Afghanistan

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but stipulates followers of religions other than Islam may exercise their faith within the limits of the law. Conversion from Islam to another religion is considered apostasy, which is punishable by death, imprisonment, or confiscation of property, according to the Sunni Islam Hanafi school of jurisprudence. The constitution states the Hanafi school of jurisprudence shall apply “if there is no provision in the constitution or other laws about a case.” The penal code includes punishments for verbal and physical assaults on a follower of any religion and punishment for insults or distortions directed towards Islam, including in cyberspace. Representatives from the predominantly Shia Hazara community said the government’s provision of security in Shia-predominant areas was insufficient. The government again sought to address security issues in Western Kabul’s Shia Hazara Dasht-e Barchi area, a target of major attacks during the year, by announcing plans to increase Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) presence. According to the Shia community, they saw no increase in ANDSF forces despite the plans; however, they said the government distributed arms directly to the guards of Shia mosques in areas considered more targeted for attacks. Hindu and Sikh community leaders estimated approximately another 200 Sikhs and Hindus, compared with 500-600 in 2018, fled the country during the year to either India or Western countries because of security threats and a perceived lack of government protection. According to the Hindu and Sikh communities, their members continued to avoid settling disputes in the courts due to fear of retaliation and instead chose to settle disputes through community councils. Representatives of minority religious groups reported the courts again did not grant non-Muslims the same rights as Muslims. A small number of Sikhs and Hindus continued to serve in government positions. Shia Muslims continued to hold some major government positions; however, Shia leaders said the number of positions still did not reflect their demographics.

ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K), an affiliate of ISIS and a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, continued to target and kill members of minority religious communities, and the Taliban again targeted and killed individuals because of their beliefs or their links to the government. According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), consistent with trends observed in the past four years, many of the suicide and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on civilians targeted Shia Muslims, particularly ethnic Hazaras. During the year, UNAMA recorded 20 attacks targeting places of worship, religious leaders, and worshippers, compared with 22 attacks in 2018 – causing 236 civilian casualties (80 deaths and 156 injured), compared with 453 civilian casualties (156 deaths and 297 injured) in 2018. All were attributed to ISIS-K and other antigovernment elements. The Taliban continued to kill or issue death threats against Sunni clerics for preaching messages contrary to its interpretation of Islam. Taliban gunmen killed progovernment imams and other religious officials throughout the country. The Taliban continued to warn mullahs not to perform funeral prayers for government security officials and to punish residents in areas under Taliban control according to their interpretation of Islamic law, including shooting or hanging any person suspected of adultery or other “moral crimes.” Insurgents claiming affiliation with ISIS-K reportedly engaged in similar activities. In August ISIS-K attacked a wedding hall in a predominately Shia neighborhood of Kabul, killing 91 persons and wounding 143 others. According to media, antigovernment forces also targeted Sunni mosques. During the year, antigovernment forces carried out several deadly attacks on religious leaders, particularly those who spoke out against the Taliban. On June 28 in Samangan Province, the Taliban detonated a remote-controlled IED inside a Sunni mosque during Friday prayers, wounding 14 civilians. On October 18, at least 62 civilians were killed and another 58 wounded, including children, following the bombing of a Sunni mosque in Deh Bala District of Nangarhar Province during Friday prayers. No organization claimed responsibility for the attack. According to religious community leaders, some mullahs in unregistered mosques continued to preach in support of the Taliban or ISIS-K in their sermons.

According to international sources, Baha’is and Christians lived in constant fear of exposure and were reticent to reveal their identities to anyone. One Christian citizen described being disowned by his family after they learned he had converted to Christianity. Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and other non-Muslim minority groups reported continued verbal harassment by some Muslims, although Hindus and Sikhs stated they were able to practice their respective religions in public. Hindus and Sikhs said their children were teased and harassed in public schools, sometimes to the point that parents withdrew them from classes. Christian groups reported public sentiment, as expressed in social media and elsewhere, remained hostile towards converts and to Christian proselytization. They said individuals who converted or were studying Christianity reported receiving threats, including death threats, from family members. Christians and Ahmadi Muslims reported they continued to worship privately, sometimes in nondescript places of worship, to avoid societal discrimination and persecution. Women of several different faiths reported continued harassment by local Muslim religious leaders over their attire, which they said made it necessary for almost all women, both local and foreign, to wear some form of head covering. Observers said local Muslim religious leaders continued their efforts to limit social activities they considered inconsistent with Islamic doctrine. According to minority religious leaders, only a few places of worship remained open for Sikhs and Hindus, who said they continued to emigrate because of discrimination and a lack of employment opportunities. Hindu and Sikh groups also reported continued interference with efforts to cremate the remains of their dead, in accordance with their customs, by individuals who lived near cremation sites. Despite requesting and receiving local authority support for security during their cremation ceremonies, the community continued to face protests and threats of violence that prevented them from carrying out the sacred practice. Before every cremation ceremony, the community requested police support, who sent security forces to the area to help avoid any disturbance. In August police arrested one protester. A special committee, promised by the Ulema Council in 2018 to oversee social reform to address government corruption and “moral corruption” that religious clerics deemed incompatible with the teachings of Islam, had not been established by year’s end.

U.S. embassy officials continued to work with the government to promote understanding of what religious freedom is and why it is important, as well on the need for acceptance and protection of religious minorities in meetings with senior government officials. To enhance the government’s capacity to counter violent religious extremism, facilitate creation of a national strategy against such extremism, and create policies to foster religious tolerance, embassy representatives met frequently with the Office of the National Security Council (ONSC). The embassy regularly raised concerns about public safety and freedom to worship with security ministers. On August 27, a senior embassy official raised preparations for 10th of Muharram with Acting Minister of Interior Massoud Andarabi. Embassy officials continued to meet regularly with leaders of major religious groups, including minorities, scholars, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), to discuss ways to enhance religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue. The embassy hosted a religious freedom roundtable discussion to commemorate U.S. National Religious Freedom Day with Sunni and Shia Ulema leaders, a female Islamic scholar, a Sikh priest, and a Hindu priest. The embassy continued to sponsor programs for religious leaders to increase interreligious dialogue, identify means and ways to counter violent religious extremism, and promote tolerance for religious diversity. The embassy also used social media to highlight the National Religious Freedom and International Religious Freedom Days, and the Ambassador used social media to condemn attacks on places of worship.

Cambodia

Executive Summary

The constitution states Buddhism is the state religion, and it is promoted by the government through holiday observances, religious training, Buddhist instruction in public schools, and financial support to Buddhist institutions. The law provides for freedom of belief and religious worship, provided such freedom neither interferes with others’ beliefs and religions nor violates public order and security. The law does not allow non-Buddhist denominations to proselytize publicly. The government continued to refuse to allow the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to accept permanently a group of Christian Montagnards from Vietnam who came to the country to claim refugee status. The government returned some land to indigenous communities, which predominantly practice animist beliefs, after initially offering it to a foreign company as a concession for development.

The press reported that villagers killed at least two people suspected of practicing sorcery due to their animist beliefs and practices. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that witchcraft-related crimes were still common and between 2012 and 2018, there were at least 49 incidents. There were continued reports of societal barriers to the integration of the predominantly Muslim Cham ethnic minority as well as Christians.

U.S. embassy officials regularly raised religious freedom and tolerance with Ministry of Cults and Religion (MCR) representatives and other government officials. Some embassy programs continued to focus on the preservation of religious cultural sites.

United Kingdom

Executive Summary

In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church and the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church. The law prohibits “incitement to religious hatred” as well as discrimination on the grounds of religion. The government created and filled two new positions dealing with religious freedom issues: an independent advisor on anti-Semitism and an independent advisor appointed to provide expert advice on a definition of “Islamophobia.” The government also appointed a new special envoy for freedom of religion or belief. In addition to coordinating efforts among faith groups in the UK, the special envoy will play a key role in the UK’s international advocacy for religious freedom and has been charged with implementing recommendations from an independent review into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO’s) support for persecuted Christians, completed in May. Following the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque attack, the government doubled the amount of funding from 800,000 pounds ($1.06 million) in 2018-2019 to 1.6 million pounds ($2.11 million) from 2019-2020 available to provide security at places of worship and related security training. This was in addition to a new five million pound ($6.6 million) fund to provide security training for places of worship across England and Wales. The main political parties and party members faced numerous accusations of religious bias. The Conservative Party suspended several members who posted or endorsed anti-Muslim comments on Twitter. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) asked the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to launch an inquiry into “Islamophobia in the Conservative Party”; however, no inquiry was launched by year’s end. Separately, after receiving a number of complaints, the EHRC launched an investigation into whether the Labour Party had “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed, or victimized people because they are Jewish.” A BBC documentary reported allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party and the party’s and its leader’s mishandling the issue.

The government reported a 3 percent increase (to 8,566 offenses) in religiously motivated hate crimes in England and Wales in the 2018-2019 period. The annual report of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 1,805 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, the highest ever annual figure recorded by the organization, and 7 percent higher than the preceding year. This was the fourth year in a row in which CST documented a record high. Among the anti-Semitic incidents were 157 assaults and one incident classified as “extreme violence.” There were a further 710 incidents of nonviolent abusive behavior. CST recorded 697 anti-Semitic online incidents, a sharp rise from 384 in 2018. The most recent annual report from NGO Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), which monitors anti-Muslim activity, showed 3,173 reports of anti-Muslim hate incidents in 2018, including 1,891 recorded by police. This was the highest number since the NGO’s founding in 2011. A European Commission (EC) survey published in September showed that 61 percent of respondents believed discrimination based on religion or belief was very or fairly widespread in the country, while 34 percent said it was fairly or very rare. A Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews conducted in December 2018 showed that 62 percent of respondents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in the country, and 44 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. A number of interfaith initiatives took place throughout the year, including activities across the country during Inter-Faith Week in October.

Visiting senior U.S. government officials and embassy staff engaged with government officials and religious groups to advance international religious freedom issues, supported by a strong social media presence. In July and October, the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with government officials and encouraged British Jewish and interfaith communities to continue to speak out against religious hatred and intolerance. In a roundtable with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other faith leaders in May, the Secretary of State welcomed input by faith leaders in the policymaking process. In April the Ambassador met with the top leaders of the British Jewish community to hear their concerns regarding the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK and Europe. In October the Ambassador co-hosted an event with the FCO to celebrate International Religious Freedom Day, joined by the Minister of State for the Commonwealth, UN, and South Asia. Throughout the year, the embassy’s social media messaging on international religious freedom reached approximately 170,000 persons.

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U.S. Department of State

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