive dialogue with their community leaders and outreach with the broader Rastafarian community.  The primary dialogue topic was encouraging the government to legalize marijuana.

Rastafarian community representatives reported their reluctance to use marijuana for religious purposes because marijuana use was illegal and subject to punitive fines.  Rastafarians said, however, the number of targeted searches by police and immigration officers decreased during the year.  They also stated Ministry of Education regulations requiring the vaccination of schoolchildren to enter school continued to represent a barrier because Rastafarians do not believe in vaccinating their children.  Some Rastafarians said they decided to vaccinate their children so they could attend school; others chose to homeschool.  Rastafarians stated the lack of insurance coverage for traditional doctors some Rastafarians used continued to be a problem.

The government continued to consult with the Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies, as well as the Christian Council, comprising representatives of the Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations, on issues relevant to their communities.  It also continued its informal meetings with members of the Rastafarian community on pending legislation and policies, including recognizing marriages and issues surrounding school attendance.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Members of the Muslim community continued to report they were occasionally harassed in public spaces when they wore Islamic religious attire.  They said harassment included insulting name-calling and inappropriate questioning by members of the public.

The Catholic Church and the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean continued to hold interdenominational meetings to promote respect for religious diversity and tolerance.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials discussed respect for religious minorities with officials of the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government.  Embassy officials also engaged with Rastafarian, Muslim, Jewish, and Catholic leaders on the importance of promoting freedom of religious expression and combating societal discrimination based on religion.  The religious groups said they were collaborating to further social dialogue and conduct outreach programs in the community that addressed freedom of religious expression, tolerance, and discrimination.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion.  Rastafarians continued to disagree with the government’s ban on marijuana, stating it was integral to their religious rituals.  They said, however, that draft legislation introduced in September allowing marijuana use for religious purposes, if passed, would positively affect their community.  The possibility of exemption from vaccinations currently required for school enrollment remained under discussion between Ministry of Health officials and Rastafarians with school-age children.  Ministry of Education, Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information officials continued to permit dreadlocks at some workplaces, such as construction sites, provided they were covered with appropriate headgear when health and safety considerations required it.

Rastafarians said they still faced societal discrimination because of their religious practices, in particular their marijuana use.  Some Rastafarians stated, however, that they believed societal acceptance of and tolerance for Rastafarians continued to increase, noting the draft legislation on marijuana use and cultivation introduced in parliament as an example of a positive change in societal attitudes.

Embassy officials continued to raise the issue of Rastafarian dreadlocks with the Ministry of Education, Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information and with the Ministry of National Mobilization, Social Development, Family, Gender Affairs, Persons with Disabilities, and Youth.  Embassy officials also met with individuals from the Christian, Muslim, and Rastafarian communities to discuss governmental and societal support for religious freedom, including respect for religious minorities.  The embassy used Facebook to promote messages about the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity across the Eastern Caribbean.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 102,000 (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2012 government census, 82.3 percent of the population identifies as Christian, among them Pentecostals composing 27.6 percent, Anglicans 13.9 percent, Seventh-day Adventists 11.6 percent, Baptists 8.9 percent, Methodists 8.7 percent, and Roman Catholics 6.3 percent.  Rastafarians account for 1.1 percent of the population.  Those with no religious affiliation account for 7.5 percent of the population; those listed as “no religion stated” constitute 4.7 percent; and those listed as “other religion” constitute 4.3 percent.  Groups that together constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Muslims and Hindus, the latter primarily of East Indian origin.  There is no organized Jewish community.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution affirms the country “is founded on the belief in the supremacy of God.”  A person has the right to freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and of religion and freedom to change his or her religion or belief.  In addition, he or she has the freedom to practice his religion, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private.  An anti-blasphemy law exists, but it is not enforced.

The constitution grants religious groups the right to establish schools and provide religious instruction to those wishing to receive it.  Students in public schools receive nondenominational religious instruction based on Christianity.  Christian prayers are recited at school assemblies; attendance and participation are not mandatory.  Students wishing to opt out of Christian prayer or religious education classes are excused from participation.  By law, vaccinations are required for school enrollment in all schools receiving government funding.  Home schooling is also an option.

The law prohibits the use of marijuana, including for religious purposes.

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

Government Practices

Rastafarian activists continued to state they disagreed with the government’s prohibition of marijuana use, which they described as integral to their religious rituals.  Legislation was introduced in September to permit marijuana use for religious activities.  The proposed legislation would decriminalize the use of marijuana in adherence to a religious practice by religious bodies to include, but not limited to, Rastafarians.  Reactions to the proposal ranged from support for marijuana use for religious purposes from the Rastafarian community and the current administration to concern expressed by members of the opposition party as well as other religious groups that the proposal was advanced too quickly through parliament.

The Ministry of Education, Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information said accommodations permitted dreadlocks for Rastafarians at some workplaces, including construction sites, with appropriate headgear called a Tam or Rastacap, which is similar to an elongated ski cap.  Rastafarians, however, cited the continued prohibition of dreadlocks in certain work areas and in some private schools.  According to Rastafarians, vaccinations as a requirement for school enrollment continued to remain an area of contention between Ministry of Health officials and Rastafarians with school-age children.  Some Rastafarians said they decided to vaccinate their children; others chose homeschooling.  Some Rastafarians said they still faced scrutiny from police and immigration officials due to their marijuana use.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Rastafarian individuals stated they continued to face societal discrimination primarily due to their marijuana use.  They stated, however, that they also were increasingly accepted in society and overall the country’s citizens were becoming more tolerant of their way of life.  Some pointed out the recently introduced draft legislation for medical marijuana as proof of this societal change.  Rastafarians said they still faced discrimination in the both private and public job markets due to their appearance.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials continued to raise Rastafarian concerns about the prohibition of dreadlocks and the vaccination issue with the Ministry of National Mobilization, Social Development, Family, Gender Affairs, Persons with Disabilities, and Youth, as well as with the Ministry of Education, Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information.  Embassy officials also discussed governmental and societal support for religious freedom, including respect for religious minorities, with members of the Christian, Muslim, and Rastafarian communities.

The embassy used Facebook to promote messages about the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity across the Eastern Caribbean.

Samoa

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the right to choose, practice, and change one’s religion, and it defines the country as a Christian nation.  There was a dispute between the government and the largest church over a new tax on the income of ministers of religion.  In June, however, parliament adopted a law that amended the taxation of pastors to exempt income they receive as donations from funerals, weddings, and other traditional occasions.  Media reported, as of November, authorities charged eight pastors of the Christian Congregational Church for not filing their tax returns.  The minister of revenue subsequently charged additional pastors, making a total of at least 16 charged by the end of the year.  The cases of all the pastors were adjourned until February 2019.

There were continued reports that village leaders resisted attempts by new religious groups to establish themselves in village communities, forbade individuals to belong to churches outside their village, and did not permit individuals to abstain from participating in worship services.  There was reportedly strong societal pressure at the village and local levels to participate in church services and other activities, and in some cases to give large proportions of household income to support church leaders and projects.  A national report on the prevalence of domestic violence cited church monetary obligations as a contributing factor to hardship and family violence.

The U.S. embassy maintained contact with various religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 201,000 (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2016 national census, Congregational Christians constitute 29 percent of the population; Roman Catholics, 18.8 percent; members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 16.9 percent; Methodists, 12.4 percent; members of the Assemblies of God, 6.8 percent; and Seventh-day Adventists, 4.4 percent.  Groups together constituting less than 12 percent of the population include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Congregational Church of Jesus, Church of the Nazarene, nondenominational Protestants, Baptists, Worship Centre, Peace Chapel, Samoa Evangelism, Elim Church, Anglicans, Baha’is, and small numbers of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews, primarily in Apia.  Less than 1 percent stated no religion or did not select a religion.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the right to choose, practice, and change one’s religion.  This right may be subject to “reasonable restrictions” by law in the interests of national security or public order, health, or morals, or protecting the rights of others.  Legal protections cover discrimination or persecution by private citizens as well as government officials.  The preamble to the constitution describes the country as “an independent State based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and traditions.”  In 2017, the parliament added the following clause to the first article of the constitution:  “Samoa is a Christian nation founded on God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

The government does not require religious groups to register, but groups have the option to register as a charitable trust with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor.  Registration is free, with a simple application.  Becoming a charitable trust entitles groups to receive tax exemptions and legal status.  Unregistered religious groups may not formally buy property or pay employees.  Religious groups may be established on community land or on land owned by their leader.

The constitution provides that no one may be forced to take religious instruction in a religion other than his or her own, and gives each religious group the right to establish its own schools.  The government enforces an education policy making Christian instruction compulsory in public primary schools and optional in public secondary schools.  There is no opt-out provision.

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

Government Practices

Reportedly, matai councils, the traditional governing body of villages, frequently continued to resist attempts to introduce new religious groups into their communities on the ground of “maintaining harmony within the village” – a duty prescribed in legislation.  Observers continued to report that in many villages throughout the country, leaders forbade individuals to belong to churches outside of the village or to exercise their right not to worship.  Villagers in violation of such rules faced fines, banishment from the village, or both.

Traditionally, villages have tended to have one primary Christian church.  Village chiefs often have chosen the religious denomination of their extended families.  Many larger villages have had multiple churches serving different denominations and coexisting peacefully.

Ten or more chaplains continued to be available to prisoners on a rotational basis, covering the majority of Christian denominations in the country.

An amended income tax law, passed in 2017 and including the taxing of ministers of religion, became effective January 1.  The Christian Congregational Church refused to abide by this law.  The government was reportedly seeking to collect unpaid taxes from personal bank accounts and assets of pastors.  In June, however, parliament adopted a new bill that amended the taxation of pastors to exempt income they receive as donations from funerals, weddings, and other traditional occasions; nonetheless, pastors continued to oppose the tax.  The Christian Congregational Church reportedly approved of the change.  Media reported, as of November, authorities charged eight pastors of the Christian Congregational Church for not filing their tax returns.  The minister of revenue subsequently charged additional pastors, making a total of at least 16 by the end of the year, and said, “We have given church ministers eleven months, and those who continue to defy the law will face the consequences.”  The cases of all the pastors were adjourned until February 2019.

According to media, the report of the National Inquiry into Domestic Violence released during the year placed some blame on churches for their lack of effort to curb such incidents.  According to press reports, in December at a forum to discuss the report, the chairman of the Samoan National Council of Churches said increasing domestic violence was a result of individuals violating God’s law and called for the government to work with the churches to formulate a national day of repentance.

Public ceremonies typically began with a Christian prayer.  The prime minister, while discussing family violence, said citizens should “demonstrate [their] dedication to the Fa’asamoa [the ways of Samoa] and Christian values upon which this country [was] founded.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Prominent societal leaders repeatedly stated in public that the country was Christian.  Public discussion of religious issues sometimes included negative references to non-Christian religions.  For example, on August 8, one citizen posted online:  “your ‘unChristian beliefs’ are not that much welcome now that our current Parliamentary leaders had made it clear in our Nation’s Constitution.”

As reported by media and in letters to the editor, there was a high level of religious observance and continued strong societal pressure at village and local levels to participate in church services and other activities, in addition to support church leaders and projects financially.  In some denominations, financial contributions often totaled more than 30 percent of family income.  This issue gained periodic media attention, in outlets such as the Samoa Observer newspaper, as members of society occasionally spoke out about pressure on families to give large amounts of their income to churches.  There was a continued increase throughout the year in public expression in print and social media citing church commitments, and in particular financial commitments, as one of the major sources of hardship for citizens in the country and abroad.  The 2018 Public Inquiry into Domestic Violence by the National Human Rights Institute/Office of the Ombudsman stated several times that “financial pressures associated with church contributions and family obligations are unique underlying causes of family violence in Samoa.”  Some individuals expressed concern that church leaders abused their privileged status among the congregation and village.  In November one youth leader reportedly told a synod of Catholic bishops in Rome that in Samoa reporting on “clerical abuse and widespread corruption” amounted to “professional and cultural suicide.”

Public opinion reportedly was divided on the issue of whether or not to tax pastors.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The embassy maintained contact with various religious groups, including all major Christian denominations and members of the Baha’i Faith.

San Marino

Executive Summary

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.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 34,000 (July 2018 estimate).  While it does not collect statistics on the size of religious groups, the local government continues to report the vast majority of the population is Roman Catholic.  Other religious groups present include Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Baha’i Faith, Islam, Judaism, Orthodox Christianity, and the Waldensian Church.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits religious-based discrimination and restrictions on religious freedom, except for the protection of public order and general welfare.  The criminal code provides for possible prison terms of six months to three years for any discrimination, including that based on religion.  Discrimination on the basis of religion can also constitute an aggravating circumstance for other types of crime.  In these cases, the penalty may be increased.  The law includes provisions for prosecuting hate crimes and speech that defiles religious groups, with violators subject to imprisonment from three months to one year.

The law forbids media professionals from generating and spreading information that may discriminate against someone on the basis of religion, among other factors.  Anyone may report a case to the Authority for Information, a government body, which may take disciplinary action.  The authority may issue sanctions for a violation of the code, ranging from a warning to censure, suspension, and/or removal from the professional register.  These sanctions are in addition to the ones already provided in the criminal code.

The law allows taxpayers to allocate 0.3 percent of their income tax payments to the Catholic Church or to other religious or secular groups recognized as nonprofit organizations.  Religious organizations must be legally recognized in the country to receive this benefit.  To obtain legal recognition, religious organizations are required to submit evidence to the government of nonprofit activities and annual reports.  The government may periodically audit and inspect organizations, require them to submit additional documentation, and investigate any complaints from organization members or third parties.

There are no private religious schools, and the law requires religious education in public schools.  Only Catholic religious instruction is offered in public schools.  In September the country ratified a bilateral agreement with the Holy See that granted Catholic instruction equal status with other subjects taught in schools.  The agreement also stipulates the Catholic curriculum will be subject to a future agreement between the Ministry of Education and the Catholic Bishop of San Marino-Montefeltro.  The current state-approved Catholic curriculum includes comparisons between Christianity and other religions and between the Bible and other religious texts.  Teachers are selected by the church and may be religious or lay.  Religious instruction is funded by the government.  The law guarantees students the right to opt out of religious instruction without penalty.  Students (or the parents, if the student is younger than 18) must choose to opt out at the beginning of each school year.

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

Government Practices

As of 2017, the last year for which data were available, approximately 110 nonprofit organizations (down from 130 in the previous year) received contributions from taxpayers in accordance with the law.  The government did not indicate how many of these organizations were religious, but among them were the Catholic Church, a number of Catholic associations, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Catholic symbols remained common in government buildings.  Crucifixes continued to hang on courtroom and government office walls.  The government continued to maintain a public meditation and prayer site in the capital for use by worshippers of any religion.

In August Foreign Affairs Minister Nicola Renzi advocated dialogue and religious freedom at an annual event organized by an Italian Catholic movement in Rimini, Italy.  His conference panel included the secretary general of the Muslim World League.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On June 27, local bank Banca di San Marino and bank foundation Ente Cassa di Faetano organized a conference in the country on interreligious dialogue and the history of relations between the Catholic Church and Islam.  Approximately 100 persons attended, including journalists.

On October 3, the state-run University of San Marino participated in an event organized by the University of Bologna’s campus in Rimini, Italy, the city of Rimini, and the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris, to remember the 80th anniversary of the Italian and Sammarinese Fascist governments’ introduction of the anti-Semitic Racial Laws.  Among several other academic presentations on the history of the laws, a professor from the University of San Marino gave remarks on their application in San Marino and the Rimini area.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

During periodic visits, the U.S. Consul General in Florence and other consulate general representatives discussed the importance of religious tolerance in meetings with staff at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The consulate also made inquiries with the government about its September agreement with the Holy See on Catholic instruction in schools.

Sao Tome and Principe

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and equality for all, irrespective of religious belief.  It grants religious groups autonomy and the right to teach their religion.  Religious groups must register with the government.

Religious leaders affirmed good relations among religious groups.

U.S. embassy staff based in Gabon, in periodic visits to the country, met with key government officials in the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and religious leaders to encourage continued respect for religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 201,000 (July 2018 estimate).  The Roman Catholic bishop’s office estimates more than 85 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, approximately 12 percent Protestant, and less than 2 percent Muslim.  Protestant groups include Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, Evangelic Assembly of Christ, Universal Church of Christ, and Thokoist Church.  The number of Muslims has increased over the past 15 years due to an influx of migrants from Nigeria, Cameroon, and other African countries.  Some Christians and Muslims also adhere to aspects of indigenous beliefs.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution establishes a secular state and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship.  It provides for equality of rights and obligations irrespective of religious belief or practice and for freedom of religious groups to teach their faith and to organize themselves and their worship activities.  According to the constitution, these rights are to be interpreted in harmony with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and may be restricted only in cases envisaged in the constitution or suspended during a state of emergency or siege declared according to the terms of the constitution and law.

Religious groups must register with the government.  If a religious group does not register, the group is subject to fines and possible expulsion if it is a foreign religious group.  To register, a group must send a letter requesting authorization to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.  Once the group obtains authorization, it must submit the following documents to a notary public:  the ministry’s approval letter; the group’s statutes; the minutes or report from a meeting attended by at least 500 representatives of the group and signed by its president and secretary; copies of the national identity cards of those who attended this meeting; a list of board members; and a certificate from the Registrar’s Office attesting that no existing organization has the same name.  After a payment of 1,000 dobras ($46) for notarial fees, an announcement is published in the government gazette, and the group may then operate fully as a registered group.  Once registered, a religious group does not need to register again.  Registered religious groups receive the same benefits, such as tax exemptions, as registered nonprofit organizations.

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

Government Practices

There were no reports of significant government actions affecting religious freedom.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religious leaders affirmed good relations among religious groups.  As an example, they cited community workshops and seminars of Catholic and Protestant groups, stating that this kind of activity contributed to respect for religion among the population.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country.  U.S. embassy staff in Gabon, in periodic visits to the country, engaged with government officials in the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights to encourage continued respect for religious freedom.

Embassy officials met with religious leaders, including the Roman Catholic bishop, evangelical Protestant religious leaders, and an imam, to discuss the involvement of religious groups in social issues affecting their communities.

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

According to the 1992 Basic Law of Governance, the country’s official religion is Islam and the constitution is the Quran and Sunna (traditions and practices based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad).  The legal system is based largely on sharia as interpreted within the Hanbali School of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence.  Freedom of religion is not provided under the law.  The government does not allow the public practice of any non-Muslim religion.  The law criminalizes “anyone who challenges, either directly or indirectly, the religion or justice of the King or Crown Prince.”  The law criminalizes “the promotion of atheistic ideologies in any form,” “any attempt to cast doubt on the fundamentals of Islam,” publications that “contradict the provisions of Islamic law,” and other acts including non-Islamic public worship, public display of non-Islamic religious symbols, conversion by a Muslim to another religion, and proselytizing by a non-Muslim.  In March UN experts said 15 Shia were convicted of spying for Iran and financing terrorism and were facing execution after legal processes that human rights organizations deemed lacking in fair trial guarantees and transparency.  In January the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Mohammed al-Habib to seven years in prison after the Public Prosecution’s objection to his 2017 acquittal.  Some human rights organizations stated convictions of Shia on security charges, including several carrying the death penalty, stemming from 2017-18 clashes were motivated by sectarianism, while the government stated the individuals were investigated, prosecuted, and sentenced as a result of security-related crimes and in accordance with the law.  A December report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism expressed concern at the “systemic repression against the country’s Eastern Province, where the majority Shia population lives.”  Charges announced by the government during the year for prominent clerics, religious scholars, and academics, reportedly detained in September 2017, include alleged connections to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) or MB-affiliated groups.  The government continued to censor or block some religion-related content in the media, including social media and the internet.  The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV, commonly known outside the country as the “religious police”) monitored social behavior to encourage obedience to laws and regulations protecting “public morals.”  Many observers noted a continued decreased public presence of CPVPV officers in major cities, with the exception of Mecca and Medina, and fewer reports of CPVPV harassment.  On March 4, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met publicly with Coptic Pope Tawadros II in Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral.  On November 1, the crown prince met with U.S. evangelical Christian figures in Riyadh.

Instances of prejudice and discrimination against Shia Muslims continued to occur in private sector employment.  Social media provided an outlet for citizens to discuss current events and religious issues, which sometimes included making disparaging remarks about members of various religious groups or “sects.”  In addition, terms such as “rejectionists,” which Shia considered insulting, were commonly found in public discourse.

Embassy, consulate general, and other U.S. government officials continued to press the government to respect religious freedom, eliminate discriminatory enforcement of laws against religious minorities, and promote respect and tolerance for minority Muslim and non-Muslim religious practices and beliefs.  In discussions with the Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MOIA), and other relevant ministries and agencies, senior embassy and consulate officials continued to raise and discuss reports of abuses of religious freedom, arbitrary arrests and detentions, the country’s counterterrorism law, and due process standards.  Embassy and consulate officials continued to query the legal status of detained and imprisoned individuals and discuss religious freedom concerns, such as religious assembly and importation of religious materials, with members of religious minorities, including Shia Muslims and citizens who no longer considered themselves Muslims, as well as with non-Muslim foreign residents.

Since 2004, Saudi Arabia has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.  Most recently, on November 28, the Secretary of State redesignated Saudi Arabia as a CPC, and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation as required in the important national interest of the United States pursuant to section 407 of the Act.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the country’s total population at 33 million (July 2018 estimate), including more than 12 million foreign residents.  Between 85 and 90 percent of the approximately 20 million citizens are Sunni Muslims.

Shia Muslims constitute 10 to 12 percent of the citizen population.  Approximately 80 percent of Shia are “Twelvers” (Shiites who recognize 12 imams) and are primarily located in the Eastern Province.  Nakhawala, or “Medina Shia,” are also Twelvers and reside in small numbers in the western Hejaz region.  Estimates place their numbers at approximately 1,000.  Twelver Shia adhere to the Ja’afari School of jurisprudence.  Most of the remaining Shia are Sulaimani Ismailis, also known as “Seveners” (those who branched off from the Twelvers to follow Isma’il ibn Ja’afar as the Seventh Imam).  Seveners number approximately 500,000 and reside primarily in Najran Province, where they constitute the majority of the province’s inhabitants.  Another branch of Sevener Shia, the Bohra Ismailis, number approximately 2,000, most of whom are of Yemeni or South Asian origin.  Pockets of Zaydis, members of another branch of Shia Islam, numbering a total of approximately 20,000, reside primarily in the provinces of Jizan and Najran along the border with Yemen.

Foreign embassies indicate the foreign population in the country, including many undocumented migrants, is mostly Muslim.  According to a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center, of the country’s total population (including foreigners), there were approximately 25.5 million Muslims, 1.2 million Christians (including Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and Roman Catholics); 310,000 Hindus; 180,000 religiously unaffiliated (including atheists, agnostics, and individuals who did not identify with any particular religion); 90,000 Buddhists; 70,000 followers of folk religions; and 70,000 adherents of other religions.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Instances of prejudice and discrimination against Shia Muslims continued to occur in private sector employment.  Social media provided an outlet for citizens to discuss current events and religious issues, which sometimes included making disparaging remarks about members of various religious groups or “sects.”  In addition, terms like “rejectionists,” which Shia considered insulting, were commonly found in public discourse.

Open Doors, an international NGO, reported that individuals who converted from Islam to Christianity almost always did so in secret, fearing the reactions of family members and the threat of criminal charges, up to and including execution.  Women in particular feared loss of parental rights or being subjected to physical abuse as a result of converting from Islam.

While discussion of sensitive topics on social media was frequent, according to Freedom House, “self-censorship [on social media] remained prevalent when discussing topics such as politics, religion, or the royal family.”

Anti-Semitic comments continued to appear in the media.  For example, in May the newspaper Al-Iqtisadiyya printed an editorial cartoon showing a grinding machine in the shape of the Star of David, grinding Gazans into skulls.

According to MEMRI.org, Abdulwahab al-Omari, a government-licensed imam in Bisha, preached in January that Jews would be turned into apes and pigs, and that on Judgment Day, they would be the soldiers of the Antichrist.  According to MEMRI.org’s translation, al-Omari said Jesus would descend before the Judgment Day, accept sharia, and pursue and kill the Antichrist.  The Muslims would then “pounce on the Jews and kill them.”

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Senior embassy and consulate general officials continued to press the government to respect religious freedom, eliminate discriminatory enforcement of laws against religious minorities, and promote respect and tolerance for minority religious practices and beliefs.  In discussions with the Human Rights Commission, members of the Shura Council, the MFA, MOIA, the government-funded Muslim World League, and other relevant ministries and agencies during the year, senior embassy and consulate officials raised reports of abuses and violations of religious freedom, arbitrary arrests and detention, the country’s counterterrorism law, and due process standards.  They also discussed the importance of respect for the rights of minorities and their religious practices.

Senior embassy and consulate officials continued to query the legal status of detained or imprisoned individuals and discussed religious freedom concerns, such as religious assembly and importation of religious materials, with members of religious minorities, including Shia and citizens who no longer consider themselves Muslims, as well as with non-Muslim foreign residents.

Since 2004, Saudi Arabia has been designated as a CPC under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.  Most recently, on November 28, the Secretary of State redesignated Saudi Arabia as a CPC, and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation as required in the important national interest of the United States pursuant to section 407 of the Act.

Senegal

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the free practice of religious beliefs and self-governance by religious groups without government interference.  By law, all faith-based organizations must register with the government to acquire legal status as an association.  The government restarted a lapsed campaign to combat forced child begging, which often takes place at some Islamic religious schools.  The government also continued its programs to assist religious groups to maintain places of worship, to fund and facilitate participation in the Hajj and Roman Catholic pilgrimages, to permit four hours of voluntary religious education at public and private schools, and to fund schools operated by religious groups.  The government continued to monitor religious groups to ensure they operated according to the terms of their registration.

Local and international NGOs continued their efforts to focus attention on the abuse of children, including forced child begging, at some traditional Islamic religious schools (known locally as daaras); the organizations continued to urge the government to address the problem through more effective regulation and prosecution of offending teachers.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officers met regularly with senior government officials to discuss conditions faced by students at daaras as well as the government’s efforts to combat forced child begging.  The Ambassador and embassy officers also discussed these issues with religious leaders and civil society representatives in Dakar and across the country.  In meetings with civil society and religious leaders, including leaders of the main Islamic brotherhoods, embassy officers continued to emphasize the importance of maintaining religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 15 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to government statistics from the 2014 census, 96.1 percent of the population is Muslim.  Most Muslims are Sunni and belong to one of several Sufi brotherhoods, each of which incorporates unique practices.  There are approximately 5,000 Shia Muslims, according to an unofficial 2011 estimate.  Approximately 3.8 percent of the population is Christian.  Christian groups include Roman Catholics, Protestants, and groups combining Christian and indigenous beliefs.  The remaining 0.1 percent exclusively adheres to indigenous religions or professes no religion.

The Christian minority is located in towns in the west and south.  Members of indigenous religious groups live mainly in the east and south.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for the free practice of religious beliefs, provided public order is maintained, as well as self-governance by religious groups free from state interference.  The constitution prohibits political parties from identifying with a specific religion.  It states religious discrimination is punishable by law.

Muslims may choose either the civil family code or sharia to adjudicate family conflicts, such as marriage and inheritance disputes.  Civil court judges preside over civil and customary law cases, but religious leaders informally settle many disputes among Muslims, particularly in rural areas.

By law, all faith-based organizations, including religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) representing religious groups, must register with the Ministry of Interior to acquire legal status as an association.  To register, organizations must provide documentation showing they have been in existence for at least two years as an association.  Organizations must also provide a mission statement; bylaws; a list of goals, objectives, activities, or projects implemented; and proof of previous and future funding.  They must also pass a background check.  Registration enables a group to conduct business, own property, establish a bank account, receive financial contributions from private sources, and receive applicable tax exemptions.  There is no formal penalty for failure to register other than ineligibility to receive these benefits.  Registered religious groups and nonprofit organizations are exempt from many forms of taxation.

The law requires associations, including religious groups and NGOs affiliated with them, to obtain authorization from the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender in order to operate.  This second registration requirement allows the government to monitor organizations operating in the field of social development and identify any interventions these organizations implement.  Foreign NGOs must obtain authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

By law, religious education may be offered in public and private schools, and parents have the option to enroll their children in the program.  The government permits up to four hours of voluntary religious education per week in public and private elementary schools.  The government allows parents to choose either a Christian or an Islamic curriculum.  Parents have the opportunity to allow their children to opt out of the curriculum.

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

Government Practices

In March the government restarted a 2016 campaign to implement a 2005 law forbidding forced child begging, an abuse encountered at some Quranic schools or daaras.  The government worked closely with Muslim religious leaders to gain support for the campaign and for other initiatives, such as a draft law regulating traditional Islamic schools.

The government continued to provide direct financial and material assistance to religious groups, for use primarily in maintaining or rehabilitating places of worship or for underwriting special events.  There continued to be no formal procedure for applying for assistance.  All religious groups continued to have access to these funds and competed on an ad hoc basis to obtain them.  President Macky Sall occasionally visited and supported beneficiaries of these funds.  For example, every year members of the Mouride religious brotherhood travel to the seat of the brotherhood in Touba for the annual Magal pilgrimage.  Under President Sall, the government constructed a new highway to connect Touba with the city of Thies to the west in order to ease travel for the pilgrimage.  Although the highway was not complete in time for the Magal pilgrimage in October, the president opened up the nearly complete highway, free of charge, for all Magal pilgrims.  The highway was subsequently completed and inaugurated by President Sall on December 20.

The government continued to assist Muslim participation in the Hajj and again provided imams with hundreds of free airplane tickets for the pilgrimage for distribution among citizens.  In addition, the government organized Hajj trips for approximately 2,000 additional individuals.  The government also continued to provide assistance for an annual Roman Catholic pilgrimage to the Vatican, the Palestinian territories, and Israel.  The Catholic Church reported the government provided 380 million CFA francs ($668,000) for travel to the Vatican, compared with 370 million CFA francs ($651,000) in 2017.

The Ministry of Education continued to provide partial funding to schools operated by religious groups that met national education standards.  It provided the largest share of this funding to established Christian schools, which in general maintained strong academic reputations.  The majority of students attending Christian schools continued to be Muslim.  The Ministry of Education reported approximately 50 percent of primary school students again participated in religious education through the public elementary school system during the year.  The government also continued to fund a number of Islamic schools, which enrolled approximately 60,000 students.

The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender continued to monitor domestic associations, including religious groups and NGOs affiliated with them, to ensure they operated according to the terms of their registration.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to do the same with foreign-based NGOs, including those affiliated with religious groups.  Each association submitted an annual report, including a financial report, which the ministries used in their effort to track potential funding of terrorist groups.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Local and international NGOs continued to highlight abuses of students at some daaras, where young children sometimes resided.  Some daaras reportedly continued to force children to beg.  Local media and NGOs continued to document cases of physical and sexual abuse of daara students by certain marabouts, or Quranic schoolteachers.  Human Rights Watch reported tens of thousands of children suffered from abuse in 2017.  Civil society and children’s rights advocates reprised their appeals to the government to implement more effective regulation of daaras and to prosecute Quranic teachers who committed serious violations against children.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to meet with federal and local government officials in Dakar and with local authorities in Saint Louis to discuss conditions faced by daara students as well as the government’s efforts to combat forced child begging.  The Ambassador and embassy officers also met with civil society representatives and religious leaders in the central regions of Thies, Diourbel, Louga, and Fatick to discuss these issues.  As part of their continuing engagement with religious figures, including leadership of the main Islamic brotherhoods, as well as with civil society, embassy officers emphasized the importance of maintaining religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue.  In particular, the Ambassador discussed efforts to combat forced child begging and emphasized religious tolerance with the heads of the country’s two largest Islamic brotherhoods, the Mouride Brotherhood (based in the city of Touba) and the Tidiane Brotherhood (based in the city of Tivaouane).

During Ramadan, the embassy hosted a series of iftars in Dakar and Fatick, geared to different audiences, which focused on diversity as well as religious tolerance and inclusion.  Attendees at the different events included local government officials, youth leaders, religious leaders, NGO representatives, and other members of civil society.

Serbia

Executive Summary

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.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 7.1 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2011 census, approximately 85 percent of the population is Orthodox Christian, 5 percent Roman Catholic, 3 percent Sunni Muslim, and 1 percent Protestant.  The remaining 6 percent includes Jews, Buddhists, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, members of other religious groups, agnostics, atheists, , and individuals without a declared religious affiliation.  The vast majority of the population identifying as Orthodox Christian are members of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), a category not specifically listed in the census.  Adherents of the Macedonian, Montenegrin, and Romanian Orthodox Churches may be included in the numbers of “Orthodox Christians” or in the “other Christian” category that is part of the remaining 6 percent, depending on how they self-identify.

Catholics are predominantly ethnic Hungarians and Croats residing in Vojvodina Province.  Muslims include Bosniaks (Slavic Muslims) in the southwest Sandzak region, ethnic Albanians in the south, and Roma located throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees the freedom of belief and religion as well as the right to change one’s religion.  It states everyone shall have the freedom to worship and practice religion individually or with others, in private or in public, and no one shall be obliged to declare one’s religion.  The constitution states the freedom to express one’s religion or beliefs may be restricted by law only as necessary to protect life or health, the morals of democratic society, freedoms and rights guaranteed by the constitution, or public safety and order or prevent incitement of religious, national, or racial hatred.  The constitution forbids the establishment of a state religion, guarantees equality for religious groups, and calls for separation of religion and state.  It states churches and religious communities shall be free to organize their internal structure, perform religious rites in public, and establish and manage religious schools and social and charity institutions in accordance with the law.  The constitution prohibits religious discrimination or incitement of religious hatred, calls upon the government to promote religious diversity and tolerance, and states religious refugees have a right to asylum, the procedures for which shall be established in law.

The law bans incitement of discrimination, hatred, or violence against an individual or group on religious grounds and carries penalties ranging from one to 10 years in prison, depending on the type of offense.

The law grants special treatment to seven religious groups the government defines as “traditional.”  These are the SOC, Roman Catholic Church, Slovak Evangelical Church, Reformed Christian Church, Evangelical Christian Church, Islamic community, and Jewish community.  The law considers Islam in general a traditional religion, and the Islamic community is divided between the Islamic Community of Serbia (emphasis added), with its seat in Belgrade, and the Islamic Community in Serbia (emphasis added), with its seat in Novi Pazar.  Both Islamic communities are officially registered with the government and can conduct most normal business.  Neither group, however, has absolute authority over matters regarding the Islamic community as a whole.  “Church” is a term reserved for Christian religious groups, while the term “religious community” refers to non-Christian groups and to some Christian entities.

The seven traditional religious groups recognized by law are automatically registered in the Register of Churches and Religious Communities.  In addition to these groups, the government grants traditional status, solely in Vojvodina Province, to the Diocese of Dacia Felix of the Romanian Orthodox Church, with its seat in Romania and administrative seat in Vrsac in Vojvodina.

The law also grants the seven traditional religious groups, but not other registered religious groups, the right to receive value-added tax (VAT) refunds and to provide chaplain services to military personnel.

There are 22 “nontraditional” religious groups registered with the government:  the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Evangelical Methodist Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , Evangelical Church in Serbia, Church of Christ’s Love, Spiritual Church of Christ, Union of Christian Baptist Churches in Serbia, Nazarene Christian Religious Community (associated with the Apostolic Christian Church [Nazarene]), Church of God in Serbia, Protestant Christian Community in Serbia, Church of Christ Brethren in Serbia, Free Belgrade Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Zion Sacrament Church, Union of Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement, Protestant Evangelical Church Spiritual Center, Evangelical Church of Christ, Slovak Union of Baptist Churches, Union of Baptist Churches in Serbia, Charismatic Community of Faith in Serbia, and, added during the year, the Buddhist Religious Community Nichiren Daishonin and the LOGOS Christian Community in Serbia.  Several of these organizations are umbrella groups that oversee many individual churches, sometimes of slightly differing affiliations.

The law does not require religious groups to register, but it treats unregistered religious organizations as informal groups that do not receive any of the legal benefits registered religious groups receive.  Only registered religious groups may build new places of worship, own property, apply for property restitution, or receive state funding for their activities.  Registration is also required for opening bank accounts and hiring staff.  Registered clerics of registered groups are entitled to government support for social and health insurance and a retirement plan.  According to government sources, 17 registered groups use these benefits.  The law also exempts registered groups from property and administrative taxes and from filing annual financial reports.

To obtain registration, a group must submit the following:  the names, identity numbers, copies of notarized identity documents, and signatures of at least 100 citizen members; its statutes and a summary of its religious teachings, ceremonies, religious goals, and basic activities; and information on its sources of funding.  The law prohibits registration if an applicant group’s name includes part of the name of an existing registered group.  The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) maintains the Register of Churches and Religious Communities and responds to registration applications.  If the MOJ rejects a registration application, the religious group may appeal the decision in court.

According to the constitution, the Constitutional Court may ban a religious community for activities infringing on the right to life or health, the rights of the child, the right to personal and family integrity, public safety, and order, or if it incites religious, national, or racial intolerance.  It also states the Constitutional Court may ban an association that incites religious hatred.

The MOJ’s Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities manages all matters pertaining to the cooperation of the state with churches and religious communities.  These include assistance to national minorities in protecting the religious traditions integral to their cultural and ethnic identity, cooperation between the state and SOC dioceses abroad, support for religious education, and support for and protection of the legal standing of churches and religious communities.  The government’s independent Office for Human and Minority Rights, which addresses policy and monitors the status of minorities, also oversees some religious issues.

The law recognizes restitution claims for religious property confiscated in 1945 or later for registered religious groups only.  The law permits individual claims for properties lost by Holocaust victims during WWII, but religious groups may not claim property confiscated prior to 1945.  Registered religious groups that had property and endowments seized after WWII may apply for their restitution.

In accordance with the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust-era assets, the law provides for the restitution of heirless and unclaimed Jewish property seized during the Holocaust, allowing the Jewish community to file restitution claims based on these seizures, while still permitting future claimants to come forward.  The law defines “heirless property” as any property not the subject of a legitimate claim for restitution.  The Jewish community must prove the former owner of the property was a member of the community and the property was confiscated during the Holocaust.  The law also stipulates financial support from the state budget for the Jewish community of 950,000 euros ($1.09 million) per year for a 25-year period, which began with an initial payment in 2017.  The law requires the appointment of a supervisory board with representatives from the country’s Jewish community, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, and a government-appointed chairperson to oversee implementation of the restitution law’s provisions and use of the state payment.  The board is primarily responsible for auditing use of the annual financial payments from the government to the Jewish Federation.  The government appointed a chair for the board in March after more than a year without an established supervisory body.

The constitution states parents and legal guardians shall have the right to ensure the religious education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.  The law provides for religious education in public schools, but only for the seven traditional groups.  Students in primary and secondary schools must attend either religious or civic education class.  Parents choose which option is appropriate for their child.  The curriculum taught in the religion classes varies regionally, reflecting the number of adherents of a given religion in a specific community.  Typically, five interested students is the minimum needed to offer instruction in a particular religion.  In areas where individual schools do not meet the minimum number, the Ministry of Education attempts to combine students into regional classes for religious instruction.  The Commission for Religious Education appoints religious education instructors in schools throughout the country from lists of qualified candidates supplied by each religious group.  The commission comprises representatives from each traditional religious group, the Ministries of Education and of Science and Technological Development, and the Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities.  Representatives of the Islamic Community in Serbia have not participated in the work of the commission.  Instead, they have submitted their list of religious teachers directly to the education ministry for approval.  According to the Islamic Community in Serbia, appointment of their religious teachers in schools throughout the Sandzak region has depended on local authorities rather than the education ministry.  The Islamic Community of Serbia participates in the commission.

The constitution recognizes the right of conscientious objection based on religious beliefs.  It states no person shall be obliged to perform military or any other service involving the use of weapons if this is inconsistent with his or her religion or beliefs, but that a conscientious objector may be called upon to fulfill military duty not involving carrying weapons.  By law, all men must register for military service when they turn 18, but there is currently no mandatory military service.

The constitution allows any court with legal jurisdiction to prevent the dissemination of information advocating religious hatred, discrimination, hostility, or violence.

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

Government Practices

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, public prosecutors provided unsatisfactory levels of follow-up on the two cases of physical assault and two cases of death threats against their members during the year, although they reported that police generally took appropriate action.

The MOJ reported it approved two registration applications from religious groups during the year, one for the LOGOS Christian Community in Serbia that applied during the year, and one for the Buddhist Religious Community Nichiren Daishonin that applied in 2017.  The approval of Nichiren Daishonin’s application marked the first time the government approved the registration of a non-Christian religious group.  The government rejected three other applications:  one submitted during the year by Christian Community Golgotha because the government said the application was incomplete, and two submitted in 2017, by the Old Orthodox Catholic Church in Serbia and the Diocese of Raska and Prizren in Exile of the Serbian Orthodox Church.  The government was still reviewing two other applications submitted during the year, by Christian Center – Good News, and Theravada Buddhist Community in Serbia.

Minority religious groups continued to state the law was inherently biased in differentiating between traditional and nontraditional religious groups and in conflict with constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and equality among religious groups.  One religious community stated the government was not transparent with the application process to apply for benefits and grants the government provided to religious groups.  Director of the Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities Mileta Radojevic said the directorate focused its expenditures on the traditional groups because they represented the vast majority of the population.  He also stated there was no open call for project proposals to fund; rather, the directorate distributed information on the availability of funds directly to specific religious groups.  One Protestant Church in the city of Nis reported it faced difficulty navigating the process to apply for pension and health-care benefits for its clergy, stating central government officials gave it a list of additional requirements to prove its valid status as a Church, despite belonging to a registered umbrella organization.  The Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities stated it provided scholarships only for members of religious groups with a formal, university-level religious institution within the country.  Prospective clergy from smaller denominations who relied on seminaries outside the country were ineligible for such scholarships.

The Macedonian and Montenegrin Orthodox Churches remained unregistered.  The government recognizes only one Orthodox Church in Serbia and thus defers to the SOC for approval of any other Orthodox Church to operate in the country.  The SOC continued not to recognize the autocephaly of the Macedonian or Montenegrin Orthodox Church, and government officials stated that secular authorities should not try to resolve issues among individual Orthodox Churches.  The registered Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC) Diocese of Dacia Felix operated in the Banat region of Vojvodina Province in an agreement with the SOC.  Government and SOC officials criticized the activities of ROC priests outside Vojvodina Province in the eastern part of the country, where the ROC remained unregistered, who continued to hold services in the Romanian language and to repurpose buildings for religious use.

Representatives from the First Baptist Church of Belgrade continued to protest the legal requirement that groups register in order to obtain legal status by refusing to apply for registration, citing its long-held legal standing in the country under previous legal frameworks.  Representatives from the Church of Christ said the requirement to submit legal documents and the signatures of 100 citizens was costly, time consuming, and often impossible to fulfill for many smaller churches and those whose members were primarily noncitizens.

One Tibetan Buddhist group stated the registration requirement to submit religious texts for review was difficult for Buddhist groups to comply with, given the breadth of texts used in their practice.  The same group said, prior to the government’s approval of Nichiren Daishonin’s application, that the government had not registered any Buddhist groups under the religion law during several years of attempts by various groups to do so.

Multiple groups, including the First Baptist Church of Belgrade, Protestant Evangelical Church, Anglican Church, Church of Christ, and one Tibetan Buddhist group, continued to state that lack of registration did not directly prevent a religious organization from worshiping.  They said, however, it did impose restrictions, including inability to apply for property restitution, open bank accounts, purchase or sell property, obtain visas for religious travel, and publish literature.  The First Baptist Church of Belgrade reported that lack of legal recognition became more onerous over time, as it impeded a variety of activities.

At year’s end, a 2013 complaint by the Christian Baptist Church and the Protestant Evangelical Church, both of which had declined to apply for registration under the law, to the European Court of Human Rights, alleging the law violated the rights and freedoms safeguarded by the European Convention on Human Rights, remained pending.

In March the government appointed a chairperson to the supervisory board charged with overseeing the proper implementation of the law on heirless and unclaimed property confiscated during the Holocaust.  The appointment effectively established the board, which immediately began auditing the use of funds by the Jewish community and compliance with the law’s general provisions.

At least one religious researcher and an evangelical group said the religious education system in public schools discriminated against nontraditional groups.  These same observers noted the separate religious classes inhibited interreligious dialogue, religious tolerance, and basic understanding of other groups.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that, unlike in previous years, they did not encounter legal difficulties in publicly distributing religious literature or conducting door-to-door ministry activities.

The government continued restitution of religious properties confiscated in 1945 or later, returning 1,073 hectares (2,651 acres) of agricultural land, 78 hectares (193 acres) of forest, 0.4 hectare (one acre) of construction land, 185 square meters (1,991 square feet) of residential building property, and 1,433 square meters (15,425 square feet) of business facilities to the SOC, Roman Catholic, Romanian Orthodox, Evangelical Christian, Greek Catholic, and Reformed Christian Churches and the Islamic Community.  The government estimated it had returned 56 percent of previously confiscated properties since the beginning of implementation of the law on religious restitution in 2006, 76 percent of confiscated land and 36 percent of confiscated buildings.

In accordance with the law on Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property, the government continued to return heirless and unclaimed property taken during WWII to the Jewish community and to individuals.  This law governs personal property taken from members of the Jewish community during the Holocaust, primarily consisting of nonreligious residential and business property and agricultural land.  The government began processing claims under the law in 2016 and reported it had returned a total of 7,180 square meters (77,285 square feet) of buildings and 625.24 hectares (1,545 acres) of land, of which 625.19 hectares (4,724 acres) was agricultural land and 442 square meters (4,758 square feet) was unfinished construction land.

In November the Restitution Agency returned a building located in the southwest city of Novi Pazar to the Islamic Community in Serbia.  This was the first restitution claim returned to either Islamic community.  Previously, representatives of both communities, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observers, and local political leaders speculated the Restitution Agency had been unwilling to resolve the claims because the government did not want to decide which was the “rightful” Islamic group.  The two Islamic communities said they had each submitted claims on the same set of properties.  The Restitution Agency stated it had been processing the claims from both communities and confirmed the Novi Pazar property was the first returned to either Islamic group.  In explaining the lack of progress on other claims, the agency said that, in general, the claims were poorly substantiated and required extra resources to process.  The agency said it had already rejected three requests from the Islamic Community of Serbia because of insufficient evidence the community had owned the property prior to appropriation.

Following the July death of Hatidza Mehmedovic, President of the Mothers of Srebrenica, an advocacy group representing survivors of the Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian war, Member of Parliament and Serbian Radical Party member Vjerica Radeta posted a tweet mocking the woman’s loss of her husband and two sons in the 1995 killings of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys.  Radeta’s tweet called the group “businesswomen of Srebrenica” and asked, “Who will bury her?  Her husband or sons?”  The tweet sparked outrage among some media and officials – including Prime Minister Ana Brnabic; Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Construction, Transportation, and Infrastructure Zorana Mihajlovic; and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade, Tourism, and Telecommunications Rasim Ljajic.  Members of the Serbian Radical Party defended the tweet, which Radeta quickly removed.

On July 11, the Belgrade Higher Court ruled against the petition to rehabilitate WWII-era Prime Minister Milan Nedic, who headed the Nazi-collaborationist government in 1941-44, during which 90 percent of the country’s Jews were killed in the Holocaust.  The court ruled that the presumption that “Milan Nedic was arrested without any court or administrative decision and was a victim of persecution for political or ideological reasons” was groundless.

A commission dedicated to development of a memorial at the location of the WWII-era Staro Sajmiste concentration camp met monthly from January through September.  The commission also continued work on, but did not complete, a 2017 draft law authorizing the memorial, undertaking new rounds of edits and reviews in consultation with community members and various government ministries.  The government did not transfer responsibility for the commission from the city of Belgrade to the Office of the President as it announced it would do in 2017, leaving the commission with unclear guidance.  The commission held no meetings in the last three months of the year; commission head Bishop Jovan Culibrk of the SOC said that, without a clear government mandate or an approved law, the commission could make little progress.

The national television service, Radio Television of Serbia, continued to broadcast a daily 10-minute Religious Calendar program about major holidays celebrated by monotheistic religions.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The government did not keep records of religiously motivated violence, and reporting from individual religious organization remained sparse.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported two incidents of physical assault against members engaged in field ministry and two death threats.

On March 31, in Belgrade, an unknown assailant punched a Jehovah’s Witness in the head while he engaged in door-to-door ministry.  Jehovah’s Witnesses said police passed the case on to the public prosecutor, but neither the group nor the victim had received any updates on the status of the case by year’s end.

On April 13, in Zitkovac, an unidentified assailant hit a Jehovah’s Witness in the face and overturned his mobile literature cart.  Police informed the public prosecutor, who declined to pursue the case.  The case concluded with a police warning to the perpetrator.

On March 2, in Belgrade, a Jehovah’s Witness reported to local police that a man from his neighborhood had threatened several times to kill him because of his faith.  Police informed the public prosecutor of the incident, who asked the victim to provide a supplementary statement.  At year’s end, the prosecutor had not taken additional action.

On June 17, in the city of Sabac, an unnamed person made death threats against a Jehovah’s Witness.  According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the misdemeanor court in the city of Sabac ordered the perpetrator to pay a fine of 100 euros ($110) but declined to classify the incident as religiously motivated.

Anti-Semitic works, such as the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were available for purchase from informal sellers or online used bookshops or posted online.  Right-wing groups maintained several websites and individuals hosted chat rooms (although many were inactive) that openly promoted anti-Semitic ideas and literature.

Aleksandra Djuric Milovanovic, an anthropologist of religion, stated that society distrusted Protestant religious groups, especially smaller evangelical groups, and that most citizens lacked a basic understanding of Protestant teachings.  She said that because students received religious instruction only in the specific, traditional religion of their choosing, they acquired no information in the public school system about other religious groups.  Milovanovic and members of Protestant groups said persons often branded the groups with the term “sect,” which she said had “a very strong negative connotation associated with secrecy and mystifying rituals in the Serbian language.”  One Protestant group reported that 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.

The Jewish community reported one incident of pro-Nazi graffiti painted on a wall in Studentski Park in Belgrade on September 20.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. embassy continued to work with the Restitution Agency and other members of government in the application of the heirless and unclaimed Jewish property law.  In several meetings with government officials, the Ambassador and other embassy staff encouraged the government to appoint a member/chairman of a supervisory board to oversee proper implementation and financial responsibility of the heirless and unclaimed Holocaust-era property, as required by the law and without which the board lacked a mandate to begin work.

In March the Ambassador met with the head of the Restitution Agency and in a press conference urged the government to continue its work in returning Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property.

Following reports that some local archives were slow in assisting local Jewish communities in their research of claims under the law on Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property, embassy staff visited local archives to urge their cooperation with the Jewish community.

Embassy officials met individually with members of the SOC, Romanian Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, Islamic Community in Serbia, Islamic Community of Serbia, Reformed Christian Church, Jewish community, First Baptist Church of Belgrade, Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Tibetan Buddhist group, Evangelical Student Union, Faculty of Orthodox Theology, Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities, Church of Christ, NGO Centar9, Journal of the Politology of Religion, editors at Teologija.net, and individual religious researchers to discuss the status of religious freedom and interreligious cooperation.

Embassy representatives continued to attend regular meetings of, and engage with, the commission responsible for establishing a memorial at the site of the WWII-era Staro Sajmiste concentration camp in Belgrade.

In May the embassy hosted an iftar, which brought together members of the Islamic Community of Serbia and the Islamic Community in Serbia.  Embassy officials encouraged the two groups to work together during Ramadan to overcome longstanding divisions in the community.

A senior embassy official conducted a series of visits to SOC, Roman Catholic, and Islamic sites around Belgrade, spotlighting U.S. support for religious tolerance and diversity via the embassy’s social media outlets.

In December the embassy hosted an interfaith panel discussion and networking event with more than 20 members of the religious community and others, including members of the SOC, Roman Catholic Church, both Islamic communities, Jewish community, Slovak Evangelical Church, several minority Protestant denominations, University of Belgrade, and Office for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities.  The primary speaker, an SOC official, stated it was the first occasion in almost 20 years that brought such a diverse group of religious leaders together for a conversation on interfaith cooperation.  Members of the smaller denominations said the gathering was a valuable opportunity to network with key religious and government officials.

The U.S. embassy continued to work with the Restitution Agency and other members of government in the application of the heirless and unclaimed Jewish property law.  In several meetings with government officials, the Ambassador and other embassy staff encouraged the government to appoint a member/chairman of a supervisory board to oversee proper implementation and financial responsibility of the heirless and unclaimed Holocaust-era property, as required by the law and without which the board lacked a mandate to begin work.

In March the Ambassador met with the head of the Restitution Agency and in a press conference urged the government to continue its work in returning Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property.

Following reports that some local archives were slow in assisting local Jewish communities in their research of claims under the law on Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property, embassy staff visited local archives to urge their cooperation with the Jewish community.

Embassy officials met individually with members of the SOC, Romanian Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, Islamic Community in Serbia, Islamic Community of Serbia, Reformed Christian Church, Jewish community, First Baptist Church of Belgrade, Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Tibetan Buddhist group, Evangelical Student Union, Faculty of Orthodox Theology, Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities, Church of Christ, NGO Centar9, Journal of the Politology of Religion, editors at Teologija.net, and individual religious researchers to discuss the status of religious freedom and interreligious cooperation.

Embassy representatives continued to attend regular meetings of, and engage with, the commission responsible for establishing a memorial at the site of the WWII-era Staro Sajmiste concentration camp in Belgrade.

In May the embassy hosted an iftar, which brought together members of the Islamic Community of Serbia and the Islamic Community in Serbia.  Embassy officials encouraged the two groups to work together during Ramadan to overcome longstanding divisions in the community.

A senior embassy official conducted a series of visits to SOC, Roman Catholic, and Islamic sites around Belgrade, spotlighting U.S. support for religious tolerance and diversity via the embassy’s social media outlets.

In December the embassy hosted an interfaith panel discussion and networking event with more than 20 members of the religious community and others, including members of the SOC, Roman Catholic Church, both Islamic communities, Jewish community, Slovak Evangelical Church, several minority Protestant denominations, University of Belgrade, and Office for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities.  The primary speaker, an SOC official, stated it was the first occasion in almost 20 years that brought such a diverse group of religious leaders together for a conversation on interfaith cooperation.  Members of the smaller denominations said the gathering was a valuable opportunity to network with key religious and government officials.

Seychelles

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits discrimination on any grounds as well as laws establishing any religion.  It provides for freedom of religion, including the right of individuals to change, manifest, and propagate their religion.  Through the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Act, the government continues to bar religious groups from owning and operating radio or television stations; however, it continued to grant larger religious groups programming time on state-funded radio, subject in most cases to advance review, editing, and approval.  Smaller religious groups did not have access to dedicated broadcast time.  Although the constitution prohibits compulsory religious education, non-Catholic students in public schools providing Catholic instruction did not have access to alternative activities during those classes.  The government regularly consulted with an interfaith grouping, the Seychelles Interfaith Council (SIFCO), on national issues such as prison reform.  Members of SIFCO were appointed to various government boards.

SIFCO hosted an interfaith forum in February as part of its activities to mark World Interfaith Harmony Week.  The forum included presentations by representatives of the Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, and Baha’i faiths.  Following the forum, SIFCO officials commented on the challenges to interfaith harmony and the progress made compared with the past.

The U.S. embassy in Mauritius monitored religious freedom in Seychelles and regularly engaged with government officials and civil society to promote freedom of religious expression.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 94,000 (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2010 census, approximately 76 percent of the population is Roman Catholic.  Other religious groups include Anglicans (6 percent), Hindus (2.4 percent), and Muslims (1.6 percent).  Smaller religious groups include Baha’is and Christian groups such as Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal Church, Nazarites, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination on any grounds and forbids any laws establishing any religion or imposing any religious observance.  The constitution permits limitations on freedom of religion only “as prescribed by a law and necessary in a democratic society” in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health, as well as to protect the rights and freedoms of other persons.  It provides for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, including the right of individuals to change religion or belief and to manifest and propagate their religion in worship, teaching, practice, and observance, alone or in community with others, in public or private.  These rights may be subject to limitations stated in the constitution.  The constitution stipulates individuals shall not be required to take a religious oath counter to their religious beliefs or profess any religion as a prerequisite for public office.

The law requires registration for all religious groups as either corporations or associations.  To apply through the Registrar of Associations, a group must submit its name, location, rules, and list of assets; the name, occupation, and addresses of officers and at least seven members; and the resolution appointing its officers.  A minimum of seven members is required to register an association.  To receive tax benefits, notably tax exemptions on the importation of goods, and corporate social responsibility assistance, religious groups must also register with the Finance Ministry.  The government recognizes the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Seventh-day Adventist Churches, Islamic groups, and the Baha’i local spiritual assembly through individual acts of incorporation.

Although no penalties are prescribed for unregistered groups, only those registered as corporate bodies or associations have legal status and the right, for example, to petition the government for broadcast time for religious programming or permission to provide spiritual counsel in prisons.

The constitution prohibits compulsory religious education or participation in religious ceremonies in state schools but permits religious groups to provide religious instruction.  Religious instruction is provided by the Catholic and Anglican Churches and offered during school hours.  There are no faith-based schools.

The law prohibits religious groups from obtaining radio or television licenses.  The government provides broadcast time to religious groups on the national radio broadcasting service.  Access is granted based on the size of each group’s membership.  Religious groups may publish newspapers.  The Catholic Church publishes a monthly magazine, titled L’Echo des Iles.

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

Government Practices

The Office of the Vice President held the portfolio for religious affairs.  The government permitted live broadcasts of religious programming on important religious occasions such as Christmas, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) provided transmission time for radio broadcasts, lasting up to 90 minutes each, of Catholic masses and Anglican worship services on alternate Sundays.  The SBC continued to review and approve all other religious programing to ensure hate speech was not broadcast, but there were no incidents reported.  Other religious programming consisted of 15-minute prerecorded prayer broadcasts, permitted to Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Seventh-day Adventist, Catholic, and Anglican groups every two weeks.  Smaller religious groups continued to protest the government policy that did not grant them their own dedicated radio broadcast time.  Private radio stations did not feature religious programs.

SIFCO, composed of Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, and other religious groups present in the country, commented publicly on national issues and actions taken by the National Assembly and the president, including the setting up of regional councils, as part of local governance reform and nomination of councilors by the two main political parties.  SIFCO urged the government to consider the right of every citizen to participate in local or regional government in order to promote national unity and peace.  President Danny Faure continued to meet with members of SIFCO regularly, and the Office of the Vice President consulted SIFCO on issues of national interest.

Although the constitution prohibits compulsory religious education, non-Catholic students in public schools providing Catholic instruction did not have access to alternative activities during those classes.

In November various religious groups signed an agreement with the prison authorities to carry out spiritual and religious activities in prisons.  At the signing ceremony, Superintendent of Prisons Raymond St. Ange said that religion and spirituality needed to be the bedrock of rehabilitation, providing a firm footing for all the efforts undertaken by the prison service.

In April the Anglican Church renovated and reopened a church at Anse Kerlan on the island of Praslin funded by the Anglican diocese with a contribution from the government.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

SIFCO continued its presence at national official events.  For example, SIFCO provided interfaith prayers or blessings at the National Day event celebrating the country’s independence.  SIFCO hosted an interfaith forum in February as part of its activities to mark World Interfaith Harmony Week.  The forum included presentations by representatives of the Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, and Baha’i faiths.  Following the forum, SIFCO officials commented on the challenges to interfaith harmony and the progress made compared with the past.  Some of the challenges hindering interfaith harmony, SIFCO said, were a culture of fear, seeing other faiths as a threat, and a lack of willingness to learn about other religions and beliefs.

In his remarks to Muslim worshippers during the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, Imam Idriss Yusuf of the Quran and Sunnah Society called for increased understanding and tolerance.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

During visits to the country, U.S. embassy personnel from Mauritius met with leaders and members of civil society and government officials, including officials from the Ministries of Education and Foreign Affairs and members of parliament, to discuss the importance of freedom of religious expression at all levels.

Sierra Leone

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, which includes freedom of thought and religion, subject to the interests of defense, public safety, order, morality, and health, and to the protection of other persons’ rights and freedoms.  The law prohibits religious discrimination and allows all persons to observe their own religious practices and to change religions without interference from the government or members of other religious groups.  Government registration is not mandatory for religious groups, but necessary to obtain tax and other benefits.  On January 8, the constitutionally mandated political parties monitor, the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), ordered the Citizens Democratic Party (CDP) leader, Musa Tarawally, to remove his campaign posters and billboards stating, “Allah is One” as his election campaign slogan across the country.

Religious leaders expressed concern that the CDP leader’s Islamic preaching at political rallies and campaign posters constituted a possible threat to the country’s religious harmony.

The U.S. embassy promoted religious freedom through dialogue with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Inter-Religious Council (IRC) and the Council of Imams.  The ambassador during Ramadan hosted an interfaith dinner with religious leaders.  The embassy sponsored the participation of a chief imam of a mosque in Freetown in an exchange program in the United States emphasizing interfaith dialogue and religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 6.3 million (July 2018 estimate).  Members of the IRC report that the country is approximately 60 percent Muslim (primarily Sunni), 30 percent Christian, and 10 percent animist.  The 2010 Pew Global Religious Futures Report estimated the breakdown at 78 percent Muslim and 21 percent Christian.  Many individuals regularly blend Christian and Islamic practices with animism in their private and public worship.  According to the Pew 2010 estimates, groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Baha’is, Hindus, Jews, atheists, and practitioners of voodoo and sorcery.  Ahmadi Muslims report their community has 560,000 members, representing 9 percent of the population.  Christians include Anglicans, other Protestants, Roman Catholics, Maronite Catholics, Greek Orthodox Christians, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Evangelical Christians are a growing minority, drawing members primarily from other Christian groups.  Rastafarian leaders report their community has approximately 20,000 members.  Many individuals practice both Islam and Christianity.

Tribes living in the Northern Province, such as the Fullah, Themne, Loko, Madingo, and Susu, are predominantly Sunni Muslim.  The largest tribe in the South and East Provinces, the Mende, are also predominantly Sunni Muslim.  The Kono, Kissi, and Sherbro tribes of the South and East Provinces are majority Christian with large Muslim minorities.  Krios live in the western part of Freetown and are mainly Christian.  The city’s eastern neighborhoods are mostly Muslim.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides that no person shall be hindered in exercising freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and religion, freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in a community, in public or in private, to manifest and propagate one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance.  These rights may be subject to limitations in the interests of defense or public safety, order, morality, or health, or to protect the rights and freedoms of other persons.  Although the country does not have an explicit law regarding hate speech, the Public Order Act describes as seditious libel spoken or written words that “encourage or promote feelings of ill will and hostility between different tribes or nationalities or between persons of different religious faith in Sierra Leone.”

The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs is responsible for religious matters.  Religious groups seeking recognition by the ministry must complete registration forms and provide police clearance attesting that they do not have a criminal record, proof of funding, and annual work plans to receive tax concessions.  There is no penalty for organizations that choose not to file for recognition, but registration is required in order to obtain tax exemptions and waiver benefits.

The constitution provides that “except with his own consent” (or if a minor the consent of the parent or guardian), no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or to attend any religious ceremony or observance if that instruction, ceremony, or observance relates to a religion other than the person’s own.  The mandatory course, Religious and Moral Education, provides an introduction to Christianity, Islam, African traditional beliefs, and other religious traditions around the world, as well as teachings about morals and ethics, and is required in all public schools through high school, without the choice to opt out.  Instruction in a specific religion is permissible only in schools organized by religious groups.

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

Government Practices

On January 8, the country has constitutionally mandated political parties monitor, the PPRC, ordered CDP leader Musa Tarawally to remove his campaign posters and billboards stating, “Allah is One” as its election campaign slogan across the country.  The PPRC cited the constitutional prohibition against political parties using any motto that has exclusive or significant connotation to members of any particular tribal or ethnic group or religious faith.  The president of the IRC, which includes Muslim groups, publicly supported the action of the PPRC, stating, “People must not use the name of Allah to gain cheap popularity in politics” and “Religion is religion and politics is politics.”  According to the PPRC, this was the first time since independence in 1961 that a party positioned itself as an Islamic party using Quranic verses as its campaign slogan.

The government continued to enforce a law prohibiting the production, sale, and consumption of marijuana.  Rastafarians continued to state they viewed this prohibition as an infringement on their religious freedom to access cannabis, as it is a core component of their religious practices.  One Rastafarian high priest was arrested in August, his marijuana was seized, and he was detained at a correctional facility for five days.  Another community member was apprehended by police in September for possession of cannabis and was released on bail.

The Office of National Security (ONS) held several meetings with the IRC and the Council of Imams as part of its counterterrorism strategy but did not organize a formal event, reportedly due to lack of funding.  The ONS continued to express concerns regarding the possible emergence of what it referred to as Muslim extremism.  The ONS also reported concerns by Christian and Muslim leaders and civil society groups relating to susceptible unemployed and uneducated youth from the Muslim community joining the Tabligh movement, a revivalist Sunni Muslim movement originating in India preaching a fundamentalist form of Islam.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The leader of the IRC stated he believed that CDP leader Tarawallie’s Islamic preaching at political rallies constituted a possible threat to the country’s religious harmony.

The president of the Inter-Religious Council Sierra Leone, Sheik Abu-Bakarr Conteh, warned that it was inappropriate to mix religion and politics.

Most churches and mosques were registered with the Council of Churches, Evangelical Fellowship, or United Council of Imams.  The IRC coordinated with Christian and Muslim religious groups throughout the year, including through visits to each administrative district in the country, to discuss and promote religious harmony.  The IRC’s membership included only groups deemed to be Christian or Muslim.  Rastafarians and animists were excluded.  The Sunni-dominated Muslim leadership on the IRC reportedly sought to exclude Ahmadi Muslims, given Sunni views that the Ahmadiyya are heretical.  According to the IRC, Pentecostal churches continued to refuse to join the IRC because they rejected collaboration with Muslims.

The IRC draft code of conduct for guiding interreligious relations, proposed in 2017, remained pending at year’s end.  The draft code, proposed as an amendment to the IRC’s constitution, contains provisions that all new mosques and churches be located at specific distances from each other to avoid Muslim community complaints that certain churches played loud music during Ramadan services in mosques.  The code of conduct also seeks to expand IRC membership to include denominations such as Pentecostal groups.

Intermarriage between Christians and Muslims remained common, and many families had both Christian and Muslim members living in the same household.  Many individuals celebrated religious holidays of other religious groups, regardless of denomination, both at home and in houses of worship.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. embassy promoted religious freedom through dialogue with NGOs, such as the IRC and the Council of Imams.  On June 7, the ambassador, in cooperation with the Chief Imam of Freetown Municipality, Sheikh Abubakarr Conteh, hosted an interfaith iftar.  The embassy sponsored the chief imam of a mosque in Freetown to participate in an exchange program in the United States that emphasized interfaith dialogue and religious freedom.

Singapore

Executive Summary

The constitution, laws, and policies provide for religious freedom, subject to restrictions relating to public order, public health, and morality.  The government continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church).  The government restricted speech or actions it perceived as detrimental to “religious harmony.”  There is no legal provision for conscientious objection to military service, including on religious grounds, and Jehovah’s Witnesses reported nine conscientious objectors remained detained as of December.  A court convicted three Hindus in February on charges related to actions during the 2015 Thaipusam religious procession, including insulting a Muslim police officer’s religion.  The government continued to ban all religious processions on foot, except for those of three Hindu festivals, including Thaipusam, and retained limitations on the use of music in these processions.  In September the authorities introduced changes to the process for religious groups to acquire sites.  The government said these changes aimed to reduce the cost of leases and increase the number of sites available.  The government made multiple high-level affirmations of the importance of religious harmony and respect for religious differences.  Government organizations initiated regional interfaith programs and funded community-led interfaith initiatives.

A visiting foreign preacher’s reportedly anti-Muslim comments at a Christian evangelical conference in March attracted public condemnation.  The church responsible for inviting the individual initially filed a police complaint against reports on the preacher’s comments, but a church pastor later offered a public apology to the Muslim community and said that his church would be more vigilant in its selection of foreign speakers.  The Mufti of Singapore accepted the pastor’s apology.  There were numerous community-led initiatives to promote religious tolerance and build interfaith understanding.

The U.S. embassy engaged with senior government officials and religious leaders at a May iftar, during which the Charge d’Affaires gave a speech embracing religious diversity.  The Charge hosted a round table on religious freedom with young religious leaders, and met with the Imam of Ba’alwie Mosque.  Embassy representatives engaged with a variety of groups to support religious freedom including the Inter-Religious Organization (IRO), the government’s Islamic Religious Council (MUIS), the Singapore Muslim Women’s Association (PPIS), and representatives from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, humanist, Jewish, Shia Muslim, Sikh, Sunni Muslim, and Taoist groups.  The embassy used social media to highlight its religious outreach and demonstrate appreciation of and respect for the country’s religious diversity.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 6 million (July 2018 estimate).  Of the four million individuals the local government counts as citizens or permanent residents, 81.5 percent stated a religious affiliation in the General Household Survey.  According to 2015 data, approximately 33.2 percent of the population of citizens and permanent residents are Buddhist, 18.8 percent Christian, 14 percent Muslim (predominantly Sunni), 10 percent Taoist, and 5 percent Hindu.  Groups together constituting less than 1 percent of the population include Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Jains, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Unification Church.  Although estimates varied widely, the government estimated there were 2,500 members in the Jewish community.

According to a 2018 report by the Department of Statistics, 74.3 percent of the resident population is ethnic Chinese, 13.4 percent ethnic Malay, 9.0 percent ethnic Indian, and 3.2 percent other, including Eurasians.  Nearly all ethnic Malays are Muslim.  According to a 2016 national survey, among ethnic Indians, 59.9 percent are Hindu, 21.3 percent Muslim, and 12.1 percent Christian.  The ethnic Chinese population includes Buddhists (42.3 percent), Christians (20.9 percent), and Taoists (12.9 percent).

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states every person has a constitutional right to profess, practice, or propagate his or her religious belief as long as such activities do not breach any other laws relating to public order, public health, or morality.  The constitution also prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion in the administration of any law or in the appointment to or employment in any office under a public authority.  It states every religious group has the right to manage its own religious affairs and it does not prohibit restrictions on employment by a religious institution.  The constitution states no person shall be required to receive instruction or take part in any ceremony or act of worship other than his or her own.

The government maintains a decades-long ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unification Church.  The government banned Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1972 on the grounds it nation was prejudicial to public welfare and order because it objected to national service, reciting the national pledge, or singing the national anthem.  A 1996 decision by the Singapore Appeals Court upheld the rights of individual members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to profess, practice, and propagate their religious beliefs.  The government does not arrest Jehovah’s Witnesses for attending or holding meetings in private homes; however, it does not allow them to hold public meetings or publish or import their literature.  The government banned the Unification Church in 1982 on grounds it was a “cult” that could have detrimental effects on society.

The Presidential Council for Religious Harmony reports on matters affecting the maintenance of religious harmony and considers cases referred by the minister for home affairs or by parliament.  The president appoints the council’s members on the advice of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights.  The law requires two-thirds of Council for Religious Harmony members to be representatives of the major religions in the country, which according to law are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism.

The law authorizes the minister of home affairs to issue a restraining order against any person in a position of authority within a religious group if the minister ascertains the person causes feelings of enmity or hostility between different religious groups, promotes political causes, carries out subversive activities, or excites disaffection against the government under the guise of practicing religion.  Restraining orders are at the discretion of the minister, depending on the situation, and prevent a person in a position of authority within a religious group from making or participating in additional statements.  Failure to comply can result in criminal action.  Any restraining order issued must be referred to the Council for Religious Harmony, which recommends to the president that the order be confirmed, cancelled, or amended.  Restraining orders lapse after 90 days, unless confirmed by the president.  The minister must review a confirmed restraining order at least once every 12 months and may revoke such an order at any time.  The law prohibits judicial review of such restraining orders.  In addition, under the penal code, “wounding the religious or racial feelings of any person” or knowingly promoting “disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred, or ill will between different religious or racial groups” can result in detention and or imprisonment.

The constitution states Malays are “the indigenous people of Singapore” and requires the government to protect and promote their interests, including religious interests.  The MUIS, established under the Ministry for Culture, Community, and Youth (MCCY), administers affairs for all Muslims in the country such as the construction and management of mosques, halal certification, fatwa issuances, preparation of Friday sermons, and the Hajj.  The MUIS includes representatives from the Sunni majority as well as Muslim minority groups, including Shia.  Use of MUIS sermons is not compulsory, but imams who use their own content are responsible for it and may be investigated if there are complaints.

The government appoints all members of the MUIS and the Hindu Endowments Board, and nominates four of the 11 members of the Sikh Advisory Board.  These statutory boards manage various aspects of their faith communities, ranging from managing properties and endowments to safeguarding customs and the general welfare of the community.

The law requires all associations of 10 or more persons, including religious groups, to register with the government.  Registration confers legal identity, which allows property ownership, the ability to hold public meetings, and the ability to conduct financial transactions.  Registered religious groups may apply to establish and maintain charitable and humanitarian institutions, which enable them to solicit and receive funding and tax benefits, such as income tax exemptions.  Registered societies are subject to potential deregistration by the government on a variety of grounds, such as having purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare, or good order.  Deregistration makes it impossible to maintain a legal identity as a religious group, with consequences related to owning property, conducting financial transactions, and holding public meetings.  A person who acts as a member of or attends a meeting of an unregistered society may be punished with a fine of up to 5,000 Singapore dollars (SGD) ($3,700), imprisonment of up to three years, or both.

Prisoners, including those in solitary confinement, are allowed access to chaplains of various faiths.

Citizens need a permit to speak at indoor public gatherings outside of the hearing or view of nonparticipants if the topic refers to race or religion.  Indoor, private events are not subject to the same restrictions.  Organizers of private events, however, must prevent inadvertent access by uninvited guests, or they could be cited for noncompliance with the rules regarding public gatherings.

By law, a publication is objectionable if it describes, depicts, expresses or deals with, among other things, matters of race or religion in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will, or hostility between racial or religious groups.  The government may prohibit the importation of publications, including religious publications, under the law.  For offenses involving the publication of objectionable material, an individual may be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding 5,000 SGD ($3,700) or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both.  A person in possession of a prohibited publication may be fined up to 2,000 SGD ($1,500) and jailed for up to 12 months for a first conviction.  All written materials published by the International Bible Students Association and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, publishing arms of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, remain banned by the government.

The Ministry of National Development and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) establish the guidelines on land development and use of space for religious activities.  The URA regulates all land usage and decides where organizations may be located.  Religious buildings are primarily classified as places of worship.  A group seeking a new place of worship must apply to the URA for a permit.  The Ministry of National Development and the URA determine whether a religious institution meets the requirements as a place of worship, such as being located in an allotted zone and meeting the maximum plot ratio and building height.  URA guidelines regulate the use of commercially and industrially zoned space for religious activities and religious groups, and apply equally to all religious groups.  Commercial or industrial premises that host religious activities but are not zoned as places of worship must be approved by the URA.  They may not be owned by or exclusively leased to religious organizations or limited to religious use and must also be available to rent out for nonreligious events.  They may not display signage, advertisements, or posters of the religious use; be furnished to resemble a worship hall; or display any religious symbols, icons, or religious paraphernalia when the premises are not in use by the religious organization.  Use of the space for religious purposes must not cause parking, noise, or other problems.

Registration with the MUIS is compulsory for all religious teachers and centers of learning.  Registration requires adherence to minimum standards and a code of ethics, as well as fulfilment of certain training requirements.

The government does not permit religious instruction in public schools, although it is allowed in the country’s 57 government-subsidized religiously affiliated schools (mostly Christian but including three Buddhist schools).  Religious instruction in these schools is provided outside of regular curriculum time and must not include proselytization; students have a right to opt out and be given alternatives such as civics and moral education in lieu of religious instruction.  Religious instruction is allowed in private schools not aided by the government.  At the primary level, however, the law allows only seven designated private schools (six Sunni madrassahs and one Seventh-day Adventist school) to educate Singaporean citizen students; these schools must continue to meet or exceed public school performance benchmarks in annual national exams.  Other Muslim minority groups may operate part-time schools.  Public schools finish early on Fridays, which enables Muslim students to attend Friday prayers, or they allow Muslim students to leave early to attend prayers.  Secondary school students learn about the diversity of Singapore’s religious and cultural practices as a component of their character and citizenship education.

The law empowers the Ministry of Education (MOE) to regulate primary and secondary schools.  MOE rules prohibit students (but not teachers) in public schools from wearing anything not forming part of an official school uniform, including hijabs or headscarves.  Schools have discretion to grant a child dispensation from wearing the official uniform based on health but not religious requirements.  International and other private schools are not subject to the same restrictions.  For example, in madrassahs, which are all under the purview of the MUIS, headscarves are part of the uniform.  Headscarves are not banned at institutions of higher learning.

The law allows the Muslim community, irrespective of school of Islam or ethnicity, to have personal status issues governed by Islamic law, “as varied where applicable by Malay custom.”  Ordinarily the Shafi’i school of law is used, but there are provisions for use of “other accepted schools of Muslim law as may be appropriate.”  Under the law, a sharia court has nonexclusive jurisdiction over marriage issues where both parties are or were married as Muslims, including disposition of property upon divorce, custody of minor children, and inheritance.

The law permits a person involved in a sharia court divorce case to apply for permission to begin civil proceedings concerning division of property or custody of children.  Orders of the sharia court are enforced by the ordinary civil courts.  Appeals within the sharia system go to an appeal board, which is composed of three members of the MUIS, selected by the president of the MUIS from a panel of seven individuals nominated every two years by the president of the country.  The ruling of the appeal board is final and may not be appealed to any other court.  The law allows Muslim men to practice polygamy, but the Registry of Muslim Marriages may refuse requests to marry additional wives after soliciting the views of existing wives and reviewing the husband’s financial capability.

Under the law, certain criminal offenses apply only to those who profess Islam.  This includes publicly teaching or expounding any doctrine relating to Islam in a manner contrary to Islamic law, which carries a maximum fine of 2,000 SGD ($1,500), maximum imprisonment of 12 months, or both.  It is also a criminal offense for Muslims to cohabitate outside of marriage, but that law has not been enforced in decades.

Amendments to the Administration of Muslim Law Act that took effect on October 22 stipulate Muslim couples where one or both parties are under the age of 21 must complete a marriage preparation program and obtain parental or guardian consent before applying for marriage.  Each party to the marriage must be at least 18.

According to legal experts in inheritance, Islamic law governs Muslims regarding inheritance issues by default, but under certain circumstances civil law will take precedence when it is invoked.  Islamic law may result in a man receiving twice the share of a woman of the same relational level.  A man may also incur financial responsibilities for women under Islamic inheritance law.

The law does not recognize a right to conscientious objection to military service, including for religious reasons.  Male citizens or second-generation permanent residents are required to complete 24 months of uniformed national service upon reaching age 18, with no alternative provided to national service.

The Presidential Council for Minority Rights, an advisory body that is part of the legislative process, examines all legislation to ensure it does not disadvantage particular religious groups.  The council also considers and reports on matters concerning any religious group the parliament or the government refers to it.

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

Government Practices

The Jehovah’s Witnesses official website reported as of December nine Jehovah’s Witnesses were detained in the armed forces’ detention facility for refusing to complete national service on religious grounds.  Conscientious objectors were generally court martialed and sentenced to detention, typically for 12 to 39 months.  Although they remained technically liable for national service, men who had refused to serve on religious grounds were generally not called up for reservist duties.  They did not, however, receive any form of legal documentation that officially discharged them from reservist duties.

A court convicted three Hindus in February of disorderly behavior and insulting a Muslim police officer’s religion during the Hindu festival of Thaipusam in 2015.  The trio was charged with assaulting several policemen after the officers stopped a musical troupe from playing traditional Indian drums in the Thaipusam religious procession.  At that time, the government banned musical instruments from all religious processions on foot.  The men were fined from 8,000 SGD ($5,900) to 8,500 SGD ($6,200) and one was additionally sentenced to one year and one week’s imprisonment.  While he accepted his sentence, one convicted man attributed the group’s actions to the way authorities handled and spoke to them.

A group of Hindu participants in the Thaipusam foot procession in February said police officers and a representative from the Hindu Endowments Board had attempted to stop them from singing during the procession.  Police said although the government has permitted singing religious hymns since 2011, the group’s portable loudspeakers were not permissible.

Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam met with Hindu community leaders in March and addressed dissatisfaction over limitations on the use of live music at Thaipusam processions after police had permitted music at an event for St. Patrick’s Day.  The minister said that other than three exemptions granted for Hindu processions on foot, only secular processions on foot were permissible.  Authorities allowed the St. Patrick’s Day event to play live music because it was a secular event and religious elements, including attire, symbols, and music, were not allowed at the event, according to the minister.  The minister stated he welcomed community proposals to increase the number of live music points along the Thaipusam procession route beyond the three that the government allowed, and the Hindu Endowments Board stated it was committed to working with authorities to achieve this objective.  The minister’s comments followed online discussion by some individuals who questioned whether the government applied “double standards” on playing musical instruments to the two events.  One person wrote on Facebook that saying St. Patrick’s Day was not religious was “a huge injustice” to the Irish Catholic community.

Media reported that MUIS counseled a couple in August after they were said to have started a new religion known as the Yayi faith.  Yayi founder Paridah Jayos reportedly instructed her followers to treat her as a god and to ignore the tenets of Islam such as fasting during Ramadan and compulsory alms giving.  Some individuals questioned online why Jayos was counselled under Islamic law, rather than being treated as a practitioner of a new religion.

Home Affairs Minister Shanmugam stated in parliament in January and March that it was important that no foreign religious preacher who could “spread ill-will towards other religions, whether in Singapore or elsewhere,” be granted permission to speak in Singapore.  He said that the government would individually assess each foreigner’s request, based on his or her previous statements as well as his or her proposed talk.  The government website said at least two months were required for processing.  The Ministry of Home Affairs told media in April that foreign religious preachers could be issued an advisory to remind them of their legal obligations.

In January the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) banned a documentary, Radiance of Resistance, which was to be shown as part of the Singapore Palestinian Film Festival.  The IMDA stated, “the skewed narrative of the film is inflammatory and has the potential to cause disharmony amongst the different races and religions in Singapore.”

Media reported that during a retreat in March for the Muslim religious counseling organization the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) Shanmugam said, “younger self-radicalized individuals tend to rely heavily on the internet and social media for information, including religious teachings.”  Shanmugam expressed his support for RRG launching a youth awareness program for individuals aged 16 to 25 that aims to engage, educate, and provide Muslim youth with a better understanding of Islam.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim announced in parliament on March 8 the expansion of a project to combat religious extremism among Muslim youth.  He also stated the government would stand against Islamophobia.

Although government policy prohibited the wearing of hijabs by certain public sector professionals, such as nurses and uniformed military officers, many statutory boards within government agencies continued to allow Muslim staff to wear the hijab while the government continued to evolve its stance “gradually and carefully.”  Some in the Muslim community continued to quietly petition for a change in government policy.

The government assisted religious groups in locating spaces for religious observance in government-built housing, where most citizens lived.  In September the authorities introduced changes to the process for acquiring long-term leases on government-owned sites that were designated for exclusive use as “places of worship.”  The authorities said they aimed to reduce the cost and increase the availability of such leases, including for smaller religious organizations.  The changes allowed certain sites to be used for multistory developments by multiple religious organizations “belonging to the same religion,” increased the number of sites to be designated for exclusive religious use, and restricted commercial entities from bidding on them.  The government said religious groups would have to prove they had additional space needs, had adequate and sustainable local funding to finance the lease and development of the site, would not use foreign donations for the transactions, and would actively contribute to the community.  The government said at least two church and two Chinese temple sites would be made available each year for the next “few years.”  The government continued to enforce the maintenance of ethnic ratios in public housing and prevent the emergence of religious enclaves in concentrated geographic areas.

As part of the MOE’s National Education Program, the official primary and secondary public school curricula encouraged religious harmony and tolerance.  All schools celebrated the annual racial harmony day in July, which promoted understanding and acceptance of all religions within the country.  Children wore traditional clothing and celebrated the country’s racial and religious diversity.  Students were encouraged to recite the “Declaration of Religious Harmony.”

While the government did not formally prohibit proselytization, it continued to discourage its practice through the application of laws regarding public speech and assembly as it reportedly deemed proselytizing might offend other religious groups and upset the balance of intergroup relations.

The MUIS continued to operate the Harmony Center, which was set up to promote greater religious understanding.  The Harmony Center housed artifacts and information about Islam, as well as nine other major religions in Singapore.  It also organized interfaith programs, including dialogues with leaders from different religions.  In March the Harmony Center and the Archdiocesan Catholic Council for Interreligious Dialogue held a seminar entitled, “Religion, Sanctity of Life and Human Dignity.”

President Halimah Yacob, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and government ministers regularly stressed the government’s commitment to the country as a multiracial and multi-religious society and cited religious harmony as an important policy goal.  In May the president called for the government to host an international high-level interfaith dialogue.  The president’s proposal, made during an interreligious iftar at An-Nahdhah Mosque, received support from local religious leaders and commentators.

Prime Minister Lee and four government ministers attended the consecration of the Hindu Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple in April.  Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran said the event provided “an opportunity to reinforce the multi-racial, multi-religious nature of Singapore.”

Ministers gave speeches on strengthening religious pluralism.  At the IRO Day in March, MCCY Minister Grace Fu called on religious communities to continue strengthening religious harmony by fostering interreligious social mixing, discussions on faith, and community service projects.  (The IRO includes leaders of the 10 major religions in the country and has the stated objective of inculcating a spirit of friendship among various religious groups by conducting interreligious prayer services, seminars, and public talks throughout the year.)

Local government and government-affiliated organizations advocated for interreligious understanding and support for people of other religions.  The country’s five district mayors launched a national interfaith initiative called Common Senses for Common Spaces in February, which included activities such as community dialogues on Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.

The government continued to support the operation of an “Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle” (IRCC) in each of the country’s 27 electoral constituencies.  Under the auspices of the MCCY, the IRCCs conducted local interreligious dialogues, counseling and trust-building workshops, community celebrations, and similar activities.

The government continued to engage religious groups through the community engagement program (CEP), and trained community leaders involved in the CEP in emergency preparedness and techniques for promoting religious harmony.

The government’s BRIDGE initiative, Broadening Religious/Racial Interaction through Dialogue and General Education, started in 2017 with funding of 3 million SGD ($2.2 million) for three years, continued to provide financial support for community-based initiatives that fostered understanding of different religious practices and beliefs.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

During a Christian evangelical conference in March, a visiting U.S. preacher reportedly said he would raise up a church to “push back a new modern Muslim movement” in Spain and “Muslims are taking over the south of Spain.”  Cornerstone Church, which had invited the preacher, initially called the report on the preacher a “scurrilous attack” and lodged a complaint with police, but Pastor Yang Tuck Yoong of the Church offered a public apology to Muslim leaders one week later.  Mufti of Singapore Fatris Bakaram accepted the apology and said Muslims “want to move on and look forward to more constructive and healthy relationships.”  The Church committed to be more vigilant in its selection of foreign speakers, and in what Pastor Yang stated was an effort to improve its relations with Muslims, in July it hosted Imam Syed Hassan Al-Attas and a delegation from Ba’alwie Mosque.  The minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs wrote on Facebook he appreciated the pastor’s apology because “words that sow discord and ill will among the various communities have no place in Singapore.”  Police asked that the visiting preacher return to the country for an interview, but as of year’s end he had not.

Members of the public spoke out against reported instances of religious discrimination, such as when national football coach Fandi Ahmad commented about a Sikh journalist’s turban, and when Muslim Sephia Farid reported on Facebook that an interviewer at a government agency would not permit her to wear a hijab to work.

Sandwich chain Subway eliminated pork products and became halal certified in September.  While some individuals threatened a boycott, other non-Muslims expressed support for Subway, and some Muslims argued against the move to become halal.

A group of approximately 50 churches launched the Alliance of Pentecostal-Charismatic Churches of Singapore (APCCS) in April.  Chairman Reverend Dominic Yeo said the body would serve as a “unified and collective front” for talks with the authorities in relation to the needs of the churches, government-led initiatives, or “when there is a need to address various societal issues and concerns.”  Some commentators and members of the public expressed concern religion could intrude in the public space, but Yeo said, “The APCCS is a strong advocate of racial and religious harmony in Singapore.”

Shia and Sunni Muslims continued to cooperate and to share Sunni mosques, and held intrafaith iftars during Ramadan.

Community-led programs to build understanding of others’ religions included the Ask Me Anything series, which encouraged younger individuals to raise sensitive issues related to religious practices.  The Interfaith Youth Circle and Roses for Peace provided “safe spaces” in which young people could discuss race and religion.

Religious groups and humanists continued to promote interfaith tolerance.  The Nanyang Confucian Association hosted lectures on links between Confucianism and other faiths; the United Hebrew Congregation held interfaith celebrations during Jewish festivals; and the Humanist Society Singapore collaborated to organize a multi-religious panel discussion on “Inter-Belief in a Secular Society.”

Buddhists, Taoists, and Hindus cooperated at the local level.  A group of Buddhists gave 12,000 free drinks each weekend in September to Hindu devotees at Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple and devotees were permitted to carry statues of the Chinese goddess of mercy, as well as of the Buddha, during the Tamil Hindu religious procession of Thaipusam.

Hash.peace organized Heritage Saturdays, during which tours were organized of religious sites such as a Jewish synagogue or the Baha’i Center, so the public could learn more about the history of different communities.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In May at an embassy iftar, attended by Senior Minister of State for Defense and Foreign Affairs Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman, religious leaders of numerous faiths, and others, the Charge d’Affaires gave remarks promoting religious freedom and embracing religious diversity.

The Charge and senior embassy representatives hosted a roundtable in September to discuss religious freedom with 10 young religious leaders.

U.S. embassy representatives interacted with a variety of religious groups, including the IRO, the MUIS, and representatives from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, humanist, Jewish, Shia Muslim, Sikh, Sunni Muslim, and Taoist groups, to reinforce the importance of religious freedom.  The embassy used social media to highlight its religious outreach and demonstrate appreciation of and respect for the country’s religious diversity.

The Charge in April met with Imam of the Ba’alwie Mosque Syed Hassan Al-Attas to communicate the embassy’s support for the country’s Muslim community.  In May embassy representatives discussed the practice of religious freedom with the PPIS.

Slovakia

Executive Summary

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.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 5.5 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2011 census, the most recent available, Roman Catholics constitute 62 percent of the population, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession 5.9 percent, and Greek Catholics 3.8 percent; 13.4 percent did not state a religious affiliation.  Other religious groups present in small numbers include the Reformed Christian Church, other Protestant groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox Christians, Jews, Bahai’s, and Muslims.  During the 2011 census, approximately 1,200 individuals self-identified as followers of Islam, while representatives of the Muslim community estimate their number at 5,000.  According to the census, there are approximately 2,000 Jews.

Greek Catholics are generally ethnic Slovaks and Ruthenians, although some Ruthenians belong to the Orthodox Church.  Most Orthodox Christians live in the eastern part of the country.  Members of the Reformed Christian Church live primarily in the south, near the border with Hungary, where many ethnic Hungarians live.  Other religious groups tend to be spread evenly throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief and affiliation, as well as the right to change religious faith or to refrain from religious affiliation.  The constitution states the country is not bound to any particular faith and religious groups shall manage their affairs independently from the state, including in providing religious education and establishing clerical institutions.  The constitution guarantees the right to practice one’s faith privately or publicly, either alone or in association with others.  It states the exercise of religious rights may be restricted only by measures “necessary in a democratic society for the protection of public order, health, and morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

The law prohibits establishing, supporting, and promoting groups dedicated to the suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms as well as “demonstrating sympathy” with such groups.  These crimes are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.

The law requires religious groups to register with the Department of Church Affairs in the Ministry of Culture in order to employ spiritual leaders to perform officially recognized functions.  Clergy from unregistered religious groups do not officially have the right to perform weddings or to minister to their members in prisons or government hospitals.  Unregistered groups may not establish religious schools or receive government funding.

A 2017 legislative amendment increased the minimum number of adherents from 20,000 to 50,000 for organizations seeking official registration as religious groups.  The 50,000 individuals must be adults, either citizens or permanent residents, and must submit to the Ministry of Culture an “honest declaration” attesting to their membership, knowledge of the articles of faith and basic tenets of the religion, personal identity numbers and home addresses, and support for the group’s registration.  All groups registered before these requirements came into effect were grandfathered as officially recognized religions; no new religious groups have attained recognition since the amendment passed.  According to the law, only groups registered as churches may call themselves churches, but there is no other legal distinction between registered churches and other registered religious groups.

Registration confers the legal status necessary to perform economic functions such as opening a bank account or renting property and civil functions such as presiding at burial ceremonies.  The 18 registered churches and religious groups are:  the Apostolic Church, Baha’i Community, The Brotherhood Unity of Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Brotherhood Church, Czechoslovak Hussite Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Evangelical Methodist Church, Greek Catholic Church, Christian Congregations (Krestanske zbory), Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Apostolic Church, Orthodox Church, Reformed Christian Church, Roman Catholic Church, Old Catholic Church, and Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities.  Registered groups and churches receive annual state subsidies.  All but the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Greek Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, Reformed Christian Church, and Roman Catholic Church have fewer than 50,000 members, but they registered before this requirement came into effect.

The Department of Church Affairs of the Ministry of Culture oversees relations between religious groups and the state and manages the distribution of state subsidies to religious groups and associations.  The ministry may not legally intervene in the internal affairs of religious groups or direct their activities.

A group without the 50,000 adult adherents required to obtain status as an official religious group may seek registration as a civic association, which provides the legal status necessary to carry out activities such as maintaining a bank account or entering into a contract.  In doing so, however, the group may not call itself a church or identify itself officially as a religious group, since the law governing registration of citizen associations specifically excludes religious groups from obtaining this status.  To register a civic association, three citizens are required to provide their names and addresses and the name, goals, organizational structure, executive bodies, and budgetary rules of the group.

A concordat with the Holy See provides the legal framework for relations between the government and the domestic Catholic Church and the Holy See.  Two corollaries cover the operation of Catholic religious schools, the teaching of Catholic religious education as a subject, and Catholic priests serving as military chaplains.  A single agreement between the government and 11 of the 17 other registered religious groups provides similar status to those 11 groups.  The unanimous approval of the existing parties to the agreement is required for other religious groups to obtain similar benefits.

The law does not allow burial earlier than 48 hours following death, even for religious groups whose traditions mandate an earlier burial.

All public elementary school students must take a religion or ethics class, depending on personal or parental preferences.  Schools have some leeway in drafting their own curricula for religion classes, but these must be consistent with the National Educational Program (an official Ministry of Education document).  Representatives of registered religious communities are involved in the preparation of the National Program.  Although the content of the religion classes in most schools is Catholicism, if there is a sufficient number of students, parents may ask a school to open a separate class focusing on the teachings of one of the other registered religious groups.  Alternatively, parents may request that teachings of different faiths be included in the curriculum of the Catholic religion classes.  Private and religious schools define their own content for religion courses.  In both public and private schools, religion class curricula do not mention unregistered groups or some of the smaller registered groups, and unregistered groups may not teach their faiths at schools.  Teachers from a registered religious group normally teach about the tenets of their own faith, although they may teach about other faiths as well.  The government pays the salaries of religion teachers in public schools.

The law criminalizes issuance, possession, and dissemination of extremist materials, including those defending, supporting, or instigating hatred, violence, or unlawful discrimination against a group of persons on the basis of their religion.  Such criminal activity is punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment.

The law requires public broadcasters to allocate airtime for registered religious groups but not for unregistered groups.

The law prohibits the defamation of a person’s or group’s belief as a criminal offense punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.

The law prohibits Holocaust denial, including questioning, endorsing, or excusing the Holocaust.  Violators face sentences of up to three years in prison.  The law also prohibits denial of crimes committed by the prior fascist and communist regimes.

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

Government Practices

As of year’s end, the Supreme Court continued to evaluate a motion submitted in 2017 by the prosecutor general to dissolve the LSNS, which experts generally considered a far-right extremist party.  The motion said the LSNS was in violation of the constitution and other laws prohibiting support for groups and movements aimed at the suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms and defamation of race, nation, or religious belief.

There continued to be no resolution to the registration application of the Christian Fellowship.  By year’s end, the Ministry of Culture had not concluded its consideration of additional expert opinions regarding whether it should reverse its 2007 rejection of the original application, which was based on expert opinion saying the group promoted hatred toward other religious groups.

Some members of registered Christian churches said stringent registration requirements limited religious freedom by preventing dissent within churches.  Dissenting members stymied in attempts to reform official theological positions might normally split off to form their own church, but the difficulty in registering a new religious group prevented such an action.

The government allocated approximately 42.5 million euros ($48.7 million) in annual state subsidies to the 18 registered religious groups.  The basis for each allocation was the number of clergy each group had, and a large portion of each group’s subsidy continued to be used for payment of the group’s clergy and operating costs as stipulated by law.  The Expert Commission on Financing of Religious Groups and Societies, an advisory body within the Ministry of Culture, continued discussions with representatives of registered religious groups about changes in the model to be used for their future funding and reportedly considered a model allocating funding on the basis of the number of adherents, rather than on the number of clergy.  Some members of religious groups said their groups’ reliance on direct government funding limited their independence and religious freedom, and they said religious groups self-censored potential criticism of the government on sensitive topics to avoid jeopardizing their finances.

Muslim community leaders stated prisons and detention facilities continued to prevent their spiritual representatives from gaining access to their adherents.  Muslim leaders had no legal basis to appeal to the government and request access because Islam is not an officially recognized religion.

Members of the Muslim community also continued to report the lack of official registration made obtaining the necessary construction permits for prayer rooms and religious sites more difficult, although there was no law prohibiting unregistered groups from obtaining such permits.  Representatives of the community said local officials feared opposition from the wider public, which may view unregistered groups as “sects,” and would seek technical grounds, such as zoning regulations, to reject their applications.  There were no reported cases of revoked construction permits for unregistered religious communities.

The Ministry of Culture’s cultural grant program continued to allocate funding for the upkeep of religious monuments and cultural heritage sites owned by religious groups.  In 2017, the ministry allocated 3.2 million euros ($3.67 million) for these purposes.

The three highest constitutional officials – President Andrej Kiska, Speaker of Parliament Andrej Danko, and Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini – agreed during an August meeting with political, social, and academic institutions and religious communities that the state would adopt a “zero-tolerance approach toward extremism” and would crack down on the spread of hatred and insults over the internet.  UZZNO representatives welcomed the meeting of the top constitutional officials and said they were satisfied with concrete proposals raised in the meeting to fight anti-Semitism.

Many political parties, including the largest party represented in parliament, Direction – Social Democracy (Smer), continued to express anti-Muslim views in their public statements.  In January then Prime Minister Fico stated that he rejected the creation of Muslim communities in the country.  On another occasion, Fico said that tourists came to Slovakia because they did not have to “fear explosions” and would not be “bothered” by Muslims, given the small Muslim population.

In a February public debate, Richard Sulik, the leader of Freedom and Solidarity, the second-largest political party in parliament and the largest opposition party, said he perceived Islam as a threat to Slovak society.  He stated Islam was an “incompatible ideology” for the European way of life.

During a parliamentary debate on legislation dealing with abortion, LSNS Member of Parliament (MP) Stanislav Mizik likened Muslims to barbarians and stated legislative changes would be necessary to prevent the country from becoming a “caliphate” in the future.

UZZNO representatives said the number of anti-Semitic comments and hate speech on the internet and social media increased following March statements by then Prime Minister Fico in which he indirectly accused a Jewish American philanthropist of staging a “coup” and destabilizing his government.  Fico suggested the philanthropist aided in the organization of large-scale antigovernment protests held across the country in reaction to the February killing of an investigative journalist and his fiancee, calling NGO protest organizers the philanthropist’s “children.”

Representatives of the LSNS party continued to make anti-Semitic statements and faced criminal prosecution for past statements.  Party members and supporters frequently glorified the Nazi-allied World War II-era fascist Slovak state and its leaders and downplayed the role of that regime in wartime atrocities.

In July the Special Prosecutor’s Office indicted LSNS leader and MP Marian Kotleba for his charitable donation of 1,488 euros ($1,700) to three families at a 2017 event marking the founding of the Nazi-allied wartime Slovak state.  Experts stated the amount was a symbolic representation of a 14-word white supremacist phrase and the numeric representation of a salute to Hitler.

Also in July the Specialized Criminal Court acquitted LSNS MP Stanislav Mizik of extremism charges in a case concerning a January 2017 Facebook post which criticized President Kiska for giving state awards to people of Jewish origin and to defenders of “gypsies and Muslims.”  The judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to prove it was actually Mizik who wrote the post and dismissed the charges.  The case remained pending as the Special Prosecutor’s Office appealed the verdict.

In August the LSNS party sponsored the release of a film called Rejected Testimonies, which historians said was revisionist, and planned to premiere the film on August 8 in the city of Poprad.  The premiere was canceled due to opposition by the Poprad city council, because the film was suspected of breaking laws on defamation of race and religious belief, or on support of groups and movements aimed at the suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms.  Experts considered the choice of date and place a reference to Nazi symbolism.  The documentary focuses on the positive memories of people who lived under the World War II-era Slovak state without mentioning the victims of that regime, particularly the 70,000 Slovak Jews deported by the regime and murdered in Nazi death camps.

In February LSNS MP Milan Mazurek verbally attacked an expert witness during Mazurek’s trial on extremism charges, saying the witness was “not impartial, since he is a Jew.”  In April the Specialized Criminal Court found Mazurek guilty and fined him 5,000 euros ($5,700).  Speaking to supporters after the verdict, LSNS leader Marian Kotleba stated the current “regime” was “completely equal to the Nazi regime in the thirties” for silencing critics through legal proceedings.

As of October criminal proceedings for Holocaust denial remained pending against Marian Magat, who ran as an LSNS candidate in the 2016 parliamentary elections and was described by the press as a far-right radical.

In November parliament passed an amendment proposed by Speaker of Parliament Danko (Slovak National Party) to codify a new definition of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, which had been developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.  Danko stated the new definitions closed loopholes and would facilitate prosecution of hate crimes and hate speech.

During an official state visit to Israel in July, Danko stated it was “high time to start fighting against intolerance and Holocaust denial in Slovakia.”  Danko also said he would fight politically to show that the LSNS was a “bunch of crazies” who have “no business being in parliament.”

In commenting on LSNS-proposed legislation, the Episcopal Conference of Slovakia, which represents the Roman and Greek Catholic Churches, said it was regrettable there had been no progress in implementing stricter prolife legislation and said the fact a party without a “consistent approach to protecting human dignity” [LSNS] was putting forward such legislation was a reason for all religious politicians to “examine their conscience.”

In September Prime Minister Pellegrini and Culture Minister Lubica Lassakova commemorated Slovak Holocaust and Ethnic Violence Remembrance Day by opening a new exhibition wing at the Holocaust Museum in Sered, which was subsidized through a one million euro ($1.15 million) government grant.  Pellegrini said on the occasion the state had the responsibility to “create a place where the young generation could come to see the horrors people had to endure between 1941 and 1945.”  The prime minister warned against historical revisionism and downplaying the wartime suffering of persecuted groups.  Government representatives, including the deputy prime minister, also participated at wreath-laying ceremonies organized by the Jewish community in Sered and Bratislava.

In April the prime minister and the minister of culture met with representatives of the Roman Catholic, Augsburg Lutheran, Greek Catholic, and Reformed Christian Churches, as well as UZZNO, to discuss mutual efforts to combat social exclusion and possible changes to the state financial subsidy to religious groups.  Religious leaders publicly stated they were worried about increasing extremism and anti-Semitism in Slovak society.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In August the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia reported an incident in which a young man verbally assaulted and pushed an Iraqi woman wearing a headscarf while walking her children to preschool in Bratislava.  The man reportedly asked the victim whether she was an Arab and demanded to know what she was doing in the country.  The victim did not report the incident to the police, and there was no official investigation.  NGOs and unregistered religious groups reported they continued to have difficulties altering negative public attitudes toward smaller, unregistered religious organizations because of the social stigma associated with not having the same legal benefits accorded to registered religions.  Representatives of unregistered religious groups said the public tended to view their activities with mistrust and perceive them as fringe “cults” because of their lack of official government recognition as religious communities.

NGOs reported continued online hate speech toward Muslims and refugees, which they attributed mostly to the social controversy surrounding the 2015 European migration crisis and inflammatory public statements by local politicians portraying Muslim refugees as an existential threat to Slovak society and culture.  Muslim community leaders said they continued to keep their activities and prayer rooms low profile to avoid inflaming public opinion.

As of August the police reported three cases of defamation of race, nation, or religious belief and two cases of incitement of national, racial, and ethnic hatred.  In the same period in 2017, there were three cases in each of the two categories.

A survey conducted by the Sociological Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, published in February, showed that more than 54 percent of Slovaks would not want to have a Muslim neighbor, up from 20 percent in the same survey 10 years prior.  Similarly, approximately 23 percent of respondents indicated objections to having a Jewish neighbor, up from 11 percent in 2008.  The same survey also found that people’s trust toward churches and religious groups had declined from 65 percent in 1999 to 34 percent in 2017.

In September UZZNO filed a criminal complaint after media reported that the village of Zlate Klasy (in the western part of the country) organized its annual village fair at the local Jewish cemetery, with an inflatable bouncy castle, draft beer dispensaries, and picnic tables interspersed among tombstones and memorials to Holocaust victims.  UZZNO stated the organization of a festivity at the burial ground demonstrated a complete disregard for Jewish religious traditions and elementary principles of decent behavior and said it constituted a criminal offense according to the law, which prohibits desecrating or vandalizing a place of “eternal rest.”

Some Christian groups and other organizations characterized in media as far right continued to issue statements praising the World War II-era fascist government responsible for the deportation of thousands of Jews to Nazi death camps, and they continued to organize gatherings where participants displayed symbols of the World War II fascist state.  While there were no media reports of direct Holocaust denial by these groups, organizers often included photographs showing World War II symbols in online posts promoting their events.  On April 18, the Slovak People’s Party, described by media as a neofascist party, used such symbols during a protest march commemorating the anniversary of the execution of the president of the Nazi-allied wartime Slovak state, Jozef Tiso.

The Ecumenical Council of Churches continued to be the only government-recognized association for interreligious dialogue.  In February the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a local NGO, organized a series of public debates and school lectures to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance.  The events hosted Catholic and Lutheran clergy, an imam, and a rabbi and aimed to debunk popular myths about the represented religions and demonstrate how religious diversity contributes to society.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers regularly discussed the treatment of religious minority groups and the continued growth of anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-Semitism with government officials, including the speaker of parliament and the prime minister.  The embassy continued to express to government officials its concerns about the higher number of members required for religious groups to register.

Embassy officers met with registered and unregistered religious organizations and civil society groups to discuss hate speech directed against Muslims and the negative impact on religious minorities of the new membership requirement as well as of previously existing legal requirements for registration of religious groups.  In April the embassy hosted an interfaith event with representatives of various religious and NGO groups to discuss religious freedom and tolerance.  In September the embassy awarded a grant to an NGO for a new program to develop a curriculum for secondary school teachers to build religious tolerance through interfaith discussions.

The embassy used its social media channels to commemorate Slovak Holocaust Remembrance Day and International Religious Freedom Day and highlight the importance of fighting all forms of xenophobia, racism, and intolerance, including intolerance based on religion.

Slovenia

Executive Summary

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.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.1 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2002 census (the last one in which the Slovenian government asked about religious affiliation), 57.8 percent of the population is Catholic, 2.4 percent Muslim, 2.3 percent Serbian Orthodox, 0.9 percent “other Christian,” and 10.1 percent atheist.  In addition, 23 percent identified as “other” or did not declare a religion, and 3.5 percent declared themselves “unaffiliated.”  According to Secretary-General of the Islamic Community of Slovenia Nevzet Poric, the Muslim population numbers approximately 100,000.  The head of Slovenia’s Serbian Orthodox Church, Reverend Aleksandar Obradovic, estimates his community at 30,000.  The Jewish community estimates its size at 300 persons.  The Office for Religious Communities said the Catholic population was steadily declining but did not provide any estimates of its numbers.  The Orthodox and Muslim communities include a large number of immigrants from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, respectively.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and the right of individuals to express their beliefs in public and private.  It declares all religious communities shall have equal rights and provides for the separation of religion and state.  The constitution guarantees equal human rights and fundamental freedoms to all individuals irrespective of their religion; it also prohibits incitement of religious discrimination and inflammation of religious hatred and intolerance.  The constitution recognizes the right of conscientious objection to military service for religious reasons.

The law states individuals have the right to freely select a religion; freedom of religious expression (or rejection of expression); to express – alone or in a group, privately or publicly – their religious beliefs freely in “church or other religious communities,” through education, religious ceremonies, or in other ways; and not to be forced to become a member or to remain a member of a religious group, nor to attend (or not attend) worship services or religious ceremonies.  The law guarantees the right to refuse to comply with legal duties and requirements that contradict an individual’s religious beliefs, provided such refusals do not limit the rights and freedoms of other persons.

The law requires churches and other religious communities to register with the government to obtain status as legal entities, but it does not restrict the religious activities of unregistered religious groups.  Unregistered religious groups are not permitted by law to purchase property in their name.  According to the law, the rights of religious groups include autonomy in selecting their legal form and constituency; freedom to define their internal organization and name and define the competencies of their employees; autonomy in defining the rights and obligations of their members; latitude to participate in interconfessional organizations within the country or abroad; authority to provide religious services to military, police, prisons, hospitals, and social care institutions (the state pays the salaries of chaplains providing services at these institutions); and freedom to construct buildings for religious purposes.  The law states religious groups have a responsibility to respect the constitution and the legal provisions on nondiscrimination.

As legal entities, registered religious groups are also eligible for rebates on value-added taxes and government cofinancing of social security contributions for their religious workers.

To register legally with the government, a religious group must submit an application to the MOC providing proof it has at least 10 adult members who are citizens or permanent residents; the name of the group in Latin letters, which must be clearly distinguishable from the names of other religious groups; the group’s address in the country; and a copy of its official seal to be used in legal transactions.  It must pay an administrative tax of 22.60 euros ($26).  The group must also provide the names of the group’s representatives in the country, a description of the foundations of the group’s religious beliefs, and a copy of its organizational act.  If a group wishes to apply for government cosponsorship of social security for clergy members, it must show it has at least 1,000 members for every clergy member.

There are 54 registered religious groups, including the Catholic Church, Evangelical Church, Jewish Community of Slovenia, Serbian Orthodox Church, and Islamic Community of Slovenia.

The government may only refuse the registration of a religious group if the group does not provide the required application materials in full or if the MOC determines the group is a “hate group” – an organization engaging in hate crimes as defined by the penal code.

By law, MOC’s Office for Religious Communities monitors and maintains records on registered religious communities and provides legal expertise and assistance to religious organizations.  The MOC establishes and manages the procedures for registration, issues documents related to the legal status of registered communities, distributes funds allocated in the government’s budget for religious activities, organizes discussions and gatherings of religious communities to address religious freedom concerns, and provides information to religious groups on the legal provisions and regulations related to their activities.

The government has an agreement with the Holy See covering relations with the Catholic Church.  Subsequent to that agreement, the government concluded similar agreements with several other groups.  None of the agreements offer rights or privileges beyond those accorded religious groups in the constitution.

In accordance with the law, citizens may apply for the return of property nationalized between 1945 and 1963.  The state may provide monetary compensation to former owners who cannot receive restitution in kind; for example, the state may authorize monetary compensation if government institutions are using the property for an official state purpose or public service such as education or healthcare.

According to the constitution, parents have the right to provide their children with a religious upbringing in accordance with the parents’ beliefs.  The government requires all public schools to include education on world religions in their curricula, with instruction provided by a school’s regular teachers.  The government allows churches and religious groups to provide religious instruction in their faiths in public schools and preschools on a voluntary basis outside of school hours.  The law prohibits religious instruction in public schools as part of the curriculum or during school hours but does not prescribe penalties for violations.  Private schools may offer religious classes during or after school hours.

The law mandates Holocaust education in schools.  This instruction focuses on the history of the Holocaust inside and outside of the country.  Schools use a booklet published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of the Holocaust education curriculum to create awareness of the history of Jews and anti-Semitism in Europe before World War II and of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust.  The booklet emphasizes the responsibility of everyone to remember the victims of the Holocaust.

The constitution provides for an independent Office of the Ombudsman for the Protection of Human Rights to investigate and report on alleged human rights violations by the government.  The national assembly appoints the ombudsman and allocates the office’s budget, but otherwise the ombudsman operates independently of the government.  Individuals have the right to file complaints with the ombudsman to seek administrative relief regarding abuses of religious freedom committed by national or local authorities.  The ombudsman’s office may forward these complaints to the state prosecutor’s office, which may then issue indictments, call for further investigation, or submit the claims directly to a court, whereupon the complaints become formal.  The ombudsman also submits an annual human rights report to the national assembly and provides recommendations and expert advice to the government.

The Council of the Government of the Republic for Dialogue on Religious Freedom under the auspices of the MOC’s Office for Religious Communities is responsible for promoting transparency and explaining national and EU legislation pertinent to religious groups through workshops and other events, and encouraging dialogue on issues of concern among the country’s religious communities.  Its members include representatives of the minister of culture, director of the Office for Religious Communities, commissioner for the principle of equality, and representatives of the Catholic Church, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovenia, Islamic Community of Slovenia, Serbian Orthodox Church, and smaller religious communities.

The law allows for circumcision, but some hospitals believe it is illegal and do not offer the procedure.  The Ombudsman for the Protection of Human Rights has issued a nonlegally binding opinion that, based on the constitution and the law, “circumcision for nonmedical reasons is not permissible and constitutes unlawful interference with the child’s body, thereby violating his rights.”

The law requires that animals be stunned prior to slaughter.

The penal code’s definition of hate crimes includes publicly provoking religious hatred and diminishing the significance of the Holocaust.  Punishment for these offenses is imprisonment of up to two years, or, if the crime involves coercion or endangerment of security – defined as a serious threat to life and limb, desecration, or damage to property – imprisonment for up to five years.  If an official abusing the power of his or her position commits these offenses, he or she may be subject to imprisonment of up to five years.  Members of groups that engage in these activities in an organized and premeditated fashion – hate groups, according to the law – may also receive a punishment of up to five years in prison.

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

Government Practices

The government approved the registration of four new religious groups:  the Slovene Islamic Community of Grace, Community of Zandernatis, Monastery Awam Gesar, and Slovene Daoists Temple of Highest Harmony.  It did not reject any registration applications.

In July the WJRO and Ministry of Justice agreed to launch a joint research project to establish the scope of heirless properties in the country seized by the Nazis or their collaborators.  The research teams commenced research in September and planned to complete their study in 2019.  Restitution efforts for property seized during the Holocaust were complicated by the period (1945-63) covered by the law on property nationalization claims, which excluded, with some exceptions, property seized from Jewish families prior to 1945.

The Office for Religious Communities reported the Muslim community had requested the government to reserve special locations in cemeteries for Muslim graves and allow gravestones to face Mecca.  Only some cemeteries allowed this practice, and some Muslim families buried their dead outside of the country.  Muslims may establish their own cemeteries, but there were no reports they had done so.  The Muslim community also requested the government make pork-free meals readily available in hospitals, schools, prisons, and other public institutions.  The Office of Religious Institutions said it planned to convene a meeting in 2019 of the Council of the Government of the Republic for Dialogue on Religious Freedom to address food service practices in public institutions.

According to the Office for Religious Communities, an inability to provide spiritual care in the military, hospitals, and other public institutions remained a problem for some minority religious communities.  While many hospitals had Catholic chapels, members of other faiths had more limited opportunities to attend collective religious services while hospitalized.  The armed forces (SAF) employed full-time Catholic and Protestant clergy to provide religious services but no Muslim imams, Orthodox priests, or Jewish rabbis.  While Muslims and Orthodox Christians in the SAF had access to their local religious communities while serving domestically, such opportunities were not always available during deployments or training abroad.  Head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the country Obradovic attributed the SAF’s lack of Orthodox clergy to low numbers of qualified Orthodox priests in the country, rather than inadequate government support.  The Orthodox community said it was preparing two candidates for service as chaplains in the SAF by 2023.  The Ministry of Defense said the Muslim community had not made any requests for it to employ imams in the SAF.  The Jewish community did not have any rabbis in the country; a rabbi in Trieste in Italy was responsible for Slovenia.  Catholic officials said they requested the government employ an ordained bishop as a military ordinary in the SAF and expected this issue to be resolved in a future amendment to the agreement between the government and the Holy See.

According to the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), in April Igor Vojtic, Vice Chair of the Jewish Community of Slovenia, said the community was unable to receive compensation for a synagogue in Murska Sobota the communist government demolished in 1954 or secure a building for a synagogue and cultural center in Ljubljana.  Ministry of Justice officials stated it had not received any restitution claims for the Murska Sobota synagogue and the property identified by the Jewish community in Ljubljana was prime real estate with no historic ties to that community.

In April the Constitutional Court upheld the law prohibiting the slaughter of animals without prior stunning.  The Slovene Muslim Community, not affiliated with the larger Islamic Community of Slovenia, had filed a case in 2014 alleging this law violated religious freedom.  The Islamic Community of Slovenia continued to provide certificates to companies producing meat from stunned animals, confirming the meat was halal.  The country permitted imports of halal meat products.  The Jewish community also raised concerns over the prohibition and reported it imported kosher meat from neighboring countries.  The government defended the law as necessary to comply with EU regulations to prevent unnecessary suffering to animals.

Continuing confusion over the legal status of circumcision resulted in many hospitals not offering the procedure.  As a result, some Muslims and Jews continued to have the procedure performed in Austria.

Mufti Nedzad Grabus of the Islamic Community of Slovenia criticized the government’s treatment of Muslims in June at the community’s prayer for Eid al-Fitr, stating Muslims are “always being pushed towards the margins of this society.”  Among other issues, Grabus mentioned the restrictions on ritual slaughter of animals and circumcision.  He also stated the government prioritized Christian holidays over those of other faiths.

In November Janez Jansa, leader of the opposition Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), which won a plurality of votes in June parliamentary elections, said in a speech in Helsinki that Europe faced an external threat from radical Islam.  SDS national assembly member Branko Grims said during an election campaign debate in May the EU’s future would not be dictated by the budget but rather by “illegal migrations, the process of Europe’s radical Islamization, questions of identity, preserving European culture, civilization.”

The Office for Religious Communities continued to hold workshops and other events for religious communities to address their questions and foster interfaith cooperation.  Events included hosting a state prosecutor to explain technical details of hate speech legislation and a discussion of the UN’s Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.

In July the government approved an agreement between the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Culture Ministry to grant museum representatives access to, and allow the museum to reproduce, material in Slovenia’s archives.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Muslim groups and NGOs said Muslims faced obstacles in obtaining access to halal food, spiritual care, time off for Islamic holidays, and in circumcising their male children.

There were some manifestations of anti-Islamic sentiment through public events and protests and on the internet.  In November the widely described as far-right-wing magazine Demokracija argued against the government’s adoption of the UN Global Compact for Migration, commenting, “The native population tried to preserve their customs and traditions, but the political authorities did not demand of the immigrants to integrate in the western society, but rather let the Muslim immigrants, joined by blacks from Africa, to create their territories (little Eurabias) where they live by their rules…the Marrakesh Declaration will legalize all that.”

In April STA reported that Vice Chair of the Jewish Community of Slovenia Vojtic expressed concern about what he described as a negative disposition towards Jews, especially among left-leaning citizens.  The report cited Vojtic as saying, “There is a new anti-Semitism prevailing in Slovenia, one that is in fact covert because of historical experience, so it is manifested through hatred to Israel.”  Also in April, online news site Total Slovenia News reported Vojtic expressed concern that immigrants from Syria and Iraq would bring the country “face to face with aggressive Islamic anti-Semitism.”

Hate speech, especially online, was prevalent and often targeted members of the Islamic community through anti-immigrant rhetoric.  The group Generation Identity Slovenia was particularly active in posting anti-Islamic comments on social media.  The Ministry of Culture reported Demokracija to the media inspectorate for its August cover showing a photo of seven black hands groping and touching a white woman with the title, “With Migrants Comes the Culture of Rape.”  The inspectorate referred the case to police; an investigation remained pending at year’s end.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

The general state prosecutor did not provide an update on the status of an investigation he announced in 2017 regarding why a local prosecutor had declined to prosecute Bernard Brscic, who had served as an adviser to a former prime minister, on charges of Holocaust denial for statements he made during a television interview earlier that year.

Construction of the country’s first mosque continued in Ljubljana, following delays.  According to press reports and the Islamic Community of Slovenia, the delays were due a shortage of funding, three-quarters of which came from the government of Qatar.  The Islamic Community of Slovenia said it expected the mosque to open in 2019.  In the interim, it said it rented places for worship, including large sports halls for major events.

The Orthodox community’s only church is located in Ljubljana, but Orthodox representatives said they planned to build two churches in Koper and Celje.  Catholic churches around the country routinely granted access for local Orthodox communities to host events and religious ceremonies.  Representatives of the Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, and Protestant communities reported excellent relations among members of different religious groups, including an active dialogue at workshops and conferences.  They also reported good relations with the government.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with government officials responsible for upholding the constitutional commitment to religious freedom, including the MOC’s Office for Religious Communities, to discuss issues such as interfaith dialogue, the prohibition of animal slaughter without prior stunning, and circumcision of male children.

In March the embassy supported a visit by the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues and WJRO representatives to meet with senior government officials and members of the local Jewish community.  They discussed the proposed joint study on heirless properties, as well as possible goodwill gestures toward the Jewish community.  In April the Ambassador hosted a lunch for representatives of the Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities to discuss issues related to religious freedom, such as circumcision of boys and legal restrictions on the ritual slaughter of animals.

The embassy amplified its engagement through social media posts on the Ambassador’s lunch with representatives of the Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities, the release of the 2017 International Religious Freedom Report, and the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom’s remarks at the International Religious Freedom Ministerial in Washington in July.

Solomon Islands

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for religious freedom, including the freedom to change religions, proselytize, and establish religious schools.  Laws “reasonably required” to achieve certain listed public goals may restrict these rights.  In 2017 parliament passed a motion to explore the possibility of amending the preamble of the constitution to declare Solomon Islands a Christian country.  As of the end of the year, the Constitutional Review Committee had not finalized a draft of the proposed change.  Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela maintained a program of visiting different churches throughout the country with the expressed intention of fostering fellowship beyond his own church and asking for prayers for the government.

The five largest religious groups that make up the Solomon Islands Christian Association organized joint religious activities and encouraged religious representation at national events.  Police began to monitor a religious movement known as the Kingdom Movement in January for reportedly encouraging its members to sell their land and monitored threats made toward its leader.

The U.S. government, through the Embassy in Papua New Guinea and its consular agency office in Solomon Islands, discussed religious tolerance with the government during the year, including a recommendation that the proposed change to the preamble of the constitution not discriminate against non-Christian religious organizations or activities.  Officials discussed with religious minorities whether groups believed they could freely exercise their religious beliefs and if they had concerns about the proposed change to the constitution.  Representatives from the embassy also met with religious leaders of larger groups and leaders of the Solomon Islands Christian Association.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 660,000 (July 2018 estimate).  According to the government census and independent anthropological research, approximately 90 percent of the population is affiliated with one of the following Christian churches:  Anglican Church of Melanesia, 32 percent; Roman Catholic, 20 percent; South Seas Evangelical, 17 percent; Seventh-day Adventist, 12 percent; and United Methodist, 10 percent.  An estimated 5 percent of the population, consisting primarily of the Kwaio ethnic community on the island of Malaita, adheres to indigenous, animistic religions.  Groups together constituting less than 5 percent of the population include Muslims, Baha’is, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), and members of indigenous churches that have broken away from major Christian denominations.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of thought and of religion.  This includes the freedom for individuals to change religion or belief and to worship, teach, practice, and observe one’s religion in public or in private, either alone or with others.  It also provides for the freedom to establish noncompulsory religious instruction.  These provisions may be restricted by laws “reasonably required” to protect the rights of others, for defense, or for public safety, order, morality, or health.

All religious groups must register with the government.  Religious groups are required to apply in writing to the Registrar of Companies for a certificate of registration.  Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations may register as charitable organizations.  For any group to register, the group must submit the required paperwork to the Registrar of Companies; the application fee of 1,250 Solomon Islands dollars (SBD) ($160) is waived for religious groups.  Documentation required for the application process includes a description of the group, a list of board members, and a constitution that states how the group is governed and how members are chosen.  The registrar issues a certificate when satisfied that the requirements have been met and that the nature, extent, objectives, and circumstances of the applicant are noncommercial.

The public school curriculum includes an hour of weekly religious instruction, the content of which is agreed upon by the member churches of the Solomon Islands Christian Association (SICA), an ecumenical nongovernmental organization comprising the county’s five largest churches.  Parents may have their children excused from religious education.  Government-subsidized church schools are required to align their nonreligious curricula with governmental criteria.  Non-Christian religious instruction is provided in the schools upon request.  Ministers or other representatives of the religion provide these classes.  Anyone found to be preventing religious instruction faces imprisonment of up to one year or a fine of up to SBD 500 ($64).

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

Government Practices

As of the end of the year, the Constitutional Review Committee had not finalized a draft of constitutional changes to implement a 2017 parliamentary motion directing the committee to explore the possibility of amending the preamble of the constitution to declare Solomon Islands a Christian country.  Committee representatives said the changes would recognize Christianity as the main religion of the country without limiting religious freedom.

Several new groups were registered during the year, and there were no reports of religious groups being denied registration.

The government continued to interact with religious groups through the Ministry of Home Affairs.  The ministry characterized its role as maintaining a balance between constitutionally protected rights of religious freedom, free speech, and free expression and maintaining public order.  The ministry also again granted a small amount of funding to churches to carry out social programs.  The maximum amount of these grants was SBD 15,000 ($1,900).  Some churches also received funding from local members of parliament through their constituent development funds.  According to informal guidelines on how constituent development funds should be allocated, no more than SBD 250,000 ($32,200) per year per district could be given to religious groups.  Groups needed to apply directly to members of parliament to receive these funds.

Religious groups operated several schools and health services.  The government subsidized most of the schools administered by the Catholic Church, Anglican Church of Melanesia, United Church, South Seas Evangelical Church, and Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Subsidies were allocated proportionally based on the number of students at the schools and the size of the health centers.  There were no reports of discrimination among groups in receiving these subsidies.

Government oaths of office customarily continued to be taken on the Bible, but this was not a compulsory practice.

The prime minister recognized churches as important players in the country’s development and encouraged churches to continue collaborating with the government to deliver services to the people.  In October he met with the apostolic nuncio and emphasized the need for the government and churches to work together.  He visited churches on a monthly basis as part of his stated program to engage with religious communities other than his own and to ask for prayers for the government.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The five largest religious groups that make up SICA continued to play a leading role in civic life, organizing joint religious activities and encouraging religious representation at national events.  Other, smaller Pentecostal churches were part of the Solomon Islands Full Gospel Association (SIFGA), an umbrella organization.  In July SICA and SIFGA cohosted the visit of a U.S. evangelist.

According to a statement issued in January by the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, police began to monitor a religious movement known as the Kingdom Movement for allegedly encouraging its members to sell their land and other property in preparation for a “miracle.”  Police provided temporary protection to a pastor from the Kingdom Movement after he received threats from individuals upset that they had sold their land to the movement.  According to media reports, neither the SICA nor the SIFGA had affiliations or a relationship with the Kingdom Movement.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy and consular representatives from the Embassy in Papua New Guinea and its consular agency office in the Solomon Islands discussed religious tolerance with senior government officials, including parliament’s proposal to change the preamble of the constitution and the process for registering religious groups.  Representatives encouraged government officials to ensure the proposed changes to the constitution would uphold religious freedom for all, including non-Christian religions.

Embassy and consular representatives discussed with religious minorities their perceptions of religious freedom and tolerance in the country.  Embassy representatives met with leaders of the Baha’i community, SICA, and the Catholic Archbishop of Guadalcanal to emphasize the importance of religious freedom regardless of religious affiliation.

Somalia

Executive Summary

The provisional federal constitution (PFC) provides for the right of individuals to practice their religion, makes Islam the state religion, prohibits the propagation of any religion other than Islam, and stipulates all laws must comply with the general principles of sharia.  Most areas of the country beyond greater Mogadishu remained outside federal government control.  Federal Member State (FMS) administrations, including Puntland, Jubaland, South West State, Hirshabelle, Galmudug, and self-declared independent Somaliland, governed their respective jurisdictions through local legislation but did not fully control them.  The constitutions of Somaliland and Puntland State declare Islam as the state religion, prohibit Muslims from converting to another religion, bar the propagation of any religion other than Islam, and require all laws to comply with the general principles of sharia.  In August Somaliland officials arrested a U.S. citizen employed by a Catholic relief organization in Burao, Somaliland and accused her of proselytizing.  The federal Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education unveiled a national curriculum framework, announced in 2017, and new legislation for public and private primary and secondary schools in an effort to develop a national curriculum.  These initiatives would require Arabic language and Islamic religion, taught in Arabic, as mandatory subjects.

The terrorist group al-Shabaab killed, maimed, or harassed persons suspected of converting from Islam or those who failed to adhere to the group’s religious edicts.  During the year, al-Shabaab was responsible for the killings of civilians, government officials, members of parliament, Somali national armed forces, police, and troops from contributing countries of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  Al-Shabaab continued its campaign to characterize the AMISOM peacekeeping forces as “Christians” intent on invading and occupying the country.  According to Morning Star News reports, in March al-Shabaab forces continued to seek out 35 orphans of underground Christians living in Mogadishu.  In July the militant group attacked the Baar Sanguni military camp in the lower Juba region, killing four Somalia National Army (SNA) soldiers and resulting in the deaths of seven al-Shabaab militants.  In March al-Shabaab attacked the position of Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF) troops serving in Bulamarer as a component of AMISOM, killing at least eight troops.  Al-Shabaab, which launched a primary and secondary curriculum in June 2017, continued during the year to threaten parents, teachers, and communities who failed to adhere to al-Shabaab’s precepts.

Strong societal pressure to adhere to Sunni Islamic traditions continued.  Conversion from Islam to another religion remained illegal in some areas and socially unacceptable in all.  Those suspected of conversion faced harassment by members of their community.

In December the U.S. government reestablished a permanent diplomatic presence in the country for the first time since 1991.  Travel by U.S. government officials to the country continued to increase from previous years, although trips remained limited to areas when security conditions permitted.  In late August and September embassy officials engaged with Somaliland authorities to secure the release of an American citizen arrested on charges of proselytizing.  U.S. government engagement to promote religious freedom focused on supporting efforts to bring stability, reestablish rule of law, and advocate for freedom of speech and assembly.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.3 million (July 2018 estimate).  Other sources, including the World Bank, estimate the population to be at least 14.7 million.  According to the federal Ministry of Religious Affairs, more than 99 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim.  According to the World Atlas, members of other religious groups combined constitute less than 1 percent of the population and include a small Christian community of approximately 1,000 individuals, a small Sufi Muslim community, and an unknown number of Shia Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and those not affiliated with any religion.  Immigrants and foreign workers, who are primarily from East African countries, belong mainly to non-Muslim religious groups.

The Somali Bantu population largely inhabits the southern and central regions of the country near the Shebelle and Jubba rivers.  The majority of the Somali Bantu population are Muslim, but continue to maintain traditional animist beliefs.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

Al-Shabaab continued to impose its own interpretation of Islamic practices and sharia on other Muslims and non-Muslims, including executions as a penalty for alleged apostasy.  Al-Shabaab forces targeted and killed federal government officials and their allies, calling them non-Muslims or apostates.  In July al-Shabaab attacked the Baar Sanguni military camp in the lower Juba region, resulting in the deaths of at least four SNA soldiers and seven al-Shabaab militants.

According to Morning Star News reports, an underground Christian pastor in charge of an orphanage for children of deceased Christian parents said in March that al-Shabaab was hunting the 35 children residing there.

Al-Shabaab extorted high and unpredictable zakat (an Islamic obligation to donate charity during Ramadan) and sadaqa (a voluntary charity contribution paid by Muslims) taxes in the regions it controlled, according to humanitarian groups.  In October al-Shabaab released a photo online purporting to show al-Shabaab main spokesperson Sheikh Ali Dheere and other members distributing zakat it had collected to residents of Mogadishu.

Al-Shabaab continued its campaign to characterize the AMISOM peacekeeping forces as “Christians” intent on invading and occupying the country.  In March al-Shabaab attacked an AMISOM position staffed by UPDF troops in Bulamarer.  According to an SNA official, as many as 46 Ugandans were killed.  Ugandan President Museveni said al-Shabaab killed eight troops, while al-Shabaab claimed it killed 59 troops.

According to humanitarian groups, al-Shabaab continued threatening to execute anyone suspected of converting to Christianity.  In the areas it controlled, al-Shabaab continued to ban cinemas, television, music, the internet, and watching sporting events.  It prohibited the sale of khat (a popular stimulant plant), smoking, and other behavior it characterized as un-Islamic, such as shaving beards.  It also enforced a requirement that women wear full veils.

According to humanitarian groups, al-Shabaab continued to harass secular and faith-based humanitarian aid organizations, threatening the lives of their personnel and accusing them of seeking to convert individuals to Christianity.  In March al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an improvised explosive device that exploded outside the International Committee of the Red Cross office in Mogadishu, killing one staff member.

In areas under its control, al-Shabaab continued to mandate schools teach a militant form of jihad emphasizing that students should wage war on those it deemed infidels, including in nearby countries, the federal government, and AMISOM.  In October Hiraan Online quoted al-Shabaab spokesperson Ali Dheere warning the country’s independent education networks that al-Shabaab would take strong action against them if they collaborated with the federal government.  Al-Shabaab continued its forced recruitment of children in areas under its control in southern and central regions, including the town of Aad, Mudug Region.  On July 10, five Aad residents died in clashes between the residents and al-Shabaab forces after al-Shabaab militants demanded the town hand over children to fight with the organization.  The Galmudug FMS Deputy Security Minister said, “They [al-Shabaab] want to take away their children and take them to their madrassahs.  The people have rejected this.”

A small faction of ISIS fighters based in Puntland State continued to carry out terrorist attacks with the objective of establishing an ISIS caliphate in Somalia.  The group’s estimated strength was approximately 200 combatants, but it had relative freedom of movement and recruited individuals from towns surrounding the Golis Mountains.  The nonresident apostolic administrator of Mogadishu, Giorgio Bertin, told Catholic News Service in February that ISIS had chosen the location because the faction could continue spreading its ideology without many obstacles.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There reportedly continued to be strong societal pressure to adhere to Sunni Islam traditions.

Conversion from Islam to another religion continued to be socially unacceptable, and individuals suspected of conversion and their families were reportedly subject to harassment from members of their local communities.

Christians and members of other non-Muslim religious groups continued to report their inability to practice their religion openly due to fear of societal harassment across most of the country.  The small Christian community continued to keep a low profile with regard to religious beliefs and practices.  Other non-Islamic groups likely also refrained from openly practicing their religion.

There continued to be no public places of worship for non-Muslims in the country.

Private schools continued to be the primary source of education.  The majority offered religious instruction in Islam.  Quranic schools remained key sources of basic formal education for a majority of the country’s children.  Externally funded madrassahs throughout the country provided inexpensive basic education, and many taught Salafist ideology, especially in al-Shabaab controlled areas.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Travel by U.S. government officials to the country continued to increase during the year, although trips remained limited to select areas and only when security conditions permitted.  In late August and September embassy officials engaged with Somaliland authorities to secure the release of an American citizen arrested on charges of proselytizing.  U.S. government engagement to promote religious freedom focused on supporting the efforts of the government to bring stability, reestablish rule of law, and advocate for freedom of speech and assembly.

South Africa

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.  The government does not require religious groups to register; however, registered groups receive tax-exempt status.  In September Rastafarians welcomed a Constitutional Court ruling that declared unconstitutional a ban on marijuana cultivation and personal consumption by adults in private homes.  Throughout the year, religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to express concerns that two separate draft laws, one requiring religious groups to register with the government and the other criminalizing, defining, and punishing hate crimes and speech, could potentially infringe on religious freedom and freedom of speech.

On May 10, three men attacked the Imam Hussain Mosque, a Shia mosque, located in Durban, in what many stated they believed was a sectarian attack.  The assailants stabbed two worshippers, cut the throat of another, and set parts of the mosque on fire, leaving one dead.  In July police discovered five explosive devices around Durban.  Police affidavits stated the 11 men arrested in connection with the devices and the mosque attack had links to ISIS.  The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) recorded 62 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, compared with 44 in 2017.  Numerous individuals made anti-Semitic comments throughout the year.

The U.S. consulates in Durban and Cape Town coordinated with several U.S. government agencies to offer workshops on social cohesion and peaceful religious coexistence to local audiences including government officials, law enforcement, NGOs, civil society organizations, religious leaders, academics, and representatives of refugee and immigrant communities.  U.S. government officials met with religious groups and NGOs, including Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and Jewish representatives, to gauge and discuss issues of religious freedom, including cases of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, and a proposed draft bill that would require religious institutions to register with the government in order to operate.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 55.4 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to a 2010 Pew Research Center report, 81 percent of the population is Christian.  Approximately 15 percent of the population adheres to no particular religion or declined to indicate an affiliation; some of these individuals likely adhere to indigenous beliefs.  Muslims constitute 1.7 percent of the population, of whom the great majority are Sunni.  Shia religious leaders estimate that not more than 3 percent of the Muslim population is Shia.  Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, and adherents of traditional indigenous beliefs together constitute less than 4 percent of the population.  Many indigenous persons adhere to a belief system combining Christian and indigenous religious practices.  The Church of Scientology estimates it has approximately 100,000 members.

The Pew Research Center estimates 84 percent of the Christian population is Protestant, 11 percent Roman Catholic, and 5 percent other denominations (2010 estimate).  African independent churches constitute the largest group of Christian churches, including the Zion Christian Church (approximately 11 percent of the population), the Apostolic Church (approximately 10 percent), and a number of Pentecostal and charismatic groups.  Other Christian groups include Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, and members of the Greek Orthodox, Dutch Reformed, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Assemblies of God, and Congregational churches.

Persons of Indian or other Asian heritage account for 2.5 percent of the total population.  Approximately half of the ethnic Indian population is Hindu, and the majority resides in KwaZulu-Natal Province.  The Muslim community includes Cape Malays of Malayan-Indonesian descent, individuals of Indian or Pakistani descent, and approximately 70,000 Somali nationals and refugees.  The SAJBD estimates the Jewish community at 75,000 to 80,000 persons, the majority of whom live in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief, including the right to form, join, and maintain religious associations.  It prohibits religious discrimination and specifies freedom of expression does not extend to advocacy of hatred based on religion.  The constitution permits legislation recognizing systems of personal and family law to which persons professing a particular religion adhere.  It also allows religious observances in state or state-supported institutions, provided they are voluntary and conducted on an equitable basis.  These rights may be limited for reasons that are “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom” and takes account of “all relevant factors.”  Cases of discrimination against persons on the grounds of religion may be taken to Equality Courts, the South African Human Rights Commission, and the Constitutional Court.  The constitution also provides for the promotion and respect of languages used for religious purposes, including, but not limited to, Arabic, Hebrew, and Sanskrit.

The constitution allows for the presence and operation of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities (CRL) with the mission of fostering the rights of communities to freely observe and practice their cultures, religions, and language.  The CRL is an independent national government institution whose chair is appointed by the president and whose commissioners include members of the clergy, scholars, and politicians, among others.

The law does not require religious groups to register; however, registered religious and other nonprofit groups may qualify as public benefit organizations, allowing them to open bank accounts and exempting them from paying income tax.  To register as a public benefit organization, groups must submit a nonprofit organization application, including their constitution, contact information, and list of officers and documentation stating they meet a number of prescribed requirements that largely ensure accounting and tax compliance, to the provincial social development office.  A group registers once with the local office but their status then applies nationwide.  Once registered, the group must submit annual reports on any changes to this information, important achievements and meetings, and financial information, as well as an accountant’s report.

The government allows but does not require religious education in public schools but prohibits advocating the tenets of a particular religion.

The law allows for marriages to be conducted under customary law; however, it applies only to “those customs and usages traditionally observed among the indigenous African people” and may be performed by all religious groups and their leaders.

The constitution grants detained persons visitation rights with their chosen religious counselor.

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

Government Practices

In September the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court, declared unconstitutional a ban on marijuana cultivation and personal consumption by adults in private homes.  The court upheld a lower court ruling from 2017.  Since 2002, the Rastafarians had called for the drug, colloquially known as dagga, to be declared lawful on religious grounds.  Jeremy Acton, the head of the Dagga Party of South Africa, brought the court case.

Several groups, including the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the nonprofit Christian organization Freedom of Religion South Africa (FORSA), and the International Institute for Religious Freedom, stated their continued opposition to a 2016 CRL legislative proposal requiring religious groups to register, stating it would restrict their religious freedom.  The proposal would require religious groups to register formally with the government and would create a peer review council, consisting of representatives from various religious groups, which would grant organizations and individual religious leaders’ permission to operate.  Accredited umbrella organizations for each religious group would recommend the licensing of institutions and individual members of the clergy.  Another recognized umbrella organization would then either approve or decline licensing the institutions.  The groups in opposition stated the proposal’s intent to regulate all religious organizations was unconstitutional and unnecessary because existing laws could be used to address governmental concerns of improper religious activities, such as feeding congregant’s snakes and dangerous substances.  In January the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs announced that every comment it had received from the religious community opposed the CRL proposal.  The committee recommended a national consultative conference, where a full discussion could take place on the issues in the CRL proposal.  The committee also suggested a code of ethics.  No member of the committee recommended that the CRL proposal be forwarded for adoption by parliament.

According to the media, the legislative proposal was prompted by the CRL’s 2016 investigation that revealed some independent church leaders instructed their congregations to eat live snakes, expose their faces to insect repellant, drink gasoline, and pay large sums of money to receive blessings and miracles.  The CRL also found that some religious organizations failed to adhere to tax rules and demonstrated a lack of financial transparency.  Opponents of the proposal stated the CRL based its investigation and subsequent report that justified the recommendation for legislation on generalizations about alleged abuses.  Opponents further stated that the supporting evidence upon which the CRL based its investigation consisted of an inadequate number of interviews with religious groups.  The Council for the Protection and Promotion of Religious Rights and Freedoms – established to oversee the process drawn up by religious and civil organizations that define religious freedoms, rights, and responsibilities of citizens – described the report’s proposals as “the fruit of a poisonous tree.”  The proposal remained with the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs at year’s end.

In May the Department of Justice introduced to parliament a hate crimes and hate speech bill that would criminalize any action or statement motivated by bias or hatred towards an individual based upon a number of categories, including his or her ethnic, national, religious, or sexual identity; health status; employment status or type; or physical ability.  The bill would provide law enforcement officials and courts increased authority to arrest, punish offenders, and would mandate prison sentences of up to three years for first-time offenses.  The Department of Justice invited public commentary on the draft bill in 2017 and received more than 77,000 responses from individuals, religious groups, and other organizations.  Opponents to the bill, including religious figures, media representatives, and civil society and NGOs, argued the bill’s definition of hate crimes and speech was too vague and could potentially restrict freedom of religion and speech.  FORSA expressed concern that the bill’s provisions were “over-broad and unconstitutional” and could punish churches and Christians who spoke out against homosexuality; sexual identity is among the categories covered in the legislation.  The Hate Crimes Working Group, a network of civil society groups, stated that existing laws adequately addressed hate speech and the bill, if passed, could have unintended consequences.  The draft legislation was expected to be debated in parliament in early 2019, according to media reports.

Twin brothers Brandon Lee Thulsie and Tony Lee Thulsie continued to await trial on charges of contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terror and Related Activities.  The brothers, along with two others who were alleged to have links to ISIS, were arrested in 2016 for allegedly planning to set off explosives at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria and Jewish institutions in the country.  The case continued at year’s end.

In August the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town ordered the state to pass legislation that recognizes Islamic marriages.  The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) successfully argued that the failure of legislation to recognize Islamic marriages degraded Muslim women’s rights.  The Association of Muslim Women of South Africa and the United Ulama Council of South Africa opposed the WLC case, stating it violated freedom of religion by singling out Islam.  The court found that marriage was given “a seal of constitutional significance” and that the only reasonable way the state could fulfill its constitutional obligations would be by enacting legislation that recognized Islamic marriages.  The court gave the government 24 months to pass the legislation; otherwise, all marriages validly concluded under sharia would be dissolved according to the existing legislation.

In September several Muslim pupils at Jeppe Girls School in Johannesburg were charged with “misconduct for repeated dress code infringements” for wearing hijabs without formally asking permission.  The Gauteng Education Department launched an investigation into the matter.  School officials agreed in principle to amend the school’s code of conduct to allow for religious headwear.  The girls’ families retained counsel, who said that if the school attempted to hold a planned hearing on the “defiance and disregard” the school officials said the pupils had shown, they would sue for religious discrimination.

Some prominent individuals and politicians were quoted throughout the year making anti-Semitic statements.  Economic Freedom Fighters political party leader Julius Malema stated at a media briefing in August, “There’s a group of white right wingers who are being trained by Jews in Pretoria to be snipers.”

In February African National Congress Western Cape legislator Sharon Davids accused the Democratic Alliance party of fabricating the Cape Town water crisis in order to obtain desalination contract kickbacks from what she referred to as the “Jewish mafia.”

In February the Democratic Alliance party instructed deputy provincial chair nominee and Women’s Network provincial leader Shehana Kajee to apologize for a 2013 online post in which she called for the Muslim community to “go on the attack” against non-Muslims in the name of Islam.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On May 10, assailants attacked the Shia Imam Hussain Mosque in Verulam, north of Durban, in what many stated they believed was a sectarian attack.  The assailants entered the mosque during midday prayers, stabbed the imam and a worshipper, cut the throat of a man who attempted to help the two being attacked, and set a section of the mosque on fire.  The victim whose throat was cut later died of his injuries.  According to police, the motives behind the targeting of the mosque remained unknown.  Representatives of the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Muslim community pointed to growing anti-Shia rhetoric – from some of KZN’s Muslim leaders, local analysts, and community members – as fomenting hate and divisions between majority Sunni and minority Shia Muslims.  In July police discovered five explosive devices around Durban.  Police affidavits stated the 11 men arrested for the mosque attack and the explosive devices were linked to ISIS.  The investigation remained ongoing at year’s end.

In June a man killed two worshippers and wounded two others during prayers at the Sunni Malmesbury Mosque near Cape Town.  Police responding to the incident killed the attacker, who was described by authorities as a Somali national.  The motivation for the attack remained unclear, according to a local news channel.

In a Friday sermon in March at the Masjid Al Furqaan in Cape Town, Sheikh Riyaad Fataar, Deputy President of the Muslim Judicial Council, said the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was “slipping from the hands of the Islamic nation…because the plans of the Jews are moving [ahead]…There is a new page coming that is going to exclude the Zionists from that page.”  The SAJBD stated anti-Semitism increased after South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel in May following the deaths along the Gaza border of 52 Palestinians in clashes with Israeli security forces.

In June the SAJBD filed a criminal complaint against three individuals it accused of using anti-Semitic and threatening hate speech.  Muhammad Hattia, Tameez Seedat, and Matome Letsoalo made disparaging remarks on social media, including “The #Holocaust Will be like A Picnic When we are done with all you Zionist Bastards” (Letsoalo), and “Hitler [expletive] he should’ve killed you all” (Hattia).  The SAJBD withdrew the charges against Hattia and Seedat after they met with SAJBD and said they showed “remorse” and “anguish.”  Letsoalo did not apologize but instead created additional Twitter accounts.

In June a man arriving at Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg shouted at fellow passengers on a flight from Tel Aviv, “Jews are wicked.”  The man said he had been denied entry into Israel and returned to South Africa.  The incident was filmed in the baggage claim area by a passenger who had just arrived in Johannesburg on the flight.

In August the South African Human Rights Commission ruled that Tony Ehrenreich, former Western Cape Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, was guilty of hate speech for a Facebook post in which he said, “If a woman or child is killed in Gaza, then the Jewish board of deputies, who are complicit, will feel the wrath of the people of South Africa with the age old biblical teaching of an eye for an eye.”

In November pro-Palestinian groups and supporters of the academic and cultural boycott of Israel called for the withdrawal of seven professors from Israeli universities from participation in a December conference at the University of Stellenbosch titled “Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation:  The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma.”  The conference chair, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, issued a statement defending the participation of the Israeli scholars, but she later posted a letter to delegates on the conference website stating the scholars had “rescinded their participation” after discussion.  The media and others, however, stated conference organizers had withdrawn their invitations.

The SAJBD recorded 62 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, compared with 44 during 2017.  The incidents included verbal threats and intimidation, verbal abuse, abusive communications, and graffiti/offensive slogans.

In June in Cape Town, several Islamic leaders, both Sunni and Shia representatives, signed the “Cape Accord,” a document meant to encourage peace and unity and to eradicate extremism in the country.  The document also emphasized a tolerance of differences among Muslims and a call not to escalate intrafaith hostilities.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In September the U.S. Consulates in Durban and Cape Town coordinated with several U.S. government agencies to offer workshops on social cohesion and peaceful religious coexistence to local audiences including government officials, law enforcement, NGOs, civil society organizations, religious leaders, academics, and representatives of refugee and immigrant communities.

U.S. embassy representatives engaged with religious leaders and NGOs, including individuals from the Muslim Judicial Council, Islamic Council of South Africa, the Inner Circle (a Muslim lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex organization), Hindu Maha Sabha, the Christian Coalition, Christian Social Services, and the SAJBD to discuss the environment for religious freedom and concern over cases of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.  They also discussed a proposed draft bill that would require religious institutions to register with the government in order to operate.

South Sudan

Executive Summary

The transitional constitution stipulates separation of religion and state, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides religious groups freedom to worship and assemble, organize themselves, teach, own property, receive financial contributions, communicate and issue publications on religious matters, and establish charitable institutions.  Both government and opposition forces reportedly engaged in attacks on religious buildings and killings of religious workers.  On May 16, government forces attacked Emmanuel Christian College in Yei, killing at least 10 persons, five of them children.

On May 12, attackers killed a local pastor and his wife in a home invasion in Juba.  On July 23, a protest by a group of youths demanding employment turned violent in Maban, and the rioters attacked and destroyed the compounds of several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including those of several missionary groups.  The country’s religious institutions reportedly remained a crucial source of stability in an otherwise unstable country.  Religious leaders stated that a diverse network of Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim domestic and international organizations provided shelter from the fighting.  Sources said that at times their generally outspoken attitude toward what they stated were the forces driving the conflict made them targets, similar to humanitarian workers.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy representatives promoted religious freedom through discussions and outreach with religious leaders and civil society organizations.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.2 million (July 2018 estimate).  The majority of the population is Christian.  The Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project report from 2010 estimated Christians make up 60 percent of the population, indigenous religious followers 33 percent, and Muslims 6 percent.  Other religious groups with small populations include the Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism.  The country’s massive population displacement resulting from the long-running conflict and large percentage of pastoralists who regularly migrate within and between countries make it difficult to estimate the overall population and its religious demography accurately.

According to the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) and the government Bureau of Religious Affairs, the groups that make up the majority of Christians are the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Sudan Interior, Presbyterian Evangelical, and African Inland Churches.  Smaller populations of Eritrean Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are also present.  Many of those who adhere to indigenous religious beliefs reside in isolated parts of the country; a substantial part of the population in these areas also combines Christian and indigenous practices.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The transitional constitution stipulates separation of religion and state.  It prohibits religious discrimination, even if the president declares a state of emergency.  It states that all religions are to be treated equally and that religion should not be used for divisive purposes.

The transitional constitution provides for the right of religious groups to worship or assemble freely in connection with any religion or belief, solicit and receive voluntary financial contributions, own property for religious purposes, and establish places of worship.  The transitional constitution also provides religious groups the freedom to write, issue, and disseminate religious publications; communicate with individuals and communities on matters of religion at both the national and international levels; teach religion in places “suitable” for this purpose; train, appoint, elect, or designate by succession their religious leaders; and observe religious holidays.

The government requires religious groups to register with the state government where they operate and the Ministry for Humanitarian Affairs through the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (because most religious groups are also advocacy and humanitarian/development organizations).  Faith-based organizations are required to provide their constitution; a statement of faith documenting their doctrines, beliefs, objectives, and holy book; a list of executive members; and a registration fee of $3,500 (which is charged for all organizations, including faith-based ones).  This requirement, however, is not strictly enforced, and many churches operate without registration.  International faith-based organizations are required also to provide a copy of a previous registration with another government and a letter from the international organization commissioning its activities in the country.

The transitional constitution specifies the regulation of religious matters within each state is the executive and legislative responsibility of the state government.  It establishes the responsibility of government at all levels to protect monuments and places of religious importance from destruction or desecration.

The transitional constitution allows religious groups to establish and maintain “appropriate” faith-based charitable or humanitarian institutions.

The transitional constitution guarantees every citizen access to education without discrimination based on religion.

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

Government Practices

There were continued reports that in connection with the civil conflict, security forces, opposition forces, and armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition committed killings and other abuses of civilians, including religious aid workers and churchgoers.  On May 16, at least 10 persons were killed when government forces attacked Emmanuel Christian College in Yei; the motive for the attack remained unclear.

Both a Christian representative and a Muslim representative read prayers at most official events, with the government often providing translation from English to Arabic.

Several religious groups were represented in government positions.  President Kiir Mayardit, a Catholic, employed a high-level advisor on religious affairs, Sheikh Juma Saaed Ali, a leader of the Islamic community in the country.  Additional Muslim representation in government included at least one governor and 14 members of the 400-member Transitional National Legislative Assembly.  All principal religious groups were represented in the assembly.

Although not mandated by the government, religious education was generally included in public secondary school and university curricula.  Theoretically, students could attend either a Christian or an Islamic course, and those with no religious affiliation could choose between the two courses.  Because of resource constraints, however, some schools offered only one course.  Christian and Muslim private religious schools set their own religious curriculum without government interference.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On May 12, unknown gunmen killed a local pastor and his wife in a home invasion in Juba.  Police later arrested three suspects, but there was no information on their motives or the status of the case.  A protest by a group of youths demanding employment at a UN High Commission for Refugees compound in Maban turned violent, and rioters attacked and destroyed the compounds of several NGOs, including those of several missionary groups.

The country’s religious institutions reportedly remained a crucial source of stability in an otherwise unstable country.  Christian and Muslim religious leaders regularly communicated and coordinated activities, particularly around peacebuilding and humanitarian aid.  Sources said that at times their generally outspoken attitude toward what they stated were the forces driving the conflict made them targets, similar to humanitarian workers.

The SSCC, in implementing its Action Plan for Peace, held a series of community-level dialogues throughout the country aimed at facilitating mutual understanding and respect among various groups, including religious groups.  According to observers, the dialogues were well received and enjoyed wide participation among various faiths and ethnic groups.  The SSCC and the Islamic Council served as hubs for coordination of the peacebuilding events.  Churches were often used as shelters for those seeking to escape violence.  For example, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Wau continued to shelter more than 5,000 residents fleeing intense fighting in the area.

Religious leaders worked together across denominations to advance peace.  Christian and Muslim leaders expressed their willingness to assist with the peacebuilding process.  Pope Francis called for a day of fasting and prayer for peace in South Sudan in February, and many other religious leaders joined him, including Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.  The Vatican announced it would open an embassy in South Sudan in 2019.

Leaders from all major religious groups attended ceremonial public events, including peace celebrations in Juba.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly participated in discussions in Juba with leaders of the South Sudan Islamic Council, SSCC, Episcopal Church of Sudan, Presbyterian Church, United Methodist Church, and Catholic Church on faith-based peace initiatives, implementation of the peace agreement signed in September, and religious tolerance.  Embassy officials expressed concern to faith-based leaders and the government regarding conflict-related violence and its impact on religious workers.

Spain

Executive Summary

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.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 49.3 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to a survey conducted in April by the governmental Center for Sociological Research, 67.4 percent of respondents identified themselves as Catholic and 2.6 percent as followers of other religious groups.  In addition, 15.6 percent described themselves as “nonbelievers” and 12.2 percent as atheists; the remaining 2.3 percent did not answer the question.

The (Catholic) Episcopal Conference of Spain estimates there are 32.6 million Catholics.  The Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities (FEREDE) estimates there are 1.7 million Protestants, 900,000 of whom are immigrants.  The Union of Islamic Communities of Spain (UCIDE), the largest member organization of the Islamic Commission of Spain (CIE), estimates there are 1.9 million Muslims, while other Muslim groups estimate a population of up to two million.  According to the MOJ’s 2017 report on religious freedom, citing estimates by religious groups, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE) estimates there are 45,000 Jews; the Episcopal Orthodox Assembly stated in 2014 there were 1.5 million Orthodox Christians; the Jehovah’s Witnesses report 188,000 members; the Federation of Buddhist Communities estimates there are 85,000 Buddhists; and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) cites 57,000 members.  Other religious groups include Christian Scientists, other Christian groups, Baha’is (12,000 members), Scientologists (11,000 members), and Hindus.  The autonomous communities of Catalonia, Andalusia, and Madrid and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa contain the highest percentage of non-Christians, nearly 50 percent in the latter two cities.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion and guarantees freedom of religion and worship for individuals and communities; it allows limits on expression if “necessary to maintain public order.”  According to the Foundation, reasons would include overcrowding in small facilities or public spaces.  The Foundation provides funding in support of activities and projects that promote cultural, educational, and social integration among religious denominations that have a cooperation agreement with the state.  The Foundation also promotes dialogue and rapprochement among religious groups and the normalization of religion in society.  A law restricts unauthorized public protest, but authorities have not used it or the constitutional limits on expression against religious groups.

The constitution states no one may be compelled to testify about his or her religion or beliefs.  The constitution also states, “No religion shall have a state character,” but “public authorities shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and consequently maintain appropriate cooperative relations with the Catholic Church and other denominations.”  The Catholic Church is the only religious group explicitly mentioned in the constitution.

The government does not require religious groups to register, but registering confers religious groups with certain legal benefits.  Groups registered in the MOJ’s Registry of Religious Entities have the right to autonomy; may buy, rent, and sell property; and may act as a legal entity in civil proceedings.  Registration entails completing forms available on the MOJ’s website and providing notarized documentation of the foundational and operational statutes of the religious group, its legal representatives, territorial scope, religious purposes, and address.  Any persons or groups have the right to practice their religion whether or not registered as a religious entity.

Registration with the MOJ and notorio arraigo (“deeply rooted” or permanent) status allows groups to establish bilateral cooperation agreements with the state.  The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See, executed in part by the Episcopal Conference.  The government also has cooperation agreements with FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE.  These agreements are legally binding and provide the religious groups with certain tax exemptions, the ability to buy and sell property, open a house of worship, and conduct other legal business; grant civil validity to the weddings they perform; and permit them to place teachers in schools and chaplains in hospitals, the military, and prisons.  Groups with cooperation agreements are also eligible for independently administered government grants.

The agreement with the Holy See covers legal, educational, cultural, and economic affairs; religious observance by members of the armed forces; and the military service of clergy and members of religious orders.  The later cooperative agreements with FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE cover the same issues.

Registered groups who wish to sign cooperative agreements with the state must acquire notorio arraigo status through the MOJ.  To achieve this status, groups must have an unspecified “relevant” number of followers; a presence in the country for at least 30 years; and a “level of diffusion” that the MOJ considers demonstrates a “social presence” but is not further defined.  Groups must also submit documentation demonstrating the group is religious in nature to the MOJ’s Office of Religious Affairs, which maintains the Register of Religious Entities.

The Episcopal Conference deals with the government on behalf of the entire Catholic community.  Per the state’s 1979 agreement with the Holy See, individual Catholic dioceses and parishes are not required to register with the government.  In addition to FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Federation of Buddhist Communities (FCBE), Church of Jesus Christ, and Orthodox Church are registered religions with notorio arraigo status.  New religious communities may register directly with the MOJ, or religious associations may register on their behalf.

If the MOJ considers an applicant for registration not to be a religious group, the group may be included in the Register of Associations maintained by the MOI.  Inclusion in the Register of Associations grants legal status but offers no other benefits.  Registration itself simply lists the association and its history in the government’s database.  Registration as an association is a precursor to requesting that the government deem the association to be of public benefit, which affords the same tax benefits as charities, including exemption from income tax and taxes on contributions.  For such a classification, the association must be registered for two years and maintain a net positive fiscal balance.

The government funds religious services within the prison system for Catholic and Muslim groups.  Examples of religious services include Sunday Catholic Mass, Catholic confession, and Friday Islamic prayer.  The cooperation agreements of FCJE and FEREDE with the government do not include this provision; these groups provide religious services in prisons but at their own expense.  Other religious groups registered as religious entities with the MOJ may provide services at their own expense during visiting hours upon the request of prisoners.

The Regions of Madrid and Catalonia have agreements with several religious groups that have accords with the national government.  These regional agreements permit activities such as providing religious assistance in hospitals and prisons under regional jurisdiction.  The central government funds these services for prisons and the military, and the regional governments fund hospital services.  According to the MOJ, these subnational agreements may not contradict the principles of the federal agreements, which take precedence.  The Catalan government has agreements with Catholics, FEREDE, and CIE.  The Madrid Region has agreements with Catholics, FEREDE, FCJE, and CIE.

The government guarantees religious workers of groups with cooperative agreements with the state access to refugee centers, known as foreign internment centers, so that these groups may provide direct assistance, at the groups’ expense, to their followers in the centers.  According to the MOJ, other religious practitioners may enter the internment centers upon request.

Military rules and prior signed agreements allow religious military funerals and chaplain services for Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, should the family of the deceased request it.  Other religious groups may conduct religious funerals upon request.

The government recognizes marriages performed by all religious communities with notorio arraigo status.

Religious groups must apply to local governments for a license to open a place of worship, as with other establishments intended for public use.  Requirements for licenses vary from municipality to municipality.  The MOJ states documentation required is usually the same as for other business establishments seeking to open a venue for public use and includes information such as architectural plans and maximum capacity.  Religious groups must also inform the MOJ after opening new places of worship.

Local governments are obligated to consider requests for use of public land to open a place of worship.  If a municipality decides to deny such a request after weighing factors such as availability and value added to the community, the city council must explain its decision to the requesting party.

As outlined in agreements with religious groups, the government provides funding for salaries for teachers of Catholic and, when at least 10 students request it, Protestant and Islamic classes in public schools.  The Jewish community is also eligible for government funding for Jewish instructors but has declined it.  The courses are not mandatory.  Those students who elect not to take religious education courses are required to take an alternative course covering general social, cultural, and religious themes.  The development of curricula and the financing of teachers for religious education is the responsibility of the regional governments, with the exception of Andalusia, Aragon, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, and the two autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, which leave the curricula and financing of education to the national government in accordance with their individual regional statutes.

Autonomous regions generally have the authority to develop the requirements for religious education instructors and certify their credentials, although some choose to defer to the national government.  For example, prospective instructors must provide personal data, proof that the educational authority of the region where they are applying to work has never dismissed them, a degree as required by the region, and any other requirement as stipulated by the religious association to which they correspond.  The religious associations are required to provide a list of approved instructors to the government.  MOE-approved CIE guidelines stress “moderate Islam” in worship practices, with emphasis on plurality, understanding, religious tolerance, conflict resolution, and coexistence.  CIE also requires instructors to have a certificate of training in Islamic education.

Catholic clergy may include time spent on missions abroad in calculations for social security, and claim retirement pension credit for a maximum of 38.5 years of service.  Protestant clergy are eligible to receive social security benefits, including health insurance and a government-provided retirement pension with a maximum credit of 15 years of service, but pension eligibility requirements for these clergy are stricter than for Catholic clergy.  The law allows Protestant clergy to count towards retirement time worked prior to 1999, the date of a prior decree, only if these clergy adjusted their status in 1999, and does not allow Protestant clergy to claim retirement credit for time worked abroad.  Protestant clergy must also pay unfunded pension contributions in one lump sum rather than via monthly salary deductions, as Catholic clergy do.  Clergy from the Russian Orthodox Church, CIE, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are also eligible for social security benefits.  The benefits for clergy from these groups depend on the specific terms of separate social security agreements that each of these groups negotiated with the state.

The penal code definition of hate crimes includes acts of “humiliation or disrespect” against victims because of their religion, with penalties of one to four years in prison.  Under the penal code, it is a crime to prevent or disrupt religious services and to offend, scorn or blaspheme religious beliefs, ceremonies, or practitioners.  Those who do not profess any religion or belief are also protected under the penal code.  By law, authorities may investigate and prosecute criminal offenses committed by neo-Nazi groups as “terrorist crimes.”  Genocide denial is a crime if it incites violent attitudes, such as aggressive, threatening behavior or language.

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

Government Practices

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, the Church of Jesus Christ and the FCBE both said they were unable to conclude agreements with the government and therefore were excluded from the benefits available to the Catholic Church and the three other religious groups with such agreements.  The Church of Jesus Christ said it had been trying unsuccessfully for years to obtain an agreement, and the FCBE expressed regret that the state had for many years denied agreements to other religious groups with notorio arraigo status.

Some religious minorities, such as FEREDE, FCJE, and the Church of Jesus Christ, called for improved and equal access for religious groups providing spiritual services at public institutions, such as hospital, prisons, and the military.  FEREDE also sought government reimbursement for the cost of providing such services, in the same way the government did for the Catholic Church.  FEREDE welcomed the state’s decision to house Protestant chapels and ministers in some military bases, although it criticized the lengthy delays and lack of attention the issue received from the government.  FCJE, CIE, and FEREDE welcomed the decision to allow religious observance in prisons but also considered it necessary to standardize prisoners’ access to religious services so that it would be on a par with other basic services.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, several groups cited local government restrictions on their ability to proselytize or manifest their faith in public spaces.  FEREDE stated municipalities often imposed fines or other sanctions on members who distributed religious pamphlets or engaged in other religious activities in public areas, although the central government owned the land.  According to FEREDE, there was a growing tendency of local authorities to silence religious groups and expel them from the public space.  Jehovah’s Witnesses cited 37 municipalities where there were unresolved issues involving restrictions on the use of public spaces for religious activities.  The Church of Jesus Christ said its missionaries had occasionally encountered restrictions in posting placards in public or establishing booths at public fairs.

In September authorities detained and questioned actor Willy Toledo after he refused to appear in court to respond to allegations of offending religion for making insulting remarks in 2017 about God and the Virgin Mary.  In May and June Toledo had refused to answer questions before a judge about the charges, which were filed by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers, and said he would continue to “make mockery.”  The lawyers’ association reportedly broadened its complaint against Toledo to incitement to hatred after he said, “Ultra-Catholics should disappear from the face of the earth,” and, according to the association, justified crimes against Catholic clergy during the Spanish Civil War by stating on television, “The churches and priests must have done something to be burned.”

In March Member of Parliament Enric Bataller of the Compromis Party introduced a bill to remove from the penal code the crime of offending religion.  According to the draft bill, the existing provision of the code contradicted “the constitutional rights that guarantee freedom of expression and the nonconfessional character of the state.”

Several religious groups, especially Protestant ones, said burdensome and unequal regulations remained a principal obstacle to religious groups seeking licenses or permits for places of worship.  For example, FEREDE Executive Secretary Mariano Blazquez cited a requirement in several municipalities that there be at least 500 meters (1640 feet) separating one place of worship from another, which disproportionately affected non-Catholic denominations due to the prevalence of Catholic churches.  Groups said other restrictions, such as requirements that religious centers maintain the same level of acoustic insulation as nightclubs, were excessively expensive and technically difficult to fulfill.

According to the MOJ, Protestant groups built 197 new places of worship in the country between December 2017 and December 2018, bringing the total to 4,238, or 58.5 percent of all non-Catholic places of worship.

Other religious groups cited similar concerns in the government’s report on religious freedom.  CIE stated municipal urban planning restricted the opening of places of worship in city centers, forcing them to move to city outskirts.  Jehovah’s Witnesses cited long delays of up to one year after approval of construction for a place of worship until authorities issued a permit to begin work.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, Muslim and Buddhist communities reported problems with accessing and establishing cemeteries.  FCBE said no Buddhist cemeteries or specific places to deposit remains according to Buddhist tradition existed in the country, and there was no interest on the part of municipalities to address the issue.  CIE expressed the need for a place of burial in each one of the Balearic and Canary Islands.  In addition, CIE reported only the autonomous communities of Andalucia and Valencia and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla allowed coffinless burials.  The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) stated the country had 28 public cemeteries with specific plots for Muslims.

The Jewish community also cited a need to obtain more space in cemeteries, where it could carry out burials in accordance with Jewish customs.  Despite existing agreements between FCJE and Valencia and Alicante under which the cities were to provide Jewish cemeteries, the projects remained pending at year’s end.

In May pamphlets featuring People’s Party Leader in Catalonia and former Badalona Mayor Xavier Garcia Albiol, in which Garcia Albiol called for blocking the construction of an Islamic prayer room in the Artigues neighborhood of Badalona, circulated in the city.  Then-Badalona Mayor Dolors Sabater said her administration was considering charging Garcia Albiol with a hate crime but did not do so.

FCJE Director Carolina Aisen said implementation of the law allowing descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in 1492 to gain citizenship continued to run smoothly.  According to Aisen, who said she met monthly with the MOJ to discuss progress, 4,000 Sephardi descendants obtained citizenship between January and September, and approximately 18,000 Sephardis had started the application process.  The bulk of applicants continued to come from Venezuela; others came from Israel, other countries in Latin America, and the United States.  The Jewish community said burdensome financial and administrative requirements, such as a requirement to self-fund a trip to the country for the personal interview, reduced the response to the law.  Aisen said the sharp rise in applications for citizenship was likely due to concerns the law would expire in 2019.

The FCJE estimated there were very few survivors of the Holocaust residing in the country and said this was why the government only considered restitution on a case-by-case basis.  The FCJE reported no restitution cases during the year.

The MOJ’s report on religious freedom cited complaints by several religious groups, including the Catholic Church, FEREDE, FCJE, and CIE, about obstacles to providing religious education and the integration of religious teachers in schools.  The Catholic Church said some autonomous communities failed to provide students or their parents sufficient information on the possibility of pursuing religious studies, or placed barriers to the teaching of such classes, in violation of the government’s accord with the Holy See.  FEREDE stated many localities did not offer Protestant classes, and parents often were unable even to request such classes.  After protracted efforts by the Protestant community, according to the report, the autonomous community of La Rioja began to offer religious classes for Protestants in schools, as did Huesca Province; however, the autonomous community of Valencia had not responded to the requests for such classes by more than 700 students.

Religious groups said there was also a continuing lack of information on classes or enrollment options for students.  CIE cited a similar lack of information and enrollment options for students and reported that only six autonomous communities and Ceuta and Melilla had Islamic studies educators, despite the existence of eligible instructors in every region.  In the Basque Country, there were reports some schools had called in parents to discourage them from seeking Islamic classes for their children.

There were no Jewish classes in public schools, and FCJE reported schools were usually unaware of Jewish holidays provided for in the accord between FCJE and the state.  The Church of Jesus Christ proposed the right of religious education in public schools be extended to all religious groups with notorio arraigo status, not just to groups with agreements with the state.

In February the Education Commission of the national parliament approved a nonbinding resolution introduced by members of the Valencia-based Compromis Party and Together We Can (Unidos Podemos), a coalition of left-wing political parties, calling on the government to eliminate religion from the public school curriculum.  The draft resolution, which parliament did not vote on, also called for the repeal of the government’s agreements with the Holy See and with other religious groups.

In June the Regional Parliament of Navarre approved a nonbinding resolution calling on the federal government to “denounce the accords between Spain and the Holy See,” with a view to establish a secular education system in public schools.

In July the Federation of Associations of Fathers and Mothers of Students in the Province of Castellon (FAMPA) said it was receiving complaints from parents of students in schools selected to teach Muslim students classes on Islam.  FAMPA head Silvia Centelles said the organization had always favored doing away with teaching religion in classes and that parents said they could not understand how education officials could be in favor of teaching “the Islamic religion in classes, a religion that denigrates women and relegates them to second-class status.”

In January the Workers’ Commissions (Comisiones Obreras), the country’s largest labor union, called for the elimination of religion from public schools and an education “free of the dogmatism of the Catholic Church.”  In February the teachers’ union of Castilla La Mancha called for a reduction in class hours dedicated to teaching religion to the minimum required by law until national norms were changed towards establishing secular public schools.  According to a statement by the union, religion as a subject matter was neither a science nor an art and did not merit inclusion in public schools; rather it served to spread Catholic doctrine and only distorted the normal functioning of students’ education, taking beliefs from the private to the public space, where they did not belong in a nonconfessional society.

Holocaust education in secondary school curricula continued to expand in accordance with an MOE mandate contained in two existing royal decrees.  The subject was included in fourth-year compulsory geography and history class and first-year contemporary world history class.  In 2017, the FCJE signed an agreement with the MOE to train teachers on the Holocaust, Judaism, and anti-Semitism.

In December the state-supported cultural center Centro Sefarad Israel organized a trip to Berlin for approximately 15 Spanish teachers to learn about the Wannsee Conference, the meeting at which Nazi officials planned the Holocaust.  The trip included lectures and a tour of a concentration camp.  Centro Sefarad Israel organized dozens of lectures and courses throughout Spain on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, bringing speakers from around the world to speak to groups of teachers and other instructors.

Despite a 2017 Supreme Court ruling making government pension eligibility requirements for Protestant clergy the same as those for Catholic priests, no Protestant clergy had yet begun receiving a government pension because the ruling was not retroactive.  FEREDE asked the government to issue a royal decree to allow retired Protestant clergy to collect pensions from their time in service prior to 1999 and to allow survivor benefits for spouses and children of clergy.

The Catholic Church remained the only religious entity to which persons could voluntarily allocate 0.7 percent of their taxes.  Other religious groups were not listed on the tax form as potential recipients of funds.  Several religious groups, including Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ, continued to express their desire to have their groups included on the tax form so they could be eligible to receive the 0.7 percent allocation from taxpayers.  The tax designation yielded 267.8 million euros ($307 million) in donations to the Catholic Church during the year, according to news reports.

Representatives of FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE stated they did not receive all of the benefits to which they were entitled under their cooperative agreements with the government.  As an example, they cited their inability to make use of the same tax allocation financing system that the Catholic Church used.

Many religious groups, such as FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE, said that they relied on government funds, provided through the Foundation, to cover their administrative and infrastructure costs.  According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, CIE indicated its interest in changing the Foundation’s system of assigning funds that supported Islamic communities so that funds could be used to support several communities that stopped receiving other forms of assistance.  FCBE, which is not a participant in the Foundation, said that it did not receive any public funding and expressed its desire to receive such assistance in the future.  FEREDE proposed the government increase tax deductions for donations to religious groups so that these groups could better self-finance their operations.  Religious representative bodies, such as FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE received funding from the Foundation to cover administrative and infrastructure costs.  During the year FEREDE received 356,000 euros ($408,000), FCJE received 169,362 euros ($194,000), and CIE received 255,000 euros ($292,000).  The Foundation also provided 120,000 euros ($138,000) in small grants to dozens of local religious associations for educational and cultural projects aimed at promoting religious integration.

In May the regional government of Navarre became the first of the 17 autonomous communities to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, approving a nonbinding declaration calling on the central government to “support any initiative promoted by the international BDS campaign” and “suspend relations with Israel until that country stops its criminal and repressive policies against the Palestinian population.”  The measure did not stipulate any actions the Navarre government should take in support of BDS other than its appeal to the central government.

As of June approximately 100 local, municipal, or provincial governments had passed resolutions supporting the BDS movement, including Valencia, the country’s third largest city, although court rulings had voided more than a dozen of these resolutions after the attorney general for hate crimes began investigations in 2017 to determine possible criminal responsibility of municipalities that supported the BDS movement.  For example, in June the High Court in the province of Asturias found that the city of Castrillon’s policy of boycotting Israel was unconstitutional.  In August the municipalities of Sagunto and Villarrobledo reversed prior statements in support of BDS after the local NGO Action and Communication on the Middle East threatened a lawsuit.  The NGO Lawfare Project said that, as of June, its litigation fund had secured 58 court victories against BDS campaigns in the country.

In December the interagency Religious Freedom Advisory Committee, led by Minister of Justice Dolores Delgado, held plenary and standing committee sessions to review issues pertaining to religious freedom in the country.  The committee reviewed the status of religious freedom, noted issues of concern, and approved the MOJ’s 2017 report on religious freedom.  The committee comprised representatives from various government offices, academics, and religious leaders from the Catholic Church, FEREDE, FCJE, CIE, Church of Jesus Christ, Federation of Buddhist Communities, and Orthodox Church.  The committee had seven working groups to address specific religious issues, including approval of the MOJ’s annual report on the status of religious freedom in the country.

The city of Barcelona continued to implement its “Plan of Action against Islamophobia.”  As part of the plan, the city’s Office for Nondiscrimination launched a communications campaign in partnership with Muslim communities to sensitize the population to anti-Muslim sentiment and its impact.  The city hall led training events on human rights and diversity, including religious tolerance, to municipal employees, as well as to more than 1,500 children.  The office also provided legal, social, and psychological assistance to victims of discrimination, including religious discrimination.

In August the Foundation signed an agreement with the Madrid municipal police to protect the religious freedom of members of the police force by coordinating on research and development of new methodologies to manage a religiously diverse police force.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, FEREDE and FJCE again called for greater neutrality on the part of the national and local governments in conducting official activities.  They cited the organization of Catholic state funerals and the participation of government officials in acts or ceremonies of a particular religious group as evidence of a lack of neutrality.

In May the Rioja Provincial Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution calling on the provincial government to give proof of institutional secularism as a “public reflection of real neutrality and respect for diverse religious beliefs.”  In particular, the resolution asked the government to ensure that public ceremonies in which members of the provincial executive branch participated were secular.

In May the Barcelona High Court upheld the 2017 conviction and six-month prison sentence of Barcelona bookstore owner Pedro Varela for intellectual property crimes for selling Mein Kampf without authorization.  Varela was released on two-year’s probation after serving one month of his sentence.  Authorities continued to investigate Varela on charges of selling books promoting religious hatred or discrimination, and his bookstore remained closed.

Movement Against Intolerance, a nonreligiously affiliated NGO that compiles instances of religiously motivated hate crimes, criticized government and religious leaders for not working together to combat all forms of religious intolerance.  Director Esteban Ibarra again stated authorities should apply the criminal code pertaining to religiously motivated crimes more widely and that public prosecutors and police remained unprepared to combat religious intolerance.  Ibarra also pointed to a lack of preventive education in schools.  In addition, FEREDE proposed the government create a hotline for victims of religious persecution and hate crimes.

According to Ibarra, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment were on the rise, partly due to the actions of some members of political parties on the far left and right, such as Podemos and Vox.  Ibarra said that, although membership in ultra-right parties remained small, such parties had gradually expanded their online and public presence over the previous year, including through public meetings, marches, and statements in the press.  Ibarra stated the support for BDS policies among some members of parties like Podemos contributed to the further isolation of Israel and an increase in anti-Semitism.

During an appearance on Catalan public television, Bel Olid, a writer and activist affiliated with the far-left CUP (Catalan Popular Unity Candidacy) Party, encouraged participation in the March 8 International Women’s Day demonstrations by calling for the burning of the Episcopal Conference for being sexist and patriarchal.

The Foundation provided training on preventing anti-Islamic sentiment and other religious discrimination and organized an event with the Canada Foundation and the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces on reducing violent religious extremism.  The Foundation hosted a seminar with members of the Baha’i Faith on preventing violent radicalization.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, FEREDE asked the government to adjust its visa policies for foreign religious workers in recognition that spouses and minor children might accompany Protestant clergy.

The Office of Religious Affairs continued to maintain an online portal for information on registered minority religious groups to aid new immigrants or citizens moving into a community to find his or her locally registered religious community and place of worship.  The MOJ stated the tool provided no personally identifiable information and complied with the information protection law.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience (OLRC), there were 142 incidents that it described as violating religious freedom in the first nine months of the year, 20 more than in the same period in 2017.  Of the incidents, 92 targeted Christians (including 79 against Catholics), 10 were against Muslims, five against Jews, and 35 classified as against all faiths.  There were two incidents of violence, 33 attacks on places of worship, 42 cases of harassment, and 65 cases of public marginalization of religion.  As described in the report, many incidents had political as well as religious motivations.  Some involved protests of government actions perceived as favoring or disfavoring religious groups or were declarations or resolutions by civil society groups or political parties calling for the cessation of religion classes in schools, a strict separation of religion and state, or a renegotiation of the government’s agreement with the Holy See.

The MOI reported 103 hate crimes based on religious beliefs or practices and, separately, six motivated by anti-Semitism in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, compared with 47 and seven such crimes, respectively, in 2016.  Half of the anti-Semitic crimes and 43 percent of the other religiously motivated crimes reported in 2017 occurred in Catalonia.  The MOI’s report did not cite specific examples or provide a breakdown of religiously motivated incidents by type of crime.

The Citizens’ Platform against Islamophobia reported 546 anti-Muslim incidents in 2017.  The NGO said that, because its methodology had changed, this figure should not be compared to the 573 incidents in 2016.  Of the total reported cases, which it said represented “only the tip of the iceberg,” 386 incidents were media or internet based, while 48 percent comprised verbal insults or derogatory statements against Islam and Muslims.  Incidents occurred most often in Catalonia (51), Andalucia (22), Valencia (20) and Madrid (17).  The NGO said it believed the large number of incidents in Catalonia was related to August 2017 terrorist attacks.  The government characterized these attacks as “jihad terrorism.”  According to the NGO, the targets were Muslims and Islam in general, women (21 percent), children (7 percent), and mosques (7 percent).  The most frequent type of incidents after online hate speech, it reported, was discrimination against women wearing hijabs, at 21 percent.

According to the OLRC report, in one violent incident in March, a Moroccan man attacked and insulted a Moroccan woman in Lorca because of what he said was her attire and demeanor in public.  The woman reportedly suffered minor injuries.  Police arrested the suspected perpetrator, who had allegedly threatened the woman on other occasions.  In the other violent incident OLRC cited, in August police arrested two men described as leftist extremists after they allegedly attacked a group of youths wearing t-shirts of a Catholic university in Murcia.  One of the attackers hit a youth on the head with a bottle, causing an ocular hemorrhage.

In August in Mataro, Barcelona Province, the Civil Guard detained two Moroccan men allegedly involved with recruiting individuals to join ISIS.  According to press reports, the detainees had posted on the internet that their objective was “to kill all Jews.”

The attacks against places of worship the OLRC report cited included not only vandalism, but also threats and incitement to violence.  In one, ISIS disseminated a message to followers and sympathizers containing a picture of the Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona with the words, “If you don’t have a weapon, you have a truck or a knife.”

The MOJ’s report on religious freedom cited 43 hospitals throughout the country that refused to treat Jehovah’s Witnesses who declined to consent to blood transfusions.  The report stated that many hospitals denied treatment even for minor procedures and made no effort to identify a physician within the hospital or another medical facility willing to treat the patient.  If a physician was willing to operate on or treat a Jehovah’s Witness, hospital administrators sometimes hindered the ability of these physicians to provide medical services to that patient.  If another medical facility willing to treat a Jehovah’s Witness were found, hospitals sometimes refused to transport the patient to the other facility.  The problem, according to the report, was most serious in smaller cities, where alternative medical options were limited.

In March according to press reports, neighborhood associations and others in the Barcelona district of Nou Barris called on authorities to stop the daily harassment of dozens of persons using a mosque located there.  According to a district representative, neighbors opposed to the mosque banged pots and pans in protest every night, and on Fridays and weekends, members of far-right groups from outside the district came to harass and insult persons leaving the mosque.  A member of the local Muslim community called on authorities to provide security, as did the priest of a Catholic Church in the neighborhood, who said, “They [Muslims] should have the same right that we have.”

In May a Barcelona court issued preliminary measures restricting seven members of the far-right National Democracy Party from communicating with or coming within 300 meters (1000 feet) of the Nou Barris mosque.  Additionally, the court shut down their social media accounts from which it said they spread their hate speech.  Authorities accused the perpetrators of vandalism, coercion, and incitement of hate against the Muslim community after having systematically perpetrated hostile actions against this community since March 2017.

In September a group of women protesters, some of them topless and wearing masks, surrounded Catholic Bishop of San Sebastian Jose Ignacio Munilla as he was entering a church to celebrate Mass.  In March another group of women protesters stripped in front of the Good Pastor Cathedral in San Sebastian, protesting remarks the bishop had made about feminism.

According to the ECRI report on the country, the Jewish community stated anti-Semitism was increasing in the media, and ignorance about Jews created opportunities for anti-Semitic sentiment.  ECRI said frequent use of expressions such as “Islamic terrorism” and “Jihadist terrorism” in the press contributed to a rise in anti-Islamic sentiment and negatively influenced public perception of Muslims.

According to the MOJ report on religious freedom, FEREDE stated offenses and acts of incitement of hatred against Christianity were growing, although many incidents were not reported, and when they were, authorities did not always impute a religious motive to them.  The FCJE cited continued anti-Semitism in mass media, and particularly in social media, by anonymous accounts.  The Catholic Church reported increased instances of offensive speech against Catholicism, its priests, and the religious beliefs of its members, which, according to the Church, exceeded the normal scope of freedom of expression or opinion.  The CIE cited particular concerns over societal discrimination against Muslim women, especially those wearing the hijab, in the workplace and schools and at swimming pools and beaches.  CIE also reported growing hate speech against Islam, Muslims, and refugees, many of whom were Muslim, on social media, as well as increased incidents of vandalism against mosques.  Each group called on the government to improve its response and provide better protection to places of worship.

In June authorities in the Canary Islands arrested a Moroccan national for disseminating hate speech in social media against the Jewish community.

In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism.  EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 570 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of Spain responded to the online survey.  Seventeen percent said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 32 percent reported being harassed over the same period.  Twenty-six percent of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 73 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.

In March police found an incendiary device, described as akin to a Molotov cocktail, on the window of a Catholic church in Cordoba.  Reportedly, the fuse had been lit, but the device did not explode.  A similar incident occurred in June when a group broke windows at the Autonomous University of Madrid and threw incendiary devices at the chapel.  Also in June unknown individuals started a fire in the Catholic Basilica of Santa Maria in the city of Elche.  Persons inside the church put out the fire before it spread.

In July vandals ransacked a Catholic church in the town of Adrados in Leon Province, causing damages that residents estimated might exceed 30,000 euros ($34,400).  Authorities detained two suspects.

In July vandals painted swastikas on the walls of the Great Mosque of Valencia, hung up the mask of a pig, and wrote graffiti and signs reading “No Moors” and “Stop Islam, Stop Jews.”

In March unidentified individuals painted “Moors Get Out” and a target at the entrance to a mosque in Hernani, Guipozkoa Province.  The head of the Islamic Federation of the Basque Country, Aziz Messaoudi, spoke out against the vandalism, stating, “One cannot toy with the social peace of our society of Euskadi, because that is the red line we cannot cross.”

In February unknown individuals scrawled on the front of the Greater Synagogue of Barcelona, “Get Out of Our Land.”  The synagogue is one of the oldest in Europe.

In March unidentified persons painted graffiti linking Jews to the Illuminati on the Holocaust Monument in Oviedo.

Press reported that in March on International Women’s Day, far-left feminists scrawled graffiti on Catholic churches in several cities throughout the country, including Madrid, Seville, Granada, Cordoba, and La Coruna.  The graffiti criticized the Catholic Church, religion, or “the patriarchy” or was pro-abortion.  One read, “The church that best illuminates is the one that burns.”

In January a graffito reading “Muslims Not Welcome” was scrawled on a wall near the M30 Mosque in Madrid.  The graffito was signed with the initials “DNJ,” which, according to press reports, corresponded to the youth wing of National Democracy, a far-right political party without representation in the national or regional parliaments.

In May a Madrid court prosecuted Melisa Dominguez, the leader of the neo-Nazi group Hogar Social Madrid, for a hate crime in connection with an incident involving the M30 Madrid Mosque in March 2016.  Dominguez was accused of throwing flares at or near the mosque and posting signs near it that contained hate speech.  Dominguez’ trial was ongoing at year’s end.

In September the UNESCO Association for Interreligious Dialogue (AUDIR), a Catalan NGO comprised of members of multiple religious groups, organized the third of its “Night of Religions” in Barcelona, in which more than 30 religious centers representing 15 different faiths shared their religious traditions with the public.  AUDIR continued to implement the project “Building Bridges,” in which 40 youths from different faiths attended courses on interfaith dialogue, among other subjects.  As part of the program, the participants visited places of worship in their neighborhoods.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy and consulate representatives met regularly with the MOJ, MOI, regional officials, and politicians to discuss anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, anticlericalism, and concerns about societal discrimination against religious minorities.  Issues discussed included access to permits for places of worship and to religious education, cemeteries and burial, pensions, religiously motivated hate crimes and hate speech, and public statements and campaigns to promote tolerance.  They also raised these issues with religious leaders who participated in the Foundation.

Embassy officials met and communicated with leaders of CIE, FEREDE, FCJE, the Federation of Buddhist Communities, Scientologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other religious and civil society members, including imams of local mosques, Muslim youth leaders, NGOs, and business leaders in Madrid, Barcelona, and Melilla.  Embassy and consulate officials heard the concerns of community members regarding discrimination and the free exercise of their religious rights, including anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, lack of religious education, and access to permits for places of worship.

To celebrate Religious Freedom Day in January, the embassy invited representatives from several faiths and the coordinator of the coexistence pact – a group of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish representatives, and academics and psychologists, which included as one of its goals the promotion of religious tolerance – for a discussion on the state of religious freedom and equality in the country.  During the discussion, the Ambassador underscored U.S. commitment to religious freedom and asked how the embassy could assist religious leaders in promoting these goals.

In February and March the Ambassador met with leaders of the (Catholic) Episcopal, Evangelical, Islamic, and Jewish federations to solicit recommendations on increasing religious freedom in Spain.

In June the Ambassador hosted an iftar to highlight the work of young Muslim leaders to an audience of Muslim activists, government officials, and Arab diplomats.  A series of follow-on meetings with embassy officers provided opportunities for the youth leaders to share insights about the challenges they faced and ideas for strengthening U.S. efforts to help the Muslim community address those challenges.

In May the Consulate General in Barcelona organized an iftar that gathered leaders of the Muslim community in the region, including its younger generation, as well as regional public officials, law enforcement, and academics.  Guests agreed on the need to improve actions aimed at promoting cultural and religious diversity in the region and to combat stereotypes.

The embassy continued its engagement with a group of young Muslim leaders who had taken part in embassy-sponsored visits to the United States.  The embassy assisted the group with organizing community forums in several cities to discuss issues, including freedom of worship, religious tolerance, the role of media in spreading their messaging, and prevention of radicalization in Muslim communities.

Sri Lanka

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to change religion.  The law recognizes four religions:  Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity.  The constitution and other laws give Buddhism the “foremost place” among the country’s religious faiths and commit the government to protecting it while respecting the rights of religious minorities.  According to representatives of religious minority communities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), government officials at the local level continued to engage in systematic discrimination against religious minorities, especially Muslims and converts to “free” (nondenominational and evangelical) Christian groups.  Local government officials and police reportedly responded minimally or not at all to numerous incidents of religiously motivated violence against Muslim and Christian minorities.  There were some reports of government officials being complicit in physical attacks on and harassment of religious minorities and their places of worship.  In March the government declared a 10-day nationwide state of emergency, restricted social media access, and arrested more than 100 persons in response to anti-Muslim riots in Kandy District in which mobs attacked Muslim civilians, shops, homes, and mosques, resulting in at least two deaths, 28 injured, and extensive property damage to Muslims’ houses, shops, and mosques.  According to the media, in February the government deployed police after at least five persons were wounded and several shops and a mosque damaged in anti-Muslim riots in Ampara District.  Evangelical and nondenominational Christian churches continued to state police harassed them and local government officials often sided with the religious majority in a given community.  Activists reported that on April 29, a group of Buddhists and Hindus forcibly entered the Sunday service of the Apostolic Church in Padukka in Colombo and threatened congregants.  Police demanded the Christians stop the worship service immediately.  According to activists, on July 8, a group of villagers and Buddhist monks disrupted a Living Christian Assembly service in Sevanapitiya, Polonnaruwa, stating it was a Hindu-majority village.  The police ordered the Christian group to stop holding services.  At year’s end, the government had not formally registered any free Christian groups as religious organizations.  Local police and government officials reportedly continued requiring places of worship to obtain approval to conduct religious activities, citing a 2011 government circular that was no longer in effect.  Police and local officials continued to cite a 2008 government circular to prohibit the construction of or to close down Christian and Muslim places of worship, despite the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs (Ministry of Buddha Sasana) determining in May that the circular only applied to Buddhist facilities.

Attacks on religious minorities continued.  As of October the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) documented 74 incidents of attacks on churches, intimidation of and violence against pastors and their congregations, and obstruction of worship services.  According to civil society groups, social media campaigns targeting religious minorities fueled hatred and incited violence.  Buddhist nationalist groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS, Buddhist Power Force) continued to promote the supremacy of the ethnic Sinhalese Buddhist majority and denigrate religious and ethnic minorities, especially via social media during the Kandy riots in March.  Civil society organizations continued efforts to strengthen the capacity of religious and community leaders to engage in peacebuilding activities through district-level interreligious reconciliation committees that were created following the end of the civil war in 2010 between the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority (mainly Hindu with a significant Christian minority).

The U.S. embassy repeatedly urged political leaders to defend religious minorities and protect religious freedom for all, emphasizing the importance of religious minorities in the national reconciliation process.  Embassy personnel met often with religious and civic leaders to foster interfaith dialogue.  The U.S. government also funded multiple foreign assistance programs designed to build on global best practices in interfaith and interreligious cooperation, dialogue, and confidence building.  In March the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities attended a conference led by the Religious Freedom Institute and engaged with the government and civil society leaders.  He met with religious and community leaders and senior government officials to discuss religious freedom.  The Ambassador publicly condemned the anti-Muslim violence in Kandy in March.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 22.6 million (July 2018 estimate).  The 2012 national census (the most recent) lists 70.2 percent of the population as Buddhist, 12.6 percent Hindu, 9.7 percent Muslim, and 7.4 percent Christian.  According to census data, the Theravada Buddhist community, which comprises nearly all the country’s Buddhists, is a majority in the Central, North-Central, Northwestern, Sabaragamuwa, Southern, Uva, and Western Provinces.

Tamils, mainly Hindu with a significant Christian minority, constitute the majority in the Northern Province and constitute the second largest group, after Muslims, in the Eastern Province.  Most Muslims self-identify as a separate ethnic group.  Tamils of Indian origin, who are mostly Hindu, have a large presence in the Central, Sabaragamuwa, and Uva Provinces.  Muslims form a plurality in the Eastern Province, and there are sizable Muslim populations in the Central, North-Central, Northwestern, Sabaragamuwa, Uva, and Western Provinces.  Christians reside throughout the country but have a larger presence in the Eastern, Northern, Northwestern, and Western Provinces, and a smaller presence in Sabaragamuwa and Uva Provinces.

Most Muslims are Sunni, with small Shia and Ahmadi minorities.  An estimated 82 percent of Christians are Roman Catholic.  Other groups include Church of Ceylon (Anglicans), the Dutch Reformed Church, Methodists, Baptists, Assembly of God, Pentecostals, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Christian evangelicals and other “free” (evangelical and nondenominational Protestant) groups have grown in recent years, although there are no reliable estimates of their numbers.  According to the government, membership remains low compared to the larger Christian community.  Although the government does not recognize Judaism as an official religion, there is a small Jewish population living in different parts of the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

According to the constitution, every person is “entitled to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” including the freedom to choose a religion.  The constitution gives citizens the right to manifest their religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, both in public and in private.  The constitution accords Buddhism the “foremost place” among the country’s religious faiths and requires the government to protect it, although it does not recognize it as the state religion.  A 2003 Supreme Court ruling determined the state is constitutionally required to protect only Buddhism, and other religions do not have the same right to state protection.  The same ruling also held that no fundamental right to proselytize exists or is protected under the constitution.

In 2017 the Supreme Court determined the right to propagate one’s religion is not protected by the constitution.

The law recognizes four religions:  Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity.  There is no registration requirement for central religious bodies of these four groups.  New religious groups, including groups affiliated with the four recognized religions, must register with the government to obtain approval to construct new places of worship, sponsor religious worker (missionary) visas/immigration permits, operate schools, and apply for subsidies for religious education.  Religious organizations may also seek incorporation by an act of parliament, which requires a simple majority and affords religious groups state recognition.

The government adheres to a 2008 ministerial circular, introduced by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana, requiring all groups, regardless of their religion, to receive permission from the ministry to register and construct new places of worship.  In June 2017, a Supreme Court ruling effectively upheld the registration requirements.  In May the Ministry of Buddha Sasana ruled that the 2008 circular on registration and construction of religious facilities only applied to Buddhist religious sites.  According to some legal experts, however, there is no explicit basis in national law for compulsory registration of places of worship with the state.

Specific government ministers are responsible for addressing the concerns of each major religious community.  Departmental and ministerial assignments are based on the religion of the respective incumbent minister and change when a new minister of a different faith takes office – a customary political tradition that has spanned the past several governments.

Religion is a compulsory subject in both public and private school curricula.  Parents may elect to have their children study Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, or Christianity, provided sufficient demand (at least 15 students) exists within the school for the chosen subject.  Students may not opt out of religious instruction.  All schools teaching the Sri Lankan Ordinary Level syllabus must use the Ministry of Education curriculum on religion, which covers the four main religions and is compulsory for the General Certificate Education Ordinary Level exams (equivalent to U.S. grade 12).  International schools not following the Sri Lankan Ordinary Level syllabus are not required to teach religious studies.

Matters related to family law, including divorce, child custody, and property inheritance, are adjudicated either under customary law of the ethnic or religious group in question or under the country’s civil law.  Religious community members, however, report the practice varies by region, and numerous exceptions exist.  Sharia and cultural practice typically govern marriages and divorces of Muslims while civil law applies to most property rights.  According to civil society groups in the Northern Province, civil law governs marriages while the Thesawalamai (Hindu) customary law often governs the division of property.  Civil law also governs most marriages of Sinhalese and Tamils of various religions, including mixed marriages or those of individuals who claim no religious affiliation.

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

Government Practices

On March 6, the government imposed a nationwide 10-day state of emergency, restricted access to social media, and deployed hundreds of police following several days of anti-Muslim attacks in Kandy District that left two dead and 28 injured.  According to media reports, Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist gangs perpetrated the violence, which reportedly began after a group of Muslim men in the town of Digana was accused of killing a Sinhalese Buddhist over a traffic dispute.  The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka said rioters thoroughly damaged 33 houses, partially damaged 256 houses, and destroyed 163 shops and 47 vehicles.  In addition, a number of mosques were damaged in various locations.  Police arrested more than 100 persons.  According to some local activists and the media, however, police did not intervene in a timely fashion to stem the rioting.  On March 17, the Terrorism Investigation Division arrested Amith Weerasinghe, leader of Maha Sohon Balakaya, a Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist group, in connection with the Kandy riots.  The Kandy High Court released Weerasinghe and five others on bail on October 29.  As of year’s end, police had made no more arrests, but many cases remained pending.

NCEASL said free Christian groups continued to state police and local government officials were complicit in physical attacks on and harassment of religious minorities and their places of worship.  Christian groups said officials and police often sided with the religious majority in a given community.

Christian religious freedom media outlets reported that, according to NCEASL, in October a group of unidentified persons abducted a pastor in Avissawella and held him for 24 hours.  The pastor was returning home by motorbike when a police officer flagged him down.  The media outlets stated the group beat him and administered electric shocks, threatened him, and told him to stop his religious worship activities in the area.

According to media reports, on February 27, the government deployed police to contain the situation after an anti-Muslim riot in Ampara District in the Eastern Province left at least five persons wounded and several shops and a mosque damaged.  The attack occurred after a group of Sinhalese accused a Muslim shop owner of incorporating “sterilization pills” into food.  The online news outlet thehindu.com reported President Maithripala Sirisena said such incidents were detrimental to reconciliation in the country, and that Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, leader of the opposition Tamil National Alliance party, condemned the attacks and called for “stern action” against the perpetrators.  Siraj Mashoor, a political activist based in Ampara District, told the media the police response was “rather slow.”

On April 29, according to local activists, a group of approximately 20 persons, including local Buddhists and Hindus, forcibly entered the Apostolic Church, Padukka, located in Colombo, during the Sunday service and threatened congregants.  Multiple individuals struck a female congregant and the owner of the home in which the church meets.  Police intervened and brought the attackers and congregants to the police station in Padukka.  According to members of the congregation, the police officer in charge demanded the Christians stop their religious worship activities immediately and told the others to file a complaint against the Christians if they continued.  He also reportedly scolded the pastor’s wife in what activists described as derogatory language and refused to accept a complaint regarding the assault on the owner of the premises.

On July 8, according to NGO reports, a mob from the surrounding villages and four Buddhist monks forcibly entered a Living Christian Assembly church in Sevanapitiya, Polonnaruwa.  One of the Buddhist monks pushed the pastor aside, physically assaulted a congregant, and seized two Bibles that were in the church and took them away.  The victims reportedly stated the mob claimed that Sevanapitiya was a Hindu-majority village and the pastor would not be allowed to enter the village and conduct services.  Later that day, according to NGO reports, the police officer-in-charge of the Welikande Police Station and a Buddhist monk came to the church and ordered the Christian group to stop holding services there.  The incident occurred on land under the jurisdiction of the Mahaweli Development Authority, which reportedly often prohibits unregistered congregations from worshiping on state land under its control without prior permission from officials.

In two separate instances in March and July the government paid compensation to the victims of 2014 anti-Muslim riots in Aluthgama, in which, according to media reports, four persons died, 80 were injured, and 200 houses and 73 commercial buildings were damaged.  As of year’s end, some court cases were pending.

The Department of Christian Religious Affairs launched a public awareness campaign to encourage local congregations of nondenominational groups to register as religious organizations in 2016, but at year’s end the government had not registered any new groups because a political decision on whether or not the ministry would register these groups was still pending, according to officials.  Instead, unregistered free Christian groups continued to incorporate as commercial trusts, legal societies, or NGOs to engage in financial transactions, open bank accounts, and hold property.  Without formal government recognition via the registration process, however, nondenominational churches said they could not sponsor religious worker visas for visiting clergy and faced restrictions on holding meetings or constructing new places of worship.  According to free Christian groups, they experienced two major difficulties in complying with local officials’ registration requirements.  First, rural congregations often could not obtain deeds to land due to the degradation of hard copy Land Registry documentation and incomplete land surveys.  Second, without the consent of the majority of the local community or the local Buddhist temple, local councils often opted not to approve the construction of new religious buildings.  Church leaders said they repeatedly appealed to local government officials and the ministry responsible for Christian religious affairs for assistance, with limited success.

According to members of the Christian groups in question, local authorities sometimes demanded Christian groups stop worship activities or relocate their places of worship outside the local jurisdiction, ostensibly to maintain community peace.  Local police and government officials reportedly continued to cite a 2011 government circular requiring places of worship to obtain approval to conduct religious activities.  The Ministry of Buddha Sasana, however, revoked the 2011 circular in 2012.  Police also reportedly cited the 2008 circular on construction of religious facilities to prohibit, impede, and close down Christian and Muslim places of worship.

According to Christian and Muslim civil society groups, official harassment often happened in concert with harassment by local Buddhist monks and Buddhist nationalist organizations.  According to civil society sources, on January 12, the pastor of Jesus Evangelical Church in Kallady, Batticaloa received a letter from the Verugal divisional secretary instructing the pastor to cease conducting worship activities at his residence due to opposition from the villagers.

According to local sources, on January 19, the government land officer in the Ampara District Secretariat demanded the pastor of an Assemblies of God church stop worship activities immediately.  The land officer reportedly said the pastor had no constitutional right to engage in religious activities and the regulations of the Mahaweli Development Authority superseded constitutional protections afforded residents of other parts of the country.  The sources stated government officials threatened to seize the church’s land and tried to coerce the pastor into signing a letter promising not to hold Christian services at the site.  The pastor, however, refused to sign.  Later that same day, the pastor met with the additional district secretary (ADS), who he said forcibly took the pastor’s mobile phone to ensure that he would not record their conversation.  The ADS then reportedly reiterated the statements of the land officer and demanded the pastor stop conducting prayer meetings at his personal residence.  When the pastor refused, the ADS called a Buddhist monk in the area and told him the monks could now decide on a course of action.

According to NCEASL, on October 7 and 14, a crowd led by a Buddhist monk threatened a pastor of the Assemblies of God in Bulathkohupitiya in Kegala District and his family during Sunday worship services.  The monk demanded the pastor produce evidence of the church’s registration and a list of its congregants.  Police officers from the Bulathkohupitiya police station reprimanded and dispersed the crowd, stating everyone had the right to practice their religion freely.  The officer-in-charge, however, requested the pastor refrain from filing a formal complaint and convened a meeting on October 15 among all parties.  The pastor stated that during the meeting two Buddhist monks, the Bulathkohupitiya divisional secretary, and a neighbor living next to the church premises demanded the pastor stop holding services in the church.  The pastor, however, refused to comply and the police said he would need to attend another meeting at a later date.  The case remained pending at year’s end.

Civil society groups and local politicians continued to state the construction of Buddhist shrines by Buddhist groups and the military in the predominantly Hindu and Muslim Northern and Eastern Provinces constituted religious intimidation, as some shrines were built in areas with few, if any, Buddhist residents.  According to local politicians in the north, the military sometimes acted outside its official capacity and aided in the construction of Buddhist statues.

According to civil society reports, on September 5, local residents resisted an attempt by a group of Buddhists to place a statue of Buddha on Kurunthur Mountain in Kumilamunai, Mullaitivu.  The Buddhists stated there was an ancient Buddhist connection to the mountain.  Local residents said the mountain had only ever had a Hindu temple and disputed the historical existence of any Buddhist temple.  On October 5, Buddhist monks told the Mullaitivu Magistrate Court an official Buddhist archeological site was located on the site and requested the court permit construction of a shrine there.  The court refused to grant permission.  The government’s Archaeological Department told the court it had deputized local Buddhist monks to carry out an archeological site survey since the Archaeological Department was short of funds.

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses community, the group continued to have difficulty obtaining approval to build houses of worship.  Local government officials cited the 2008 circular and forwarded all new Kingdom Hall construction applications to the Ministry of Tourism Development and Christian Affairs.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, during the year the ministry did not issue any approvals for building applications, even when local authorities had no objections.

Jehovah’s Witnesses said that the Madampe Chilaw local council in Puttalam District, Northwestern Province, rejected an application to build a Kingdom Hall, stating “the approval cannot be granted as this can cause religious disharmony in the area.”  The Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.  At a meeting convened by the Human Rights Commission on August 9, the council said the proposed building site was located in an area that had experienced violent clashes between Christians and Buddhists, and offered to approve a building application on a different piece of land.  The matter remained unresolved at year’s end.

On September 11, the Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal submitted by the minister of Hindu religious affairs to enact legislation banning animal sacrifices at places of worship.  The bill, which was pending in parliament at year’s end, would prohibit the sacrifice of any animal, including birds, on the premises of or within a Hindu temple.

Although religious education remained compulsory in state-funded schools, not all schools had sufficient resources to teach all four recognized religions, and according to civil society groups, some students were forced to study religions other than their own.  Government schools frequently experienced a shortage of teachers, sometimes requiring available teachers to teach the curriculum of a faith different from their own.

Religious schools continued to receive state funding for facilities and personnel and to be under the purview of the central government and/or provincial ministry of education.  While the law requires government and semigovernment schools, some religiously affiliated, to accept students of all faiths, there were some reports of schools refusing students admission on religious grounds.  According to human rights groups, in August the principal of a Catholic school in Wattala refused to admit a child to school because she was a “non-RC (other than Roman Catholic) Christian.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

According to civil society groups, social media campaigns targeting religious minorities fueled hatred and incited violence.  According to press reports and civil society, Buddhist nationalist groups such as the BBS continued to promote the supremacy of the ethnic Sinhalese Buddhist majority and denigrate religious and ethnic minorities, especially via social media.

Civil society observers expressed concern the rhetoric of the BBS and other Buddhist nationalist groups incited societal actors to commit acts of violence against members of religious minority groups.  Instigators of the violence in the March Kandy riots used social media to mobilize anti-Muslim crowds.

The NCEASL documented 74 cases of attacks on churches, intimidation of and violence against pastors and their congregations, and obstruction of worship services during the year, compared with 97 cases in 2017.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses community reported discrimination and abuse against members of their community.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on February 28 in Nikaweratiya, Northwestern Province, two Buddhist monks approached two female adherents at a bus stop and asked to see their identity cards.  The monks reportedly also took pictures of the women, forcibly took literature from one of the women’s bags, and threatened to strip them and eject them from the area.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, at a subsequent police inquiry on March 5, the monks arrived with a crowd of more than one hundred who “behaved in a very frenzied manner,” causing the women to fear for their personal safety.  Subsequently police told the owner of the house where Jehovah’s Witnesses meetings took place to stop allowing meetings to be held on her property.  A legal case concerning the matter was pending at year’s end.

According to members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community, on January 10, two adherents were returning from religious teaching when a Buddhist monk named Saddarathne, whom the Jehovah’s Witnesses identified as the chief monk of the Shrawasthipura Buddhist Temple, approached and intimidated them while recording a video.  Saddarathne then reportedly assaulted one of them with a staff.  Police arrested the monk on January 27 and released him on bail.  The case remained unresolved at year’s end.

On March 26, an NGO reported unidentified individuals threw stones at the Lighthouse Church at Pupuressa in Kandy, damaging its roof.  On March 28, the pastor lodged a complaint at the Gampola Police Station.  No suspects were arrested.

According to NGO sources, on October 21, a crowd of approximately 100, including a Hindu priest and the chairman of a Hindu temple, issued death threats and verbally abused a Christian pastor and congregants of the Foursquare Church in Batticaloa.  The Hindu priest reportedly stated the church was located on land belonging to the temple.  The landowner, who had leased the land to the church, later produced his title deed to the land in question.  The pastor stated police admonished the Hindu priest and the chairperson of the temple for their actions and threatened to arrest them if they disrupted the Christian worship activities in the future.

According to civil society sources, on October 20, the coordinating secretary to the chief minister of Uva Province ordered an Assemblies of God pastor in Badulla District to attend an official meeting.  When the pastor arrived at the meeting, three villagers demanded the pastor stop construction of a church and attempted to persuade the coordinating secretary to support them.  The official, however, affirmed the pastor’s right to carry out his religious worship activities.

Civil society organizations continued efforts to strengthen the capacity of religious and community leaders to lead peacebuilding activities through district-level interreligious reconciliation committees, consisting of religious and civic leaders and laypersons from different faith traditions and ethnicities.  The National Peace Council of Sri Lanka created these committees in 2010 following the end of the civil war, fought between the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the primarily Hindu and Christian Tamil minority.

The number of Christian groups worshiping in “house churches” (i.e., outside formally designated places of worship) grew.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses online news outlet JW.org reported that from July 6 to July 8, more than 14,200 Jehovah’s Witnesses from seven countries met in Colombo for the first “Be Courageous” Special Convention ever held in the country.  At the convention, participants discussed religious issues, baptized individuals, and attended activities highlighting Sri Lankan culture.

According to the Asia Evangelical Alliance, from July 17 to July 20, a group of 22 lawyers and academics from the South Asia region held the South Asia Legal Consultation, entitled “Defending Religious Freedom,” in Colombo.  Deputy Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance Godfrey Yogarajah and Director of the Asian Evangelical Alliance’s Religious Liberty Commission Yamini Ravindran were among the participants.  Among the topics discussed were common trends, challenges, and strategies to promote religious freedom in the region.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In regular meetings with the president, prime minister, and other senior government officials, the Ambassador emphasized the need for respect for and inclusion of ethnic and religious minorities as part of the post-conflict reconciliation process.  During times of heightened religious and ethnic tensions, such as during the anti-Muslim riots in Kandy in March, the Ambassador urged political leaders to defuse the immediate crisis and called on citizens to disavow religious violence.  Embassy officers also met regularly with cabinet ministers with religious portfolios to encourage them to build ties across religions.  In response specifically to the Kandy riots, the Ambassador made a public statement condemning the violence and conveyed on social media his support for freedom of religion and protection from violence.  In addition, the embassy engaged with leaders of the government to urge them to take effective steps to end the violence.

Department of State and embassy officials met with Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu civil society activists and victims of reported attacks across the country to gauge the climate for religious minorities.  In addition, embassy and visiting Department of State officials met with religious groups, civil society organizations, and government officials to express concern about harassment of, attacks on, and government and societal discrimination against members of religious minority groups.

In March the Department of State Special Advisor for Religious Minorities attended a conference hosted by the Religious Freedom Institute and engaged with government and civil society leaders.  He met with religious and community leaders and senior government officials to discuss the violence against Muslims and discriminatory laws targeting other minorities.

The embassy supported the work of civil society organizations to strengthen the capacity of religious and community leaders to lead peacebuilding activities through district-level interreligious reconciliation committees.  The U.S. government also funded multiple foreign assistance programs designed to build on global best practices in interfaith cooperation, dialogue, and confidence building through the National Peace Council.

Sudan

Executive Summary

The Interim National Constitution provides for freedom of religious creed and the rights to worship, assemble, and maintain places of worship.  Some laws and government practices are based on the government’s interpretation of a sharia system of jurisprudence, which human rights groups state does not provide protections for some religious minorities, including minority Muslim groups.  The law criminalizes apostasy, blasphemy, conversion from Islam to another religion, and questioning or criticizing the Quran, the Sahaba (the Companions of the Prophet), or the wives of the Prophet.  While the law does not specifically address proselytizing, the government has criminally defined and prosecuted proselytizing as a form of apostasy.  According to international reports, on October 13, a group of security agents raided the private home of Tajedin Yousif in South Darfur and arrested 13 Christian men who were participating in a series of prayer meetings.  Nongovernmental organization (NGO) reports stated that of the 13 persons arrested, 10 were of Darfuri origin and converts from Islam.  The reports said the individuals were abused in detention, threatened with apostasy charges, and forced to denounce Christianity.  Authorities released the detainees within two weeks and dropped the charges against them.  Human rights groups continued to accuse the government of interfering in internal religious community disputes over the sale of church lands to investors, including on cases related to the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) and the Sudan Church of Christ (SCOC), and to highlight the inability of these Christian groups to seek legal recourse.  According to church leaders, authorities continued to influence the internal affairs of churches through intimidation, harassment, and arrests of those opposed to government interference within evangelical Christian churches.  In February authorities demolished a church belonging to the SCOC in the Haj Youssef neighborhood of Khartoum North and confiscated the property of the church, including Bibles and pews.  As of year’s end, the government had not provided compensation for the damage nor provided an alternative space for worshipping, according to church leaders.  While the law does not prohibit the practice of Shia Islam, authorities took actions against Shia Muslims.  Some Shia Muslims reported authorities continued to prevent them from publishing articles about Shia beliefs.  According to multiple sources, authorities again regularly charged and convicted Christian and Muslim women with “indecent dress” for wearing pants and fined and lashed them.  The Ministry of Education for Khartoum State continued to mandate that Christian schools operate on Sundays in order to meet minimum required instruction hours.

Muslims and non-Muslims said a small and sometimes vocal minority of Salafist groups that advocated violence continued to be a concern.  Some Christian leaders noted the lack of representation of minority religious groups within government offices and the lack of a strong Council of Churches to advocate for the legal rights of churches and their members.

In high-level discussions with the government, U.S. officials encouraged respect for religious freedom and the protection of minority religious groups.  The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy officials raised specific cases of demolitions of houses of worship and court cases against religious leaders with government officials, including officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  They also emphasized the government’s need to take concrete steps to improve religious.  Embassy officials stressed that respect for religious freedom is crucial to improved relations with the United States and a precursor to peace in the country.  In meetings with the minister of foreign affairs, the Charge d’Affaires raised the denial of licenses for new churches, the demolition of houses of worship without an alternative, the harassment of Muslim religious minorities, government interference in internal church affairs, and enforcement of “indecent dress” laws.  The embassy maintained close contact with religious leaders, faith-based groups, and NGOs, and embassy representatives monitored and attended many of the legal proceedings for those prosecuted in connection with their religious beliefs.  In May the embassy cohosted a workshop on interreligious dialogue with the Canadian embassy in Khartoum and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  In his opening remarks, the Charge d’Affaires stressed the importance of leaders from different faith backgrounds and professions ensuring that their laws and actions are in line with international guiding principles of religious freedom.

Since 1999, Sudan has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.  On November 28, 2018, the Secretary of State redesignated Sudan as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the restriction in the annual Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act on making certain appropriated funds available for assistance to the Government of Sudan, currently set forth in section 7042(i) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2018 (Div. K, P. L. 115-141), and any provision of law that is the same or substantially the same as this provision, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 43.1 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the Sudanese government, approximately 97 percent of the population is Muslim.  It is unclear whether government estimates include South Sudanese (predominantly Christian or animist) who did not leave after the 2011 separation of South Sudan or returned after conflict erupted in South Sudan in 2013, or other non-South Sudanese, non-Muslim groups.  The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports more than 927,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the country, including 768,819 South Sudanese refugees.  Some religious advocacy groups estimate non-Muslims make up more than 20 percent of the population.

Almost all Muslims are Sunni, although there are significant distinctions among followers of different Sunni traditions, particularly among Sufi orders.  Small Shia Muslim communities are based predominantly in Khartoum.  At least one Jewish family remains in the Khartoum area.

The government reports the presence of 36 Christian denominations in the country.  Christians reside throughout the country, primarily in major cities such as Khartoum, Port Sudan, Kassala, Gedaref, El Obeid, and El Fasher.  Christians also are concentrated in some parts of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State.

Relatively small but long-established groups of Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Christians are located in Khartoum, El Obeid in North Kordofan, River Nile and Gezira States, and eastern parts of the country.  Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox communities, largely made up of refugees and migrants, are located in Khartoum and the eastern part of the country.  Other larger Christian groups include the Roman Catholic Church, Episcopal Anglican Church, Sudan Church of Christ, Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and Presbyterian Church of the Sudan.  Smaller Christian groups include the Africa Inland Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Sudan Interior Church, Sudan Pentecostal Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Government statistics indicate less than 1 percent of the population, primarily in Blue Nile and South Kordofan States, adheres to traditional African religious beliefs.  Some Christians and Muslims incorporate aspects of these traditional beliefs into their religious practice.  A small Baha’i community primarily operates underground.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Individual Muslims and Christians reported generally good relationships at the societal level and stated that instances of intolerance or discrimination by individuals or nongovernmental entities were generally isolated.

The Sudan Inter-Religious Council, a registered nonprofit, nonpolitical organization consisting of scholars, half of whom were Muslim and the other half Christian, was mandated by its constitution to advise the MGE/HCGE and to encourage interfaith dialogue.

A segment about gender equality in the country on the Deutsche Welle’s (DW) Arabic-language talk show “Shabab Talk” went viral on September 21.  During the segment, a young woman, Weam Shawky, addressed Mohammed Osman Saleh, the chair of the Sudan Scholars Association, and criticized the widespread harassment and intimidation of women because of their clothing.  Immediately following the episode, Saleh gave a press conference in which he said the show was put on by “enemies of our culture.”  Muslim clerics responded by calling for protests and violence against DW’s production partner, television channel Sudania 24, in Khartoum.  Several Muslim clerics decried the show in their Friday sermons, and one cleric accused the host, Jaafar Abdul Karim, of “spreading atheism.”  Many human rights activists and other members of the local community defended the show and praised Sudania 24 for initiating an open discussion on the topic of women’s rights and the public order system.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In meetings between the Charge d’Affaires and the minister of foreign affairs and the ministry’s director for human rights, women, and children, the Charge promoted religious freedom as a means of achieving peace and stability.  He emphasized that religious freedom formed a key basis for broader normalization of bilateral relations.  The Charge and other embassy officials also made this point repeatedly in regular meetings of the Joint Review Committee of the U.S.-Sudan engagement plan.  The Charge further emphasized that persons of different religions needed to be able to practice their religious beliefs freely and that creating an environment without fear of harassment based on religion was crucial to bringing peace and stability to the country’s conflict areas.  He also raised the issues of the denial of licenses for new churches, demolition of houses of worship without an alternative, court cases against religious leaders, harassment of Muslim religious minorities, government interference in internal church affairs, and enforcement of “indecent dress” laws.

The embassy held a weeklong series of meetings in May on religious freedom with civil society representatives, religious leaders, and journalists.  In the meetings, embassy officials raised religious freedom issues regarding property ownership, access to education and school days conflicting with Christian worship services, and women’s rights.

The U.S. embassy partnered with the Canadian embassy in Khartoum and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to hold a two-day workshop in May on interreligious dialogue.  Senior government officials, leaders of religious communities, diplomatic representatives, media, and nongovernmental organizations attended the workshop and shared their views on the state of religious freedom in the country.  The main topics discussed were education laws, laws governing religious freedom, and registration of religious properties.  An official from the Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom attended the workshop and met with government representatives, including Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour.  The official discussed ways the government could take concrete steps toward substantially improving the state of religious freedom in the country.

Embassy officials met regularly with imams and Sufi clerics, and clergy and parishioners of Catholic and Protestant churches to hear their views on the religious freedom situation.  Embassy officials attended religious ceremonies of different groups and underscored in regular meetings with leaders of Muslim and Christian groups the importance of religious tolerance.  U.S. government representatives closely monitored the legal proceedings concerning religious organizations and religious leaders.

The embassy regularly utilized its social media outlets to share articles and messaging related to religious tolerance and freedom.

Since 1999, Sudan has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.  On November 28, 2018, the Secretary of State redesignated Sudan as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the restriction in the annual Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act on making certain appropriated funds available for assistance to the Government of Sudan, currently set forth in section 7042(i) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2018 (Div. K, P. L. 115-141), and any provision of law that is the same or substantially the same as this provision, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Suriname

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion; both the constitution and the penal code prohibit discrimination based on religion.  Any violation may be brought before a court of justice.  Religious groups seeking financial support from the government must register with the Ministry of Home Affairs.  Limited government financial support remained available, primarily as a stipend for clergy.  The government continued to pay wages for teachers managed by religious organizations; however, its other designated subsidies for operational expenses of these schools were either late or not paid.  To cover the budgetary shortfall, schools managed by religious organizations introduced a school fee for the 2018-19 school year.  In September President Desire Delano Bouterse reinforced the commitment of the government to religious freedom in a public speech honoring the U.S. Ambassador.

The Inter-Religious Council (IRIS), an organization of the country’s different religious groups, including two Hindu and two Muslim groups, the Jewish community, and the Catholic Church, continued to discuss planned interfaith activities and positions on government policies and their impact on society.  The IRIS collaborated with nonmember religious organizations on efforts to promote religious freedom.  In October, as part of an interfaith effort to promote respect for the country’s religious diversity, IRIS, the Committee for Christian Churches (CCK), and various tribal leaders and dignitaries took part in a conference hosted by the Cultural Center of the Islamic Association in Suriname (SIV).  Islamic associations issued condemnations in response to a terror threat posted on Facebook in May in the name of ISIS, calling for respect for each other’s religion and ethnicity.

Embassy officials continued to highlight U.S. government policy on the importance of protecting religious freedom and tolerance in meetings with government officials.  The Ambassador wrote an op-ed article in a local newspaper in January in honor of Religious Freedom Day highlighting the importance of religious freedom in democracies.  Embassy officials met with members of the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Christian communities to encourage tolerance and discuss promotion of respect for religious diversity within their communities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 598,000 (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2012 census, the most recent available, more than 48 percent of the population is Christian (26 percent Protestant, 22 percent Roman Catholic, 3 percent other Christian).  Other Christian groups include Moravian, Lutheran, Dutch Reformed, evangelical Protestant, Baptist, Methodist, Seventh-day Adventist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Hindus are 22 percent of the population, including the Sanathan Dharm and the Arya Dewaker.  Muslims, including Sunni and Ahmadi Muslims and the World Islamic Call Society, are 14 percent.  The remaining 13 percent includes Baha’is, Jews, Buddhists, Brahma Kumaris, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and three Rastafarian organizations:  the Aya Bingi Order, 12th Tribe, and Bobo Shanti.

Some Amerindian and Maroon populations, approximately 3 percent of the population, adhere to indigenous religions.  Certain Amerindian groups, concentrated principally in the interior and to a lesser extent in coastal areas, practice shamanism through a medicine man (piaiman).  Many Maroons worship nature.  Those of Amerindian and Maroon origin who identify as Christian often combine Christian practices with indigenous religious customs.  Some Creoles in urban areas worship their ancestors through a rite called wintie.

There is some correlation between ethnicity and religion.  The Hindustani-speaking population is primarily Hindu, while some ethnic Indians, Javanese, and Creoles practice Islam.  Christianity crosses all ethnic backgrounds.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states that everyone has freedom of religion, and individuals may not be discriminated against on the grounds of religion.  Individuals may choose to change their religion.  Any violation may be brought before a court of justice.

The penal code provides punishment for those who instigate hate or discrimination of persons based on religion or creed in any way; however, the law has not been enforced.  Those found guilty may be sentenced to a prison term of no longer than one year and a fine of up to 25,000 Surinamese dollars (SRD) ($3,300).  In cases where an insult or act of hatred is instigated by more than one person, as part of an organization, or by a person who makes such statements habitually or as part of work, the punishment can include imprisonment of up to two years and fines of up to SRD 50,000 ($6,600).

Religious groups must register with the Ministry of Home Affairs only if they seek financial support, including stipends for clergy, from the government.  To register, religious groups must supply contact information, a history of their group, and addresses for houses of worship.  Most religious groups are officially registered.

The law does not permit religious instruction in public schools.  The government funds teacher salaries and provides a stipend that partially covers maintenance costs to all elementary and secondary schools established and managed by various religious groups.  Religious groups must provide the remaining funding, which includes construction costs, funding for school furniture, supplies, and additional maintenance expenses.  Religious organizations manage approximately 50 percent of primary and secondary schools in the country.  The Catholic diocese, Moravian Church, and Hindu community manage the majority of private schools.  Through the Ministries of Education and Finance, the government provides a fee per registered child and pays teacher salaries to the religious organizations managing these schools.

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

Government Practices

The government continued to emphasize in government-hosted events and in the media its commitment to protecting religious freedom, including of religious minorities, and to fostering respect for religious diversity and promoting tolerance.  In a Washington Times article, religious tolerance was commonly referred to as a national strength by the country’s citizens and a frequent subject of speeches and articles from leading government, religious, and academic leaders, notably President Bouterse.  The article quoted President Bouterse stating, “Diversity is normal for us; it is simply the way things are here.”  Bouterse also said, “We eat, work, and celebrate together.  Muslims celebrate Christmas with their Christian friends, Jewish people share dinner with Muslims at the end of Ramadan, and all Surinamese traditionally celebrate the Hindu national holiday of Phagwa.  We are multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and singularly peaceful.”  On October 1, Bouterse again noted religious freedom in his annual State of the Republic speech:  “Our colorful ethnically and religiously structured society … live peacefully together and make our country an example …  The World Justice Project states that Suriname … is also prominently mentioned as a country where religious freedoms are largely recognized.”

Government officials continued to raise these themes at the highest levels, including during government events celebrating the country’s various national heritage days.  The president, vice president, and minister of home affairs, whose portfolio includes religion, publicly emphasized the government’s support for religious freedom and tolerance during different events throughout the year.  President Bouterse reiterated the country’s commitment to religious plurality, freedom, and tolerance in a speech during a farewell event for the U.S. Ambassador.

All schools, including public schools, celebrated various religious holidays that are also national holidays, including Christmas, Easter, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, Diwali, and Phagwa, but the government continued to ban public schools from allowing prayer groups during breaks.  Schools managed by religious groups included religious instruction in the curriculum.  All students attending schools run by religious groups were required to take part in religious instruction, regardless of their religious background.  Parents were not permitted to homeschool children for religious reasons.

According to the Federal Institute for Special Education in Suriname, the government continued to pay wages for teachers managed by religious organizations; however, its other subsidies for operational expenses of these schools were either late or not paid.  To cover the budgetary shortfall, all schools managed by religious organizations introduced a school fee for the 2018-19 school year.  Starting with the 2018-19 school year, religious primary school tuition cost approximately SRD 250 ($33) per year, while public primary-level education cost approximately SRD 35 ($5).  At the lower secondary level (ages 12-16), tuition at private religious schools cost SRD 275 ($37), compared with SRD 70 ($9) per year at public schools.  Religious organizations did not run manage higher secondary schools (ages 16-19).

The armed forces continued to maintain a staff chaplaincy with Hindu, Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic clergy available to military personnel.

On January 23, the government cosponsored a seminar in honor of World Religion Day, focusing on the principles guiding religious freedom and tolerance in the country to resolve other societal issues such as domestic violence, sexual violence, child neglect, and poverty.

Minister of Home Affairs Mike Noersalim issued statements on behalf of the government in honor of World Prayer Day in March and throughout the year ahead of different religious holidays such as Phagwa, Divali, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Christmas.  The statements emphasized the importance of religious harmony for a prosperous society.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

IRIS continued its efforts to promote respect for religious diversity and freedom in the country.  IRIS members met monthly to discuss interfaith activities as well as the impact of different government policies on society.  IRIS also collaborated with other nonmember religious organizations on efforts to promote religious freedom and tolerance.  In October, as part of an interreligious effort to promote respect for the country’s religious diversity, IRIS, the CCK, and various tribal leaders and dignitaries took part in a conference hosted by the SIV on the protection of the jaguar in the country.

Islamic associations issued condemnations in response to a terror threat posted on Facebook in May in the name of ISIS.  The Suriname Muslim Association denounced the threat and called on persons not to “lose the loving bond” and respect for each other’s religion and ethnicity.  The Suriname Muslim Federation called for the continuation of the religious, social, economic, and political cooperation in peace and harmony.  The Madjlies Moesliemien Suriname, the overarching body of Muslim organizations in the country, called on persons of all faiths, and those who do not practice any faith, to continue to live in solidarity, cooperation, and harmony based on universal norms of respect and brotherhood.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials continued to highlight US policy concerning the importance of protection of religious freedom in meetings with government officials.

The Ambassador wrote an op-ed in a local newspaper in January in honor of Religious Freedom Day on the importance of religious freedom for democracies.  On November 1, the embassy cohosted a movie night to commemorate the signing of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.  The Cultural Centre Suriname (CCS) broadcast the movie The Shack.  A senior embassy official delivered remarks at the event, linking U.S. government support for religious freedom with themes from the movie, including tolerance for religious views and the importance of resisting inclinations to pass judgments.

Embassy officials met with members of the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Christian communities to encourage tolerance and to discuss promotion of respect for religious diversity.

Sweden

Executive Summary

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.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 10.0 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the Church of Sweden (Lutheran), approximately 59 percent of citizens are members.  According to government statistics and estimates by religious groups, other Christian groups – including the Roman Catholic Church, Pentecostal movement, Missionary (or Missions) Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – together total less than 7 percent of the population.  The Pew Research Center estimated in 2016 that 8.1 percent of the population was Muslim.  According to the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, Jews number approximately 20,000-30,000, concentrated mainly in larger cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo.

Smaller religious communities include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and members of the Church of Scientology, Word of Faith, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), and Mandaeism.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides “the freedom to practice one’s religion alone or in the company of others.”  The law mandates there be no limitation of rights or freedoms on the grounds of religious opinion.

The constitution instructs public institutions to combat discrimination based on religious affiliation.  According to law, complaints about discrimination for religious reasons in the private sector, in the government, or by a government agency or authority must be filed with the Discrimination Ombudsman.  The ombudsman investigates each case and issues a decision that is not legally binding.  The decision includes recommendations to prevent future discrimination.  The ombudsman takes some cases to court each year, in part to create legal precedent.  The ombudsman can represent the individual making a complaint in the event of legal proceedings if he or she requests it.

The constitution states, “The opportunities of religious minorities to preserve and develop a cultural and social life of their own shall be promoted.”  No one is obliged to belong to a religious community or “divulge religious beliefs in relations with public institutions.”

There is no requirement in the law for religious groups to register or otherwise seek recognition.  Faith communities registering with the SST, however, receive tax exemptions similar to those of nonprofit organizations and are eligible to receive government funding.  To register with the SST, a religious group must submit an application to the Ministry of Culture demonstrating the group fulfills certain requirements, including that it be stable and have operated in the country for at least five years, have a clear and stable structure, be able to function on its own, serve at least 3,000 persons (with exceptions), and be present in different locations in the country.

According to the law, animal slaughter must be preceded by stunning and/or the administration of anesthetics to minimize the animal’s suffering.

The law stipulates that male circumcision may be performed only by a licensed doctor or, for boys under the age of two months, by a person certified by the National Board of Health and Welfare.  The board certifies mohels (individuals who conduct ritual Jewish circumcisions) to perform the operations on boys younger than two months but requires the presence of a medical doctor, who must administer anesthesia to the infant.

The government facilitates fundraising by religious groups by offering them the option of collecting contributions through the Tax Agency in exchange for a one-time fee of 75,000 Swedish kronor ($8,400) and an annual fee of 21 kronor ($2) per member per year.  The Church of Sweden is exempted from the annual fee because it, unlike the other religious groups participating in the scheme, does not receive financial support from the SST.  Only religious groups registered with the SST may participate in the scheme.  Religious groups freely choose what percentage of members’ annual taxable income to collect, with a median collection rate of 1 percent.  The Tax Agency subtracts a percentage of the member’s gross income and distributes it to the religious organization.  The member’s contribution is not deductible from income tax.  Seventeen religious organizations participate in the scheme, including the Church of Sweden, Roman Catholic Church, four Muslim congregations, and two Syriac Orthodox churches.

The government provides publicly funded grants to registered religious groups through the SST, which is under the authority of the Ministry of Culture.  The grants are proportional to the size of a group’s membership.  Registered religious groups may also apply for separate grants for specific purposes, such as security expenses.

The military offers food options compliant with religious dietary restrictions.  Each military district has a chaplain.  According to the law, chaplains may be of any religious affiliation, but all chaplains seconded to the armed forces belong to the Church of Sweden.  Regardless of religious denomination, chaplains are required to perform religious duties for other faiths or refer service members to spiritual leaders of other faiths if requested.  The law specifically exempts Jehovah’s Witnesses from national military service.  Other conscientious objectors may apply for nonarmed military service but are in practice not inducted into the military.  Armed forces guidelines allow religious headwear.  Individuals serving in the military may observe their particular religious holidays in exchange for not taking leave on public holidays.

Religious education is compulsory in public and private schools.  Teachers use a curriculum that encompasses lessons about the major world religions without preference for any particular religious group.  Parents may send their children to independent religious schools, which the government supports through a voucher system and which must adhere to government guidelines on core academic curricula, including religious education.  Such schools may host voluntary religious activities outside the classroom, but these activities may not interfere with government guidelines on core academic curricula.

Hate speech laws prohibit threats or expressions of contempt for persons based on several factors, including religious belief.  Penalties for hate speech range from fines to a sentence of up to four years in prison, depending on the severity of the incident.

Law enforcement authorities maintain statistics on hate crimes, including religiously motivated hate crimes, issuing them every two years.  Law enforcement authorities may add a hate crime classification to an initial crime report or to existing charges during an investigation.  Prosecutors determine whether to bring hate crime charges as part of the prosecution, and the defense has an opportunity to rebut the classification.  In cases where the criminal act involves a hate crime, the penalties increase.

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

Government Practices

Several Christian organizations – including the Christian Council of Sweden, which represents 27 Catholic, Free Church, Lutheran, and Orthodox Churches, with 6.5 million members – criticized the Migration Agency for rejecting asylum applications of Christians – primarily converts – who said they risked religious persecution in their home countries.  In addition, these critics said the methods used by the agency to evaluate asylum seekers’ Christian status required the applicants to demonstrate unreasonable knowledge of scripture and did not sufficiently take into account their participation in religious activities and references from their clergy.

In September an Afghan asylum seeker in Jonkoping who converted to Christianity in the country in 2016 committed suicide after authorities rejected his application for asylum on the grounds of religious persecution in his home country.  The man’s pastor, Chatrine Carlson, told the newspaper Dagen that “his Christian faith was not deemed to be genuine.  The authorities concluded, therefore, that he faced no risks upon his return and that he did not have a legitimate asylum claim.  But he was open and clear about his Christian faith and he was part of our congregation’s network for converts.”  Ulrik Josefsson, the chair of the man’s church in Jonkoping, told the same newspaper, “We have seen this guy participate in our activities.  If his faith was not genuine, then my faith is not genuine.”

As part of its continuing “National Plan to Combat Racism, Similar Forms of Hostility, and Hate Crimes,” the government more than doubled its allocation from 2017 – to 22 million kronor ($2.46 million) per year in 2018 and 2019 and 15 million kronor ($1.68 million) annually thereafter – to improve the security of religious organizations and civil society.  The government moved the responsibility of dispensing the funding from the SST to the Legal, Financial, and Administrative Services Agency.  The move enabled a wider range of civil society organizations, including religiously oriented nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) not registered with the SST, to apply for funding to improve their security, for example, by purchasing security cameras and hiring security guards.

In October Chairman of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities Aron Verstandig stated he welcomed the government’s increased allocation of funds in support of religious organizations’ security measures.  He projected the initiative would ease the financial burden of security spending currently borne by the country’s Jewish congregations.  In an interview with Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom in September, Verstandig described the nationalist right in the country as an indirect but palpable threat to the Jewish community and called on politicians to rein in neo-Nazis and their activities.

The Police Authority spent an additional 10 million kronor ($1.12 million) to prevent and investigate hate crimes.

Some Christian leaders stated the government largely ignored cases of persecution against Christian asylum seekers and refugees during the year.  Deputy Secretary-General of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance Jacob Rudenstrand and Director of the Christian NGO Open Doors Sweden Peter Paulsson said that Christian refugees faced persecution, particularly from Muslim refugees, that they were not safe in the country, and that the government needed to take measures to ensure the Christians’ safety.

Some Muslim groups and the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities continued to state they considered the law requiring stunning of and/or administration of anesthetics to animals prior to slaughter to conflict with their respective religious rituals.  The Muslim community remained divided over whether the requirement conformed to halal procedures.  The Jewish community reported the law effectively prevented the production of kosher meat.  Most halal and all kosher meat was imported.

In August the country’s labor court ruled in favor of a Muslim woman who had filed a complaint via the Discrimination Ombudsman of anti-Muslim discrimination in the workplace.  At a job interview in 2016, the woman refused to shake hands with a male supervisor, stating physical contact with nonfamily members of the opposite sex was contrary to her religious beliefs.  As a result, she said she was no longer considered for employment.  The labor court ruled the company violated her rights protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered the company to pay her 40,000 kronor ($4,500).

There were multiple reports that representatives of the Sweden Democrats – the country’s third largest political party, which received 17.6 percent of the vote in the September parliamentary elections – made denigrating comments about religious minorities.

In response to criticism by Center Party leader Annie Loof for earlier comments he had made about minorities in the country, Sweden Democrats Member of Parliament (MP) and then-Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament Bjorn Soder repeated in an op-ed in the newspaper Dagens Industri in August his belief that there was a distinction between Jews and Swedes, because “the Sweden Democrats believe nationally recognized minorities should be exempted from our general goal of assimilation.”  Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities Chairman Verstandig wrote in response in the same newspaper that the Sweden Democrats’ policies “would make Jewish life in Sweden practically impossible.  For example, the party wants to ban circumcision of newborn boys and make it illegal to import kosher meat.”  Political leaders, such as Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and Minister for Rural Affairs Sven-Erik Bucht, also condemned Soder’s comments.

On August 31, the newspaper Expressen stated a number of Sweden Democrats candidates in the September 9 general election had made anti-Semitic comments on social media.  Martin Sihlen, a candidate for the municipal government in Orkelljunga, questioned the number of persons killed in the Holocaust, referred to the “Jewish plague,” and wrote online that “Hitler did not lie about the Jews,” and “Hitler was not bad.”  Per Olsson, a candidate for the municipal government in Oskarshamn, shared an image of Anne Frank wearing a shirt reading “Coolest Jew in the Shower Room,” as well as a photograph of Adolf Hitler.  Raghu Jacobsen, a candidate for the municipal government in Stenungsund, wrote, “As long as the Rothschilds run the economy, and as such modern slavery on this planet, there will be anti-Semitism.”  He also shared an image stating, “What’s the difference between a cow and the Holocaust?  You can’t milk a cow for 70 years straight.”  The Sweden Democrats expelled the three candidates in response to media reports about their activities online, and none of them was elected.

According to a June 19 article in Expressen, Mikael Bystedt – a staffer for the Sweden Democrats in parliament, candidate for local and parliamentary elections, and deputy party chair in Taby – made anti-Muslim comments on social media.  He compiled a list of measures “to save Sweden” that included “destroying all traces of Islam, mosques, etc.,” “stopping all immigration of Muslims,” and “using military force and expulsion of all Muslims who object to this.”  In response to reports of arson attacks against mosques in London, Bystedt stated, “Damn good work!  Let us hope this spreads to Sweden like wildfire.”  The Sweden Democrats subsequently expelled Bystedt from the party, and he was not elected.

Chairman of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities Verstandig said in September he was concerned by the gains the Sweden Democrats made in the September parliamentary elections.  He also described the nationalist right in the country as an indirect but palpable threat to the Jewish community and called on politicians to rein in neo-Nazis and their activities.

Members of other political parties also made negative remarks about religious minorities.  A Christian Democrats candidate for the local election in Sundbyberg, Erik Ivarsson, wrote on social media, “The Muslims are raping our nations.  Time to bring back the death sentence?” reported Expressen in July.  The Christian Democrats subsequently expelled Ivarsson, and party leader Ebba Busch Thor called his statement “completely unacceptable.”  Ivarsson was not elected.

Daniel Bystedt, a Liberal Party candidate for the local election in Linkoping, made a number of denigrating statements about Muslims and Islam on social media, according to a report by Expressen in July.  He wrote, “Islam is the greatest threat of our time.  The only solution is to send back every Muslim.  Our civilization will perish if we do not,” “Islam is a poison that is destroying our society,” “Any sound Swede dislikes everything connected to Islam,” and “I cannot understand how a woman can voluntarily become a Muslim.  It must be caused by some psychological disorder.”  Bystedt subsequently renounced his membership in the Liberal Party, and he was not elected.

Expressen reported in August there were ties between the Left Party and Grupp 194, an NGO based in the Skane region the report said spread anti-Semitic images online.  For example, the group posted a cartoon of a Jew drinking blood and eating a child.  The leader of Grupp 194 ran unsuccessfully as a Left Party candidate for parliament in the September general election, and Left Party leader Jonas Sjostedt spoke in at least two Grupp 194 events in 2012 and 2014.  The Left Party’s Skane branch responded to Expressen that “the party had no formal cooperation with Grupp 194, but some members of Grupp 194 were also active in the Left Party.  We both support a free Palestine and oppose anti-Semitism.”

In August Expressen also reported the municipality of Malmo gave Grupp 194 and two other NGOs 132,000 kronor ($14,800) from public funds in 2017 for a project to promote public safety on the city’s streets.  A city councilman for the Sweden Democrats, Nima Gholam Ali Pour, stated the municipal government should not have funded Grupp 194 because, among other things, it had spread anti-Semitic images.

During the campaign for the September elections, the Social Democratic Party, the Left Party, and the Sweden Democrats Party campaigned for a proposal to ban independent religious schools.  The Liberal Party advocated a prohibition on establishing new, or expanding existing, independent religious schools.  “We consider it a given that no student should be impacted by religion at school.  Every child should choose freely whether or not to have faith,” said Anna Ekstrom, Social Democratic Minister for High Schools on the party’s website.  “I grew up in a country in which religious influence and gender segregation were part of every school.  I will never accept that the oppression I and many others have fled finds its way into Sweden’s schools,” said Iranian-born Minister for Civil Affairs Ardalan Shekarabi, a Social Democrat, also on the party website.  Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders expressed concern about the proposals, arguing such measures would constitute an infringement on religious freedom.

On March 10, the government launched a nonbinding study to recommend, according to then-Minister of Education Gustaf Fridolin, new laws and regulations on religious activities in all schools, including independent religious schools.  The government instructed the civil servant authors of the study to present their results by May 31, 2019.

The Sweden Democrats continued to advocate local and national bans on the Muslim call to prayer.  After police in Vaxjo granted a mosque permission to conduct a call to prayer on Fridays, the party’s Vaxjo branch launched a petition for a referendum to ban the call to prayer in the municipality.  By year’s end, Vaxjo had not held the referendum and the mosque continued its call to prayer.  Sweden Democrats MP and Party Spokesperson for Justice Affairs Adam Marttinen stated in May “Not only will we appeal the decision to permit the call to prayer in Vaxjo, it should be made impossible in the entire country.”  In October Sweden Democrats MPs Richard Jomshof, Robert Stenkvist, and Carina Stahl Herrstedt introduced a bill in parliament to institute a national ban, which was defeated in committee.

Christian Democrats party leader Ebba Busch Thor and then-Member of the European Parliament Lars Adaktusson stated in an op-ed in Expressen on March 15 that “Regular and institutionalized [Islamic] calls to prayer are not compatible with our values.  …We can under no circumstances accept calls to prayer in Sweden.”  Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities Chairman Verstandig and Catholic Cardinal Anders Arborelius separately criticized the Christian Democrats for opposing the Islamic call to prayer.

Sweden Democrats MP and Party Secretary Richard Jomshof introduced a bill in parliament in October that would prohibit circumcision of boys for nonmedical purposes.  “I ask myself how people can talk about freedom of religion while forcing a religious identity on the child, violating its integrity, and exposing the child to an irreversible procedure that causes lifelong harm,” Jomshof wrote in the bill.  Parliament defeated the bill in committee.

Jomshof introduced another bill in parliament in October that would ban “the use of Muslim veils in Swedish schools up to ninth grade, applicable to both teachers and students.”  He wrote in the bill that “the Muslim veil is an Islamic symbol of religious subservience and forced separation of men and women … [it] goes against everything our gender equal, democratic, and secular society stands for.”  Parliament defeated the bill in committee.

On June 25, the Gothenburg District Court convicted three men of “serious unlawful threats” and “inflicting gross damage” for throwing Molotov cocktails at a local synagogue in December 2017.  The court sentenced two of the men to two years in prison and the other one to 15 months.  The three were part of a larger group that threw the incendiary weapons but were the only ones authorities were able to identify.  The court ruled the incident a hate crime intended to “threaten, harm, and violate the Jewish people,” and handed down more severe sentences as a result.  Chairman of the Jewish congregation of Gothenburg Allan Stutzinsky welcomed the verdict, stating, “It was important that the case was tried and that we have a verdict written down from which others can learn.”

The three perpetrators of the attack on the synagogue were asylum seekers, two from Syria and one from the Palestinian Territories.  The district court ordered the Palestinian deported but judged Syria too unsafe to expel the two other men there.  On September 12, the Court of Appeal for Western Sweden cancelled the deportation of the Palestinian, arguing that “given Israel’s possible interest in the case and the uncertain situation… there is good reason to believe the basic human rights of [the perpetrator] would not be guaranteed should he be deported to Palestine.”  The Ambassador of Israel to Sweden, Ilan Ben-Dov, expressed his “deep concern” with the decision, arguing that it “excuses, and therefore legitimizes, the actions of a violent anti-Semite as acceptable political criticism by stating that his hostility is not towards Jews in general but due to his vengeful attitude towards Israel.”  In October the prosecutor-general appealed the decision not to extradite the Palestinian to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court agreed in late October to hear the case but had not done so by year’s end.

The SST continued to conduct a series of courses around the country open to all faiths, including religious groups not registered with the SST, aimed at strengthening the civil engagement capacity of minority religious communities and promoting interfaith cooperation.  New course topics included family law for religious leaders, female empowerment for minority women, and NGO management and accountability.  The SST also conducted interfaith scriptural reasoning courses, including sessions for women only, in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims read and discussed passages from their respective scriptures together.

The SST continued to fund, publish, and promote publications aimed at educating the public about religious minorities, including books on the history of Islam in the country and on the country’s Alawite, Alevi, Druze, Mandaean, and Yazidi communities.  In addition, the SST held lectures on denominations within Islam, targeted at academics and government officials.

The Media Council initiated a No Hate Speech Movement campaign, which included targeted efforts to stop anti-Semitic conspiracy theories by teaching youths to be critical of information posted online and by providing teachers with material to use in the classroom.  The government allocated five million kronor ($559,000) annually for 2018-20 to strengthen opportunities for study visits to Holocaust memorial sites, which allowed more students and teachers to visit them.  The government also said it would invest 15 million kronor ($1.68 million) on projects over three years to raise awareness about Nazi crimes against Jews and other groups.  “Nazism and racism are growing and spreading.  We are therefore launching this investment so that more youth can be equipped with knowledge to tackle the antidemocratic forces that are growing in Sweden,” then-Culture Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke said in a statement.

The government continued to fund the Living History Forum, a public authority “commissioned to work with issues related to tolerance, democracy, and human rights, using the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity as its starting point.”  The government allocated 46 million kronor ($5.15 million) to the forum, a more than threefold increase over the previous year, which provided lesson plans, books, and other resources for teachers.  Topics covered included anti-Semitism, Holocaust remembrance, ethnic and religious conflicts in the Balkans, and critical reading of history.

Schools continued to sponsor visits to Holocaust sites such as Auschwitz-Birkenau as educational tools.  Students participated in such trips regardless of religious background.  According to a study the Living History Forum released in June, 44,000 Swedes visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2017, the most on record.  The study concluded most of these visitors were likely students and other young people.  The Living History Forum provided education material and guidance for teachers to facilitate visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau and similar locations.

The SST distributed 82 million kronor ($9.17 million) in grants to 43 religious groups during the year for operating expenses, theological training, spiritual care in hospitals, building renovations, and refugee assistance.  In addition, the SST distributed funds for specific projects in response to grant requests, which different religious groups often carried out jointly.

The Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society (MUCF) provided grants to civil society organizations working to combat religious intolerance.  Grants included 925,000 kronor ($103,000) to the Jewish Youth Association for the project Ung Dialog, which fights anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiments through interfaith dialogue.  MUCF also gave 2,728,375 kronor ($305,000) to the Expo Foundation to combat intolerance and racism, including religious intolerance.

Members of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), widely described as a neo-Nazi group, ran as a political party in the general election in September.  The organization received 2,106 votes, or 0.03 percent, in the parliamentary elections and failed to gain any seats in local elections.  The organization carried out a large number of rallies and public meetings around the country.

Prime Minister Lofven commemorated the Holocaust in a speech in the Stockholm synagogue on January 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  In addition to condemning the Holocaust and present-day anti-Semitism and paying tribute to those killed, Lofven stated, “I want each and every