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.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 35.7 million (midyear 2019 estimate). There are no reliable statistics available concerning the percentages of Sunni and Shia Muslims in the country; the government’s Central Statistics Office does not track disaggregated population data. According to the Pew Forum, Shia make up approximately 10-15 percent of the population.
According to religious community leaders, the Shia population, approximately 90 percent of whom are ethnic Hazaras, is predominantly Jaafari, but it also includes Ismailis. Other religious groups, mainly Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’is, and Christians, constitute less than 0.3 percent of the population. Sikh and Hindu leaders estimate there are 120 Sikh and Hindu families totaling approximately 550 individuals, down from 700 in 2018 and 1,300 individuals estimated in 2017, mostly in Kabul, with a few communities in Nangarhar and Ghazni Provinces. Hindu community leaders estimate there are 35 remaining Afghan Hindus, all male and primarily businessmen with families in other countries.
The Ahmadi Muslim community estimates it has 450 adherents nationwide, down from 600 in 2017. Reliable estimates of the Baha’i and Christian communities are not available. There are small numbers of practitioners of other religions, including one Jew.
Hazaras live predominantly in the central and western provinces as well as in Kabul; Ismaili Muslims live mainly in Kabul and in the central and northern provinces. Followers of the Baha’i Faith live predominantly in Kabul, with a small community in Kandahar. Ahmadi Muslims largely live in Kabul.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution declares Islam the official state religion and says no law may contravene the beliefs and provisions of the “sacred religion of Islam.” It further states there shall be no amendment to the constitution’s provisions with respect to adherence to the fundamentals of Islam. According to Article 2 of the constitution, followers of religions other than Islam are “free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of the law.”
The penal code outlines provisions that criminalize verbal and physical assaults on religion and protects individuals’ right to exercise their beliefs for any religion. 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. According to the General Directorate of Fatwas and Accounts of the Supreme Court, there were no cases filed during the year. An article in the penal code specifies what constitutes an insult to religion, stating, “A person who intentionally insults a religion or disrupts its rites or destroys its permitted places of worship shall be deemed as a perpetrator of the crime of insulting religions and shall be punished according to provisions of this chapter.” The penal code specifies that deliberate insults or distortions directed towards Islamic beliefs or laws carry a prison sentence of one to five years. Article 817 of the penal code states, “A person who insults Islam using a computer system, program, or data, shall be imprisoned.”
Another article of the penal code states persons who forcibly stop the conduct of rituals of any religion, destroy or damage “permitted places of worship” (a term not defined by the code) where religious rituals are conducted, or destroy or damage any sign or symbol of any religion are subject to imprisonment of three months to one year or a fine ranging from 30,000 to 60,000 afghanis ($390-$770). In cases where killings or physical injury result from the disturbance of religious rites or ceremonies, the accused individual is tried according to crimes of murder and physical injury as defined by law.
While apostasy is not specifically provided for under the penal code, it falls under the seven offenses making up the hudood as defined by sharia. According to the penal code, perpetrators of hudood are punished according to Hanafi jurisprudence. According to Sunni Hanafi jurisprudence, which the constitution states shall apply “if there is no provision in the constitution or other laws about a case,” beheading is appropriate for male apostates, while life imprisonment is appropriate for female apostates, unless the individual repents. A judge may also impose a lesser penalty, such as short-term imprisonment or lashes, if doubt about the apostasy exists. Under Hanafi jurisprudence, the government may also confiscate the property of apostates or prevent apostates from inheriting property. This guidance applies to individuals who are of sound mind and have reached the age of maturity. Civil law states the age of maturity for citizens is 18, although it is 16 for females regarding marriage. Islamic law defines it as the point at which one shows signs of puberty, and puberty is usually applied as the marriageable age, particularly for girls.
Conversion from Islam to another religion is apostasy according to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence applicable in the courts. If someone converts to another religion from Islam, he or she shall have three days to recant the conversion. If the person does not recant, then he or she shall be subject to the punishment for apostasy. Proselytizing to try to convert individuals from Islam to another religion is also illegal according to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, which is applied in the courts and subject to the same punishment.
Blasphemy, which may include anti-Islamic writings or speech, is a capital crime, according to the Hanafi school. Accused blasphemers, like apostates, have three days to recant or face death, although there is no clear process for recanting under sharia. Some hadiths (sayings or traditions that serve as a source of Islamic law or guidance) suggest discussion and negotiation with an apostate to encourage the apostate to recant.
According to a 2007 ruling from the General Directorate of Fatwas and Accounts under the Supreme Court, the Baha’i Faith is distinct from Islam and is a form of blasphemy. All Muslims who convert to it are considered apostates; Baha’is are labeled infidels.
Licensing and registration of religious groups are not required. Registration as a group (which gives the group the status of a council, known as a shura) or an association conveys official recognition and the benefit of government provision of facilities for seminars and conferences. By law, anyone who is 18 years of age or older may establish a social or political organization. Such an entity must have a central office as well as a charter consistent with domestic laws. Both groups and associations may register with the Ministry of Justice. The ministry may dissolve such organizations through a judicial order. Groups recognized as shuras may cooperate with one another on religious issues. Associations may conduct business with the government or the society as a whole.
A mass media law prohibits the production, reproduction, printing, and publishing of works and materials contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and denominations. It also prohibits publicizing and promoting religions other than Islam and bans articles on any topic the government deems might harm the physical, spiritual, and moral well-being of persons, especially children and adolescents. The law instructs National Radio and Television Afghanistan, a government agency, to provide broadcasting content reflecting the religious beliefs of all ethnic groups in the country, all based on Islam. Some radio stations provide religious programming for Sunni Muslims, and a smaller number of radio stations provide religious programming for Shia Muslims. The law also obligates the agency to adjust its programs in light of Islamic principles as well as national and spiritual values.
According to the constitution, the “state shall devise and implement a unified educational curriculum based on the provisions of the sacred religion of Islam, national culture, as well as academic principles” and develop courses on religion based on the “Islamic sects” in the country. The national curriculum includes materials designed separately for Sunni-majority schools and Shia-majority schools, as well as textbooks that emphasize nonviolent Islamic terms and principles. The curriculum includes courses on Islam but not on other religions. Non-Muslims are not required to study Islam in public schools. The registration process for madrassahs requires a school to demonstrate it has suitable buildings, classrooms, accredited teachers, and dormitories if students live on campus. The Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs (MOHRA) registers madrassahs collocated with mosques, while the Ministry of Education (MOE) registers madrassahs not associated with mosques. In MOHRA-run madrassahs, students receive instruction, with one imam teaching approximately 50 to 70 children studying at various levels. Only certificates issued by registered madrassahs allow students to pursue higher education at government universities.
According to the law, all funds contributed to madrassahs by private or international sources must be channeled through the MOE.
The civil and penal codes derive their authority from the constitution. The constitution stipulates the courts shall apply constitutional provisions as well as the law in ruling on cases. For instances in which neither the constitution nor the penal or civil codes address a specific case, the constitution declares the courts may apply Hanafi Sunni jurisprudence within the limits set by the constitution to attain justice. The constitution also allows courts to apply Shia law in cases involving Shia followers. Non-Muslims may not provide testimony in matters requiring sharia jurisprudence. The constitution makes no mention of separate laws applying to non-Muslims.
A Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim woman, but the woman must first convert if she is not an adherent of one of the other two Abrahamic faiths – Christianity or Judaism. It is illegal for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man.
The government’s national identity cards indicate an individual’s religion, as well as nationality, tribe, and ethnicity. Individuals are not required to declare belief in Islam to receive citizenship.
The constitution requires the president and two vice presidents to be Muslim. Other senior officials (ministers, members of parliament, judges) must swear allegiance and obedience to the principles of Islam as part of their oath of office. No occasion to determine if this applies to non-Muslims has arisen since the constitution was adopted in 2004.
The constitution allows the formation of political parties, provided the program and charter of a party are “not contrary to the principles of the sacred religion of Islam.” The constitution states political parties may not be based on sectarianism.
The law mandates an additional seat in parliament’s lower house be reserved for a member of the Hindu and Sikh community. Four seats in the parliament are also reserved for Ismaili Muslims.
MOHRA is responsible for managing Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, revenue collection for religious activities, acquisition of property for religious purposes, issuance of fatwas, educational testing of imams, sermon preparation and distribution for government-supported mosques, and raising public awareness of religious issues. MOHRA has an office dedicated to assisting the faith practices of religious minorities, specifically Sikhs and Hindus.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Representatives from the predominantly Shia Hazara community said promised government security and development initiatives in Shia-predominant areas were insufficient, symbolic measures and the government had not implemented them. Media reported members of the Shia community continued to state the government did not provide them with adequate protection from attacks by nonstate actors. The Ministry of Interior again promised to increase security around Shia mosques and authorized the arming of Shia civilians, under police authority, to provide extra security for Ashura. On August 27, Acting Minister of Interior Massoud Andarabi confirmed preparations were in place that involved integrating all the security forces. The minister stated he understood that ISIS-K posed a particular threat to the Shia community. According to the Shia community, the government distributed arms directly to the guards of Shia mosques in areas considered more targeted for attacks. Media reported the government arrested a group of three ISIS-K leaders just two days before the Shia community’s observance of Ashura in Kabul. Although National Directorate of Security (NDS) forces told the press these arrests thwarted attacks during Ashura, they provided no evidence these leaders were plotting to target the Shia community, and ISIS-K did not claim it had planned attacks. For the second year in a row, there were no reports of violence during Ashura processions.
As in the previous five years, there were no reports of government prosecutions for blasphemy or apostasy; however, individuals converting from Islam reported they continued to risk annulment of their marriages, rejection by their families and communities, loss of employment, and possibly the death penalty. Baha’is continued to be labeled as “infidels,” although they were not considered converts; as such, they were not charged with either crime.
The government again allowed both Sunnis and Shia to go on pilgrimages. The government set aside a number of Hajj slots for residents of each province, with the higher-population provinces receiving more slots, and with no sect-based discrimination in the distribution of slots. The government charged fees for Hajj participants to cover transportation, food, accommodation, and other expenses. MOHRA also continued to facilitate pilgrimages for Hindus and Sikhs to India, but it did not collect any revenue for or from non-Muslims. Ahmadi Muslims continued to report they chose not to interact with MOHRA because they feared MOHRA would deem them non-Muslims and forbid them from participating in the Hajj.
MOHRA officials said the ministry had no official statistics because it lacked the financial resources to generate a comprehensive registry of mullahs and mosques in the country. MOHRA continued to estimate that of the approximately 120,000 mullahs in the country, 6,000 registered mullahs were working directly for MOHRA at year’s end. They said registered mullahs working directly for MOHRA continued to receive an average monthly salary of 12,000 afghanis ($150) from the government. Mullahs of central mosques delivering special Friday sermons, or khatibs, were paid a salary of 14,000 afghanis ($180) by MOHRA. MOHRA again estimated 66,000 of the estimated 160,000 mosques in the country were registered.
MOHRA reported it continued to allocate a portion of its budget for the construction of new mosques, although local groups remained the source of most of the funds for the new mosques. Unless the local groups requested financial or other assistance from the ministry, they were not required to inform the ministry about new construction.
Hindu and Sikh groups again reported they remained free to build places of worship and to train other Hindus and Sikhs to become clergy, but per the law against conversion of Muslims, the government continued not to allow them to proselytize. Hindu and Sikh community members said they continued to avoid pursuing land disputes through the courts due to fear of retaliation, especially if powerful local leaders occupied their property.
Although the government provided land to use as cremation sites, Sikh leaders stated the distance from any major urban area and the lack of security in the region continued to make the land unusable. Hindus and Sikhs reported continued interference in their efforts to cremate the remains of their dead by individuals who lived near the cremation sites. In response, the government continued to provide police support to protect the Sikh and Hindu communities while they performed their cremation rituals. The government promised to construct modern crematories for the Sikh and Hindu populations. Despite these challenges, community leaders acknowledged efforts by MOHRA to provide free water, electricity, and repair services for a few Sikh and Hindu temples, as well as facilitate visas for religious trips to India.
According to MOHRA, the ministry did not have access to most of the country, especially in districts, villages, and rural areas. MOHRA officials said there were up to hundreds or thousands of unregistered mosques and madrassahs located in Taliban-controlled areas. They said in rural areas and most villages, mosques were used as madrassahs, and because most mosques were not registered, most madrassahs were not either. According to MOHRA, there was no system or mechanism for opening a new madrassah, particularly at the district level and in villages. MOHRA officials said it did not have a database or information on the number of madrassahs or mosques, except for information on the number of mosques located at provincial or district centers with imams on the MOHRA’s payroll. According to the ministry, there were 4,500 registered madrassahs and “Quran learning centers” throughout the country. The government registered additional madrassahs during the year but did not report how many. More than 300,000 students were enrolled in these registered madrassahs during the year, mostly in Kabul, Balkh, Nangarhar, and Herat Provinces, according to MOHRA’s estimates.
Ministry officials said the government continued its efforts to raise awareness of the benefits of registering madrassahs, including recognition of graduation certificates and financial and material assistance, such as furniture or stationery. Government officials said they were concerned about their inability to supervise unregistered madrassas that could teach violent extremist curricula intolerant of religious minorities and become recruitment centers for antigovernment groups. In February the NDS arrested Kabul University lecturer Mawlai Mubashir Muslimyar on charges of encouraging approximately 16 students to carry out terrorist attacks targeting Shia Muslims. On June 30, two Kabul University sharia law faculty members were arrested by the NDS for promoting Salafist religious ideology and actively recruiting university students for ISIS-K.
Mosques continued to handle primary-level religious studies. Eighty MOE-registered public madrassahs offered two-year degree programs at the secondary level. An estimated 1,200 public madrassahs were registered with the MOE, each receiving financial support from the government. There were no estimates of unregistered madrassas available.
Ulema Council members continued to receive financial support from the state, although it officially remained independent from the government. The council also provided advice to some provincial governments; however, according to scholars and NGOs, most legal decision making in villages and rural areas continued to be based on local interpretations of Islamic law and tradition. President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah also held meetings with Ulema Council members on promoting intrafaith tolerance and “moderate practices” of Islam.
Minority religious groups reported the courts continued not to apply the protections provided to those groups by law, and the courts denied non-Muslims equal access to the courts and other legal redress, even when the non-Muslims were legally entitled to those same rights.
Representatives from non-Muslim religious minorities, including Sikhs and Hindus, reported a consistent pattern of discrimination at all levels of the justice system. As Taliban representatives engaged in peace process discussions, some Sikhs and Hindus expressed concern that in a postconflict environment, they might be required to wear yellow (forehead) dots, badges, or armbands, as the Taliban had mandated during its 1996-2001 rule. Non-Muslims said they continued to risk being tried according to Hanafi jurisprudence. Sikhs and Hindus again reported their community members avoided taking civil cases to court because they believed they were unprotected by dispute resolution mechanisms, such as the Special Land and Property Court. Instead, their members continued to settle disputes within their communities.
Leaders of both Hindu and Sikh communities continued to state they faced discrimination in the judicial system, including long delays in resolving cases, particularly regarding the continued appropriation of Sikh properties.
Some Shia continued to hold senior positions in the government, including Second Vice President Sarwar Danish; High Peace Council Chairman Karim Khalili; Minister of Transportation Mohammad Hamid Tahmasi; Minister of Telecommunication Mohammad Fahim Hashimi; and Minister of Refugees and Returnees Hussain Alemi Balkhi. Shia leaders, however, continued to state the proportion of official positions held by Shia did not reflect their estimate of the country’s demographics. Sunni members of the Ulema Council continued to state, however, that Shia remained overrepresented in government based on Sunni estimates of the percentage of Shia in the population. According to some observers, Hazaras often faced discrimination based on their ethnicity and predominance in the country’s Shia population. Observers also said the country’s Shia were underrepresented in government not because of their religion, but because of their Hazara ethnicity.
A small number of Sikhs and Hindus continued to serve in government positions, including one at the municipal level, one at the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries, one as a presidentially appointed member of the upper house of parliament, one as an elected member in the lower house, one as a presidential advisor, and one as a member of the Ministry of Transportation.
Although four Ismaili Muslims remained members of parliament, Ismaili community leaders continued to report concerns about what they called the exclusion of Ismailis from other positions of political authority.
The government continued to support the efforts of judicial, constitutional, and human rights commissions composed of members of different Islamic religious groups (Sunni and Shia) to promote Muslim intrafaith reconciliation. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and MOHRA continued working toward their stated goal of gaining nationwide acceptance of the practice of allowing women to attend mosques. The Ulema Council, the Islamic Brotherhood Council, and MOHRA also continued their work on intrafaith reconciliation. Ministry officials and NGOs promoting religious tolerance, however, said it was difficult to continue their programs due to funding and capacity constraints.
The ONSC continued its work on addressing religiously motivated violent extremism, which included policies to foster religious tolerance. The ONSC continued to sponsor provincial-level conferences on religiously motivated violent extremism to collect data for use in its effort to develop a strategy to counter violent extremism. Government officials said the ONSC approved, and the president signed, an interministerial strategy in mid-September; however, it was not widely publicized due to “sensitivities surrounding the issue.” According to the ONSC, it continued to work on an action plan for implementation of the policy, which was expected to be finalized before the end of the year.
According to journalists, local observers, and UNAMA, attacks by ISIS-K and other insurgent groups continued to target specific religious and ethnoreligious groups, including the Hazara Shia. During the year, UNAMA documented a 48-percent decrease from 2018 in civilian casualties from attacks targeting places of worship, religious leaders, and worshippers – mainly due to a reduction in such attacks by ISIS-K. UNAMA recorded 20 attacks targeting places of worship, religious leaders, and worshippers, compared with 22 attacks in 2018. The attacks caused 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. Despite the overall decrease, civilian casualties from these types of attacks by the Taliban more than doubled compared with 2018. Suicide attacks were again the leading type of attacks targeting places of worship, religious leaders, and worshippers, resulting in 127 civilian casualties (62 killed and 65 injured), compared with 402 casualties (136 killed and 266 injured) in 2018. In addition to suicide attacks, UNAMA documented six incidents of targeting places of worship, religious leaders, and worshippers with the use of nonsuicide IEDs, causing caused 88 civilian casualties (6 killed and 82 injured), compared with 35 civilian casualties (15 deaths and 20 injured) in 2018.
UNAMA continued to report high levels of ISIS-K-directed, sectarian-motivated violence targeting the Shia Muslim, mostly ethnic Hazara, population. It documented 10 incidents of sectarian-motivated violence against Shia Muslims resulting in 485 civilian casualties (117 killed and 368 injured), representing a 35 per cent decrease from such attacks, compared with 2018 when there were 19 incidents resulting in 747 civilian casualties (233 killed and 524 injured). ISIS-K claimed seven of the 10 incidents, stating its aim was to target the Shia Muslim religious minority. These seven incidents caused 473 civilian casualties (112 killed and 361 injured).
On August 17, ISIS-K attacked a wedding hall in a predominately Shia neighborhood of Kabul. According to UNAMA, this was the year’s deadliest attack, killing 91 persons and wounding 143 others, including 15 children killed and 25 injured. On March 7, ISIS-K fired mortar rounds towards a gathering to commemorate the killing of Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari, in the Mosalla-e-Mazari area of Kabul – causing 115 civilian casualties (11 killed and 104 injured). On July 5, ISIS-K also attacked a Shia mosque in Ghazni City. The detonation of a remote-controlled IED inside of the Mohammadiah Mosque resulted in 24 civilian casualties (two killed and 22 injured), mostly children. On October 8, ISIS-K detonated an IED in a classroom of Ghazni University classroom, targeting Shia students and causing 27 civilian casualties.
UNAMA also documented 17 civilian casualties (10 killed and seven injured) as a result of incidents in which religious leaders and worshippers were targeted and shot. On June 27, a religious scholar and acting head of the provincial Hajj and Religious Affairs Department was shot and killed by ISIS-K in Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province. Many other progovernment Islamic scholars were killed in attacks for which no group claimed responsibility. On July 6, two unknown gunmen on a motorcycle killed the chairperson of the local Shia Ulema Council in Kunduz after he made statements supportive of the Afghan government and the peace process.
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 mosque during Friday prayers, wounding 14 civilians. According to sources, the Taliban were targeting the mullah, who had praised ANDSF in previous services. Many progovernment Islamic scholars were killed in attacks during the year for which no group claimed responsibility. For example, on May 24, a remote-controlled IED placed inside the Al-Taqwa mosque in Kabul detonated while more than 700 individuals were gathered during Friday prayers. The explosives were positioned under the podium where a religious scholar, Mawlawi Rayhan, was leading prayers. The explosion killed him and two other civilians and injured 34 others. Rayhan was known as a supporter of the Afghan national security forces and a critic of the Taliban and ISIS-K. UNAMA attributed this incident to the Taliban.
On June 24, in the Nangarhar community of Qalatak, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Mawlawi Safiullah Hanafi, the imam of Qalatak’s central mosque, an Islamic schoolteacher and progovernment figure. President Ghani condemned the “inhumane attack on the wedding hall” and stated via Twitter, “My top priority for now is to reach out to the families of victims of this barbaric attack.” By year’s end, the government had not detained any individuals suspected of having been involved in these killings.
The Taliban continued to kill religious leaders and threaten them with death for preaching messages contrary to the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam or its political agenda. On May 26, unidentified armed men shot and killed Mawlawi Shabir Ahmad Hashem Kamawal, a well-known religious scholar and legal advisor for the International Legal Foundation for Afghanistan in Kabul who had called on the Taliban to end the fighting.
In several cases, the responsibility for attacks on progovernment religious leaders was unclear. In these instances, although no individual or group claimed responsibility for the attacks, local authorities said they suspected that ISIS-K or, less frequently, the Taliban were responsible. On October 18, at least 62 civilians were killed and another 58 wounded, including 20 children killed and 10 injured, following the bombing of a Sunni mosque in Deh Bala District, Nangarhar Province, during Friday prayers. No organization claimed responsibility for the attacks. The investigation continued at year’s end. On May 3, unknown gunmen shot and killed a progovernment religious scholar in the Behsod District, Nangarhar Province. As an official imam on the MOHRA payroll, the scholar was targeted for his support of the government, according to sources. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.
On March 3, an IED exploded at the Haji Chaman Mosque, injuring Mawlavi Rahimullah (the religious advisor to the president) and his bodyguard and killing his driver. On May 27, a magnetic IED attached to an official government shuttle bus belonging to MOHRA exploded, wounding 10 MOHRA employees. No group claimed responsibility for these attacks.
There continued to be reports of the Taliban and ISIS-K monitoring the social practices of local populations in areas under their control and imposing punishments on residents according to their respective interpretations of Islamic law. On October 6, the Taliban sentenced a young girl and boy to 40 lashings in Faryab Province for having several telephone conversations. According to media reports, in May a Taliban court in Shahrak District, Ghor Province, shot and killed an underage boy and girl for allegedly having an extramarital affair. In March media reported the Taliban killed a pregnant woman and her unborn child in Sancharak District, Sar-e-Pol Province, for allegedly calling the Taliban’s war against the government “illegitimate.” The Taliban dragged her from her home, took her to a Talib commander who issued her death sentence, and immediately shot her.
There were again reports of continued Taliban warnings to mullahs not to perform funeral prayers for government security officials. As a result, according to MOHRA officials, imams continued to state they feared performing funeral rites for ANDSF and other government employees. In August media reported the Taliban put pressure on local imams to cut relations with the government and speak in favor of the Taliban or face Taliban retribution. Local communities pointed out that inaction by Islamic clerics affected security force morale. MOHRA also reported difficulty in staffing registered mosques in insecure areas because of Taliban threats.
Social media reporting showed Taliban punishing individuals who did not fast during Ramadan. They publicly shamed these individuals by coloring their faces black, putting them on donkeys, or shaving their heads.
According to religious community leaders, some mullahs in unregistered mosques continued to preach in support of the Taliban or ISIS-K in their sermons.
There were continued reports of the Taliban and ISIS-K taking over schools in areas under their control and imposing their own curricula; however, it was difficult to obtain information in Taliban-controlled territory.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Since religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was often difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity. Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and other non-Muslim minorities reported continued harassment from Muslims, although Hindus and Sikhs stated they continued to be able to publicly practice their religions. Members of the Hindu community continued to report they faced fewer cases of harassment, including verbal abuse, than Sikhs, which they ascribed to their lack of a distinctive male headdress. Both groups attributed fewer cases of harassment of members of their communities to the continued emigration of Sikh and Hindu residents.
According to some sources, converts to Christianity and individuals studying Christianity reported receiving threats, including death threats, from family members opposed to their interest in Christianity. Reportedly, the number of Christian missionaries in the country was estimated at 60, with 30 to 40 based in the capital.
According to Christians and Ahmadi Muslims, they continued to worship privately to avoid societal discrimination and persecution.
Women of several different faiths, including Islam, continued to report harassment from local Muslim religious leaders over their attire. As a result, some women said they continued to wear burqas or other modest dress in public in rural areas and in some districts of urban areas, including in Kabul, in contrast to other more secure, government-controlled areas, where women said they felt comfortable without what they considered conservative clothing. Almost all women reported wearing some form of head covering. Some women said they did so by personal choice, but many said they did so due to societal pressure and a desire to avoid harassment and increase their security in public.
Ahmadi Muslims continued to report verbal abuse on the street and harassment when neighbors or coworkers learned of their faith. They said they also faced accusations of being “spies” for communicating with other Ahmadi Muslim community congregations abroad. They said they did not proselytize due to fear of persecution. Although Ahmadis had maintained an unmarked place of worship in past years, during the year the Ahmadis said they decided not to use it after neighbors informed police of its location. Ahmadis continued to report the need to increasingly conceal their identity to avoid unwanted attention in public and their intent to depart the country permanently if there were a peace deal with the Taliban.
Christian representatives again reported public opinion remained hostile toward converts to Christianity and to the idea of Christian proselytization. They said Christians continued to worship alone or in small congregations, sometimes 10 or fewer persons, in private homes due to fear of societal discrimination and persecution. The dates, times, and locations of these services were frequently changed to avoid detection. There continued to be no public Christian churches.
According to minority religious leaders, the decreasing numbers of Sikhs, Hindus, and other religious minorities had only a few places of worship. According to the Sikh and Hindu Council, which advocates with the government on behalf of the Sikh and Hindu communities, there were 12 gurdwaras (Sikh temples) and four mandirs (Hindu temples) remaining in the country, compared with a combined total of 64 in previous years. Buddhist foreigners remained free to worship in Hindu temples. Members of the Hindu and Sikh communities said the list of seizures of their places of worship in Ghazni, Kandahar, and Paktiya Provinces they submitted to MOHRA in 2016 remained unresolved at year’s end.
Community leaders said they perceived the large number of butchers selling beef near a Sikh temple in Kabul as a deliberate insult because neighbors were aware that Sikhs and Hindus do not eat beef for religious reasons. Sikh and Hindu leaders also reported neighboring residents tended to place household trash in their temples of worship. Although they filed official complaints to police, neither local authorities nor local imams took action to remedy the situation.
According to members of the Sikh and Hindu communities, they continued to refuse to send their children to public schools due to harassment from other students, although there were only a few private school options available to them due to the decreasing sizes of the two communities and their members’ declining economic circumstances. The Sikh and Hindu Council reported one school in Nangarhar and one school in Kabul remained operational. Sikh and Hindu representatives, however, again said these schools were underequipped to teach students.
Sikh leaders continued to state the main cause of Hindu and Sikh emigration was lack of employment opportunities; they said one factor impeding their access to employment was illiteracy resulting from lack of access to education. Sikh leaders said many families in Kabul lived at community temples (gurdwaras and mandirs) because they could not afford permanent housing. Both communities stated emigration would continue to increase as economic conditions worsened and security concerns increased. Community leaders estimated approximately another 200 Sikhs and Hindus fled the country during the year to either India or Western countries, in addition to 500-600 who fled in 2018. Some Sikhs and Hindus reported that they faced frequent calls to convert to Islam; in response, many noted that their communities’ residence in the country predated Islam.
Media published reports of both Shia and Sunni leaders condemning particular secular events as contrary to Islam; however, there were no prominent reports of joint condemnations. According to media, the Provincial Shia Ulema Council in Bamyan condemned the Bamyan Music Festival, and Shia religious leaders tried without success to stop it because the provincial governor and civil society supported the event. The Ulema also issued several statements against television programs, such as Afghan Music Star and Indian and Turkish series. In Herat, religious leaders threatened Tolo TV for recording the Afghan Music Star program in Herat, which caused the show to lower its public profile during filming.
Kabul’s lone synagogue remained occupied by the last remaining Jew in the country, and a nearby abandoned Jewish cemetery was still utilized as an unofficial dump; reportedly many abandoned Muslim cemeteries were also used as dumping sites. The lone Jew said it was becoming more difficult for him to perform all his religious rituals. He said in the past, Jews from international military forces and foreign embassies attended the synagogue but could no longer do so due to security concerns and threats.
Worship facilities for noncitizens of various faiths continued to be located at coalition military facilities and at embassies in Kabul, but security restrictions limited access.
Media continued to report efforts by local Muslim religious leaders to limit social activities they considered inconsistent with Islamic doctrine, such as education for females or female participation in sports.
NGOs reported Muslim residents remained suspicious of development assistance projects, which they often viewed as surreptitious efforts to advance Christianity or engage in proselytization.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
In meetings with members of the president’s staff, ONSC, MOHRA, and the Ulema Council, embassy officials continued to promote understanding of religious freedom as well as the need to enhance the government’s capacity to counter violent religious extremism. Senior embassy officials met with government officials to emphasize the need to accept and protect religious minorities, including informing the government of the conclusions of the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom and the U.S. government’s recognition of August 22 as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. The Ambassador met with leaders of the Sikh and Hindu communities to understand their relationship with the government and their ability to practice their faith. The U.S. Secretary of State hosted two Afghans at the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington on July 16-18, including one Shia victim of religious persecution whose brother, fiance, and future brother-in-law were killed in an ISIS-K suicide bombing targeting a Shia shrine.
Embassy officials met with both government and religious officials to discuss the issue of ensuring madrassahs did not offer a curriculum encouraging religiously motivated violent extremism, which could encourage intolerance towards the country’s religious minorities. The embassy continued to coordinate with the ONSC, as well as other governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders, to assist the ONSC in creating a national strategy to combat violent extremism and enhancing its relevance to promoting respect for religious diversity.
Embassy officials held regular meetings with government officials from MOHRA; leaders of religious minorities, including Shias, Sikhs, Hindus, and Ahmadis; imams; scholars; and NGOs to discuss ways to enhance religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue. Embassy officials as well as the visiting Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs hosted iftars with government, civil society, and religious leaders during Ramadan to promote religious dialogue and tolerance. On January 16, a senior embassy official hosted a religious freedom roundtable discussion at the embassy 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. During the roundtable, the government representatives recognized the right of certain communities, including Sikhs and Hindus, to practice their faith short of proselytizing. The embassy reaffirmed U.S. government commitment to promoting religious freedom.
The embassy hosted roundtables with researchers and religious scholars, including MOHRA representatives, to discuss the sources and means to counter violent extremism related to religion and promote tolerance. On March 14, the embassy conducted a virtual discussion via the Lincoln Learning Centers with sharia law faculty at seven universities across the country on interpretation of Islam promoting tolerance in the negotiation and its importance for implementing a lasting peace agreement. The embassy also facilitated and funded the coordination of research efforts on violent extremism related to religion, which included policies to foster intrafaith tolerance.
The embassy highlighted National Religious Freedom Day on July 16 and International Religious Freedom Day on October 27 through Twitter and Facebook posts. The Ambassador condemned the attacks on a mosque in Nangarhar Province and in front of a children’s madrassa in Laghman Province on October 18 and 16, respectively, through Twitter. On September 12, the embassy released a public statement on Facebook and Twitter recognizing the first International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.
The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religion. It stipulates there is no official religion and that the state is neutral in matters of belief, recognizes the equality and independence of religious groups, and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The government has distinct agreements with the Sunni Muslim and Bektashi communities, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the Evangelical Brotherhood of Albania (VUSH), a Protestant umbrella organization, regarding recognition as one of the country’s main faith communities, property restitution, and other arrangements. The law stipulates the government will give financial support to faith communities, but the government’s agreement with the VUSH under the law does not specifically designate it to receive such funding. The VUSH reported, despite the State Committee on Religion’s written commitments to advocate for financial support from the government for evangelical Christian churches, the government did not allocate funds. Religious communities noted positively the State Committee on Religion’s engagement with them and the work of the Interreligious Council, a forum for the country’s religious leaders to discuss shared concerns, although the VUSH expressed concern the government showed indifference towards it relative to other faith communities. The government legalized 135 buildings owned by religious groups during the year, compared with 105 in 2018, and the status of 11 additional properties was under review. The Agency for the Treatment of Property (ATP) reported that, through February, it rejected 150 claims for title. The law then required the ATP to send the remaining 410 pending cases to the court system. The Albanian Islamic Community (AIC) and the Bektashi community raised concerns about having to start over with their claims in the judicial system. VUSH leaders continued to report difficulties in acquiring land to construct places of worship and problems concerning municipal government fees. The Bektashi and the AIC reported problems defending title to certain properties. The AIC reported it had not received a permit, requested in early 2018, to build a new campus for Beder University, but Beder’s religious studies program received accreditation for another five years in November. The State Committee on Religion and the AIC reported the government did not recognize diplomas received from foreign institutions in theology and religious studies. The Council of Ministers still had not finished adopting regulations to support implementation of a 2017 law on the rights and freedoms of national minorities, including religious freedom.
During antigovernment protests, religious leaders issued statements condemning violence and calling for calm and dialogue. The Interreligious Council held several meetings domestically and internationally. The council signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Albanian Center for the Coordination against Violent Extremism in May to enhance cooperation on preventing violent extremism and monitoring school texts to highlight misleading statements about religion. On March 2, the AIC elected its new chairman, Bujar Spahiu, to a five-year term, a contest that attracted significant commentary from the media regarding the candidates, allegations of foreign influence, and concerns about the process. Spahiu, the former deputy chair, joined the AIC in 2006.
U.S. embassy officers again urged government officials to accelerate the religious property claims process and return to religious groups buildings and other property confiscated during the communist era. Embassy officers also urged the government to recognize diplomas granted by foreign universities. In May the Charge d’Affaires hosted an iftar for Muslim students and leaders from the AIC and Bektashi communities, stressing the value of religious dialogue and harmony. Embassy-sponsored programs focused on promoting women’s empowerment in religious communities and the compatibility of religious faith and democracy. The embassy continued its work with religious communities to discourage the appeal of violent extremism related to religion among youth. In August a visiting Department of State official met with faith community leaders, the Commissioner of the State Committee on Religion, and officials from the Ministry of Education to explore the relationship between religious harmony and efforts to counter violent extremism and radicalization.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 3.1 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the most recent census, conducted in 2011, Sunni Muslims constitute nearly 57 percent of the population, Roman Catholics 10 percent, members of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania nearly 7 percent, and members of the Bektashi Order (a form of Shia Sufism) 2 percent. Other groups include Protestant denominations, Baha’is, Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a small Jewish community. Nearly 20 percent of respondents declined to answer the optional census question about religious affiliation.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution stipulates there is no official religion, recognizes the equality of all religious communities, and articulates the state’s duty to respect and protect religious coexistence. It declares the state’s neutrality in questions of belief and recognizes the independence of religious groups. According to the constitution, relations between the state and religious groups are regulated by agreements between these groups and the Council of Ministers and ratified by the parliament.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and guarantees freedom of conscience, religion, and free expression. It affirms the freedom of all individuals to choose or change religion or beliefs and to express them individually, collectively, in public, or in private. The constitution states individuals may not be compelled to participate in or be excluded from participating in a religious community or its practices, nor may they be compelled to make their beliefs or faith public or be prohibited from doing so. It prohibits political parties and other organizations whose programs incite or support religious hatred. The criminal code prohibits interference in an individual’s ability to practice a religion and prescribes punishments of up to three years in prison for obstructing the activities of religious organizations or for willfully destroying objects or buildings of religious value.
By law, the Office of the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination receives and processes discrimination complaints, including those concerning religious practice. The law specifies the State Committee on Religion, under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Prime Minister, regulates relations between the government and religious groups, protects freedom of religion, and promotes interfaith cooperation and understanding. The law also directs the committee to maintain records and statistics on foreign religious groups that solicit assistance and to support foreign employees of religious groups in obtaining residence permits.
The government has agreements with the Sunni Muslim and Bektashi communities, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the VUSH. These bilateral agreements codify arrangements pertaining to official recognition, property restitution, tax exemptions on income, donations and religious property, and exemption from submitting accounting records for religious activities. A legal provision enacted in 2009 directs the government to provide financial support to the four religious communities with which it had agreements at the time. This provision of the law does not include the VUSH, whose agreement with the government dates from 2011. There is no provision of the law to provide VUSH with financial support from the government.
The 2016 law that established the ATP imposed a three-year deadline for the agency to address claims by all claimants, including religious groups, for properties confiscated during the communist era. As of February, ATP’s jurisdiction in these cases ceased and the law requires the ATP to forward open cases to the court system for judicial review. Religious communities must take their cases to court for judicial review, as must all other claimants.
The law allows religious communities to run educational institutions as well as build and manage religious cemeteries on land the communities own.
Public schools are secular, and the law prohibits instruction in the tenets of a specific religion, but not the teaching of the history of religion or comparative religions as part of a humanities curriculum. Private schools may offer religious instruction. Religious communities manage 114 educational institutions, including universities, primary and secondary schools, preschools, kindergartens, vocational schools, and orphanages. By law, the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport must license these institutions, and nonreligious curricula must comply with national education standards. Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox, and VUSH communities operate numerous state-licensed kindergartens, schools, and universities. Most of these do not have mandatory religion classes but offer them as an elective. The AIC runs six madrassahs that teach religion in addition to the state-sponsored curriculum.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The government continued the process of legalizing unofficial mosques, Catholic and Orthodox churches, and tekkes (Bektashi centers of worship) built after the 1990s. The Agency for the Legalization, Urbanization, and Integration of Informal Construction (ALUIZNI) reported that through September it legalized 135 religious buildings, including four Catholic churches, 71 mosques, 12 Orthodox churches, and 48 tekkes. There were some discrepancies between the figures reported by ALUIZNI and those of the religious communities. The AIC reported it obtained legalization papers for 245 legalized mosques out of 850 applications remaining. The Orthodox Church reported that during this year ALUIZNI considered 13 of its requests for objects in Tirana and legalized two of them.
The AIC expressed concern that ALUIZNI only gave it title to the buildings and not to the land. ALUIZNI reported that it compensated the AIC with 231.6 square meters (2,500 square feet) and the Bektashi community with 1,320.7 square meters (14,200 square feet) of new land in exchange for land illegally occupied by unpermitted construction. In addition, ALUIZNI issued titles for religious buildings constructed on government or third-party land. ALUIZNI also issued titles, thereby legalizing ownership, for 1,569.7 square meters (16,900 square feet) of land to the AIC, 1,303 square meters (14,000 square feet) of land to the Bektashi, and 227.7 square meters (2,450 square feet) of land to the Orthodox Church.
The ATP reported that it rejected 150 claims for title to land and compensation through February. The ATP typically rejected claims because material documents were missing from the claimant’s file or due to competing claims for the same property, over which the courts rather than the ATP have jurisdiction. The ATP ceded jurisdiction on the remaining 401 cases to the court system, as required by law. Religious communities brought court actions on 71 of those 401 cases. The AIC, Bektashi, and the Orthodox Church expressed concerns about court proceedings, which required them to begin their claims again in a new forum.
The AIC reported it had applied in early 2018 for a permit to build a campus for Beder University to save funds spent on renting the university’s current facilities, but the government has not issued the permit or explained the delay.
Bektashi leaders reported construction continued on two places of worship in Gjirokaster, one in Permet, and one in Elbasan, and the government legalized four tekkes and other Bektashi facilities in Elbasan. The Bektashi community reported it continued to have problems with local registration offices in Gjirokaster regarding one property, stating the registration process was slow, bureaucratic, and vulnerable to corruption. The Bektashi community expressed concerns that ALUIZNI had legalized nonreligious buildings on Bektashi property. The Ministry of Finance, according to the Bektashi community, did not reimburse it for the value-added tax paid for the 2016 construction of a multipurpose center at the World Bektashi Headquarters in Tirana, even though they said the law required the reimbursement. The Orthodox Church also raised concern about paying approximately 25 million leks ($31,000) in value-added tax as well as paying other taxes and fees, and stated those payments violated the agreement with the government.
The Bektashi community stated the State Advocate unfairly challenged title to properties in Berdanesh and Ksamil. The community received a favorable ruling on title for the property in Berdanesh, while the claim for the Ksamil property remained in the court system at year’s end.
The VUSH reported it had asked the government in March 2017 for land to build a main church similar to the main cathedrals and mosques of other faith communities but had not received an answer.
The VUSH reported it continued to have problems registering the property of one of its churches with the local registration office in Korca. The VUSH also stated the Tirana municipal government unlawfully issued a permit for construction of residential and commercial buildings on VUSH land.
Leaders of the five main religious groups expressed concern with a pilot project curriculum for teaching religion as part of the humanities curriculum for sixth and 10th grade students, which started in 2016 but stalled. They stated they were concerned because they did not participate in the drafting and were never informed about the results of the piloting stage or the postpilot plans for the project.
The State Committee on Religion and the AIC expressed concern that the government continued not to recognize diplomas received from foreign institutions in theology and religious studies. The AIC reported the government in November accredited the religious studies program of the AIC’s Beder University, the only university in the country offering degrees in Islamic studies, for another five years.
VUSH leaders stated the central government continued to exempt the organization from property taxes on its churches, but local authorities imposed fees they said were not taxes. The VUSH continued to dispute the municipalities’ position.
The Catholic, Sunni Muslim, Orthodox, and Bektashi communities reported their total government financial support was 109 million leks ($1.01 million), the same level since at least 2015. The Sunni Muslim community continued to receive approximately 29 percent of the funding, while the remaining three each continued to receive 23.6 percent. The communities continued to use the funds to cover part of the salaries for administrative and educational staff. The Bektashi community, which had fewer staff members than the others, continued to use part of these funds for new places of worship.
The VUSH continued to state that, although the organization still was unable to obtain a formal written agreement with the government on receiving financial support, in 2018 the State Committee on Religion provided a written commitment to advocate for extending financial support to evangelical Christian churches. Although the committee submitted a request for financial support to the government in 2018, the VUSH reported it had not received any funds.
The five religious communities expressed appreciation for the State Committee on Religion’s engagement with them. The VUSH, however, also expressed concern that the government and some media outlets showed indifference towards it in comparison with other faith communities, stating the government sent officials to attend iftars during election years but did not attend non-Islamic holy day ceremonies.
The Council of Ministers again did not finish adopting regulations to implement a 2017 law providing additional protection for minority rights, including freedom of religion.
A State Committee on Religion census of religious organizations conducted during the year counted 611 groups, including 248 foundations, 323 religiously related nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and 40 centers. The AIC has one foundation, while the Orthodox Church has three. The Catholic Church has 16 foundations and NGOs, while the VUSH has 160.
In June the Office of the President and the Embassy of the Netherlands held an international conference on interfaith dialogue in Tirana that addressed interreligious harmony as a factor in social stability and policies for managing religious diversity. In his opening remarks, President Ilir Meta said that he was proud that his country was “based on the coexistence and harmony of religious communities.”
On November 18 and 19, the Office of the President held a regional conference on advancing religious freedom, following through on a commitment to hold a follow-on, regional event after the July Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
During antigovernment protests in the spring and summer, religious leaders from all five groups issued statements jointly and separately condemning violence and calling for calm and dialogue.
On October 11, the Interreligious Council, established as a forum for leaders of the Catholic, Sunni Muslim, Orthodox, VUSH, and Bektashi communities to discuss shared concerns, held its first meeting of the year, during which it established a section of the council focused on women and another on youth.
The AIC elected its new chairman, Bujar Spahiu, to a five-year term on March 2. Spahiu, the former deputy chair, earned a degree in theology from Al-Azhar University in Egypt and joined the AIC in 2006. He declared in his acceptance address his priority would be to preserve and strengthen interfaith harmony in the country. Observers and media deemed the election free and fair and Spahiu’s election as a victory for the continuation of the AIC’s moderate and cooperative approach to interfaith relations. The run-up to the election spurred speculation in the media that third countries sought to sway the outcome. Some members of the political opposition stated the government sought to manipulate the election. International representatives, including from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, observed the election.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
At the November regional conference on advancing religious freedom, the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom addressed the audience on religion as a means of reconciliation, gave interviews on the importance of religious freedom in Albania, and visited religious sites in the northern part of the country together with leaders of the country’s faith communities.
Embassy officials promoted religious tolerance in meetings with the Sunni Muslim, Bektashi, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant communities, and in visits to religious sites. In May the Charge d’Affaires hosted an iftar for Muslim students and leaders from the AIC and Bektashi community; the Charge stressed the value of religious dialogue and tolerance during the event.
The embassy continued its youth education programs and work with religious communities to decrease the potential appeal of violent religious extremism. As part of these programs, students at Islamic, Catholic, and Orthodox religious schools and students from public schools planned and carried out projects highlighting religious diversity and tolerance, focusing on youth activism and common civic values. Other embassy-sponsored programs in Cerrik and Peqin helped establish “schools as community centers,” which promoted tolerance through partnerships with local schools, regional education directorates, municipalities, and law enforcement. The success of the program led to its expansion into six additional municipalities by the end of the year.
Antigua and Barbuda
The constitution provides for freedom of thought and religion, as well as the right to practice and change one’s religion or belief. The government completed construction on a first-ever public Rastafarian-run school, at which vaccinations are not required for school entry. The government announced that, for economic reasons, it was considering amending the law to rescind the designation of Sunday as a holiday. According to opposition leader Harold Lovell of the United Progressive Party, removing the Sunday holiday designation could infringe on citizens’ right to practice their religion.
There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.
U.S. embassy officials engaged representatives of the government and civil society on religious freedom issues, including the importance of respect for religious diversity. They discussed issues involving government facilitation of religious diversity and tolerance and equal treatment under the law.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 97,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census, 17.6 percent of the population is Anglican, 12.4 percent Seventh-day Adventist, 12.2 percent Pentecostal, 8.3 percent Moravian, 8.2 percent Roman Catholic, and 5.6 percent Methodist. Those with unspecified or no religious beliefs account for 5.5 percent and 5.9 percent of the population, respectively. Members of the Baptist Church, the Church of God, and the Wesleyan Holiness Consortium each account for less than 5 percent. The census categorizes an additional 12.2 percent of the population as belonging to other religious groups, including Rastafarians, Muslims, Hindus, and Baha’is, without providing percentages for each group. Based on anecdotal information, these four religious groups are listed from largest to smallest.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of thought and religion, as well as the right to change and practice one’s religion or belief. The constitution protects individuals from taking oaths contradictory to their beliefs or participating in events and activities of religions not their own, including participating in or receiving unwanted religious education. These rights may be limited in the interests of defense or public safety, order, morality, or health, or to protect the rights of others, unless actions under such limitations can be shown “not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.” The constitution prohibits members of the clergy from running for elected office. No law may be adopted that contradicts these constitutional provisions. The government does not enforce a law outlawing blasphemous language in a public place or any other place that would “cause annoyance to the public.”
The government does not require religious groups to register; however, to receive tax- and duty-free concessions and to own, build, or renovate property, religious groups must register with the government. To register, religious groups must fill out an online tax form that describes the group’s activities. The government uses this form to determine the group’s tax status. The Inland Revenue Department reviews and approves the completed form, usually granting registration and tax concessions.
The law prohibits religious instruction in public schools. Private schools may provide religious instruction. Public schools require parents to immunize their children to attend school. Some private schools do not require immunizations for their students. The law also permits homeschooling.
The law decriminalizing marijuana for any use also recognizes the government’s responsibility to uphold the religious rights of persons of the Hindu and Rastafarian faiths. It allows these persons to apply for a special religious license to cultivate the plant within their private dwelling, use the plant for religious purposes within their private dwelling or within their approved place of worship, and transport the plant between their private dwelling and approved place of worship. The special religious license, however, does not permit any commercial or financial transaction involving any part of the cannabis plant.
Occupational health regulations require individuals with dreadlocks to cover their hair when they work with food, hazardous equipment, or in the health sector. These regulations apply to both public- and private-sector workplaces.
The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In the wake of decriminalization of marijuana use and cultivation for religious purposes, Rastafarian leaders continued to state publicly the government had taken steps to recognize the dignity and worth of the Rastafarian community. In January the government’s ambassador to Ethiopia and a Rastafarian elder, Ras Frank I Francis, publicly commended the government for having apologized in the past for “the atrocities that went against the movement.”
In September the government completed construction on a Rastafarian-run public school that conformed to the standards of all other government primary schools but did not require immunizations for enrollment. According to media reports, Rastafarian leaders praised the government for what they termed “the first construction of Rastafari buildings globally.” Prime Minister Gaston Browne stated, “No one in this country should be denied education because of their religious beliefs.” Also attending the event, Minister of Education Michael Browne stated, “Education is not about what you are wearing, education is not about the length of your hair. Education transcends your religious beliefs. Education is a collection not of a melting pot but of a rich salad bowl of our history.” Other Rastafarians continued to choose homeschooling for their children or private schools where vaccinations were not required.
Citing escalating costs in tourism-related services, the government announced it was considering rescinding the holiday designation for Sunday by amending the law. According to opposition leader Harold Lovell, of the United Progressive Party, removing the Sunday holiday designation could infringe on the rights of each individual to practice his or her religion.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
Embassy officials continued to engage government officials from the Office of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Legal Affairs, as well as police leadership, to emphasize the importance of respect for religious diversity, tolerance, and equal treatment under the law.
Embassy officials also met with civil society representatives, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Christian Council, to discuss religious freedom issues, including the importance of respect for religious diversity, freedom of religious expression, and discrimination based on religion.
The Fundamental Law (constitution) provides for freedom of religion, including freedom to choose, change, or manifest religion or belief, cites “the role of Christianity” in “preserving nationhood,” and values “various religious traditions.” It prohibits religious discrimination and speech violating the dignity of any religious community and stipulates the autonomy of religious communities. On April 15, an amendment to the law that had deprived hundreds of religious entities of their legal status entered into force, establishing a four-tier system of categorizing religious groups, all of which will be eligible to receive state funding and member donations from income tax beginning in 2020. Under the amendment, parliament retains its discretionary role in the registration of incorporated (i.e., established) churches (“church” applies to any religious group, not just Christian), the highest category, while the Budapest-Capital Regional Court rules on eligibility for registration under one of the other three categories. The Jewish group the government appointed in 2018 to work on the House of Fates Holocaust museum proposed a new outline for it in June and said the museum should open within 18 months. Domestic and international groups continued to raise concerns about the project, which the government had placed on hold since 2014 after the groups said it could obscure the country’s role in the Holocaust. Other Jewish groups expressed concern about government officials’ praise for the country’s World War II (WWII)-era leaders and Hitler allies and about public messaging these groups said could incite anti-Semitism. Prime Minister (PM) Viktor Orban stated the government provided protection and major support to the country’s Jewish community. Senior government officials continued to make statements defending the country and Europe as Christian and describing the threat of a “Muslim immigration invasion.”
There were reports of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents, including verbal insults, hate speech, vandalism, and graffiti. Muslim leaders said anti-Muslim incidents decreased compared with 2018, but discrimination continued. Significant percentages of society held anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim views, according to independent polls.
U.S. embassy and visiting U.S. government officials met with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to discuss religious freedom, anti-Semitism, Holocaust commemoration, the amendment to the religion law, and heirless property restitution for victims of the Holocaust. The U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism visited the country in May and discussed religious freedom issues with high-level government and religious leaders. The Deputy Administrator for USAID and the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council discussed the importance of religious freedom in formal remarks at a Thanksgiving dinner the embassy cohosted with the government, which religious leaders of many faiths attended. Embassy officials discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom with a range of religious leaders and civil society representatives.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 9.8 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 national census, which included an optional question on religious affiliation, of the 73 percent of the population that responded, 51 percent identified as Roman Catholic, 16 percent as Hungarian Reformed Church (Calvinist), 3 percent as Lutheran, 2 percent as Greek Catholic, and less than 1 percent as Jewish; 23 percent reported no religious affiliation, and 2 percent said they were atheists. Other religious groups together constituting less than 5 percent of the population include Greek Orthodox, the Faith Congregation (a Pentecostal group), the Church of Scientology (COS), Russian and other Orthodox Christian groups, other Christian denominations, Buddhists, Muslims, and the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness. The Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood (MET) has approximately 8,500 members, according to a 2013 news report, and the Hungarian Pentecostal Church approximately 9,300 members, according to the 2011 census. The World Jewish Congress estimates the Jewish population to be between 35,000 and 120,000 persons. Local Jewish organizations estimate approximately 100,000 citizens with Jewish heritage live in the country, primarily in Budapest. Other religious groups are distributed throughout the country.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The Fundamental Law, the country’s constitution, provides for freedom of conscience and religion, including freedom to choose or change religion or belief, and freedom – alone or in community with others and in public or in private – to manifest religion or belief through religious acts or ceremonies, or in any other way, in worshipping, practice, and observance. It prohibits religious discrimination, as well as speech “aimed at violating the dignity” of any religious community.
The constitution’s preamble states, “We recognize the role of Christianity” in preserving the nation and “value the various religious traditions” in the country. The constitution stipulates separation between religious communities and the state, as well as the autonomy of religious groups. According to the constitution, the state may, at the request of religious communities, cooperate with them on community goals.
On April 15, a 2018 parliamentary amendment to the 2011 religion law entered into force. The amended law replaces the previous two-tier system of “incorporated churches” and “religious organizations” with a four-tier system of, in descending order, “established (or incorporated) churches,” “registered churches” (also called “registered II”), “listed churches” (also called “registered I”), and “religious associations.” The term “church” in the law refers to any religious community, not just Christian ones, and religious groups in any category may use “church” in their official names. All previously incorporated religious groups retain their status in the first tier of the new system as established churches. Recognition as an established church continues to require a two-thirds approval by parliament; the Budapest-Capital Regional Court has jurisdiction to rule on applications for registration within the other three categories. Religious groups in all four tiers have “legal personality,” which grants them legal rights, such as the right to own property.
Religious entities that do not apply for legal status in one of the four categories are still able to function and conduct worship. The amended law states constitutional protection of freedom of religion also applies to these unregistered groups.
To qualify for established church status, a religious group must first have registered status and then conclude a comprehensive cooperation agreement with the state for the purpose of accomplishing community goals. The government submits the comprehensive agreement to parliament, which must approve it by a two-thirds majority vote. A registered church becomes an established church from the day parliament approves the comprehensive agreement. Established churches are eligible to benefit from significant state subsidies.
To qualify for registered status, a religious group must receive tax donations from an average of 4,000 persons per year in the five-year period prior to the application. This status also requires that the group either has operated as a religious association for at least 20 years in the country or at least 100 years internationally, or has operated as a listed church for at least 15 years in the country or at least 100 years internationally.
To qualify for listed status, a religious group must receive tax donations from an average of 1,000 persons per year in the three-year period prior to the application for status and have operated as a religious association for at least five years in the country or for at least 100 years internationally.
To qualify for religious association status, a religious group must have at least 10 members.
The amended law allows the government to negotiate individual cooperation agreements with all four categories of religious communities for the performance of social service activities and support of faith-based activities, specified in these agreements. The agreements’ duration depends on the status of the religious community, ranging from a five-year maximum for religious associations up to 10 and 15 years for listed and registered churches, respectively, and unlimited duration for established churches. All religious groups other than religious associations must publish these agreements and publicly account for social service spending.
Churches that agree not to seek state or European Union (EU) funding (including personal income tax donations) for their religious activities may qualify as registered or listed churches without fulfilling the requirement regarding the number of personal income tax donations. The applicant religious community must perform primarily religious activities and may not be a criminal defendant or have been convicted of a crime during the previous five years, under sanction for “repeated violation of accounting and management rules,” or considered a national security threat. The court decides whether to grant status as a registered or listed church based on an examination of the criteria above. In reviewing these applications, the court may consult church law, church history, or ecclesiastical or academic experts, and may also consult the national security services.
Religious groups that agree not to seek government or EU funding but accept financial support at a later stage must report this to the court within 15 days of the disbursement of the aid. To avoid losing its status or a reclassification to the lower association tier, the religious group has eight days to declare to the court that it has returned the funds, requested cancellation of its religious registration status, or complied with the individual tax donation requirement to become a registered or listed organization. The religious group or prosecutor’s office may appeal the court’s decision on the status of the group to the Budapest-Capital Court of Appeal.
The law stipulates the relevant government minister, based on information received from the court, shall manage an electronic database of religious communities with legal status, accessible to the public free of charge. At year’s end, the database was not publicly accessible.
The amended law allows taxpayers to donate 1 percent of their income taxes to any religious community in any of the four categories starting with the 2020 tax year. Religious groups may use these funds as they wish. Only established and registered churches (the two highest tiers) are eligible to receive a state subsidy matching the 1 percent tax donations.
According to the amended law, the Budapest-Capital Regional Court may dissolve a religious community with legal status – with the exception of established churches – if its activities conflict with the constitution or law or if the court rules its registration should have been denied. Parliament may dissolve an incorporated church if the Constitutional Court finds it is operating in violation of the constitution. If a religious community is dissolved without a legal successor, its assets, after satisfying creditors, become the property of the state and shall be used for public interest activities.
Under the amended law, 32 churches maintained their incorporated (or, in the new terminology, “established”) status. These include the Roman Catholic Church, a range of Protestant denominations, a range of Orthodox Christian groups, other Christian denominations, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, the Salvation Army, three Jewish groups (Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community), and the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness, the sole registered Hindu organization. The list also includes Buddhist and Muslim umbrella organizations, each encompassing a few individual groups. The amendment added the Sovereign Military Order of Malta to the list of established churches.
By law, the state may neither operate nor establish any body for controlling or monitoring religious communities. Their doctrines, internal regulations, and statutes are not subject to state review, modification, or enforcement. Copyright law protects their names, symbols, and rites, while criminal law protects buildings and cemeteries.
The constitution establishes a unified system for the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights (ombudsperson). The ombudsman investigates cases related to violations of fundamental rights – including religious freedom – and initiates general or specific measures for their remedy. These measures do not have the force of law.
Treaties with the Holy See regulate relations between the state and the Catholic Church, including financing of public services and religious activities and settling claims for property seized by the state during the Communist era. These treaties serve as a model for regulating state relations with other religious groups, although there are some differences in the rights and privileges the state accords to each of the religious groups with which it has agreements. The state has also concluded formal agreements with the Hungarian Reformed Church, Hungarian Lutheran Church, Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (Mazsihisz), and four Orthodox churches.
According to the amended law, established, registered, and listed churches may perform pastoral services in military facilities, prisons, and hospitals. Other laws indicate religious associations may also have the right to provide services at these facilities.
Military and law enforcement personnel may freely practice their religion in private and also at their workplaces if their religious practice does not violate their mandatory service duties. The Catholic, Reformed, and Lutheran Churches, and Jewish congregations (which the government generally calls “historical churches”) may provide chaplain services to the military without seeking permission. Other religious communities must seek permission to offer such services.
Penitentiaries generally allow inmates free practice of religion and provide them with special diets, such as kosher, vegetarian, and pork-free meals. Historical churches may provide pastoral services in prisons without special permission, but other, smaller religious groups may do so only within official visiting hours as outlined in individual agreements and with permission from the penitentiary. Similarly, historical churches receive automatic access to patients in hospitals to provide pastoral services, while other groups may do so only under certain conditions, such as providing services only during visiting hours.
One hour per week of faith and ethics or general ethics education is mandatory through the first eight grades of public school. Parents and students choose between the faith and ethics class offered by an established church of their choosing or a secular ethics course taught by public school teachers. Other religious communities are not entitled to provide religious education as part of the mandatory curricula in public schools, but they may offer extracurricular, optional religious education in public schools at the request of parents or students. Private schools are not required to offer faith and ethics or ethics classes.
All religious communities registered in one of the four categories have the right to open their own schools. The state provides a subsidy, based on the number of students enrolled, for employee salaries at all such schools. Only established churches automatically receive a supplementary subsidy for the schools’ operating expenses. Other religious communities may apply for a supplementary operational subsidy, and the Ministry of Human Capacities (MHC) may sign an individualized contract with them to cover these costs.
The law also affords all religious communities with legal status the right to assume operation of public schools if more than 50 percent of the parents and adult students enrolled at the school sign a petition to do so and the MHC approves the change. In these cases, the government may continue to fund the schools. Whether newly established or converted from public status, religious schools are free to conduct their own religious teaching without government input and to make faith education mandatory and not substitutable with an ethics class. The government inspects both religious and public schools every two years to ensure they conform to government standards.
The constitution prohibits speech that violates the dignity of any religious community. The law prohibits “calling for violence” – in addition to inciting hatred – against a religious community or its members, punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The law provides a maximum punishment of three years in prison for impeding someone else through violence or threats from freely exercising his or her religion or abusing an individual because of his or her religious affiliation.
Physical assault motivated by the victim’s actual or presumed religious affiliation is a felony punishable by one to five years in prison. Violence against a member of the clergy is classified as violence against an “individual providing public service” and is also punishable with a prison sentence of one to five years. Any person who engages in preparation for the use of force against any member of a religious community is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment not exceeding two years.
The law prohibits public denial, expression of doubt, or minimization of the Holocaust, genocide, and other crimes against humanity committed by the National Socialist or Communist regimes, punishing such offenses with a maximum sentence of three years in prison. The criminal code makes wearing, exhibiting, or promoting in public the swastika, the logo of the Nazi SS, or the symbol of the Arrow Cross – a fascist, anti-Semitic party that allied with Nazi Germany – in a way that harms the human dignity or the memory of victims a misdemeanor, punishable by five to 90 days’ detention.
The law provides for the lifting of official immunity of a member of parliament (MP) who incites hatred against religious communities or publicly denies crimes of the Communist or National Socialist regimes. No MP has been the subject of such a proceeding.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Some previously deregistered religious communities expressed support for the provision in the amended religion law that allowed citizens to donate 1 percent of their taxes to all four tiers of religious communities, although some criticized the fact that religious communities could only receive these donations beginning in 2020. They also welcomed the decision to have a court rule on the registration applications of registered churches, listed churches, and religious associations and the introduction of criteria to qualify for the three lower categories.
According to the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), the amended law did not fully comply with the decisions of the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The law did not restore the status of deregistered religious communities, which were still excluded from the category of established churches. The HCLU also stated the amended law did not guarantee equal treatment of churches by the state or eliminate distinctions between religious communities, and that granting established status still remained in the purview of parliament. It also said that since deregistered churches received compensation for pecuniary and nonpecuniary damages identified by the ECHR for the period between January 1, 2012 and September 15, 2016, these churches were entitled to further compensation for the period from September 16, 2016 until April 15, 2019. In October the HCLU challenged the amended law in the Constitutional Court.
The government published a decree in October that outlined the application process for the other three tiers (registered churches, listed churches, and religious associations) and provided further clarifications on the operation of all four tiers. By year’s end, some religious groups, for example Sim Shalom and MET, reported they had started the application to register as a religious association.
Prior to the entry into force of the amendment to the religion law, parliament did not vote on any of the 16 pending applications for incorporated church status by religious groups, and these application procedures expired. According to the PMO, in the case of these 16 groups, the Budapest-Capital Regional Court was conducting a simplified registration process for listed and registered church status in which it did not evaluate the number of 1 percent personal income tax donations they received in determining whether they qualified for listed or registered status, and allowing the groups to use previously submitted documents in their applications. According to the Budapest-Capital Regional Court’s website, these 16 groups had until January 6, 2020 to apply under the simplified procedures.
Gabor Ivanyi, pastor and head of MET, said in October that the current legal framework put the operation of its social and educational institutions (such as schools and homeless shelters) at risk because financial support to churches depended on the discretion of the government. This dependence also discouraged churches from speaking freely on issues on which they disagreed with the government. In July Ivanyi filed a formal objection in court on the grounds that his church was required to submit an application for registration after the amended law entered into force, despite the absence of an official government decree specifying application rules. The court agreed to review the case.
In March the Budapest-Capital Regional Court rejected an appeal of a lawsuit by the COS against the government Data Protection Authority (DPA), which had investigated the COS for alleged criminal abuse of personal data and fined the COS and its central organization a total of 40 million forints ($136,000) in 2017. The court upheld the DPA’s finding and stated religious organizations also had an obligation to respect domestic and EU regulations regarding the protection of personal data. In August the National Police told local media the investigation of the COS continued.
In February the Supreme Court overturned an eviction order issued by Budapest’s 13th District against the COS, thus allowing the COS to continue to use its headquarters building. District officials continued to deny the COS a certificate of occupancy for the building.
The government continued its public campaign of billboards and posters against a Jewish, Hungarian-born, U.S. citizen businessman. Some of the placards stated EU leaders were part of the businessman’s plan to settle migrants from the Middle East and Africa in the country.
The Organization of Muslims in Hungary (OMH) said local and state authorities refused to sell or rent land or issue permits to Muslims for homes or mosques or to open or expand Muslim cemeteries. According to OMH, the lack of sufficient cemetery space for Muslims remained the most pressing problem for the Muslim community.
According to the PMO, during the 2018-19 school year, incorporated churches operated 16.7 percent of elementary and secondary schools (compared with 15 percent in 2017-18), and religious organizations operated 0.2 percent. Incorporated churches operated 9.7 percent of preschools (with students aged three to seven), compared with 7.5 percent in the previous year, and religious organizations operated 0.2 percent. There were 217,204 students – 49.8 percent of whom were in Catholic schools – studying at preschools and elementary and secondary schools operated by incorporated churches and religious organizations, compared with 214,243 in the previous year.
On September 2, Deputy PM Zsolt Semjen stated the number of church-run schools and students enrolled in them had doubled since 2010. He said 220,000 children studied in 1,067 church-run schools. On August 31, PMO Minister Gergely Gulyas stated in Pecs, at the joint school year opening ceremony of Reformed Church educational institutions of the Carpathian Basin, that churches operated 14 percent of schools, and that church schools offering an education “based on Christian values and knowledge” catered to all segments of society. Gulyas also said, “By resigning Christian culture and faith, it [Europe] could lose everything that has characterized the continent for generations and for centuries.” According to education experts cited in local media, an increasing number of students attended church-run schools due to greater government financial support for religious schools compared to state schools and more curriculum flexibility, such as using nonstate textbooks.
Jewish groups expressed concerns about praise by government officials for the country’s WWII-era leaders and Hitler allies, as well as about public messaging they said could incite anti-Semitism. On September 4, Mazsihisz, the country’s largest Jewish organization, issued a statement condemning the erection of a statue, and government officials’ participation in its unveiling, of Gyula Kornis in the town of Vac. Kornis, a member of a Catholic religious order and leading education politician in the era of WWII leader Miklos Horthy, helped prepare and implement the country’s anti-Semitic education laws in the 1920s. According to media, during remarks at the statue-unveiling ceremony, State Secretary in the MHC Bence Retvari praised Kornis as a “hero,” and Maria Schmidt, a historian and Government Commissioner of the Memorial Year of the 1956 Revolution, who formulated the original proposal for the government-funded House of Fates Holocaust museum and education center, said Kornis “always kept the interest of the nation in view.”
On November 16, several hundred supporters of the Mi Hazank (Our Homeland) Party marched in Budapest to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Horthy’s entry into Budapest. Fidesz MP Janos Lazar laid flowers at Horthy’s grave, calling him “a heroic soldier, a true Hungarian patriot whom we should remember by bowing our head.” Mazsihisz president Andras Heisler expressed deep disappointment with Lazar, who he said in the past as PMO minister had worked to build good relations with Jewish organizations.
On June 4, the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH) presented a new, preliminary outline for the House of Fates at the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) meeting in Luxembourg. PM Orban named Chief Rabbi and head of EMIH Slomo Koves to direct and refashion the project in 2018. The museum and center, to be located in Budapest, had been on hold since 2014 due to opposition from domestic and international groups that criticized it as an attempt to obscure the involvement of the country and Miklos Horthy in the Holocaust. In Luxembourg, Koves said he expected the museum would open within 18 months. The IHRA said in Luxembourg it would appoint a group of experts to advise the international advisory boards of the House of Fates. The IHRA, stating it had not seen the new concept in any detail, welcomed Rabbi Koves’ assurances that “a highly controversial historian” who had been involved in drafting an earlier concept for the project would no longer be involved. Prominent national and international Jewish groups continued to express concern about the project.
In April the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) submitted to the government its assessment of the scope and estimated value of confiscated heirless Jewish property in the country. As of year’s end, the government had not agreed to WJRO’s requests for further discussions on a roadmap to conclude negotiations.
In February Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, met with PMO State Secretary for Civil Society Relations Vince Szalay-Bobrovniczky and reportedly described the meeting as an opportunity to raise concerns with the government over anti-Semitism, efforts to downplay actions by leaders in support of the Holocaust, and language used by PM Orban against a Jewish, Hungarian-born U.S. citizen businessman. In a letter, Szalay-Bobrovniczky rejected her allegations of anti-Semitism against his government and PM Orban.
Government officials continued to make statements in defense of what they called a “Christian Europe” and describe migration, particularly of Muslims, as a threat. In his annual state of the nation speech in February, PM Orban stated the future of Central Europeans lies in the “protection of our families and our Christian culture” against immigration, which he said led to the “virus of Islamic terrorism.” In an April 9 speech, he said, “Islamic culture has conquered new territories,” and in September he stated, “The Hungarian state rests on the foundations…of Christian democracy.” In a March 2 interview with German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag, PM Orban said, “There used to be anti-Semitism on the Christian right wing in Hungary, but we curbed it,” and, “The true threat of anti-Semitism in Europe now comes through immigration.” In September PMO State Secretary in Charge of Church and Nationality Issues Miklos Soltesz stated at the inauguration of a renovated Catholic church in the village of Segesd in Somogy County that the country had again become “the bastion of Christianity in Europe.” He added that, as when it had fought against Mongol and Turkish invasions, the country was now “stopping the Muslim flood.” During the Fidesz party convention on September 29, PM Orban said, “We have established a Hungarian Christian Democrat state…we have the right to organize our life according to the laws of Christian freedom.”
Between July 29 and August 7, the country hosted the 15th European Maccabi Games, an international Jewish sporting event, which occurred without incident. In July, when meeting with the organizers of the games, PM Orban stated the government provided protection and major support to the country’s Jewish community for preserving its identity and for the renaissance of Hungarian Jewish life. The government provided approximately five billion forints ($17 million) for the games, and more than 2,000 athletes from 42 countries participated in the event. Mazsihisz President Heisler said that the games represented an event of special importance to the country’s Jewish community.
The government provided 64.8 billion forints ($220.2 million) to incorporated churches (compared with 118.1 billion forints, $401.3 million, during 2018), of which 94 percent – 61.6 billion ($209.3 million) – went to what the government and media called the country’s four historical churches. The Roman Catholic Church received 39.9 billion forints ($135.6 million), the Reformed Church 15.9 billion forints ($54 million), the Evangelical Church 3.4 billion forints ($11.6 million), Mazsihisz 1.9 billion forints ($6.5 million), EMIH 330 million forints ($1.1 million), and the Jewish Orthodox community 222.5 million forints ($756,000). According to the PMO, direct state funding fell by nearly half because the 2018 amount included special funding for the renovation of church buildings. The PMO stated it would continue to submit proposals for emerging investment needs to the government.
The religious communities that received the bulk of the government’s contribution used the funds for such activities as maintenance of buildings, public educational and social services, support for religious instruction and culture, support for community programs and investments, employee wages, and support for faith-based activities of citizens living abroad.
According to tax authorities tracking the 1 percent personal income tax allocations designated to incorporated churches, 993,955 citizens donated their 1 percent personal income tax to one of the incorporated churches, according to statistics published in March that reflected 2018 data. As in previous years, the church bodies receiving the most donations were the Catholic Church, with 529,123 persons contributing 2.5 billion forints ($8.5 million); Hungarian Reformed Church, with 210,301 persons contributing 1 billion forints ($3.4 million); and Lutheran Church, with 60,358 persons contributing 310 million forints ($1.1 million). The Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness ranked fourth, with 46,373 persons contributing 250 million forints ($850,000).
In December the government awarded EMIH 1.8 billion forints ($6.1 million) to create a cultural center.
In November the government hosted the second international conference on Christian persecution. PM Orban stated at the conference that Christianity was under threat from forces such as political correctness and the “Muslim immigration invasion.”
On September 6, PM Orban met with Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the foreign affairs office of the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate and discussed the persecution of Christians around the world, deepening cooperation between eastern and western Christian denominations, and the work of the Russian Orthodox Church in the country.
The country is a member of the IHRA.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
The NGO Action and Protection Foundation, which monitored anti-Semitism, reported 32 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, the most recent year for which data was available, including three cases of assault, 19 of hate speech, and 10 of vandalism. Muslim organizations did not collect statistical data and said many members did not report incidents because they did not trust authorities would take any effective action. Muslim leaders, however, said anti-Muslim incidents decreased compared with 2018, although they added there were new forms of discrimination, and the majority of the population regarded Muslims with suspicion.
In the city of Nyiregyhaza on August 18, according to press reports, five men spit on and yelled anti-Semitic insults at a Jewish man and his wife as they returned from praying at a synagogue. The couple told police the men shouted, “Filthy Jews belong in the gas chamber,” and “Sieg Heil!” Police launched an investigation.
According to OMH, an employer fired a Muslim who prayed during his colleagues’ smoking break because the employer “didn’t tolerate religious extremism.” The employee did not take legal action.
According to research by the Median Public Opinion Research Institute conducted on behalf of TEV in November 2018 and published in July, 33 percent of respondents held strongly or moderately anti-Semitic views (compared with 37 percent in 2017). The report stated 15 percent of respondents believed there were no gas chambers in concentration camps, 21 percent believed Jews made up the great majority of stories of Holocaust horrors, and 26 percent believed the number of Jewish Holocaust victims was “a lot lower” than generally stated – the highest percentages for all these statements in surveys dating to 2006.
In November the Anti-Defamation League released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 55 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Hungary; 71 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 59 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.
In January the EC published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 45 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in Hungary, and 26 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 46 percent; on the internet, 46 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 44 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 46 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 47 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 44 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 40 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 51 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 47 percent.
In May the EC carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 31 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Hungary, while 62 percent said it was rare; 80 percent would be comfortable with having a person of different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 90 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, 84 percent said they would be with an atheist, 84 percent with a Jew, 73 percent with a Buddhist, and 59 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 87 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 76 percent if atheist, 77 percent if Jewish, 60 percent if Buddhist, and 43 percent if Muslim.
A Pew Research Center survey released in October found 58 percent of residents in the country had an unfavorable opinion of Muslims – compared with 72 percent in 2016 – and 11 percent a favorable one. The same survey found that 60 percent of persons had a favorable view of Jews, and 18 percent an unfavorable one.
In November posters appeared in Budapest showing independent online news site Index.hu journalists Gabor Miklosi and Andras Dezso, both Hungarian, in front of an Israeli flag with the caption, “We have also come from beyond the border.” The poster featured the Index.hu logo next to the words, “constant complaining, latent anti-Hungarian feelings, betrayal of the homeland.” TEV reported the case to police as anti-Semitic. In a tweet, the Israeli embassy condemned the posters as containing anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli symbols and insinuations.
During a local soccer match between the country’s Dorog and MTK clubs in August, approximately 100 Dorog fans yelled anti-Semitic chants such as “dirty Jews” and “only through the chimney.” Following an open letter of protest from Mazsihisz President Andras Heisler to President of the Hungarian Football Federation Sandor Csanyi asking him to act against hate speech and anti-Semitism, the federation fined Dorog 200,000 forints ($680). Heisler commented the federation did not publicly condemn the incident.
In August and September unknown assailants repeatedly damaged the Living Memorial to Holocaust victims on Budapest’s Liberty Square, which activists previously established to protest against a controversial memorial to victims of the German invasion of 1944. On August 20, the national holiday of Saint Stephen’s Day, the far-right website kuruc.info published an article entitled, “Liberty Square was waiting for National Day to be cleaned – our reader cleaned up the Jewish garbage,” which included a photograph of objects taken from the memorial lying in a garbage can.
In October approximately 50 members of a group widely described as neo-Nazi, calling itself the Legio Hungaria, vandalized Aurora, a community and cultural center in Budapest owned by a Jewish organization – tearing down and setting fire to the center’s rainbow flag and spraying graffiti on the wall of the building. Newly elected District Mayor Andras Piko condemned the attack and promised police would provide additional security. In November the Budapest Police brought in for questioning nine persons in connection with the attack; no arrests were reported.
In July, at a memorial in Budapest for Roma victims of the Holocaust, vandals left graffiti stating, “The place for … [a prominent Jewish American financier] is in a gas chamber.”
A 2018 Pew Research survey stated 17 percent of citizens reported they were strongly religious, and the same percentage said they attended religious services regularly.
The Christian-Jewish Society, an informal platform for discussion by the Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Baptist Churches and Jewish religious groups, held events such as joint prayers on the International Day of Holocaust remembrance, and also helped organize the March of the Living annual Holocaust remembrance event in April in Budapest.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
In meetings with government officials, including the PMO, U.S. embassy representatives and visiting U.S. officials continued to advocate for increased religious freedom and discussed Holocaust commemoration, the amendment to the religion law, an inclusive approach for the House of Fates Holocaust museum, and restitution of heirless Jewish property seized during the Holocaust.
The U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism visited the country in May and, accompanied by embassy officials, met with high-level representatives from the PMO, Jewish religious leaders, and civil society representatives to discuss religious freedom, anti-Semitism, and the House of Fates.
The Deputy Administrator for USAID, the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and the Charge d’Affaires discussed the importance of religious freedom in formal remarks at a Thanksgiving dinner the embassy cohosted with the government. A wide range of religious leaders and civil society representatives attended the dinner.
Embassy and visiting Department of State officials met with representatives of the Jewish community to discuss anti-Semitism and the challenges of promoting tolerance education and historical truth, the community’s relationship with the government, the House of Fates, restitution issues, and commemoration of the Holocaust.
Embassy officials maintained regular contact with leaders of religious communities, including the four historical groups, as well as Baptists, Muslims, the COS, and religious groups that lost incorporated church status in 2011, such as MET, Bet Orim, and Sim Shalom, to understand their concerns, encourage religious freedom and tolerance, and discuss the effects of the religion law and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
The Ambassador met with a Holocaust survivor in April and emphasized U.S. commitment to Holocaust remembrance and religious freedom. The Ambassador and other embassy officials participated in events organized by various Jewish congregations, such as March of the Living, inauguration of new synagogues, Hanukkah candle lightings, and the opening of a Holocaust exhibition to highlight support for the Jewish community and promote religious tolerance. At all these events, embassy representatives reiterated U.S. support for religious freedom and discussed issues of concern to the Jewish community.